Friday, May 22, 2009

6:00 a.m.

As I arrived home from my morning walk, the tree-removal-service trucks I'd passed at the Village Restaurant pulled into the neighbor's driveway. Well, one did. The others staked themselves out in the street itself. I told my wife that they were going to be chopping trees in a few minutes and we swannied for a bit about babies and loud noises and unnecessarily killing trees. When I took out the trash, I walked across the street and asked the man with the I ♥ Jesus license plate on his big ol' Chevy truck if there was any way they could begin the job later, since I had babies asleep. He said No. And I said OK. And he thought Whatever. And I was like Whatever. At 6:05 they fired up the chain-saws. No children woke up. And if Jack Henry had, he probably would have been spellbound by the big trucks - his favorite thing in the world - outside his bedroom window. All in all, it was a non-issue, like so many issues that we concern ourselves with.

And they haven't cut down the persimmon tree. Yet.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Mi Casa

Two loads of laundry a day seems to keep up with the flood of clothes in my house. That's not too bad for eight people. And while the loads may increase as the clothes and kids get bigger, I figure it will amount to the same amount of folding, so I'm OK with it. The only real problem I'm left with is where to put all the clean clothes. There's simply never enough room. I need two more systems: (1) finding additional storage for clothes (so we're not overrun), as in old milk crates, and (2) creating a routine of giving clothes away and a place to do so (I'd rather not give to an organization that's going to re-sell the clothes). People have been good to us, always. So much so that we rarely need to pick up clothes for the kids, or that we spend much less money on clothes than you'd expect.

Two loads of dishes each day is too much, however. A load and a half of dishes keeps pace with our family nicely. But we seem to go heavy on silverware - washing dishes is necessary each day simply to make sure there are enough spoons.

Most days I am simply like the Carolina wren that nests nearby, darting about to find food for hungry mouths, who rests now and again outside the window of a rather odd-looking man, to sing for him.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Acedia & Me

I'm currently reading an excellent book by Kathleen Norris titled, Acedia & Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer's Life. It's, at times, like looking into a mirror. And while I've always thought I'm susceptible to depression - a classic melancholy - I think acedia is the demon that I struggle with in my life: a spiritual deadness or sloth or uncaring rather than a physical malady. (Not that it's necessarily either-or.) A blogger friend, Penni, turned me on to Norris by sending me a little book of hers called The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy, and "Women's Work," which I highly recommend. It deals at some length with the idea of acedia as well and has been a tremendous help as I daily struggle with my own "women's work." She infuses day-to-day work - laundry, dishes, cleaning, and diapers - with her Benedictine sensibility and discovers the sacred rhythm, the liturgy, of such work.

Something I've discovered, and seems confirmed by Norris, is that discipline is discipline, regardless if it's spiritual or physical or mental. In many disciplines, you begin in a garden, but eventually all find you in the desert. And that is the "noonday demon" of acedia. Perhaps the prayers you say seem less meaningful or the exercise you're doing is showing fewer results, acedia wishes to kill the peace and good in your life and to strip away this discipline that is so necessary for you. You begin to wonder whether it's really worth it or if you're simply wasting your time, or a fool. What was as sweet as honey has become a mouthful of sand. This is the time when it is needful to continue. Salvation lies forward, on the other side, not backward. This is the time to pray and sing through the aridity, even when each word seems empty and every note sounds flat. This is the time for waiting; eventually the desert will bloom.

(My one minor criticism of Acedia & Me is that Norris sometimes indulges in her love of etymology. Of course, I'm a sucker for words and their uses and origins as well, but I wonder if some of these purposeful divergences into the meanings of words and the application thereof could have been done in a manner that is less interruptive.)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Grr. Dog.

Getting a dog several months back was one of the worst stupidest decisions of my life. I say that with only part of my tongue in my cheek. He's too much for me at this point in my life. He's like a toddler with sharp teeth and claws and who doesn't understand a word a say. And who doesn't take regular naps during the day. And who pees and poops and vomits wherever he pleases. This dog is going to be a good dog someday, I just don't know if I'm going to survive seeing him get there. That's how I feel this morning. Don't I have enough going on without a dog to worry about?

Sometimes I want to strangle him, or secretly hope that he strangles himself on the tie out. And I'm only half kidding. I feel so much anger and stress when he's around or I'm around him and I wonder whether he's been able to dig deeper into my heart than even where my kids go because I've learned to manage my life with children. But then you throw in a dog and the whole machinery comes grinding to a halt (hmm, that's a good idea too) and I'm forced to stare down into the hell of my heart again.

Help. O God, come to my aid.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

The Love Shack

This review is not a happy review. The novel gets a big thumbs down from me. So if you love this book, you're not going to want to read this post. Keep in mind, it's just my opinion. And I'm sure we've disagreed before.

Many people have been moved by this story. And so was I to some degree. While some would say it walks along the cliff's edge of sentimentality, others would say it took a flying leap off that same cliff - akin to listening to Tim McGraw sing "Don't Take the Girl." You're sobbing as you scream, "You bastard!" because of the obvious emotional manipulation. But there's also something very real here, and I don't mean to underplay it: Young, the author, needs a tragedy in order to spin his yarn. Maybe his wife dying (rather than his little girl) could have helped him better avoid his sentimentality. I don't know. He made his choice and stuck with it. That's his prerogative as the author.

The core of The Shack is fairly simple. It runs along these lines: God is especially fond of you. And s/he does not dig forms.

The Shack is at its best when its simply a story that happens to real people in real places every year - even when it skirts sentimentality. When the fantastic is introduced, the curtain is pulled back and Oz is revealed - and it just plays cheesy, as too much Christian fiction does. And The Shack is entirely about the fantastic - a man, Mack, spends a weekend with the Trinity (Della Reese plays Papa - The Almighty, the Tetragrammaton, He Who Is, etc. - a John Eldredge-y kind of dude wearing a tool belt and leather gloves plays Jesus, and Lucy Liu knocks the Holy Spirit out of the park). And here's where it gets wormy for me, if you noticed. The Shack becomes a kind of love shack - a place for Jesus et al. to be Mack's girlfriend. You can yell at God and be pissed off and, sheesh, if only God would explain himself. Jobian? Maybe, except in Job, if we remember, God doesn't explain himself. He just is and Job gets it - or is satisfied with not getting it. In the book of Proverbs we are told, "Where words are many, sin is not wanting; but he who restrains his lips does well" (Pr 10.19). This is ordinarily true. But when you write a work where half of your novel is about the actions and words of the Blessed Trinity, this becomes extraordinarily true. It's like giving a five year old an Uzi. It's an author using the Blessed Trinity as his mouthpiece, making a god that fits.

Pope Leo XIII wrote, "The Mystery of the Blessed Trinity is called by the doctors of the Church 'the substance of the New Testament,' that is to say, the greatest of all mysteries, since it is the fountain and origin of them all. In order to know and contemplate this mystery, the angels were created in heaven and men upon earth. In order to teach more fully this mystery, which was but foreshadowed in the Old Testament, God Himself came down from the angels unto men ..." This is no mean doctrine. This is the doctrine. And yet Young gets it wrong. Then he builds his theological shack from there, board by rickety board. All authority and religion and institutions and hierarchy are man-made and are sneered at by God in this book. I understand the milieu this kind of thinking rises up out of, but it is sadly mistaken. Apparently Christ did not appoint some as apostles. Apparently all that bit in the New Testament about the episcopacy is just man's garbage/baggage - or perhaps due to the hardness of man's heart. Apparently sheep do not need a shepherd, leastwise none but God.

Wisdom is personified in the novel and is far more awe-inspiring then the Godhead. But then that isn't hard here, because God is not awe-inspiring in The Shack. Lewis's genius in writing about God - Aslan as a type of Christ - is that Aslan is always other and rarely around. His words are few and far between. He growls sometimes. He is wholly wild and wholly good. Reverence. Young's God is rather teddy bearish. Barney-as-God, if you will, singing his theology.

And the book goes on to offend any faith tradition remotely liturgical by rejecting all ritual and hierarchy and ecclesiology. "Nothing is ritual," Papa (bear) repeats. But as I finished reading the book before Mass and walked into my parish and dipped my fingers in holy water and crossed myself, I thought, "No, everything is ritual." (Damn near everything.) Unfortunately some have made ritual to be a godless thing, definitionally - without God, without merit, without hope. Yet ritual is how we as humans live - from how we rise and go to bed to how we celebrate, from how we eat our food to how we make love (or, better, that we make love). It is birthdays and weddings - I Love You's and kisses. Baptisms and bedtime prayers. Ritual can become empty and lifeless. But the answer to that problem is not to toss the ritual, but to renew the heart.

For me, Young reaches his theological low point on the Sunday of Mack's tryst with God. Mack and the three persons of the Godhead sit down together and celebrate Communion: "Without any ritual, without ceremony, they savored the warm bread and shared the wine and laughed about the stranger moments of the weekend." That's what makes it for me, along with the inane chumminess, a bitter read.

Much more could be said, but I've already said too much. There are good things that I haven't talked about. But the longer I think about the book, the less I like it. I did not like it, Sam I am.

P.S.: My wife doesn't much care for The Shack either, finding the depictions of the Godhead ridiculous, interruptive and distracting. She wanted me to tell you.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Shack Attack

I read Wm. Paul Young's The Shack Saturday night and Sunday morning (while waiting for the girls in Faith Formation) and would like to post something about my thoughts on this book. But I'll have to do it later because the kids are needing me now.