Love the One(s) You're With

2013 is fast approaching, and with it the recollection that resolutions are in order. Who doesn't hope that each new year might bring with it some kind of change, however insignificant? I have a few ideas for new year's resolutions, one of which would go something like "read the books you already own."

Most years I make some resolution regarding books. This past year was 1) to read more and frivolously, and 2) to blog about it. I have a very bad habit of buying more books than I can read, and then going out and getting even more at the library. 2012 has been a year of reading as much as possible, however ridiculous the material - and in the first part of the year I took that very seriously, reading through about thirty young adult novels, among other things, at a remarkable pace, on top of my usual editing load. I flagged off a good deal this fall, and I'm now about ten books behind my goal for the year. But this is not a resolution to get anxious about.

Now I'm looking about me at all of the thicker volumes I've collected that I didn't attend to this year because they would, quite simply, take too long. I think 2013 is the year for them. This means (ideally) finishing Les Miserables (and not just because of the film), War and Peace, and Joseph and His Brothers, as well as the Umberto Eco novel I recently (five months ago) borrowed from some friends, the China Mieville that's been sitting by my bed for too long, and the large stack of non-fiction that has been crying out to me since that ancient age, 2011.

I'll also be leading a few more reading groups in which we'll tackle three or four Madeleine L'Engle titles and C. S. Lewis' space trilogy. I'm looking forward to those, because they're books I love to reread and never, ever tire of. Lastly, I began several series' in 2012 that I will continue reading as the sequels come out. I suspect they will be the only books, at least in the first part of the year, I put on my to-be-read pile that I don't already own.


Happy Day After Christmas

And on a completely unrelated note, there's an interview with Madeleine L'Engle biographer Leonard S. Marcus on Omnivoracious. Whatever you think or feel of Amazon, you gotta love their book bloggers.


"The good news of Christmas is that the atmosphere of fear and hostility isn’t the natural climate for human beings, and it can be changed." - Rowan Williamscourtesy of Ayjay


Freedom or Safety

If blog posts were articles, I'd wait to write this till I'd done some research. But I've been thinking about this topic a lot lately, and that will have to do for now. The topic being, as the title suggests, the relationship between freedom and safety.

I was thinking about this a lot during the election, as I tried to mentally sift the different parties into their fundamental ideals. There being so little harmony between parties, it seemed like a helpful exercise. Why is it that we are so divided? What values are so conflicting that they can create such dissension?

Recent events have brought the two to mind again. I'm not going to give any space here to the massacre at Sandy Hook, because enough has been said and enough can never be said, and that's the way it is with tragedy. I am not ready to attempt to do justice to it.

So, moving slightly through that, I was struck by how quickly people responded to the horror with a call to metaphorical arms against...well, arms. I suppose they would have claimed that there's no better time to discuss gun control than after a violent shooting. I would claim the opposite. Dear people, your politics are in bad taste. And no matter how personal the issue, it's still politics.

But this is not a post about gun control. It's about the choice between freedom and safety. I suspect that choice is at the heart of most political conversation. Do we choose more freedom even though it will put the weak at risk? Or do we choose to protect ourselves and others even if it means sacrificing our freedom? Back in the day, the political theorists who fashioned the building blocks of this country felt that freedom within and safety from without was the best policy. This is an almost ridiculous summary, of course, but it's still pretty accurate.

I bring this up not because I'm feeling political, but because I think this has something to do with us as human beings, at our core. We want to be free! We fear for ourselves! And our attempts to deal with both of these urges are at the heart of our political structures, our personal ideals, our sins and our salvation.

The two will be at odds until the Kingdom of God is realized on earth, or within us. Perhaps that is part of what it means to "work out your salvation with fear and trembling" - the reconciliation of the freedom found in our identity as children of God and the safety that is realized in trusting in his providence. 



Featured this morning in our church bulletin, a recent Advent poem of mine. Though the version for the service had one line adjustment for the sake of its context; this is the original.

More often than not they arrived on foot, 
like travelers come a long distance.
Think of the three at which Sarah laughed.
Think of the one standing in Balaam’s path.

The shepherds, aghast at the one,
then suddenly surrounded face to face with a host, 
looked angels in the eyes. Scattered among the sheep—
not suspended—stalking toward them purposefully 
with peace to those on whom.

The shepherds were not the first.
All of Israel followed the angel to Canaan,
and it was the angels who brought fire to Sodom.
An angel alone led the ram to Abraham.
And we haven’t yet mentioned the cherubim,
divine dragons, guardians of the throne, strange beasts.
This is the company the angels keep.

The messengers say do not be afraid,
and often lift men from prostrate praise.
More often than harps they hold swords in hand,
and sometimes the Lord of all looks the part.
Jacob wrestled the angel, but he wrestled his God.
And the rod of justice, and the feet of bronze,
sometimes the angel is the Son of God.

Where the image of infants with tiny wings?
What the prayers for guardians of easy things?
If an angel appears, something’s worthy of fear.
You’re called to change, to move. Your heart is laid bare.

Zechariah in the temple faced the angel and said,
“I am old; I need proof.” And he was struck mute.
When Mary faced the angel with his promise of favor,
she said, “I am young; how can this be done?”

So the angel, regardless of wings, robe, harp strings, halo, 
heard much the same from each, but knew the hearts.
In her was born the King of all kings.


from Madeleine L'Engle's "Walking on Water"

"What if—the basis of all story. The small child asks all the what ifs. All of life is a story, story unravelling and revealing meaning. Despite our inability to control circumstances, we are given the gift of being free to respond to them in our own way, creatively or destructively."



Grace Bonney over at DesignSponge posted Sugru's "Fixer's Manifesto" on the blog today. Which got me thinking about manifestos in general, and resolutions, especially as we're nearing a new year. The blurry weeks of late December and early January are when so many people make resolutions they fail to keep and (usually) fail to try to keep.

But there's value in developing a set of guideposts for each season of your life, standards if you will, to help you develop yourself, your work, or your relationships in ways that are important to you. Bonney also linked to 99U's 5 Manifestos for Art, Life & Business, which include such notable resolvers as Steve Jobs, Leo Tolstoy, and Frank Lloyd Wright.

All this is leading to the obvious questions: What is your manifesto? What are your resolutions? What is your set of standards for the season?


This One's About Music

I've come across a few new musical experiences lately I thought I'd share. What with holidays and all, it's a good time to be introduced to new songs - and singers.

Maggie Ritchie and I went to college together, but I'd buy her album Something Wonderful whether I knew her or not. I don't know the first thing about reviewing music, though, so I won't tell you much about it. Just sample the songs yourself and tell me what you think.

Several musical people from my church put together an album of songs we sing a lot. Which is a lame introduction to a beautiful collection, Songs of Grace. If you like what you hear, the doors are open at 9:30 every Sunday.


The Holy Parents

Both—one at the oven in the square,
one at the sawhorse—
build from the warm earth,
shaping with calloused hands.

Joseph in the woodshop, 
always a quiet man, now grave
in upturned admiration,
guides the hands of the boy 
(the one who caused such a stir
and set the town fathers talking
and the unwise wives clucking)
bearing the sharp blade over the wood.

The boy says, ‘teach me,’
and the quiet father steps back in fear.

The man has lost a finger in his day—
and almost lost a hand.
There was a Sabbath when the boy
returned from the Rabbi
(the unleavened bread sat cold in the corner).
The father thought to ask the son for healing—
it had been a helpful finger.
But by the time the sun had set,
the father had forgot the need—
and though his faith 
(hidden as it was on the edge of Nazareth)
was firm and sure,
he was a man of simple plans
and could better bear the weight of a cedar branch
than aspire to miracle.

Not so with Mary.
For though she knows the honor of the warmth of wheat,
and though her stitch is short, her soap is strong,
still—she dreams many dreams.
Long nights would she spend at the fireside
with her sleepless son,
singing the Hebrew hymns
and snatching prayers from priests.

And when she sleeps, she mumbles prophecies,
and in her dreams she speaks in tongues.

Joseph sees the years behind 
a long stretch of dusty roads
yawning between Egypt and Bethlehem,
Bethlehem and Nazareth.
He knows the currencies of the Bedouin.
He has learned to find a room
where no room is to find.

Mary recalls the wind in her face
the hot, rich scent of the tents in the Negev.
The songs of the Egyptian nannies
washing their babies in the Nile.
She recalls the scents, the sounds,
every time a far-flung insult catches her ear,
reminding her of the mysterious parentage 
of her mysterious son,
the one she calls in whispers
when sending him to sleep,

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