Perhaps it may turn out a sang,
Perhaps turn out a sermon.

-- R. Burns Epistle to a Young Friend

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Second Story Man

When He entered Capernaum again after some days, it was reported that He was at home. So many people gathered together that there was no more room, not even in the doorway, and He was speaking the message to them. Then they came to Him bringing a paralytic, carried by four men. Since they were not able to bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above where He was. And when they had broken through, they lowered the stretcher on which the paralytic was lying.

Seeing their faith, Jesus told the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” -- Mark 2:1-5

This became a favorite passage for me one Sunday night down in a little town south of Fort Worth. We had shown up at church along with the rest of the very small congregation back in those pre-cellphone or at least pre-ubiquitous-cellphone days. The word came just as the service was to begin that the pastor and his family had an emergency requiring immediate attention. In a larger church that would have been no problem. In our little group, the pastor, his wife, and daughter were the entirety of the staff as well as the musicians and choir. We had no actual deacons or associate pastors. My only status was that of FOTP (friend of the pastor). We weren’t even technically members of that church. Still, rather than send everyone home or to one of the other local churches, my wife suggested I grab a music stand (as opposed to the pulpit) and start talking. We had one older lady with a beautiful and loud singing voice, and I asked her if she could lead us in a couple of a cappella songs. While she did that, I opened my Bible, which just happened to open to Mark 2.

For someone forced to speak extemporaneously and with no preparation time, the great thing about this story is its visual character. We can see those four friends hauling their buddy down the street, coming up against the loose fringe of the human mass, pushing forward a little then realizing that advance is hopeless. We can imagine them retreating and regrouping. One says we might as well give this up. Maybe we can catch Jesus tomorrow. Another is reluctant saying that their paralyzed friend was suffering and needs help today. And besides I have to shear sheep tomorrow. Three of them are arguing about the obstacles and the impossibility of the situation. But one guy is standing there just staring at the roof. Finally, when the thought is fully formed, he voices his suggestion. The other three are a little skeptical at first, but, as they ponder it, they begin to smile. It just might work.

A desperately unprepared person can use this quality of the narrative to draw in the listeners while creating both time and verbal space to pick up a salient point for teaching or inspiring, and this little passage is loaded with them: unity of purpose and the power of teamwork, persistence in the face of difficulty, the reality that sometimes none of us can make it alone, where there is a will there is a way, or the fact that Jesus won’t reject you just because you don’t come in the front door – just to mention the obvious.

The one that always jumps out at me first is that the four men carrying that stretcher must have loved their helpless, paralyzed brother and believed beyond all reason that Jesus was capable of restoring him. It says that Jesus saw their faith, but He also saw their love, their willingness to try anything to get to the Lord – not for their own benefit, but for the sake of someone else. The paralyzed man may not have been a particularly good person. We don’t know. He may have been just like us. After all, Jesus had to tell him his sins were forgiven before he could be healed. We don’t know if the four stretcher-bearers were part of the man’s family, some friends, or maybe they were just people who had gotten caught up in the moment, saw a crippled guy and wondered if Jesus could heal that one. The Spirit can work with most anything, and it was the Holy Spirit who grabbed those men and set them off.

I see, too, that Jesus didn’t have to ask them, as He often did with others, if they believed. He could see their faith – as James says, “I’ll show you my faith by my works.” These guys were the epitome of that statement. They didn’t hang back and say, “Well, let’s just pray and believe that old Sam here will be delivered and healed.” They pushed and pulled and sweated and maybe even cussed a little. I’m guessing these weren’t structures with high ceilings. Nevertheless, getting the deadweight of a person on cot onto a roof then down through a roof is work, not to mention tearing away the shingles or thatch or whatever it was they had to get through. Sometimes faith is manifested in simple acceptance of the word -- like the centurion in Luke chapter 7, but sometimes it must be evidenced by a depleted bank account when we give until it hurts or seen in broken blisters or felt in aching muscles when we press on through the pain.

The man on the cot is all of us. His paralysis is a picture of the human will in bondage. We are powerless to do anything for ourselves. Sometimes we know too well the path we took to this place. For others it appears they were simply born in their helpless states. No matter how we happened to get here, the only hope we have for freedom from our condition is Jesus. But what can we do? The New Testament gives us various illustrations. In some cases, seemingly out of the blue, like the man at the Pool of Bethesda in John 5, Jesus comes to us and asks us if we want to be healed. Other times, like Jairus’ daughter or Lazarus, someone may carry the word of our need to Jesus and implore Him to visit us. Or, someone may pick us up and carry us to Him.

That last method is work always because it involves close and sustained contact between the bearer and the borne. These that we carry are the impotent among are friends, family, and the people with whom we work. We have to live our lives consistently and persistently if we are going to get them past the many obstacles, past the hypocritical and hypercritical crowds. When our way is blocked, we can’t make it a one-man operation. We may need help. We may need to step back and think about a new approach, and we cannot be overly sensitive about offending anyone or anything that gets in the way.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Illusions of the Grave Cave

The twelve gates are twelve pearls; each individual gate was made of a single pearl. The broad street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass. – Revelation 21:21

Abraham lived in tents because he was looking for a city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God (Hebrews 11:9-10). When Moses was told to build the Tabernacle, he was instructed to make the Holy of Holies a perfect cube of ten cubits, about fifteen feet high, wide and deep – to house the Ark of the Covenant on which God’s Presence dwelt. The City of God as described in Revelation is a cube as well, though a massive one – fifteen hundred miles across and high. The Lord seems to be telling us that His city, the kingdom, or heaven is very much a Most Holy Sanctuary wherein His Presence truly dwells. The size of the city hints at the grandeur and majesty of God. All the gold and the pearl gates and the twelve foundations of glorious stones are elements reflected in the types Moses created for the Tabernacle and the priestly attire of Aaron.

Consider for a moment that good, old-fashioned and endangered incandescent light bulb. In its small, humble way, it is a little like the sun, for it burns, giving off light and some heat. Still, if I were to say to someone who is unfamiliar with light bulbs that they are like the sun, when that person saw a bulb for himself, he might be justifiably disappointed. On the other hand, suppose somewhere a person lived who was familiar with the various kinds of artificial light sources but had never seen the sun, the moon, or the stars. Perhaps he is a cave-dweller living an exclusively subterranean existence. If we met this denizen of the caverns and began to tell him of the great light that illuminates the world, we might compare it to one of his little light. We might tell him to imagine a huge floodlight set high above his head. We might be poetic, eloquent and inspired in our description, yet when he saw the sun with his own blinking, shuttered, aching eyes, he would be stunned by the reality. No description could prepare him for the brilliance of the light or the burning heat of a deep summer day.

“Our God is a consuming fire” – You may have looked into the heart of a live volcano, but it will seem a tea candle compared to the fire of God. “Jesus is the light of the world” – We will know that metaphor for the pitiful thing it is when we face Him and, like John the Revelator, fall helpless at His feet unable to bear the brightness of His visage. We will know gold, pearls, and diamonds for the weak comparisons they are when we see the living Sanctuary in all its glory.

Even when we are blessed with glimpses through the fog, when we see a flash of glory in a dream or a vision, when our eyes are opened and we see “the chariots and horsemen of God” or “His train filling the temple”, it is hard to hang on to it. Others will tell us we have an overactive imagination. They will say we are extrapolating from the ‘real’ – the cave-dweller might say the same thing about our ‘sun’, if he never ventured to ascend. Someone will tell us that we just believe in such things because we want them to be so. In a way, that, at least, is true – except these are not self-indulgent, self-glorifying daydreams. If we think of self at all in the face of that glory it is to recognize our unworthiness and be humbled. Again, as my friend Eddie said, God will not allow us to think better of Him than He can be to us. He will not show us visions of stars when all He has to give us are 40-watt bulbs. If my dreams exceed the limitations of the world, then it is the world that needs to be cracked open.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Higher Laws

The foundation of the Christian faith is that the basis of human life is redemptive, and on that basis, God performs His miracles. – Oswald Chambers from The Shadow of an Agony

For those who are perishing, the message of the cross is foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is God’s power. – 1 Corinthians 1:18

I wonder if, at the time Chambers wrote those words somewhere around a hundred years ago, they met with more agreement than they would today. I suspect a great many people view that statement – provided they don’t pass right over it – as quaint and na├»ve, if not ridiculous. The question is raised: What is the basis of human life? Dawkins says it is the replication of selfish genes, which washes out free will and makes a mockery – not just of religion, as is intended, but of all human culture including science itself. If I’m going to be a puppet, I think it is better to be a marionette guided by a possibly loving higher being than to be a sock puppet of mindless, irrational genetic forces. Putting aside the Dawkins crowd, we might see a thinker with more respect for humanity give a different answer – something along the lines of “self-realization”, and it is self-realization that Chambers goes on to speak about in that passage.

Self-realization can mean different things to different people, but it is a convenient term for a pragmatic approach to life. We don’t know how we got here or why, but, hey, let’s make the most of it. The idea of self-realization can run from the truly spiritual to the criminally hedonistic. It echoes in innocuous and even positive phrases from “be all you can be” or “the pursuit of happiness” to more selfish ones like “get it while you can”, “you’ve got please yourself”, or that notorious anthem of the ‘60’s “if it feels good, do it”. In its highest form, self-realization is a pursuit of authenticity and contentment within the accepted moral and rational bounds of society. It makes for a good person, someone we’d like to have for a neighbor. Often the better class of practitioners will accept, either openly or tacitly, the tenets of Christianity or some related moral system. In fact, I have found that many people who think of themselves as Christians are practicing self-realization within the framework of the Ten Commandments or perhaps the Sermon on the Mount. They go to church. They give money to charity. They do good works, and so on.

No matter how good we are, if we never turn aside and take the time to understand that the central point of Christianity is the Cross and with it the redemption of man by God, we are bound to be disturbed by all that assails us in life. But if we will walk up that hill and stand at the foot of the Cross, gazing up at Christ as He hangs suspended between heaven and earth, between God and man, we can begin to understand what God thinks of redemption. At that point, there can be no question about the fact of His desire to rescue us and embrace us, even if the why of it remains elusive.

Paul says it himself – it is foolishness to the perishing. A vast universe, eons of time, billons of years of life and death and mud and blood, millions of species passing into oblivion, and it is all to bring us to an insignificant little knoll beside a dusty road on the edge of a squalid town in a backwater country. It is laughable. Yet the alternative is not just that Jesus died for nothing, but that man lives, in anything more than a purely physical way, for nothing. Either we are sons of God being redeemed from enslavement to the material and temporal, or we are self-deluded animals driven by forces we cannot control even if we should understand them.

…[B]ecause God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom… -- those who accept the redemptive basis of human life find that there has been an amazing pattern running through their lives. Like pieces of a puzzle falling into place, what made no sense suddenly fits in the picture. There was an accident that seemed to be a mere inconvenience but revealed a truth about myself. There was a chance meeting with an old friend that reinforced a good decision. There was a disaster that opened many hearts to God’s comforting presence. Some will question: Does God allow death and destruction merely to get people’s attention? Why doesn’t He just speak directly to us or give us a sign instead? Not attention, redemption.

This is one of my common themes, and though I am far too repetitive, it is one of those things I have to work through for some reason. I watch myself – and others sometimes – but mainly me – and when I can step back a little, I see God is answering my questions so loudly and clearly that I have trouble hearing it.

But I don’t want to get so far down my typical track that I forget the end of the sentence: …and on that basis, God performs His miracles. The miraculous serves the redemptive. I believe in miracles, but I do not believe that God ever violates the laws of the cosmos. It is that the law of redemption is higher than any other law, even in this world. Turning stones into bread at the devil’s behest is a conjurer’s trick, and Satan’s hand must be in it. But feeding a multitude by multiplying bread is the hand of God operating through the law of redemption.
”It means,” said Aslan, “that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. …”

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Batteries Not Included

Then the kingdom of heaven will be like 10 virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the groom. Five of them were foolish and five were sensible. When the foolish ones took their lamps, they didn’t take oil with them. But the sensible ones took oil in their flasks with their lamps. Since the groom was delayed, they all became drowsy and fell asleep.

In the middle of the night [at the midnight hour -- traditional] there was a shout: ‘Here’s the groom! Come out to meet him!’ – Matthew 25:1-6

Oil, we were always reminded, is a type of the Holy Spirit. But the story isn’t just about oil, it is about fire and light. As long as the sun is up and everything is evident and exposed to the natural eye, oil, to the mind of the foolish, is superfluous.

I used to read this story and picture in my mind the coal oil lamps that all of us country folks had sitting around for those quite frequent times when the power failed. They are antiques now, but we had to use them any time there was lightning, high winds, heavy rain, or, sometimes, for no apparent reason. Electricity was considerably less reliable in our part of the country fifty years ago. Our lamps, of course, had a big reservoir from which the wick drew kerosene, as well as a tall, very fragile chimney that bellied around the flame to both protect and feed it. The lamps of the virgins were not like that. They might have been terra cotta vessels about two inches deep and four inches across – the width of a man’s palm. Those lamps had one larger center opening an inch or so across in which to pour the oil, with a smaller opening at the nose of the lamp for the wick. Some were even less elaborate – simply an open, clamshell-shaped dish with a narrow, elevated slot to hold the wick. These were not lamps with a long burning time. The first five virgins were foolish, not because they had only a little oil, but because they had none. Without batteries even a Surefire M6 isn’t illuminating.

We should do our work in the day, preparing for the coming, inevitable night. Part of that preparation is to provision ourselves with light for those long dark hours when the sun is as far away as it can get, when life reaches the nadir, when natural perception faces the blackness of incomprehension.

My daughter gave birth to a healthy, normal baby -- on Lincoln’s birthday. Given her age and the problems she has had over the past few years – including foolishly totaling a perfectly good car shortly after she became pregnant, this is miraculous. On the other hand, there is my niece. She is younger than my daughter and in better health. She had two previous pregnancies with no problems at all. She has a stable life, a loving husband, and no bad habits of which I am aware. My niece is as beautiful, intelligent, kind, and loving a person as you are ever likely to meet. Yet, the same day that my new grandson arrived, my niece learned that the child she is carrying will likely not be born alive, and, if by some wondrous chance he is, he would require immediate surgery. The prospects are not good. For her, it is midnight. I believe, though, my niece and her husband are numbered among the wise. They can trim their lamps and go on knowing the light they have will not fail even in the darkness of sorrow, grief, loss, and disappointment.

As long as the good are rewarded and the bad are punished, I’m OK. The mind of modern man tends to think his judgment is less fallible than that of his predecessors, perhaps less fallible even than the relatively primitive mind of Christ. We are more evolved and enlightened. We are better able to judge right and wrong. Some of us think ourselves capable of judging God and calling His actions into question. Call me a stop sign, but that is a bad road, if a sure one, to Midnight itself.

The odd thing is that the midnight hour is supposed to be a joyous occasion, a celebration, not because it is dark, but because of our being reunited with the Groom. If we are ready, if we have prepared ourselves, built up our reserve ahead of the times of darkness, we will welcome Him and come to know Him in a greater and more intimate way. Otherwise, we will flee in shame. I cannot speak where others are concerned, but, for myself, I know that God always gives me grace to prepare. I may allow myself to be distracted, to become foolish in my thinking, to be turned aside to other things and neglect the filling of my flask, but I can never say that I had no opportunity to be ready. In a moment’s time really, I can have all the oil I need to feed the flame of truth all through the darkest of nights.

Get ready.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Wheels, Clown Car, After-Market

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavens, in Christ; for He chose us in Him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless in His sight. – Ephesians 1:3-4a

I am naturally inclined toward too much introspection, subject to bouts of depression, always wondering if I’ve done enough, or enough of the right thing. Coming out of college I had discovered about three ways to self-medicate and suppress this problem. Unfortunately, one was illegal, the second one caused me to fall down a lot, and the third one was a good way to get shot. And, honestly, “finding Jesus” did not help that much. I became a pillar of church – one who was inclined to too much introspection, subject to bouts of depression, always wondering if I had done enough or enough of the right thing, while smiling, singing, and pretending to have it all together. I was about at the point of thinking that maybe the best thing to do was look up Jim, Jack, Johnny, or Jose.

My problem was that I kept asking an inconvenient question: What good is this? All of our efforts and activities as Christians seemed to accomplish very little that I considered good. Either something was going on that I didn’t know about or my understanding of “good” was misguided, or possibly, there really was no point to all this crap at all. If you’ve ever read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, you may recall that Pirsig’s conflicted alter ego Phaedrus encountered a dilemma that left him catatonic. I found myself thinking of Phaedrus a lot. I didn’t go that same direction, but I was in danger of making some very detrimental, irreversible choices.

There is the basic command to “be fruitful and multiple, and replenish the earth”, but once the kids are out of the house, the majority of that job is or should be done. That leaves most of us quite a bit of free time. Working night and day to buy all kinds of cool stuff that you rarely have time to use doesn’t seem too fulfilling. Building another building to house another worship service when most church buildings are mostly empty anyway never made much sense to me -- thus a successful career in ministry did not seem a likely choice.

So, why am I here? I’ve read the Bible a lot since I was a kid when the folks ordered one from Sears and Roebuck with my name stamped on the front. I’ve read Ephesians, especially the first couple of chapters, hundreds of times. Every time I read “He chose us … to be holy and blameless…”, I saw it as something I needed to work on. Yep, I need to be more holy and blameless. Then one day I looked at it and saw it differently. I was chosen to be holy and blameless. Why is that different? It is a state that comes with being “in Christ”. If you choose someone to be in a position – say, Homecoming Queen – she is the Queen. She can’t be more Queen. She can’t be less Queen. In the case of a Homecoming Queen, a person could be a poor choice, but that would not alter her state. I am undoubtedly a bad choice to be holy and blameless, but it’s not my “beauty”, i.e., my Good-ness that is being evaluated. Christ holds that office, and His suitability for it is without question. I am elevated to that position in Him.

My purpose in this world is to inhabit the state of being holy and blameless and let the position work on me. Proverbs 6:23 says: For a commandment is a lamp, teaching is a light, and corrective instructions are the way to life. The law is light by which we can see God’s pure and righteous nature, that we may know Him and understand Him. Beyond that, we when live according to the law – that is, according to His will, in the state of being holy and blameless, we will encounter pressures and forces that reshape us to fit our new state. Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble. Don’t worry about it. I’ve overcome the world.” I originally took that to mean that I would be delivered from my troubles the more I conformed to God’s will – which isn’t really a bad interpretation. In a sense it is perfectly true. I too long failed to see that it was my being conformed more and more to God’s will that caused my trouble, and that the trouble itself then became the hand of God to shape me to fit that really odd-looking hole in the wall of the Sanctuary. You might say we are not delivered from suffering but are delivered, as sons to our Father, by our suffering and endurance.

The tedious, repetitive drama alternating with chaotic circus that is this life, then, ceases to be meaningless, empty, and futile. The wheel keeps turning, yes, but it is not simply spinning horizontally on a vertical axis. The rubber is meeting the road of time. We’re not wandering in circles – the road goes ever on. We have a map. Our direction is laid out. It may be a wheel on a clown car, but the car is moving. We’re going somewhere after all. All the things and doings that seem to have no point are of value in transforming me, first, and also, possibly, in transforming others -- if not bringing them to the point of seeking transformation. We are being fitted for life in all its fullness, for that time, or timelessness, when the all limitations we have fall away and we stand, on our own, holy and blameless in His sight.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Shaken Not Stirred

For thus says the LORD of hosts: ‘Once more (it is a little while) I will shake heaven and earth, the sea and dry land; and I will shake all nations, and they shall come to the Desire of All Nations, and I will fill this temple with glory,’ says the Lord of hosts. – Haggai 2:6-7

Now this, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of those things that are being shaken, as of things that are made, that the things which cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire. – Hebrews 12:27-28

Clothes don’t mean that much to me.
Why don’t you go and ask the Snake?
What really turns me on, is the shake.

-- Neal McCoy

Henry Paulson, former Secretary of the Treasury, has written a book called On the Brink: Inside the Race to Stop the Collapse of the Global Financial System. In interviews promoting his book, Mr. Paulson tells us that he could envision the destruction of the entire American way of life if Wall Street investment banks collapsed under the weight of their derivatives speculation. Mr. Paulson relates that this prospect caused him great fear. He tells how, at one point, he stepped out into the hall and called his wife to ask her to pray for him. It is worth noting that Secretary Paulson is a member of the Church of Christ Scientist.

Now I think that Mr. Paulson, along with George Bush and Congress, were wrong in bailing out the system, but I will admit I’m no expert and I’m not sure how dire the consequences would have been. Would Main Street have felt the tremors of Wall Street giants leaping from ledges? We would have – though most of us believe that we are plunging or about to plunge over an equally high and abrupt precipice of massive debt and out-of-control government spending. Simple folks without prestigious rank and titles suspect that all Secretary Paulson and the government accomplished was to create a new bubble to replace housing – a government-spending bubble which will be far more temporary and far more disastrous when it bursts than anything we have experienced so far. During one of Henry Paulson’s interviews he said that he did not want to be the Treasury Secretary who presided over the collapse of the system. I can’t say that I blame him for that. Most of us can feel some sympathy for his position while being less than pleased with his actions and the ultimate result. Perhaps history will be kind to him and allow his name and his contribution to be forgotten when the shaking finally comes.

The reason I mention all of this is that it is makes easy to see that fear is the primary motivating factor of the world system. The old nature tends to operate out of fear when it is not building on the sandy soil of hubris. Since the Garden we try to find those things that make us feel good, and, having acquired them, we fear their loss. It is the inclination of fallen man to deify self by trying to control certain aspects of life. It never works but failure doesn’t stop us from trying. If we were more objective about our foibles we could find them amusing, even endearing – much the way we feel when watching small children have tea parties or care for their dolls.

We build and buttress, fence and defend. We lose sleep worrying. We scheme and sweat. There is no end to our clever endeavors and the intricate intrigues pursued in our effort to insulate the very vulnerable self from the raw reality of existence. Oddly enough the one thing that is permanent, the truly eternal, is the One that we avoid. Our bare soul with nothing between it and God is the only unshakeable foundation.

There is no need to fear. When the shaking comes it will only remove the dross, those things that are of no value or consequence. When it is all over we will know what is pure and good and true for only those things will be left. All the wood, hay, and stubble will be shaken loose and consumed by that fire – not a fire of destruction and loss but of restoration and resurrection.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

I'm Not Making Fun of a Tragedy BATTLEFIELD, Mo.--A car crash on Farm Road 115 has claimed the life of a Springfield man.

The Missouri Highway Patrol says Luckey Schellack's car ran off the road and rolled several times Wednesday. Schellack was thrown from the car and pronounced dead at the scene. He was 58 years old.

Prayers for Mr. Schellack's family. Fifty-eight is far too young to die.

I'm simply impressed that someone is named Luckey, let alone Luckey Schellack, and that, in all likelihood, the first time most of us have heard anything about him is a result of his unlucky demise.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Suffer the Little Children – Not Fools

I assure you: Whoever does not welcome the kingdom of God like a little child will not enter into it. – Mark 10:15

The passing of J.D. Salinger last week has unleashed a pack of tenured hounds to give mouth in the hunt for the stag of truth. That most of those loosed are curs incapable of discerning the back trail from the front and who will bark on covered sign like they’re running by sight will not diminish their marks since all the judging is done, these days, from around the fire. You can get points just for being loud. It is a time for all to return in thought to their glory days, for retrospectives, for recalling how the works of Salinger changed the direction of American literature and their own lives.

I might as well join in – old hound that I am. I never hunted much with the pack and could never run the front, except maybe on the occasional cutback where I’ve been known to swing a little wide at the risk of getting thrown. I am not registered with the academic AKC, have no hope of winning best of show (I do know my line for the last couple of generations), and I am certainly no Salinger scholar. In fact his death surprised me, as I had no idea he was still alive. His writing has been so long dead to me that I suppose I assumed he was as well. This is not to say that Salinger’s best-known novel, Catcher in the Rye, is without literary merit. I can appreciate his skill in sustaining a unique and memorable voice throughout the work – as for the rest … well … you know those pictures they show to high school assemblies – the ones of smashed, bloody cars resulting from reckless or drunken driving? That’s my view.

Holden Caulfield might agree with Jesus concerning little children. He would probably say that a little child can get into the kingdom because the child is not a phony. Yet it never seems to occur to Caulfield that one could possibly regain the innocence of childhood without being childish. He would never have grasped the paradox Jesus articulates in urging us to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. He would have dismissed the too large, too deep concept as he did in mocking the morality of a well-to-do Christian undertaker. Holden’s fantasy job that gives the book its title does pay homage to protecting innocence, but he appears unwilling to surrender any of his own adolescence to mature into childlikeness. Given Caulfield’s macabre clinging to a passing hormonal state, is it any wonder that this book is required reading among two or three waves of the indoctrination syndicate’s literature goombas? They do not want us to believe in Paradise Restored. We should learn to embrace the emptiness and celebrate it. We are brave when we do so.

Catcher in the Rye and Franny and Zooey are akin to sacred scripture of the leftists for in these books Salinger gave them the authority of naming their own Unforgiveable Sin: phoniness. But we all know that. There is a more subtle error in Catcher in the Rye that bothered me when I first read it in high school. I was unable to say why it was wrong but it nagged me for years.

At one point, we read of an exchange between Holden’s older brother, D.B., and his since-deceased younger brother, Allie, with regard to D.B.’s service in World War II. Allie suggests that D.B.’s writing might benefit from his wider experience in the war. D.B. counters by asking Allie who is the better “war poet”: Emily Dickinson or Rupert Brooke. Allie responds correctly that it is Emily Dickinson.

The truth is, of course, that Dickinson is simply the better poet – period – whether speaking of wars or roses. Brooke is, like many a minor poet, content with sentimentality well-expressed. His work is patriotic and inspiring but no where near the universal human truth turned up by the genius of Dickinson. Salinger cleverly implies that Brooke was the lesser poet because he was a soldier. Brooke knew war in a way Dickinson never could. That he was unable to convey that in poetic form does not take away from the truth of it. It is ironic that Salinger follows Brooke in settling for sentimentality well-expressed rather than a full pursuit of the truth in his own writings.

As an off the point thought, this may help us understand the left today. To the adolescent mind winning an argument is the same as being right.

Salinger’s work is deceiving. He holds up a mirror to us, but, like all mirrors, it shows only the surface. Slyly handled, mirrors can give the impression of depth that does not exist. His post-modern heroes study their own faces intently -- but never search their souls, which is to be expected since the post-modern hero has no soul.

Monday, February 1, 2010

How I Spent My Winter Vacation

I didn't really take a vacation but I did have to take a couple of days off last week. I finally gave up, went in, and had my eye fixed. It turned out to be a very fast procedure. For one thing, there was no general anesthetic. I was pretty relaxed and pain-free but fully aware of what was going on through the operation. I could hear the little ultrasound thing that broke up the old lens. When the doctor slipped the new lens in place, I could instantly see the lights above my eye. I'm sure if I hadn't been a little dopey it would have been freaky. As it was, it just seemed pretty cool.

A half hour later I walked out the door and was on the way home. I ate a little, drank a couple of cups of coffee and fell asleep for three hours. The next morning I went in to have it checked and could read the 20/30 line on the eye chart. I think I could read the 20/20 line today. My distance vision is very sharp.

The only negative is that I quickly realized how dark and foggy my other eye is becoming. It isn't nearly as bad as the other one was before I had the surgery, but the doctor says these cataracts can advance quickly. It was certainly the case with my left eye. I first noticed a little "smudge" on one part of my visual field -- like my glasses had a fingerprint on the lens -- less than a year ago. By last week, I could see only vague shapes and color, light and dark. I was, essentially, blind in my left eye.

I probably won't be cleared to drive until Friday, although I can certainly see well enough to pass my vision test without glasses today. I won't get new glasses for about four weeks. Though my distance vision is near-perfect, my arms aren't long enough to read with the new eye. Fortunately, the original equipment eye still works well enough close up.