Thursday, May 30, 2013

Life is More Like a Meat Pasty than a Fruit Pie

I wish life was a piece of apple pie – always golden brown on the outside and lusciously sweet on the inside, with a picture-perfect whisk of whipped cream on top. Yum… 

But life, especially messy human relationships, is not so often perfect and kind as pie. No, life more often resembles my Grandma Novak’s Polish pasties, stuffed with hearty meat and potatoes “to build character,” onions and salt, and although this meal is certainly good and filling, it is not dessert.

A few years ago, I was struggling to overcome the loneliness my heart felt after losing a friend. “After tomorrow,” I told myself, “it’s completely over” - even though I knew it was already over, whatever “it” was. And while I told myself to move on, I just couldn’t seem to drag my heart to do so.

Maybe you, too, have found yourself in the story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. As the story goes, “But Lot’s wife looked back, and she was turned into a pillar of salt.” (Genesis 19:26). Looking back and wishing for what "is no more" gets us nowhere. In fact, getting stuck looking back and wishing for the past can immobilize us and paralyze us from being fully alive in the present and doing what we are meant to do.

In my journal a few years ago, I recounted about the loss of a friend: “It’s my own fault for getting so caught up about him. I just had so much joy from the beginnings of a new friendship. He gave me a lift in my step, put a smile on my face, and gave me a reason to get up each morning. Friends do that, you know, they inspire and motivate you to pursue your goals and continue to grow. Friendship can be this simple and this profound at the same time. That’s why it hurts so much to lose it, and why I’m sitting here, thinking about him."

So how are we to respond? Are we not supposed to be open and searching for Christian love in others? How can I guard my heart but not close my heart? How can I hope without also being disappointed? How can I love without being hurt? How can I accept the past as enriching my life today? These paradoxes are part of the human heart, a battleground of sorrow and joy. 

So again we roll back our shoulders, pick ourselves up and walk on. What’s to keep being muddled in the past for? It can take our whole will to stretch our limbs forward and make sure our heart doesn’t get left behind. It takes all our faith in God to keep our eyes ahead and not on the broken city being destroyed behind us. God reminds us not ever to become too attached to the things of this earth, for “this too shall pass away.” 

It is only by the mercy of God that we can ever walk on and leave our past. In the case of the hesitating (and stalling) Lot and his wife, God had to order his angels to grab them by the hands and lead them out of the city so they would be saved (Genesis 19). So it is with us sometimes, who hold out as long as possible, saying “What if? But what about my family, God? What about those I’m leaving behind? Why must I move now?” It’s necessary that we stop asking questions and instead obey and trust in the Lord. 

Lord, I know that the plans you have for me are great and demand all my strength. It’s hard to let go of relationships, of home, of family, or a job and the hopes we had in the past, but I know that the future of whatever is ahead of me is always better and brighter than the past. Help me to believe that the best is yet to come. Thank you for the joys of the past, thank you for the hope of a future, thank you for the trial of the present moment. Please command your angels, Lord, to take my hand.

...I suppose, if we ate fruit pie all the time, eventually a deeper hunger would consume us for something more substantial. I’m hoping for heaven, wishing for paradise, and missing out on the good stuff around me. I’m missing the meat, the salt, the onion, the spice that goes into living in the moment, being satisfied and grateful for the here and now.  

Sunday, May 5, 2013

The Upside-Down Guitar Speaks

This post will be short because I’m going to let some talented musicians do the talking, not me. 

I went to a concert by Mike Mangione and The Union at a Christian coffeehouse in Green Bay, and quickly fell in love with their soulful lyrics and blend of folk, rock and symphonic sound. Part of the mystery for me was watching these talented musicians tune in to one another and bring out the best in each other, while creating a unique and distinctive sound.

I would deem these artists Christian humanists, as they seek not to disengage from modern culture to seek after the divine but rather to create art that engages the culture and modernity at large by drawing from the common depths of human experience and discovering grace at work there. You won’t find politicized messages or gilded-edge Bible verses, but their music has a tragic sense of a soul at stake. In its texture and lyrics, one feels a longing for more than human mediocrity and a cry for redemption. 

The concert reinforced a lot of what I’ve been mulling over lately, how Flannery O’Connor says the bedrock for drama is in original sin and good stories hinge on the point of conversion. Also, in the book I am reading by Gregory Wolfe, Beauty Will Save the World, he suggests imagination through the art form is needed to redeem our time, and that writers and artists of faith today need not shout the truth but whisper - for the truth will speak for itself.  A church father once said, “Wherever there is truth, it is the Lord’s.” 

In the first video below, Mike Mangione talks about his faith being the lens for his songwriting. He talks about the reality of his days and concerts being numbered, which grounds him in the present, and he reveals his writing models, Bruce Springsteen and Flannery O'Connor.

Thanks, Mike Mangione and The Union for being an inspiration! Cheers!