I have a suggestion

Do not fear being unimportant.
Instead, broach the crevice, the crack,
those unimportant corners
lacking life and
fill them with
outrageous claims, with
exotic names, and
stories that make
rocks sing and shadows sing
chorales and such.

Yes, we may fade into
obscurity after the fashion of
matches burned to end.
But know this: as we are spent
and darkness engulfs us, a
finger will drop us,
with singed flesh
remembering fire – and
we will be seen in a
hand’s retreat, a
face’s grimace as
indifference dies the
ignoble death it is.

Buying Time

We are in the middle of car shopping right now. My wife and I find this to be a rather stressful event. We simultaneously experience a bit of hope and despair; imagining that we will find just the right car to meet our needs and even our wants, but then realizing that such a car is out of our price range. And then there is that human desire – I think – to set the self apart from the rest. Most of us want to make some mark in the world that says you end there and I begin here. We do this variously: with fashion, lifestyles, taste in art, etc. For better or worse this bit in life plagues and prods us, albeit in different modes. Some people are utterly utilitarian when it comes to cars and use other means to say who they are. While my wife and I do not define ourselves by our automobiles, we also surmise that our car says something of whom we are. That being said, I generally strive to spend as little time as possible in my car. To get to work I either bum a ride with my wife in the morning, and make my way home by walking or taking the bus, or cycling both ways (this new for me). Still, a new car …

I remember remarking when we bought our last car that we had the choice of a smaller or bigger bubble, a van, or a matchbox-like car. Things have changed a bit since then with, for example, crossovers slowly crossing out vans. The options, oddly, are both multiple and severely limited. There are more players in the game than in years past, yet they are all beholden to aerodynamic designs that push their products in the same direction. It seems that, aesthetically, differentiating automobiles is restricted to small details that sometimes seem trivial, or moot. Of course, this “problem” of finding a car that says “me!” is one that most people in the world cannot afford. Yet it makes me think of how this wish, like so many in our world, is manufactured. Plenty of air, byte and video time is invested by marketers desiring to shape my desire. Subtle and not so subtle messages aim to make me take my vehicle very seriously. This effort is not unique to the car world. We see this story played out with cell phones, with hand bags, with anything you can imagine.

I wish I could say that my transformation by the renewing of my mind – rather than conformation to the world – means absolute freedom from market forces. Alas, it seems that we are bound to commercialization, and this is not about to end. Yet this need not mean resignation. In buying cars, and so much more, we can try to buy ethically. We can endeavor to see our desires shaped by love of the planet (looking for a car both economically and ecologically sound), and attention to community (using a car in a way that serves the common good), and ethical trade (honest dealing in selling our vehicle). If what we most love, if what we most value is something divine, we will divine the need to bring choice to that throne where cherubim and seraphim remind us that this car – like all things we “own” – is not ours. It is ours to use for a time. The kind of care we take in buying, owning and selling a car might alert even others to this incontrovertible fact: how we see our “stuff” says more about us than we might first imagine.

Tasting Trials

It is impossible
to do justice to
taste even while I yearn
to tell of delights
tickling my tongue with
this delicacy or that.
This tantalized tongue
that tries to talk knows that
it cannot describe taste to
a “t” and so knows intimately
language that limps;
speech that works with lack.
It points, it gestures, it stammers;
but it cannot stop.
This tongue peppered with fire
refuses silence even though its words flail
as they try to fly
like chick from nest,
like dove from ark.

Enough, Already!

I am in the middle of a painting right now. Not so long ago I was near the end of it, but I have fallen victim to the propensity to do what a teacher of mine some years ago described as over-painting. There is a kind of painting-over where you re-use a canvas. Alas, that may be the fate of this particular piece as a result of the other kind of over-painting – the propensity to put too much into a work. The instructor who spoke to me of this danger told the class that an artist doesn’t need to cover every detail when interpreting a scene. In fact, it is sometimes more effective to allow the human imagination to connect the dots, and finish the painting in the viewing. Perhaps this is most often the best. And it might be that this is a good lesson for life.

I remember as a child, doing a craft project at elementary school. It didn’t much interest me, and its being assigned near the end of the school year provided me with the opportunity to drag it out in the hopes the year’s end might bring to an end my need to finish it. Needless to say, that didn’t go so well, and both my teacher and my parents reminded me of the importance of completing what we start, a lesson that has served me well over the years. It is an important and laudable strategy in life, as long as we remind ourselves that some projects are best completed by not being finished. This latter bit might mean, I suppose, two different things. One the one hand, some projects need to be brought to completion by recognizing that they are not viable. Sometimes we need to say to ourselves, “I gave it a go, but now is the time to let it go.” I had a great conversation with a pastor the other day about just this. She and I talked about the gift of allowing ourselves to fail, recognizing that sometimes what we aimed for just isn’t going to happen with this or that particular project. If the gospel accords us any right, it most certainly accords us the right to fail, and to embrace failure as a gift that is an occasion for learning and growing in the discipline of accepting our acceptance – as Tillich was wont to describe faith. On the other hand, sometimes we complete a project by not crossing every “t” and not dotting every “i.” Sometimes, what a project most needs is a little breathing space; some white between the colours and a pause between the notes.

I find art that is spacious to be the most invigorating, and yet I find it the most difficult to achieve. Being able to know when to quit is an important skill for artists, but really for all of us. Ending well is really a life project. I am grateful for the many ways that life affords us small opportunities to learn to let go; to let this creation or that project make its way into the world, removed from my propensity to add just a little bit more, and in so doing to take away so very much.

Step by Step Home Ownership

Yesterday my lovely wife and I rebuilt the steps for our back deck. We constructed them just last fall, before the snow flew, but we knew as soon as we put them in place that something was amiss. We also knew that it would have to wait till spring, which was of small concern since we don’t use our back deck much in the winter. The weather, now warm, invited us to come and make good on our promise.

It was a splendid day for a constructing job. Neither of us are carpenters. My wife has the knack and I have the muscles but together we make only a portion of the real deal. We enjoy doing projects from time to time, and unlike some couples, work together rather well. Even so, despite having some degree of self-confidence, like most home owners and handy men and women, we do not do jobs often enough to remember how to do things so as to get it right the first time. We always get it done, it just happens by way of a circuitous route. The wrong sized screw, or a missing tool, or the wrong color of paint will send one or the other of us back to this store or that. Usually we book double the time it really ought to take, and it takes us double the time we booked. But yesterday was a good day to double your time outdoors. The sun shone, with that strange April light that comes of a sun higher in the sky, with no leaves to filter it and little green to soak it up when it hits the ground. It was a bright day, but not hot, and thus refreshing. So, off came the steps.

Because we were without steps for most of the afternoon, my wise wife figured out a way to hop up onto our deck using a deck chair. I tried the same, and to my chagrin, discovered that my weight upended a chair that quite happily held hers. No harm was done, but I had the happy chance to roll across the new patio we had installed (this by a professional!) last fall. It was this patio that occasioned the replacement of a very dilapidated stair. Soon railing will follow, and hopefully without any more falls to follow.

The day unfolded as it should, with some happy moments for self-reflection with coffee in hand as Mrs. J ran to and fro with hardware store tasks. It struck me that we both find a kind of satisfaction in knowing our blood (sometimes!), sweat (always), and tears (rarely) are important components that we have personally contributed to bits about our house. A kind of satisfaction comes in knowing that I am in what I now use. It isn’t just about pride, or economics, or learning something new – although some of all of these fit in the mix. It is more about a different kind of ownership, or perhaps stewardship – if you will.

Perhaps some of the joy I find in self-involving repair and renovation comes from it being a kind of practice of resistance against a plug and play world, replete with toss away conveniences, jobs and economies. It is also true, that a bit of work here and there, from time to time, allows us to “own” the home differently, with a bit of sweat equity that we gladly pay on fine spring day.