Never takes no…

Water never takes no
for an answer. It
penetrates or
persuades, as befits
the occasion. There is
a life lesson in this:

what once gave life now destroys
what once laid waste, now gently

coaxes the cow, the crow, the corn
growing now in my garden. Water
will not be gainsaid, it is the
persistence of the Syrophoenician woman, it is
the widow who demands justice of
the unjust judge, it is
the moment when
all hell breaks loose, and you
do not know how it will
end. Water
will not be tamed,
will not be domesticated
and this image of God
coursing through my body
now calms, now rages,
now evaporates,
but it never
really
stops.

Missing Out?

This weekend I was re-acquainted with an acronym I met some years ago: FOMO, short for “fear of missing out.” I came across it in an article by Jim Balsillie and Norman Doidge, the former famous for his role in the development of the Blackberry, and the latter for his work as a psychologist. The article addressed the role of smart phones as addictive devices, pointing to the science behind the claim. It was a most illuminating and important contribution into a long, hard conversation that needs to continue on many fronts. I commend it to you.

But FOMO didn’t begin with smart phones, or the internet, or the computer, or the modern advances of technology in our society. FOMO is at the heart of human experience. The other day in class we were pondering Chagall’s painting of Isaac’s blessing of Jacob, who bought out Esau’s birthright for the price of some pottage. This may well be an example of FOMO times two: Esau that he would miss out on a meal, and Jacob (and his mother) that he would miss out on a blessing. I am sure we can all find our own examples of ways in which we have succumbed to FOMO in our personal, work, social lives, etc.

At the core of FOMO, I think is a failure to see what is within. We only worry about missing out because we miss what is within. Religion has sometimes contributed to this, certainly I can speak to this from the perspective of Christianity run amok. Some years ago it was a rather popular corrective to counter a traditional treatment of original sin with a focus on original blessing. This was intended to undermine what was seen to be an obsession with what is wrong with people. Original sin or original blessing? Which rings true for you? I think that most of us have had enough experience – both with ourselves and with others – to know that there is truth in both. We really are made in the image of God and we really do fail to be who we are. But the latter does not erase the beauty of the former, and so we all experience human beauty, courage, and curiousity in ourselves and in one another, aside from the brokenness we know so well. But it would be a mistake to think that we need God because of the latter erasing the former. The truth of the matter is that we don’t only need God because we are flawed: we need God because God made us to need God. This isn’t a flaw. This is a gift.

Of course, it isn’t only God we need. We need one another, and this also is a gift. When we look deep within ourselves and see an ache for relationships, we should be glad. We can rejoice because this ache is a trace of God in us. This is what we are created to be: in need of God and one another. I recently read an article pointing out that the greatest indicator of longevity in a longitudinal study was regular face to face personal interaction. This need not be deep abiding relationships, although these too were important. Rather, the person who meaningfully and regularly interacts with the cashier at the grocery store etc. is likely to live longer, and more richly too, I would guess. It is, of course, no small irony that we use our devices to combat FOMO when we really should set them down and take time to reach out to those God puts in our path: no matter their race, creed, social status etc. Perhaps then we will discover the grace-filled joy of reaching out that dissipates the feeling of missing out.

A Blue on White Delight

This last weekend was dedicated to orientation at the school where I work. For some years now, we have held it at the Crieff Conference Centre, a lovely locale run by the Presbyterians in our part of the world. The event is always inspiring in many ways, and although year to year admits a kind of litany of repeat questions, and worries, and excitements there is always something unique in the tone of each student speaking and in the collective voice that takes my breath away. I am grateful for this.

On the years when the weather is in our favour, my wife meets me on the last day, after chapel at Sunset Villa. This latter is just down the road from Crieff. It consists of a Danish restaurant and a holiday trailer park, where Danes from years past – and now their families – spent and spend their summers and weekends. We often park one of the cars there and scurry down to Lake Ontario to sail. This was the very thing we did this last Sunday, but there was a garage sale at the Villa, so we dropped in to see that.

This garage sale had many of the things one would expect to see at a garage sale: trinkets, clothing, curios, out of date electronics, record albums etc. As one would anticipate at a Danish garage sale, there were also the famous blue plates, some Royal Copenhagen and some Bing and Grøndahl. If you frequent Danish households in Canada you are sure to find some of these on the walls. They serve as aides de memoire of origins and special events. People will often buy a plate for special years: anniversaries, births, retirements and such. There was a rather handsome stack of such plates, but they didn’t catch my wife’s eyes, so much as a table set in the very middle of the garage sale “garage.”

Here a table was set as one might expect, with crystal for wine, schnapps and water, as well as a candelabra and dinner plates. But here too was the surprise. The dinner plates were white, with Danish blue plates laid on them. This was unfamiliar to us: using decorative plates for the first course. We didn’t know if people actually did this, or if it was for effect. The latter most certainly the case, and led me to thinking about our relationship to things.

Things are designed for a purpose, but rather like the words we write, or the poems we bleed, or the songs we breathe, once they leave us they take on a life of their own. It struck me anew that this is just as true for things as for words. There a piece of art becomes a use thing, and a use thing becomes a piece of art. And here a tool to make a sculpture is taken up into the sculpture itself. Designers’ intentions are thwarted by human imagination, and the sovereignty of the artist is usurped by some soul who imagines an instance of art commandeered to host a smørrebrød of herring on rye; and in so doing making a table setting to be a kind of art.

Theologians talk at length of the image of God, defining in sundry ways what this might be. I think I incline to a more fulsome than minimalist definition, and upon seeing those blue on white plates can well imagine that this imago Dei is also a way to say that people are finally just plain old interesting: both students with their heady questions and elderly Danish ladies upending my sense of what is what with the simplest and unexpected use of something beautiful.