learnings: May 2016

I failed to write the things I learned in April, and now it’s the last day of May and I’m thinking it’s the last day of April, even though I know June starts tomorrow. Pregnancy brain? Maybe. But I’m fighting it, and so here’s my effort to remember some things I learned in May, linking up with Emily P. Freeman.LetsShareWhatWeLearnedinMay2016

  1. Earlier today, I learned that it’s a lot harder to get things out from under the couch — say, a stray pen — when 28 weeks pregnant. I just can’t flatten on the floor like I used to do. On a related note, I learned about the fact that I can no longer turn sideways to fit through narrow spaces.

2. I learned that apparently it’s a struggle to distinguish short white men from tall Asian women. On the one hand, this one made me laugh, and on the other, it made me so sad. The secular machine, purportedly founded on scientific fact, seems bent on removing all objectively distinguishable facts from the dialog. My question for these students is, if reality is this subjective, why do they submit to receive objective grades from their professors?

3. I learned about how scary ultrasounds can be if the doctor is there and he spends a long time looking at your baby’s head and then tells you “We’ll talk about it upstairs.” Upstairs he said everything looked great. And we were very thankful.

4. I stumbled on this three-year-old confirmation of why you should read Narnia in its original publication order rather than “chronological” story order. Not in need of defense is the presupposition that you should read Narnia. I’ve been feeling the re-read itch for months now, but am saving them to read aloud to baby once he’s here, even though he won’t be fully able to appreciate them for a few years yet.

5. I rediscovered the local library, with all the nostalgia of years of weekly visits to local libraries while growing up. This one has books, big windows, flowers, a pond, a fountain, and a walking trail. What’s not to love?
quisenberry

6. I learned things about the Process of Buying a House — inspections and insurance and mortgages and attorney’s fees.

7. I learned about how nice it is when the lady changing out the flowers in Chick-fil-a chooses you as the recipient of a large-size cup-full of week-old pink carnations and Baby’s Breath.

8. I learned about the Voice of the Martyrs podcast, and particularly the interview they did with missionary John Short who was detained for fifteen days in North Korea. This is the first of three interviews with John and his wife; they are all worth hearing.

9. I learned that when your husband finishes his first year of PhD studies and takes a week off work, and there is time to just be together again, it is an excellent thing.

©2016 by Stacy Crouch

Five Minute Friday: surprise

dazzl3Tell all the truth, but tell it slant– 
Emily Dickinson advises:
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight

The Truth’s superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased

With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind–

I thought of this poem as I read of Paul’s account of his Damascus-road conversion last week: “As I was on my way and drew new near to Damascus, about noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone around me. And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’. . . . And since I could not see because of the brightness of that light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me” (Acts 22:6-11).

The superb surprise of the Truth caught Paul at high noon, dazzling him with a light greater than the full power of the sun, leaving him — the powerful man who had dragged Christians from their homes and struck terror in the hearts of many — groping for help on a dusty road.

“Who are you, Lord?”
“I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.”

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life. . . . I am the way, the truth, and the life . . . .” (John 8:12; 14:6).

Look slantwise at this splendid Truth, and dazzle your infirm delight with its bright surprise. Fear no blindness — He at whom you look is He who makes blind eyes to see.

“And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day–and there will be no night there” (Rev. 21:22-25).

Surprise-2

Linking up for Kate Motaung’s Five Minute Friday, writing on her prompt, surprise. The green surprise button will take you to her site.

©2016 by Stacy Crouch

upon grace

What do I need to write on a long day of December rain? What do I need to write on a day when I’ve simply felt pale blue? What do I need to write on day when I spend hours trying to say things and feeling discouraged at not finding the connections, the words?

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I need to write truth. I need to breathe truth, inhaling it with every breath, bearing it in my blood to the crown of my head and the chilly extremities of my toes.

What is truth? Truth is that each of these breaths, each of these heartbeats, is grace, happening without any conscious effort on my part. I don’t have to tell myself to keep being alive because these being-alive processes are built into my system and guided by One much wiser than I. I would kill myself trying to keep my heart going at an appropriate rate, unable to think of it consistently enough, unable to keep thinking of it in my sleep. But He guides each beat of each heart on this planet, and He never sleeps.

Truth is that I am every bit as inadequate as I feel. I am never enough of any of the things I should be. No, leave “enough” out of the question completely: truth is that nothing good dwells in me.

Truth is that I do not deserve love, but I am loved. Truth is that I was under a righteous judgement destined for death, but that the righteous Judge made Himself my Savior and gave His life for mine. Truth is that I was dead already in my sins, but God loved me with a great love and made me alive together with Christ. Truth is that I am the recipient of the immeasurable riches of God’s grace in kindness toward me in Christ Jesus.

Truth is that the God of the universe, the God who created time, made Himself small and submitted to the constraints of time and the pains and indignities of a mortal body that we might enter eternity with Him and be clothed in glorious immortality.

Truth is that long days of December rain after nights of too-little sleep need not cause blue moods, because they cannot alter the fact that Christ is my sufficiency. Truth is that if I am never able to write another coherent word, the important Word has already spoken: He became flesh, dwelt among us, let us see His glory.

Even on difficult days, from His fullness I receive grace upon grace.

©2014 by Stacy Nott

Why Philosophy Isn’t Important: a HASH post

California Documented 554 - Version 2

Suppose we’re standing at the bottom of a steep cliff, which we all must climb. There are crowds here — everyone talking, speculating; people up and down the cliff face, using all kinds of things to try to get to the top, and plenty who’ve attempted and failed. We’ll hear a lot of different ideas about how to get up there; we’ll be told to come try this route or that rope. Some are trying to get up using helium balloons, another group is building a pogo stick of immense bouncing power, while still others are attempting the power of music to lift them.

The only people who aren’t to be found down here are those who made it to the top. They’re over the edge and out of sight. Those are the very people we want, though; we want to ask them: how did you do it? Where is the best place to start the climb? What are the best tools? What did you eat? How much water did you carry?

We have many options down here. We can pick the method that looks like it will make us happiest; the balloons look fun; let’s do that! We can decide that actually getting to the top is impossible, so we’ll choose the method that will be easiest on us for the time before we fall down again. Or we can join a circle of speculators and enter into conversation with them, hear about their ideas, affirm their ideas, share our own ideas, make new ideas, have more conversation. This doesn’t make progress up the cliff, but it is friendly. It’s judgmental to say the pogo stick idea is dumb; it’s more important to just love those people who are building it, because, after all, we’re all down here together, right? And this conversation is good!

A watchword of today’s culture seems to be “conversation.” Perhaps it’s not all that surprising, given that we live in the age of pithy one-liners cast impersonally onto a sea of other tweets, of generalizations drawn from and by internet memes, of personalities crafted online with artistic precision. We realize that these things are insufficient, that people need to be known face to face, through voices and eyebrows and postures and gestures. We realize that before we summarize, we need to understand, and that understanding requires an investment of time and even of affection. There’s a sense in which “knowing” and “loving” are synonymous.

So we value conversation, and have made a virtue of what is, after all, only a tool by which we practice other virtues — or vices. Where there are differences or disagreements, the universal panacea is “conversation,” and those who refuse to enter the conversation, those who leave the conversation, are deemed judgmental bigots.

In her column in the April 5, 2014 issue of World magazine (29.7), “Talking around the Problem,” Andrée Seu Peterson warns against this new penchant for conversation:

The goal of “conversation” used to be arrival at truth. An open mind on the subject used to mean openness to being persuaded to change your mind. . . . Not anymore. Nowadays,“conversation” is the way we avoid something solid. “Keep on posing problems, and you will escape the necessity of obedience,” wrote Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was on to the gimmick.“Conversation” has become the ingenious way that everyone does what is right in his own eyes (Judges 21:25).

The Apostle Paul, it seems, was also on to the gimmick. Writing to Timothy, whom he regarded as his “true child in the faith,” he admonished him to “avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called‘knowledge,’ for by professing it some have swerved from the faith” (1 Tim. 6:20-21). If the “knowledge” we claim to possess is demonstrated in conversations that are uninformed by or do not seek to arrive at Truth, that knowledge is nothing.

Often, when it comes to philosophy, we fall into this error, proud to be able to carry on conversations about ideas with people whose ideas are different from our own, but carefully avoiding the necessity of making value judgments about the ideas in play. Thus, while I have presented reasons why philosophy is important, I’m back to tell you that philosophy is also unimportant.

My on-computer dictionary — the New Oxford English Dictionary, 2010 — defines “philosophy” as “the study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence,” with additional definitions including “a particular system of philosophical thought” and “a theory or attitude . . . that acts as a guiding principle for behavior.” People study “the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence,” organize their findings into a particular system, which then “acts as a guiding principle” for them.

The ever-multiplying number of philosophical systems attests that, despite the fact that all deal with the same reality— the reality of being a human living on earth, filtered, of course, through various individual perceptions and experiences — studying that reality does not yield uniform results. We’re able to make observations about how things are right now, but, except within a very limited framework, we cannot say how they got to be as they are or what they will be in the future.

Philosophy can speculate about what we really are, how we got to be what we are, what we shall be in the future, but it would take an outside perspective, one which had seen how we got here and where we’re going, to truly answer these questions beyond need for speculation.

Back to the foot of the cliff. Suppose there were another option? Suppose we had the word of one who’d been there, who knew about the top and the bottom, knew how we got where we are, and knew how to get to the top —knew the only way to get to the top. Wouldn’t we listen? Wouldn’t that be the thing we’d want to talk about? And wouldn’t knowing the real way to get up free us from approving the pogo stick; wouldn’t it be more loving to tell the truth? Wouldn’t knowing the real way up make climbing more important than endless conversation? And since we knew it was the only way up, wouldn’t we want to make sure everyone knew it?

We have an outside perspective; we have the Word of One who knows how we got here and where we’re going; we have the Word of One who says that, apart from Him, there is no way up. He tells us we were created in perfection by a perfect and holy God, for His own glory and pleasure; that we fell from perfection through willful disobedience to the one command He gave. He says in that disobedience we became sinners and earned, for our efforts in sinning, a penalty of death. And He says that no amount of building, of climbing, of conversation, can get us back to the perfection from which we fell. He says that the only way — the only way — is through trust in Him, who, though perfect, became one of us, died as one of us, for us, and beat death to give us life.

When He asserts, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6), He doesn’t throw out a point for debate, a suggestion among other suggestions. He makes an exclusive claim:I am the only way up, and all efforts to get up any other way end in death.

This is not one philosophic speculation among other philosophic speculations. This is not an invitation to philosophers to dissect and adapt the parts of this creed which they find most compatible with their own notions of reality. This “word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” who “will destroy the wisdom of the wise,” and will thwart “the discernment of the discerning” (1 Corinthians 1:18-19).

And since this is the only way, the only truth, since this is actually a matter of life or death, not a matter of what makes us happiest or is most fun, it turns out that “philosophy” and conversations about “philosophy” are not all that important. This word of the cross is divisive, it creates enemies, but it admonishes us to love our enemies, as Christ loved us when we were at enmity with God.

Love is displayed in knowing and understanding, but not only in that. Christ’s love was displayed in telling us the truth and laying down His life for us. When we truly love — our friends and our enemies — we lay down our rights to be liked, respected, admired, in our earnest desire for others to know and believe this truth.

In a different letter, Paul presents another warning: “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition . . . and not according to Christ”(Colossians 2:8-10). Christ, both God and man, “who is the head of all rule and authority” makes an exclusive claim, offering us the only way to life.

We can stay dithering in conversations about methods and philosophies until we die here at the bottom of the cliff, or we can accept this exclusive claim, cling to the Christ who made a way for us, and arrive at life on the top. But we can be sure of this: only Christ, not philosophy, can save us.

©2014 by Stacy Nott

Five Minute Friday (that took twenty minutes): Truth

“We live in an age of surfaces,” quoth Lady Bracknell in Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. I taught that on Monday. “We live, as we dream, alone,” quoth Marlow in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. I taught that on Wednesday. Marlow’s loneliness stems, I think, from Lady Bracknell’s surfaces, from that fact that we only see the exteriors of people, only what they do; we don’t get to see, often,  who they actually are.

Both stories, in very different ways, deal with the issue of truth. How do we know it? Can we know it? What is it, when it is known? I hadn’t expected them to fit together as well as they do, but they do.

Buzzwords in our culture are “authentic” and “real.” They are so much used that I shy away from them, feeling that their popularity has rendered them inauthentic and unreal. They’ve become a part of our culture’s surface, things everyone wants to be, but things defined externally: “authentic” people have to fit a certain mold, look a certain way. We get so fixated on letting people see the messy authenticity of our lives, that showing them a clean room can seem artificial somehow. Even though our versions of “messy” can often be just as artificial.

Truth comes,  I think, not from trying to be real or authentic, but from being about something bigger than what you are, something bigger than you are. The most real people I’ve met aren’t too worried about being real; they’re worried about what is real. They love the Truth.

Truth is neither the ridiculous farce of Oscar Wilde’s play, nor the grim horror of Conrad’s story. It combines both. Wilde’s characters get better than they deserve. Conrad’s come against the truth of their own depravity. The truth — Truth — presents us with our depravity, and offers us wildly more than we deserve: life for our death, hope for our desperation, glory in place of our shame. Christ wears the horror of our iniquity and clothes us with the earnest that is His blood, a promise for a future in which we are His and like Him.

Those who dwell in this Truth, delight in this Truth, live in this world of dim reflections, of surfaces, but they have a foot in the Kingdom of face-to-face. They are known fully, and they shall fully know.

Thanks, Lisa-Jo!

The truth is, I broke all the rules in composing this, but I did start with Lisa-Jo’s Five Minute Friday prompt: “truth.” If you’d like to join in, or read more posts on her prompt, use the button above.

©2013 by Stacy Nott

Five Minute Friday: Truth

“What is truth?” he asked. And I wonder about the tone: exasperation? boredom? sarcasm? When he washed his hands and turned the man in whom he found no guilt over to the murderous ones who wanted to crucify him, didn’t he know the truth?

I teach literature, and I teach writing. I deal in a world of fictions and of rules. It’s interesting: the rules are true as far as they go, true in that they exist, but arbitrarily determined; they change with context and audience and changing times. The literature is often fiction, and yet somehow it is truer than the rules, true in a different way. It resonates with me the way the rules don’t. It lasts. Because people are people, not arbitrarily determined, people in every context, every audience, every time. And the best literature reflects truth about people.

This morning I drove to work through a fog-wrapped world. Though I drove in land-locked Mississippi, I remembered the sound of fog horns on the Massachusetts coast. With roadside trees rendered ghostly and indistinct, I speculated about what it might be like to drive just a few miles east and find, not trees, but the sudden, rocky shore of a clear, cold ocean, with lobster boats coming in under the fog and the slow mud of our Mississippi rivers, the dubious slime of our Mississippi lakes no more than rumors from far-away. But Massachusetts cannot make Mississippi less true; nor does the fact of being in Mississippi render Massachusetts a falsehood.

Pontius Pilate and Lady Macbeth both tried to wash themselves of blood-guilt. Neither could. One real, one fictional, both confronted with a truth which is true in literature and out of it. And though Pilate was within the rules in what he did, he was not outside the guilt.

When the fog burns away, no number of fog-wrapped speculations render the reality less real. Or less true.

Thanks, Lisa-Jo!

Joining up with Lisa-Jo and her Five Minute Friday group to share my scrambled ramblings on today’s topic, Truth. If you’d like to join, click the button above.

sweet

In the top pane of glass in a professor’s door is a mark which looks, to me, as if it could only be the mark of lips: a kiss. I sit a distance from it, and the morning light is just right to make it show up. On the next door, someone is cleaning the glass panes. Will he come and wipe this kiss away? Who put it there? Has anyone seen it but me?

We read Emily Dickinson today in class. Literally read. My notes of preparation consisted of one penciled word: “Manzanilla,” which I neglected to look up before class. (Quite candidly, in the anthologies I studied, Emily Dickinson’s “little tippler” was “leaning against the sun,” not coming “from Manzanilla.” I prefer that she leans against the sun.) But we read the poems and talked about them.

taste?

I also had the students write explanations of Dickinson’s  “Success is counted sweetest.” Most, it seems, interpret this as a poem about the sweetness of victory, when, in reality, it is a poem about the ache of defeat:

Success is counted sweetest
By those who ne’er succeed.
To comprehend a nectar
Requires sorest need.

Not one of all the purple Host
Who took the Flag today
Can tell the definition
So clear of Victory

As he defeated–dying–
On whose forbidden ear
The distant strains of triumph
Burst agonized and clear!

Can our instant-gratification culture understand the sweetness of things untasted?

It reminds me of Keats’ “Ode on a Grecian Urn:” the sweetness of “unheard melodies,” the sweetness of the Lover’s almost-kiss, in anticipation of which he will love “for ever” while she is for ever “fair.”

Dickinson echoes Keats’ “Beauty is truth, truth beauty” in a different poem. Here, she says, she “died for Beauty” and met in the tomb “One who died for Truth,” who tells her that Beauty and Truth “Themself are One.”

Death for beauty? Yes. But there is also this, Luci Shaw, who says that “Sometimes beauty becomes almost a matter of survival. Without it, a part of us shrivels and dies” (“Beauty and the Creative Impulse,” The Christian Imagination, 2002). Do we die for beauty and for lack of beauty? We die either way?

To live in hope of success, of a song, of a kiss, may be sweet, and yet “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but desired fulfilled is a tree of life” (Proverbs 13:12). Life lies in the fulfillment, not in the wishing.

Beauty, goodness, is meant to be tasted. The longing may be sweet, but it exists because it is meant to be filled. (C. S. Lewis, anyone?)

The Collect for the Third Sunday of Lent (yesterday) in The Book of Common Prayer begins “We beseech thee, Almighty God, look upon the hearty desires of thy humble servants.”

He looks, yes, and He summons us to “taste and see” His goodness (Psalm 34:11), not simply to imagine and long for it.

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His goodness exists to be tasted. It can be depended upon. In the sweetness of His goodness is no matter of everlasting waiting for a song, a success, a kiss. It is not simply the sound of distant victory, heard while weltering in the blood of defeat.

While Lent is a season of lacking and longing, yet He is good. Now. Today. Unstintingly. Unapologetically. Good because He won the victory for us by weltering in His own blood, our blood, the blood of Satan’s defeat, and rising, for us, to end the anxious waiting, to end the necessity of death.

Taste. See. Comprehend this nectar which comes to soothe your sorest need. This is Beauty. This is Truth. This is a sweet success, a kiss of love which no window-wiper can erase.

 

©2013 by Stacy Nott