Well, looking at this winter sky, I think I may have understood most souls anyway.

We walk into the season that disarms and, at worst, reflects.

Before we get to my rant, I wanted to tell you. I’m reading this book.

It was written by Cormac McCarthy. McCarthy’s writing reads like a poem stretched out over 200 pages. The language can be direct and practical, communicating meaning with all the efficiency of a trade route. But it can also be beautiful. And compact in its beauty. Like drips of crystallized honey. I feel like this book is part of my transition out of the forced reading of academics and into the wine-tasting attitude of volitional reading.

Anyways, to my other thing.

______________________________________________________________________

 

This guy’s name was (is?) Friedrich Nietzsche. He said a lot of things. One of said things was,

“But when Zarathustra was alone, he spoke thus to his heart: ‘Could it then be possible! This old saint in his forest has not yet heard of it, that God is dead!” – Thus Spoke Zarathustra, p. 9

It was almost like when Nietzsche whispered these words at the age of 39 (born 1844) in his tiny corner of Germany, the West, as a giant waking from its slumber,  harrumphing the gravel and dirt from its ancient and sleepy mustache, raised an enlightened finger and declared, “Yes! That’s it!”

And the trend was set.

capital h

And then we all figured out
how bad God is
how evil God is
how God must hate us
because everything hurts so much
and we stomped our feet
and wrote letters
so that we could share with one another
how we killed God
and we showed God
and God won’t get us anymore
because we have him figured out.

And God, being figured out,
waited elsewhere, talking
not with Gabriel or Michael,
not with Augustine or Paul.

With a wounded blacksmith
under a plum tree,
talking of those things we should love

My world is painted with sneering faces. Tongue-in-cheek phrases. Postmodern sentiments. Everyone’s finding a new way to liberate themselves from their religious upbringings, such that the grass has truly become greener on the other side of every fence ever constructed in the Western mind. People don’t find truth where they’re at, so they go to where they’re not. And stay there. To save face.

I watched an interview of a celebrated American vocalist a few days ago. He spoke of the religious devotion of his youth, but now, in way of consolation spoke of God as, “the universe, whateveryouwanttocallit, Allah, God, energies.” I could almost see the cultural weight on his shoulders, screaming, “Don’t name it! Don’t place it! Don’t call it anything that can be defined! Let it be a cloud – anyone can swallow a cloud!”

I don’t have the patent on God. I don’t know everything. I only know a little of anything.

I just grow weary of popular hate. Whichever side’s doing the Inquisition, I want nothing to do with it.

 

daniel

This is Thomas Malthus. He was born in 1766. He died when he was 68. When he was 32, a book that he wrote was published. That book was entitled

An Essay on the Principle of Population

 I once wrote a paper on this guy’s philosophy on the impoverished. His essay basically goes as follows: if you keep feeding them, they’ll just keep making babies. And those babies will be hungry too.

Alright, that’s not really fair. He really just kind of hinted at aforementioned statements. Imagine Thomas Malthus, with his long robe and curly sideburns. He kind of sulks over to where you’re standing at a party with your friends. Admittedly, you’re a bit creeped out. He leans over towards your right ear with wary eyes, sideburns tickling the side of your face, and whispers in his delightful British accent, “You do realize that we only have so much subsistence for this lot. As their population increases, said subsistence will be cut in half.” He pauses for a moment. As he returns to his normal posture and his steaming cup of tea, he whispers out of the side of his mouth, “The percentages do not look good, dear boy.”

“Must it not then be acknowledged…that population does invariably increase when the means of subsistence increase, and, that the superior power of population is repressed, and the actual population kept equal to the means of subsistence, by misery and vice.”

 

Read it for yourself. Pay no mind to the Ss that look like Fs.

I wrote my essay on his book when I was a freshman in college. 2006. A million years ago. I was very idealistic then. Like America once was about its economy.

I wrote some kind of strange compromise between Malthus’ logic and my need to express compassion for the poor. I can’t find the thing, but I believe it went something like, “You see, Malthus is talking about crazy-huge economic dynamics that should only be applied on a national level. It should not affect the behavior of the average individual. Give Homeless Stan your bagel.”

But tonight, I gave a stranger $5.

He wasn’t homeless. He was driving what looked like a nice car. He looked well-fed. He even joked around with me, talking about his friend who had just stumbled away, completely strung out on God-knows-what. I approached my car, parked beside his, with head bowed, like some parishioner approaching the altar with hopes of communion. I fumbled my keys like it mattered that I fumble keys. Like I was shaking a tambourine. He snuck in his words, “Hey man, hey man…”

I looked up. I gave him my attention. I wanted to talk to a real person. My job puts me in telephonic proximity to people who often shovel less than truth over my headset to me. I call these people “not-real.” For that instant, I would have liked for that man to be “real.”

“Hey man, did you hear him?”

“Hm?”

“Did you hear him? He said he thinks he sees something.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah, he thinks he sees a demon.”

I laugh. Generously. It’s really not funny, if you think about it. But he was laughing.

“Yeah, man, he’s crazy,” he says, laughing.

“Yeah…”

“Hey man, hey man…”

“Hm?”

“Hey man, can you help me out? I just need a little help. My girlfriend, she busted up my windshield man. I just need a ride home man.”

I smile to myself. If you live long enough, you hear some pretty incredible excuses for needing money. They usually involve transportation, because they’re usually near gas stations. Where these paths intersect that would not otherwise intersect. But this one’s pretty funny. So, I think to myself, your girlfriend busted your windshield – which I can plainly see is not busted – and this somehow prevents you from driving home in the car that already has its engine running. And $5 will change all this.

I smile. It’s not a condescending thing, I swear. I’m not gloating over his request. I’m just laughing at all of us, really. The things we say.

I’ve already made up in my mind that I’m going to give him money, like some girls, while on a date, will already up make up in their minds that they’ll kiss the boy at the end of the night. I’ve already reached for my money before his sentence is done.

Because that’s how good works, I think. For we humans, anyway. Before we ever get out of bed. Before we ever turn 13. Before God even shows us how we have to work at being good. We make up our minds.

I’m not saying what I did was good, though. Malthus wouldn’t think so.

“Alright man,” I say, with a tone of resignation, as essays on subsistence and population glare over my shoulder. I take the two steps to his car window. I wonder if people think I’m buying drugs from him. I slip the bill in his hand. He hardly has time to wipe the drool from his mouth. “Thanks man,” he mumbles as he checks to see the green number in the corner of that Holy Rectangle.

And just like that, another guy has already materialized at my side, mumbling the same excuses. Hey, for appearance’s sake. Why not? Let’s Make a Deal.

My key is in the ignition. I already gave him my five, brother. I’m driving away. I can only be so good. And you’re too late. Brother.

I know that man is drinking a beer right now, or lighting a joint. I know that. But I didn’t want my gift to be philosophical. I wanted that guy to know that people still give things.

Just not that other guy. I got bills to pay.

daniel

Mr. Samuel Langhorne Clemens (known better to the rest of us by the name he used for all his mischief – Mark Twain) has made yet another posthumous reappearance into our daily lives with the publication of his autobiography, an event he would only allow to take place 100 years after his death.

It’s almost as if Twain realized that only a ghost lacking ambition would haunt a single house – he has apparently determined to haunt all the bookshelves across the nation. The Centennial Layaway, according to Twain, was intended to allow him the opportunity to be “dead, and unaware, and indifferent.” This has led some to believe that this gave Twain every opportunity to be as open as painfully possible. It is rumored that the text divulges certain details of  the author’s private life, including his relationship with an Isabel Van Kleek Lyon: a secretary he became romantically involved (such a powerfully deceiving past participle) with after his wife’s death (A note of potential interest: Twain was 69 when his wife died). This is, without doubt, a treasure for lovers of American literature. You can find it for about $35 here.

Another book of Mr. Clemens’ that I’ve recently thought to crack open: Letters from the Earth. Ironically, this is another book that was published after decades of hesitance. In this case, it was actually Twain’s daughter, Clara Clemens, who voiced her objections over the book’s publication. After reading a bit of it myself, I can see why. According to the preface of the edition I’m reading, “Since 1960, the fiftieth anniversary of Mark Twain’s death, at least a dozen books about him have been published. In this abundance of knowledge and interpretation all his writings can be allowed to speak for themselves, and Clara Clemens has withdrawn her objections to the publication of Letters from the Earth.” Regardless, this book provides an intriguing glimpse into some of Mr. Twain’s religious notions.

In Letters, Twain, controversially enough, takes on the mantle of narrator in the form of Satan. It should be noted that this Satan probably isn’t the one we’re generally used to. Think William Blake’s Marriage of Heaven and Hell. This is a kind of diplomatic representative of heaven, who shares the same name as the traditional Satan, but only as a kind of tongue-in-cheek element. But, of course, we won’t look past the connotations of the name. I doubt Twain meant us to. The rest of the book follows suit with a kind of inversion of the Christian worldview. I’ll give you some samples of Satan’s letters back to heaven.

“This is a strange place [earth], an extraordinary place, and interesting. There is nothing resembling it at home. The people are all insane, the other animals are all insane, the earth is insane, Nature itself is insane. Man is a marvelous curiosity. When he is at his very very best he is a sort of low grade nickel-plated angel…”

“…he [man] thinks he is the Creator’s pet. He believes the Creator is proud of him…He prays to Him, and thinks He listens. Isn’t it a quaint idea?”

“He [God] has one code of morals for himself, and quite another for his children. He requires his children to deal justly – and gently – with offenders, and forgive them seventy-and-seven times; whereas he deals neither justly nor gently with anyone, and he did not forgive the ignorant and thoughtless first pair of juveniles their first small offense and say, ‘You may go free this time, I will give you another chance.'”

“In your country and mine we should have the privilege of making fun of this kind of morality…”

I really felt as if I were reading a kind of sequel to C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters. However, where Lewis confesses, “Though I had never written anything more easily, I never wrote with less enjoyment,” I feel Twain feels more at home with this voice. That is not to suggest I consider Clemens to be a diabolical figure, only that he had certain frustrations to get off his chest that it does not seem Lewis possessed. In his lifetime, Twain lost both his wife and one of his daugthers, in addition to consistently finding himself in and out of debt. (in)Famous for his skeptical insight, Twain also turned his observing eyes upon certain notions of God.

(Note: C.S. Lewis lost his mother, his father, and his wife to cancer.)

I had a thought not long before thinking to read Letters. How the human condition is God’s greatest masterpiece.

Now, I’m going to have to ask you.

Don’t think I’m stupid.

Please.

I was thinking how the human condition is a beautiful metaphor. How we exist in this paradigm in which, as human beings, we are like sometimes-brave-sometimes-shivering creatures that walk down a hallway, towards a door from which no one enters. But all exit.

And we have never, can never, see what is beyond that door.

And so we wring our hands and write books and make solemn speeches. We play our violins and our drums. We eat oranges and sigh over pictures. We take trips and make babies. We climb trees and bake cakes. We let people cry and we go to help them cry less. We take communion and give vows. We make toasts and final bows.

And brace for the exit.

Because, after all, this could be it.

(I had a dream. I had the great existential moment in this dream: “You will die.” It was of cowboys and indians. I fled on horseback with another. But he always had the head-start. They clipped my partner. I try to drag him to safety through the tall grass and swaying trees. But there I stand. In western overalls and a cotton shirt. Sweat stings the eyes. Hat long gone. The man in black has his dark gun on me. “Go ahead,” I say, “Just shoot.” In this dream I feel the bullet. It hits me like a smiling Roman candle, incense fragrance erupting. Eyes shut in the slow motion dream dark. Afterwards, utter only, “Hello?”)

The floor beneath keeps inevitably moving, endlessly leaning, towards the door.

And people suffer. And some exit early. (Though Enoch and Elijah took some side door. We must ask them about it.)

And we decide what we are.

And our souls are in this convection oven. The pressure of the hot air is undeniable. Lewis wrote Grief Observed. Twain wrote Letters from the Earth. Nietzsche wrote Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Paul wrote Romans 7. I write things. You probably have as well.

I can’t show you what’s beyond the door. Any more than Mayan “scholars” can tell you we’re all done in 2012.

It’s one of those things you kind of have to figure out for yourself.

“Suppose someone asked me, when I see a man in blue uniform going down the street leaving little paper packets at each house, why I suppose that they contain letters? I should reply, ‘Because whenever he leaves a similar little packet for me I find it does contain a letter.’ And if he then objected – ‘But you’ve never seen all these letters which you think the other people are getting,’ I should say, ‘Of course not, and I shouldn’t expect to, because they’re not addressed to me. I’m explaining the packets I’m not allowed to open by the ones I am allowed to open.’ It is the same about this question. The only packet I am allowed to open is Man. When I do, especially when I open that particular man called Myself, I find that I do not exist on my own…”

– C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, p. 25

 

daniel

I’ve had an epiphany.

Wedding = Salvation

Marriage = Redemption

You are free to ponder. And get back to me.

Also, to all the cowardly or distracted young men: stop whining and get married. The time I spent away from my wife was wasted time.

love,

daniel

There is a river.

The river is good.

The river’s water gives life.

Gives peace, like that dream you had that one time.

Gives joy, like your first kiss.

Gives truth (solid gold core in a mountain of charcoal).

This river runs throughout all the world and is available to all.

Come. Drink.

However, one cannot take the water of the river and bring it to another. All must come and see the river and drink from the river.

Men have come and taken the water from the river, seeing the chance for profit, for gain. They have taken great buckets and pumps and pulled at the neverending river.

The pumps pump. The buckets hold.

But the water turns to ash. Raise your lips to the gray. Holocaust nightmares.

So men built fences. Men demanded admission to the river. A toll; a price.

And for a time, the weak obeyed the strong, and paid their way. The water was sweet.

And the men grew rich. So rich, they demanded the ability to take the water where they would. To bring it to thirsty, wealthy lips.

So they dug wells. Wells filled with water, just not the river’s water.

And men drank. And forgot the river’s water.

The wells became valuable. Cities and nations and continents mobilized armies for control of these wells.

And men killed. Men burned. Men tore.

But the river still runs.

We must never call Christ evil. Christ cannot be evil, any more than light can darken a room. But men can darken many things. Men who give themselves heavy titles and claim great knowledge of Christianity will burn and tear and abuse to get what they think they want. And they will make Christ appear to be evil.

I do not understand Christ most days. Be wary of those who say they do. Leave their knowledge behind and find Christ for yourself. Christ was never so busy that he did not approach his twelve and say to each one,

“Hello there. I am God. Let’s go.”

Martin Luther had a lot of things wrong. This was not one of them.

daniel

Hello.

So I got internet

today

in my new house on Allen St.

So I’m going to ride this horse a bit longer.

By horse, I mean blog. By to ride, I mean write.

This is something I finished reading yesterday:

I hated this book. I’ll tell you why.

It sucks.

It sucks because Mr. Dekker – God bless him – decided for some reason that he is so awesome that reality couldn’t contain his awesomeness. He decided that his awesomeness needed to infiltrate his own vision for reality. A reality in which he reshapes himself in the form of a protagonist named Tom Hunter (who, yes – to answer your burning question – does do some hunting; in this case, a hunt involving the greatest of game: the heart of a woman. absolute genius). Tom Hunter is described as a “wannabe novelist” with dark hair who spent his childhood in Manila, the capital city of the Philippines: a string of islands in Southeast Asia. Not to be confused with Indonesia, another island in the Indian Ocean about 400 hundred miles south. Where Dekker spent his childhood. Unfortunately, Dekker’s reason for providing his protagonist with this origin becomes clear: describing it is where he does his best writing,

“He cracked the window. It was early afternoon – the smells of the city were nearly overpowering. But to Tom they were intoxicating. There was exhaust, there was a touch of stale water, there was fried noodles, there was…Tom felt a knot rise in his throat. It was the most beautiful sight he’d seen in years.” (133)

The moment I read this page I wished, oh how I wished, that he would’ve dumped this whole fantasy venture and just written about his life in Indonesia. In comparison to the rest of the book, I found Dekker’s writing to be the liveliest in these references. The fullest.  The rest involves flimsy, exasperating descriptions of Dekker’s fantasy self, such as the following:

“He lay exactly as she’d last seen, bare chest rising and falling steadily, arms to either side. Very well built. Dark hair. A beautiful creature.” (176)

“Right now, at this very moment, the situation was perfect for that particular kick…Tom stood by the hood, stunned by what he’d just done. Both guards lay on their backs…His heart pumped with adrenaline. He felt like he could take on the flock if he had to.” (138)

A failed novelist, working at a coffee shop, who acquires flawless martial arts skills and bulging pecs. Not a bad deal. I can’t say that I blame Dekker. It’s a tempting proposition – to use literature to refashion yourself in the image that you wish you looked like. But it doesn’t make for good writing. I could be wrong though. Dekker can wave four million copies sold seven years into publication as a strong piece of evidence for the alternative: that he’s actually an incredible writer. Who knows. One last thing. This made me laugh. Here’s Ted Dekker:

And here’s an illustration of Thomas Hunter for a graphic novel of Black:

It’s like someone was drawing a sexy caricature of Dekker.

Stephenie Meyer does something similar in Twilight. I was completely unimpressed with Mrs. Meyer’s writing right up until her description of Bella’s return to Phoenix,

” I was still awake when we came through a shallow mountain pass and the sun, behind us now, reflected off the tiled rooftops of the Valley of the Sun…I stared blankly at the wide, flat expanse laid out in front of me. Phoenix – the palm trees, the scrubby creosote, the haphazard lines of the intersecting freeways, the green swaths of golf courses and turquoise splotches of swimming pools, all submerged in a thin smog and embraced by the short, rocky ridges that weren’t really big enough to be called mountains.” (406-407)

Meyer grew up in Phoenix.

It amazes me that these novels that are forging multi-million dollar corporations out of thin air are also breaking some of the simplest rules about good writing.

I, on the other hand, know all the rules for good writing.

Insert obnoxious smirk here.

Hear that? The dragon lives in my chest too. The thirst for fame, for recognition, for success.

Turns out, I still need God.

daniel

P.S. These – these – are good books.

You won’t find any of these in or on a Happy Meal. Thank God.

I would have you know of this man:


This man speaks.
Josh Ritter speaks to me in the same way that I feel the ideal king-philosopher would have spoke to Plato or John Locke. Mr. Ritter comes out with a book soon that is being published by Random House, Bright’s Passage. A musician-author. Come on. How could that not appeal to me? Same reason I naturally gravitate to others like Bob Dylan (with his Tarantula) or Leonard Cohen (and his Let Us Compare Mythologies).

One unavoidable consequence of this whole graduation thing is a constant self-evaluation. No longer an action, but a state of being. Why aren’t I a CEO of something? Why aren’t I significantly published? Why aren’t my children – who, granted, don’t exist yet, but let’s not get caught up in details – why aren’t they composing sonatas and speaking German or French or Japanese to me, while I quietly strum my guitar and contemplate philosophy?

It keeps me from ever getting very far in biographies. I just find out the year they were born, find out the year they first did something awesome, calculate their age, and toss the book away in disgust. “This is silly,” I say, “since when is age an objective measure of value or accomplishment?” But I still cringe.

Beethoven was performing publicly when he was 8.

Einstein was a doctor and publishing catastrophic papers by 26.

Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence when he was 32.

It’s all I see now. Time seems to wake me up every morning and say, “Today, I’m less.”

Eh. Whatever.

But then I go outside and see Jesus smiling. He’s telling some joke to a sparrow before stepping outside time to harrow hell again. And then I see Laura, and don’t care too much how old Beethoven was when he published his first sonatas.

He was 13, by the way.

Ok, I’ll stop, I’m sorry.

daniel

That’s right.

Get the scoop: http://www.theknot.com/ourwedding/LauraButler&DanielLogan

love,

daniel