Wednesday, December 19, 2012


“Pencils down.” Impending deadlines loom, and I fend off terror as I pick up yet another book, seeking “just the right entry point,” the concept that will allow me to pick up and follow a thread long enough to fill 20 pages. I’m in over my head, there’s no doubt about it.

 And here’s the thing: I took that plunge. I could have chosen a topic within my grasp; I could be well into my writing (and pleased with it, too.) Instead, I chose the impossible. I keep coming round to the impossible, really. I can’t let it go.

 I’ve been circling Derrida’s deconstruction for a decade or more – and while it’s impossibly beyond me, I can’t help but keep chasing it. I find something so deeply compelling, so crucial, so essential hinted at in this work. It’s controversial, no doubt – even disdained in many quarters. It’s difficult, much-debated; there’s no limit to the secondary sources that critique, praise, snub. I could spend my lifetime on this (and some have) and still only be at the beginning. 

Which I suppose is why I can’t let it go. In a sense, deconstruction represents the living elements of my faith. They’re both ceaselessly demanding – not in a controlling way, but in more of an inviting sense: “Come! There’s more! Don’t stop now!” They both extend hope: there really is more. And more and more and more. We will never come to an end of it. I think this is true of God’s love, of the mystery of our faith, of the depths of another human being. Deconstruction reminds me that what I see is really just the tip of the iceberg. And that my responsibility – nay, my calling – is to continue to explore. To look beyond the surface, beyond the obvious. To realize the immensity of the gift that remains hidden and go after it with both gratitude and single-minded dedication. 

Which is why I’ll pick up that pencil again. I’ll keep chasing the starting point for an essay that must begin but (alas; there’s hope!) will never fully end.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Landing in London

Two weeks ago just now our family was staggering through Heathrow, sleepy and bleary-eyed, rounding up our 9 pieces of luggage (carry-ons extra) and wondering what lay ahead.  Today, we may still be sleepy and bleary-eyed, but only because we've been making the absolute most of our time in this grand city!

We've settled into our flat - a surprisingly large apartment in International Hall (a University of London dorm).  It still smells a bit funny, and really - don't touch the carpet if you can help it.  True, we might not have chosen oatmeal, lilac, or seafoam for the walls that vanish into the heights of our 12-foot ceilings, and we would definitely have preferred windows that seal out the city noise.  But a run to Ikea and several stops at the "freeware" corner of the dorms, and it's looking like home.  Our kitchen comes complete with washing machine, fridge, and freezer (all approximately the same size) and, of course, electric kettle.  We're eating well (at last count, we've had Indian 6 times...) and even beginning to fill the freezer!

Our neighborhood is absolutely a prime location.  We're more or less in the middle of the city, and with London transport we can get just about anywhere - two blocks to the nearest tube stop; three to a busy bus route.  An easy mile's walk away is the Thames; nearer by is my campus (King's @ the Strand) and Kurt's UofL library.  Fabulous grocery store with two (count them:  two!) cheese sections is only a block away.  I'm loving the "walkability" of our new home.

We've spent more time than expected "setting up" - stumbling our way into more hassles than we might have expected, which just goes to show we're helplessly, naively optimistic.  So, for instance, to set up a cell phone account:  we can select the more pricey pay-as-you-go, or the value "pay-monthly."  In order to do this, however, we need a local billing account.  Which means we'll need a UK bank account.  No big deal, right?  Well, in order to open said bank account, we need proof of residency - in my case, a letter from King's confirming I'm a student.  Not having a printer, I spend an hour trying to get a copy of my email from KCL, and carry it in to the bank branch with great confidence.  Not so fast.  A print-off won't do - it has to be the original letter from the school, on letterhead, with signature and watermark intact.  So I contact the school, and learn that they can't write the letter until I've officially registered, which can't be before the 19th of September.  Pay-as-you-go it is.  (There are several more layers to this story - as yet unresolved - but I'll spare you.  I think you get the idea.)

On the other hand, we couldn't have landed here at a better time.  As London wraps up the summer, (and especially this summer!) there's more to do than we can keep up with.  During the first week, we kept finding our walks interrupted by things like, oh, the Paralympics marathon.  Or the closing Olympic parade.  Last weekend was "The Mayor's Thames Festival" - think Grand Rapids' "Festival on the Grand" on a London scale.  This week kicks off the London Design Festival:  so many things to see and do, so little time!  In fact, there seem to be so many "one-off" type events going on, we've not even hardly gotten started on the "standard London" activities.  I'm not complaining!

Of course, amidst it all, there's also the stuff we're really here for.  This week I met my tutor ("Academic Advisor" in US lingo) and I've begun my preliminary readings for class.  Next up on my calendar:  a tour of King's Maughan Library (here's the front gate).  I may not sleep the night before.  Kurt's already dug in to some of his consulting projects, and is starting to sketch out his thesis.  Pierce has signed up for a graphic design portfolio class at Central St. Martins, and is applying for apprenticeships with local firms.  Tomorrow morning we have an interview for Miriam at a nearby secondary school.  

All that to say, it's been a remarkable two weeks, and we're all looking forward to the next 50!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Ahhhh..... Sabbath

Some years ago, our family decided that, at a very minimum, it makes sense to take a shot at following all Ten Commandments.  We had a running start on most of them, but there's that one pesky one about setting a day aside...  It just runs contrary to about everything your average American protestant is brought up to believe is right and good.

Predictably, I started reading about Sabbath traditions and theologies; even more predictably, my husband sat down, laid out a working definition of "rest," and decided there's no better time than the present to start implementing.  Simply put, for our purposes, our goal is to do nothing on a Sabbath that we might have put on a to-do list.  Productivity, for a day, is off the table.

The practice hasn't come easily.  It took several months before we succeeded in setting aside one full day. After years of repetition, the habit is sinking in.  On a really good day, we'll even wake up rested.  More frequently, it takes much of the day to wind down and let the rest sink deep.  One way or the other, our entire family looks forward to the day with unmitigated expectation.  It's undoubtedly one of the most creative gifts we could receive, and we welcome it with deep, deep gratitude.

In addition to rest (plain and simple), one of the gifts of this day is its nearly magical ability to peel away layers and reveal us to ourselves.  Today, for instance, as I tucked in for a Sabbath nap, I found myself distracted by all the other things I could be doing with my afternoon of rest.  There's that great book I've been reading, and of course I'm halfway through re-watching "Contact"and I can't quite remember what comes next.  The kids are beginning to stir, and it's always great fun to hang with them.  And there's that new recipe I've been wanting to experiment with...  wouldn't it be a fun Sabbath treat to enjoy a new dessert together?!  I actually heard myself think the phrase "weighing the opportunity cost of a nap."

Really?!  Over a decade of practicing Sabbath and I'm still so painfully distracted and utilitarian! This is how I treat time most of the week, so often scattered because I'm thinking of everything else I should (or could) be doing.  But to drag that into the day of rest?!  In the light of this day of gift, my compulsions are revealed for what they are.  I can't hide behind all my "good reasons" for this behavior, because today they don't hold true.  As a matter of fact, they probably don't hold true the rest of the week either.  It just takes this day to show me that.

I'm growing ever deeper into gratitude for this gift - recognizing it as a gift without which I would most likely drown in my own humanness.  I'm given the space, the energy, and the strength to face my own frail follies.  And as I face them down, I find myself ever more grateful for the rest I find beyond myself.   Brilliant idea of God's, this one.

"All our life should be a pilgrimage to the seventh day; the thought and appreciation of what this day may bring to us should be ever present in our minds. For the Sabbath is the counterpoint of living; the melody sustained throughout all agitations and vicissitudes which menace our conscience; our awareness of God’s presence in the world."  
- Abraham Heschel

Friday, March 16, 2012

Of Tiptoes & Truth

His little fingers just curled over the edge of the altar table, grasping for a hold by which to hoist himself.  Even on the very tip of his toes, he couldn't quite see over the edge.  His blond hair even with the surface, those little blue eyes peered longingly up, as though the force of his desire might lift him bodily off the floor.
What held this little one's attention so powerfully?  It wasn't a cookie jar or a dvd player.  It was the weekly Eucharist, celebrated in our parish informally on Wednesdays during Lent.  Our congregation joins the priest inside the altar rail, and the little ones invariably edge away from their parents, inch by inch closer to the altar and the priest. This ritual is not new to them, but the vantage point is.  They are closer than ever to this mysterious event - and yet they pour all their intensity into getting closer still!
This is a picture of human longing at its best. I wrote last week about truth (here), about how it invites us ever deeper.  We have an intimation, a basic level of familiarity, an experience that captures our attention.  But just like the little one at the altar, that initial degree of knowledge isn't enough.  Instead, we strain, we reach, we grasp for more.  We "know" something, but even deeper, we know that there's more.  We aren't content to stand still and wait.  We realize that what we have known just scratches the surface.  It's beautiful and grand enough to captivate us - and it's worth everything to know it better.
Here's to life on our tiptoes!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Seeking Truth

"Keep the company of those who seek the truth - run from those who have found it."  - Vaclav Havel

As a person of faith, I hear the word "truth" kicked about not infrequently.  Depending on the context, it bears a range of meanings, which in turn carry their own baggage and freight the conversation to varying degrees.  Two perspectives on truth, in particular, have challenged me to think through my own understanding.  "Truth," as many postmoderns have it, is an archaic and manipulative power construct.  Truth, in the language of many Christians, is the foundational expression of reality, the absolute "what is."  Small wonder, then, that so many postmoderns abhor religion.  Or that Christians respond to postmodern claims of subjectivity with anger and fear.

Havel suggests, however, that truth is something much more grand than these [admittedly abbreviated and caricatured] polar perspectives.  To those who claim there is no such thing as truth, Havel issues an invitation:  "Seek truth!"  "Join up with others who seek it!"  To those who claim "There is truth, and this is it!" Havel cautions that truth is not something to be found.  It is not a solid construct, not a destination, not an endpoint.

Rather, truth becomes something vibrant and living.  It is something more elegant and intricate than we might imagine.  It is infinitely profound, inviting us to go ever deeper.  It is dark and painful, and never allows us to settle for long.  It calls us to know ourselves when we'd rather avert our eyes.  It summons us to know others when we'd prefer to dismiss them.  Truth sometimes screams to us in pain; in our confusion, truth might show itself elusive.  Yet Truth is also often revealed as hope; truth is found in beauty and friendship, in abundance and in love.  

Truth is simply not static - nor does it allow us the luxury of a passive response.  Truth strengthens but does not indulge.  Truth demands our attention, but never fully satisfies.  Truth will likely never make us comfortable.  Truth will challenge us and perhaps evade us and, when all is said and done, capture our hearts.  Hearts cannot deny or dominate, but they can follow. Relentlessly.

At this point, I believe, the dissonant perspectives on truth come as a gift.  A Christian perspective assures us that there is, in fact, "something big" out there.  Beyond us, beyond what we can see, there is something that calls us outside and beyond ourselves.  A postmodern view beckons us past any temptation to settle with an easy answer about that "something."  It reminds us that beyond any answer or meaning we might find, lies yet another.  And another.  

This, I think, is the quest to which Havel invites us:  the quest to live in constant pursuit of the truth, a truth we can know only in active response, truth revealed in the act of seeking.