Dang, it happened again. Don’t you hate it when you write about half of a journal entry to yourself, which seems really good while you’re composing it; but then, after sleeping, you wake and reread what you wrote, and it seems just awful? So you roll up a newspaper and firmly swat your nose and shout: “Bad journalist.” Now you want to give up and begin a new entry from scratch, but you’re preoccupied with the material that you botched. There’s no denying what you must do: You must rewrite the entry.
First, let me identify the problem, so that I can avoid it in the future. I tried to use too flowery of language. I like flowery language—I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with it, in general—but, way back when I first dedicated myself to serve and protect this private online weblog, I vowed that I would keep the style simple: use plain words and say what I mean with clarity.
So I was thinking about how believers praise their God. I’ve heard people say, “Dear God, you are wonderful and powerful—the world is yours.” Now I’m puzzled: What exactly is going on, in this prayer? Is God somewhere out yonder, high in space, invisibly enjoying the sound of all these words? And I also ask: Why doesn’t God answer us audibly?—the simplest bit of feedback would assure us that our efforts weren’t for nothing. Dear Bryan, I received your prayer this morning; thanks for the worship!
My next thought is not quite right, but I’ll share it anyway. If I praise God with words, it’s like telling a bottle: “I love you, fine wine.” This speech is either mistaken or redundant: The wine already knows my love, by the way that I enrich my bloodstream with her burgundy. The best way to prove my affection is not by verbally addressing the beloved’s exterior, but by absorbing her essence and using it to please my neighbors. …And who are my neighbors? Anyone who prays for my destruction.
Seriously, though—what if neighbors are the artwork of divinity? Since humankind cannot avoid stumbling into misconduct, I would prefer that our faults should stem from this mindset, which holds every alien as potentially divine, rather than always assuming that “others” equals “enemies.”
Blindfold the xenophobes, lest they perceive that God is a foreigner.
The Christian Bible is a very big book. There happens to be one in front of me on the table, as I write. I open it up and see double columns of very small text—more than twelve hundred pages, in this particular copy. That’s a lot of reading to do, even if you only skim through it a single time. What if it were a novel with an enthralling plot, a real “page-turner,” written to please audiences with modern, familiar turns of phrase, etc…? Here’s a passage from the Gospel According to Mark [4:10-12]:
When Jesus was alone, those who were around him along with his twelve disciples asked him about his riddles. And he said to them: To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in bafflements; in order that “they may indeed look, but not perceive, and may indeed listen, but not understand; so that they may not turn again and be forgiven.”
…& here’s the end of Robert Frost’s “Directive”:
(One fact, in passing: I am currently using a pair of metal scissors to bookmark my Bible.)
I had a great talk with my mother and sister last night. They called, out of the blue, because they were in the area. They actually used the telephone to speak to me; they didn’t send a text message. They had just eaten at a restaurant. I asked them what they ordered, and my sister said “a butter burger,” and my mom said “just a piece of cod” (she meant that she ordered fish, but it struck me as funny because her phrasing brought to mind the word “codpiece”). We had a nice, long conversation, which, in part, was a follow-up to the argument that we enjoyed on Christmas.
As a kid, I remember awaking in the middle of the night and heading toward the kitchen to get a snack—I would see that the light was already on; and I’d find my mother at the table reading the Bible. This happened often.
When I mentioned the above memory to her, my mom remarked: “If I was reading the Bible, it means that I was pretty distressed: for I would turn to the scriptures for comfort.” And I said: “Comfort!?”—and I blurted this with the same attitude as Officer Duke, in the film Wrong Cops (2013), when he reacts to Officer Rough’s plan to get a second opinion about his new song, which Duke disliked (then he leaves to fetch from his police car’s trunk the dying man whom, earlier, he accidentally shot).
Here’s the passage [Isaiah 6:1-10] that I imagined my mother was reading, at that table all those nights:
In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple.
Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly.
And one cried unto another, and said, “Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory.”
And the posts of the door would shake at the sound of the call. And the house kept filling with smoke.
Then said I, “Woe is me! For I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.”
Then flew one of the seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar. And he laid it upon my mouth, and said: “Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged.”
Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying: “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”
Then said I: “Here am I; send me.”
And he said: “Go, and tell this people, ‘Hear, indeed, but do not understand. See, indeed, but do not grasp.’ Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed.”
What I had entered the kitchen to seek, by the way, was spinach. I’ve found that dark green spinach leaves make a healthy alternative to salty corn chips. I eat them with salsa.