Thursday, March 13, 2014

Eating the Kingdom



     There has been a lot of ink spilled trying to nail down the Kingdom of God. (multivalent pun alert) Used by Jesus as a term for something that is at hand and to come in the future, it is here and there both spatially and temporally. I do not want to try to map out what it is and means because it can mean many things and has been used to justify a heap of things, both good and bad. What interests me is a way to picture what an encounter with the Kingdom is like.

The Kingdom of God is an amuse bouche.






    Wait. What? Why? Why would I choose a metaphor associated with a privileged elaborate Western culinary experience? Because I need to own my own context, and since you are reading this on a computer and in English there is a good chance you share a lot of those same privileges. And again, this is not an effort to describe how we should act in the Kingdom, class structure in the Kingdom, ecological concern in the kingdom, etc. It is how we should understand our experience of the Kingdom.  Consider the following:

Our understanding of it is based on what we know is to come

     What makes an amuse different than an hors d’oeuvre (lit. outside the main work) is its connection to the main event. Maybe you have been to one of those receptions where a few trays of food get passed, and you leave immediately afterwards to go get pizza because two tiny spring rolls do not a meal make. The amuse makes us look forward (temporally) and anticipate (usually through intense salivation) what is coming

It testifies to the intentions and skill of the chef

     If every flavour is balanced, and the amuse is technically impressive, you are probably in for a great meal. If it looks like it came out of a grocery store freezer box labeled “appetizer medley” you might be at Boston Pizza.

The amuse-bouche delights us but does not satisfy us

    Somewhat like point one, the important distinction is that the amuse does not just make us think about its place in the larger framework of the meal, it also bends our desires forward. We are turned on to the experience of eating and are made conscious of a longing we did not know was there.

It lingers on your tongue

    An amuse is not a palate cleanser (like an intermezzo usually is). When done right, they are so small they are eaten quickly, yet so rich that they are not done. More time is spent in reflection on what you ate than actually eating.

It is best experienced in the company of others

    Partly because the experience is so fleeting, the best way to prolong the experience of an amuse is to watch others eat it, then to talk about it. “What did you think?” “How did they do that?” “Your eyes rolled back into your head!” You are not face down in a plate of food trying to debone a bird or trying to hide a piece of gristle in your napkin. And since the amuse for the night at a restaurant is the same for everyone, you can watch as new patrons come in, already “wise” from your earlier experience of it and watch knowingly as others encounter the wonder of the moment.



There are probably more levels of meaning in the event, and the function of the Eucharist as the great amuse-bouche is obvious, but like any good parabolic teaching, this is best left unfinished. That way there is room to reflect on the delight and yearn for the meal to come.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Eulogia Skian

It started in March.

I had gone to visit my cousin in Labrador for March Break. When I arrived I had been picked up at the airport by a snowmobile and drove to his house under the glow of the Northern lights. Returning to Fredericton I was picked up in a Mazda minivan ( with a door that opened like a car) that had a yappy teething puppy in it. This puppy wasn't mine. My family had bought her while I was gone and wanted to surprise me. The dog surprised me by puking in the van 2 minutes from the airport.
         I learned the puppy's name was Shadow about the same time that I learned of her physical dislike of driving. I remember one much more fondly. She became the family dog in that special way that happens when all the children are old enough to play with a dog without supervision. She was never a threat, only a friend who would chase you around the house. God help you if you got her attention from across the lawn and ran from her. Shadow would start yelping in panic as though the act of running away from her signalled utter abandonment and the only way to win back your love was to chase you down. In those moments, no dog in the world was faster.
        Her devotion to everyone in the house was so intense it bordered on the comical. If you hugged someone else in the family too hard or waved your arms at someone in mock anger she would intervene as if to break up the "fight". She instinctively knew which of the two people involved were the weaker and would defend them regardless of prior loyalties. Visitors often saw her treat our cats like they were her own children as she played with them by holding bits of ribbon in her mouth and dragging them around the room for the cats to chase.
         I once saved her life at our cottage when she became enthralled by ducks on the lake. Convinced that she could catch them she began swimming out to where they had alighted on the water. It was only waist deep but she was over 300 metres out into the water by the time I reached her and she collapsed into my arms. As near as I can deduce that was the moment when I went from tolerating the dog to loving her.
          Dogs are like old friends in that the things they do that annoy you most are also those that endear them to you. Shadow could be counted on to eat our Christmas chocolate, jump on us in bed during a thunderstorm, stink like only retreivers stink and shed like she wanted us to make clothes from her fur. As she grew older her hips started to go and the memory that will mean the most to me was at the time probably the most frustrating. I was living on my own when the rest of my family decided to take a trip to California. I was given the task of coming back home for the week to take care of the pets. On the day that my family was thousands of kilometres away enjoying the sunshine and post Oscar glow of Los Angeles, I was carrying Shadow down the steps to get outside so she could go pee. In hindsight, screw California.
         She started to fade the same way any of us can expect to. She lost her best friend (Lady, the dog next door), couldn't run the way she used to, slept more, went deaf, got grey whiskers on her chin and developed a tumour. Her cats that she treated like children began to care for her instead. One of them, Winnie, took to cleaning the inside of her ears with her tongue, which is the type of self humiliating love I hope my kids will have for me one day, and that I hope to have for my parents. It was the tumour that took her in the end, but only after it was sucessfully removed. I used to think I loved irony.

It ended in March.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Just because it looks ridiculous doesn't mean it is.

So at school some of us have been throwing around the idea of Modern parables. Most searches into this are full of unoriginal content where the shepard who loses a sheep is a farmer who loses a cow and rides around on his John Deere looking for him. Not to disparage the people who put their effort into making these stories told by a guy in the Middle East a couple of millenia ago more relevant, but I think the whole point of parables is that they help to elucidate difficult ideas using culturally relevant symbols. Also they make us think about things differently than we normally would. 

The only problem is that when you hear the same story over and over again you know how it ends. I have a friend that, given the right set of triggers will always tell the same story. Mention the summer camp we used to work at...there's the time he got into a super soaker fight or something about when we wrestled and it got out of hand. Travelling with him? That leads to the story of a Beergarden and some train conductors                                                           that were conspiring against us.


I know that he tells these stories to reaffirm and to remember, which is a great way to strengthen a friendship and remind us of where we came from. But if all we ever do is rehash the "good ole' days our friendship stagnates.  That same situation creates problems if we don't think about new ways to tell old stories in our working out what's in the Bible. When I hear the story of the Good Samaritian I know it by heart. It doesn't make me ask questions as much anymore because it's familiar.  In Church people sing different songs along with old ones and they will tell you that they love new songs because when you are working through learning something, you are putting more effort into understanding what you're learning. At home I (read 'my wife') like to change around the layout of rooms because there is a freshness that is invigorating.  I still have all the same stuff, but looking at things in a new way makes me appreciate them again. Somehow we seem to feel that telling new parables doesn't fall into the same categories as new songs or new liturgies or new sermons, but that shouldn't be so

Whoa whoa whoa...you can't change parables they're in  the BIBLE! To those of you who thought this.....the gentlest thing I can say is of course not you idiot. These ideas are supposed to be ways of making you think about things differently and not about thinking totally differently. I don't want my words added to the canon, just for people to let stories reinvigorate them.

So here goes...

The Kingdom of God is like a Segway. Upon first seeing it you have a sneaking suspicion that it is interesting and confusing. When you first see a person using it you are struck by how profoundly ridiculous they look. If you ever take the time to try it out (which you are generally unwilling to do because you do not want to look both ridiculous and like you have no idea how it works) you find that it runs counter to every natural instinct you have. How is it that by leaning forward and inviting a quick meeting between your teeth and the pavement you can do something good like get from point A to point B? And really, aren't you getting where you need to go jsut fine already? Walking seems to be something that you're able to do quite well on your own thank you very much. But then a funny thing happens, you realize it works. People get where they want to go faster and exerting less energy. The balance and motions needed are like riding a bike and once you've got it you become an annoying proponent of how Segways can make everyones life easier. Some people try it and get it, while others never can get over the loss of pride required to become associated with Mall cops or are scared because the company chairman died on one. Those that do use them though swear by it and are convinced that everyone will someday own one or wish they did, even if that day hasn't come yet.


Lets keep doing this,
Jesse

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Who wants a Danish?

    So there was once a man who wrote many stories, letters and books. The thing is he wrote most of them pretending to be someone else. He had many pen names and used these different voices to express different ideas he had. I like this guy, or maybe it's I like these persons inside this guy? The distinction is a little fuzzy, and he realized this too. To not keep you guessing, the man is Soren Kierkegaard and he lived in Denmark in the 19th Century. Anyone whos taken a few philosophy courses will probably be able to tell you how terribly important he is, but then again anyone who has taken a few philosophy courses will probably be able to tell you lots of important things that you would think are bollocks, and they will tell you these things in a very important way that also means they think they are very important. Let me try, just try to say something about him without the self-importance thing.

      One of his ideas is that we think about who we are in terms of double reflection. Think of it like standing in front of a mirror. You know where you are, but you see your reflection in a different place and when you move your reflection moves too. The double reflection in our heads works sort of like this. There's our "us-ness" that's our very core, and that "us-ness" then thinks about itself. When we think about ourself we create our own mental image of who we are. It's a mental "reflection". The funny thing is that after we get this idea in our heads of what we are, that idea actually changes the real us so that our life isn't one or the other, our life becomes a double reflection. Sound complicated? Think of a guy who is a normal height and weight, but develops anorexia. He sees himself in the mirror not as a normal sized person but as fat. Then he lets the way he sees his reflection change who he is...he eats less...then the reflection changes too as he gets thinner. Can you see how you'd do this in your head? (By "this" I don't mean develop anorexia)

      Here's where I insert myself in the story of the Danish man with his mirror and imaginary anorexic. I think that people -millions of people- have stopped putting effort into the action of reflecting on their own life. Where has that effort gone? It's gone onto status updates, creating avatars in Second Life or customizing their characters in World of Warcraft. It's in the way people craft their persona in the type of tweets they make. The most dangerous thing about a digital identity is that it's outside of the self. So we are holding the mirror up to a digital self, but that digital self exists in a world we don't define. Do you need to daydream in 140 characters or less? Are you allowed to untag mental images of the really bad crap in your life? Of course not, and that makes life hard. But life will go on being hard whether we run and cry online or not ( :( ). Online worlds let us express ourselves in a way that's easier, and one we usually like better, but only because those online methods benefit by enabling us. Farmville (and its stupid effing updates) makes Zynga Inc. millions of dollars a year off of (mostly) children and people with addition problems. Do these people really want to become farmers? No they want to escape in another identity and someone makes a profit off of this. Only in our minds can we make ourselves into who we want to be, whatever or however that is. We don't level up when we try to be better people, but that doesn't mean we don't succeed.


Look in the mirror and think of the reflection inside your head too (Just don't try this stoned, you'll be in the bathroom for hours)


I, 
Jesse

Monday, January 17, 2011

An Essay


This whole blog is going to be an essay. Not that I mean everything I write will contain some sort of thesis or footnotes. I mean like the French "essai" or "attempt". Possibly also "ese" as in mexican homeboy but I'm undecided. My point is that all my ideas are works in progress and they will be for the rest of my life. I want to create, sometimes that means creating ideas, sometimes stories. At the moment I study theology which is a terribly complicated process but the hope is always there that I will emerge simpler on the other side. These stories are the simple output of a mind trying to uncomplicate itself. 

Let me give you a word picture. Think of a river. That river starts at the top of a hill and eventually pours into an interminable ocean. Water forever. Going back up the mountain we see that the path downward is not straight, there are knifebacks, large pools and waterfalls along the rivers course. Look closer and you will see that now even the body of the river is not simple. All along the waterway there are jutting boulders, half-dead trees leaning into the water and shallow parts where beds of pebbles cause the water to ripple over their surface. That river is what I see when I try to think about time. I mean the stuff of time, the 4th demension, the thing that makes me late. 

But where my mind really grabs onto the picture of the river isn't in the way it moves, turns back on itself or accelerates up and down; I'm fascinated by the things in the water. The world lives and unfolds in the river of time, and the events of history are the trees, boulders and pebbles. The shape of the rivers course and the objects in the river exist in a symbiotic relationship. Just as an idea from the 7th century that had a tremendous impact might be unrecognizable in its present day form, so to does a rock placed in the river look unrecognizable after the affects of erosion change its shape and leave particles scattered the length of the river. Conversely the river itself is now unrecognizable apart from the influences put upon it by the current changes created by that idea. English poetry first emerges in the 7th century and I could not picture a world without the influence it has wrought.


I guess that anyone who ever wants to write does it partly to unpack some of what they have in their head and partly to leave something to look back on.
Books, blogs and newspapers are snapshots of the mind, of an idea before the flow of time gets a hold of it. Authors only have their work to hold onto in a static form, after they let loose their creation into the world, they're just playing poohsticks.


Let's keep doing this....
Jesse