Monday, December 25, 2006

How far is Bethlehem from here?
I sit awake tonight and wonder those kinds of things, things I probably should have already at least thought about or processed at some point, but have not for whatever reason. That is, not until a cough kept me up drinking tea and hunkering down under a blanket like a wise man or shepherd on a cold night near in Palestine. But even my archetypal, and now probably historically inaccurate, metaphor betrays me as one who has never really focused enough to wonder.
Just how far is it?
From anywhere, I mean. Geographically, I mean. Although, of course, that is followed by the next question; by the way, how far is it metaphysically?
At times like these I think about angels and prophets; dreams and visions; Mary and Joseph. I think about how they disappeared into the throng of my understanding; you know, that place where dates from history books and names like Sitting Bull go to be reconstructed into so much mnemonic knowledge without full comprehension. I know they existed, but understanding what they went through requires more than knowledge of facts. I read Mary's song, but do I see Mary singing it?
You know, a young woman who has been given not just a son, but the son of God (who, by the way, the entire Jewish community was anticipating) to raise as her own. And on not so wonderful terms--pregnancy out of wedlock (in a society that actually cared). Yet there is a point when someone sees her, not just as a scriptural reference or theologically debated conundrum, but as a real person who has been overshadowed by God. So she sings.
She sings. The baby cries. Or at least he must have. All that nonsense in the songs about "little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes"; I'm sorry, I just don't buy it. To buy it is to subscribe to a fictional notion of Bethlehem. I'm sure he cried, just like I'm sure the road to Bethlehem was hard (pregnant lady on a donkey--need I say more?), just like I'm sure the animals in the stable were not necessarily glowing with reverance and probably smelled bad to boot, just like I'm sure the baby had to be fed and changed, just like I'm sure the wise men probably stopped outside Joseph and Mary's place, (this is my rendition, of course) wondering at what they were doing. And they knocked at the door. The neighbors looked on. Joe and Mary (If I may call them that) had been having visitors for some time, some guests genuinely believing their story, some simply curious and nodding to each other knowingly(oh, you were overshadowed! Gotcha! *wink*). The young couple had finally gotten people to leave them alone, then these guys show up. It's the shepherds all over again.
They smile, gladly accept the gifts, invite the wise men to stay for dinner, have that awkward conversation that might occur between three (or however many) idealistic rich guys and a young couple who had a baby they claim is the son of God in a stable in a small palistinean town... how many miles from here?
Just how far is that place? I hope not too far from us all this December.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

For your procrastinating pleasure
I'm supposed to be writing a paper right now. I thought grad school would be different from undergrad; I thought I'd be serious and focused and driven. Not that I was a complete slacker in my undergraduate years--I did my homework (generally), attended classes (as much as your average student does), and did not only graduate by the skin of my teeth.
Never-the-less, the procrastination has continued. The only difference is that now I'm usually a little more interested in what I'm supposed to be working hard on, so when I actually get to it, it's an hour or two before I find myself "taking a break".
In any event, here are a couple of things for your amusement from my "break":
1) I heard an interesting story on Studio 360 tonight about a guy who runs a talk show in the Halo 2 online environment. Yeah, I had the same reaction. Check it out here.
2) Apparently soccer fans aren't the only crazy ones. Sports, sports, sports.
Well, that's all for now. I'd better get back to being studious.
Hope the week goes well, people!

Monday, October 02, 2006

From the Encyclopedia of Experience: Perspective
It is an odd thing that I spend many of my days worrying about my belly, my budget, my bank account, when truly I'm not in that difficult of a position. Sure, there are bills I end up having to pay a little later, and there are times when I cannot afford what I would like to have, but that's just it: like to have. Many of us live in a microcosm where being "poor" refers to the fact that we cannot simply do as we please on a daily basis. It is not that God is not providing what we need; it's more that we're not getting what we want (and in our human way consider necessity). It may do us well to reflect, every once in a while, on the lives of those in other positions in life which are less advantageous than our own. So here's a start--a family in Malawi that lives on $1 a day.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Like anyone, I'm sure, there are things that keep me up at night. Sometimes I sit here in this room, the window to the balcony open, my blinds letting the soft metropolitan glow in through the space where one of them fell; long into the night, on nights like this one, I sit here and contemplate pointless things like how small my apartment is compared to the vast geography of the planet, or how small my focus is at times when juxtaposed with the breadth of life's spectrum.
I read a letter from a friend in China before I went to bed; I was greatly encouraged, as I always am when I read such letters about necessary work being done, and brave steps out into the wide world; all this, and it's being done by one of my friends. I think to myself, "I have walked among giants." Truly.
And I sit here in my room and contemplate how contained my life is at times, how...banal. It's odd; I don't feel this way most days; in fact sometimes I'm quite content. But, you see, you spend enough of your life following the trails of giants, and you begin to feel the effects of the fallen trees and leveled mountains. You start to see heaven and wonder if you're reaching out to it or if it's just floating unusually low today, almost within reach, and you look around at the trail and wonder if you had anything at all to do with the affected landscape.

Down the street, the California Transportation Authority is working on expanding the freeway. It's 12:47AM and usually the beeping of the heavy equipment and dinosaur like noises of metal scraping rock and the like would trouble me. But tonight, they float through my one blind space on a breeze like a lullaby. I may be the only person thinking about these things right now, and perhaps tomorrow I will regret posting these thoughts in a public place. But for now, I'm just glad I'm not the only one awake at this time of night.

Friday, July 14, 2006

From the Encyclopedia of Experience: Pomposity
Someone who works here drives a BMW Z4* with the license plate "Z4 PHD", also displaying their educational achievements (I assume--I don't know the person). I've walked passed the car many, many times, but today as I looked at it, I began to wonder why someone would put that on their license plate. Those are great achievements, yes, but still, why call attention to them? I mean, you've already got them, so they're not for you to set your goals by. So who are they for? And especially when you're working at a place like this, a private Christian university, the primary goals of which are to free people from feeling like their degree is simply intended to be a showpiece or resume entry?
Now I must reiterate, I do not know this individual; while the temptation to make certain assumptions about the person is there, he or she may very well be a very different kind of person.
But you've got to wonder, right?
We live in a world which will tell you the value of your job is reflected by how much you're paid or what you drive, that the value of your achievement is reflected by your net worth, that, once you've got your PhD or Doctorate of any kind, you've arrived and can now feel free to spend the remainder of your time on earth in pretentious bombasts. We live in a time when people hide their insecurities behind their financial net worth or the facade of a financial net worth. I'm not going to lie, I find myself doing that from time to time. (If I don't struggle with it as much, it's because of the lack of space to hide, not my perfection! :))
You're valuable, my friend, even if you don't have a degree yet. What you can do as you are is important. And I hope that when we finally get that PhD, or any degree for that matter, and the accompanying sports car that (apparently) goes with it, we can make more of it and of ourselves than a lot of hot air with which to fill our chests and brand our license plates.
*In case you feel like ogling and indulging the owner:

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

A postcard from dad; something I needed to hear today--perhaps it will encourage you. The image on the front is an elephant standing on its hind legs to reach a branch above, where it is seeking food.
Dear Jonathan,
We trust you are well. I thought you would enjoy this postcard. Ever thought an elephant could stand in that position? Well, we are capable of accomplishing more than we or other people think...Please keep believing in God for the impossible!

Keep hoping, my fellow elephants...

Monday, April 17, 2006

"If there's one thing that I'm pretty certain of that is paramount above everything else with regards to creating, if you are an artist, or an aspiring artist; open, be open,do whatever it takes to make you open. If you have to change your environment, change it, but just be open; because when you are open, that is when the real stuff comes through. That is when we experience that thing of almost not being in control. In what ways does one get open? The mexicans call it doing without doing, not focusing so much on trying to be open, or trying to write that song, but try to look for devices that will facilitate this openness that I'm talking about, i.e. go and have fun, or do something which is probably unrelated to music...the key thing, I think, is openness."
-Seal (the musician) on New Ground
I've been experiencing some (for lack of a better analogy) artistic constipation. Okay, maybe there's a better way of saying that, but point in case. It's far too easy to fill free time with empty busyness. Perhaps it's time for a hike.

Monday, March 06, 2006

After watching the Academy Awards tonight, I reflected a little on a theme that came up several times throughout the evening's proceedings.

We are creatures who thrive on stories.

From the small child who just wants someone, anyone, to tell them a story, whether they've heard it or not, to the elderly person whose life seems to continue its flow by the fuel of sharing his or her own stories; we all seek to connect somehow through the creative and re-creative imagination. It is not enough to see a person, or to tell them of the dreary facts of everyday. Throughout a person's life, one hears thousands of stories, parables, fables, narratives, biographies, even nursery rhymes, that allow us to for a moment become bigger than ourselves, to touch somethingI say this at riskuniversal.

When I come to stories, whether I am writing them or reading them, I find myself seeking those characters to whom I can connect.

These nonexistent beings of the imagination take on a living quality when I encounter them; they bring me to discover those parts of myself from which my commonalities with men and women throughout history spring, the parts that I yearn to magnify as I seek to identify my place and purpose in life.

In a different way, very special members of the gallery of story-lives bring to the surface those other parts of myself with which I am less acquainted; the dark secrets, forlorn longings, burning hope and desire, wild resilience, the most powerful of emotions. All of these discoveries seem to generate a new color in my life's tapestry; in fact, in truth they are actually generating a new color in the general tapestry of God's painting, which raises a thought:

We, as finite beings, will not, in this life, see or hear the entirety of the greatest motion picture in existence; we're not made to. But when we can connect to those parts of stories that truly bring out the nature of the thingthe parts that we play, the direction of the script we get a glimpse of what all the fuss is about in the recognition of any story, on any level. There's no word for it, not in human language. There's no color with which to paint it. But I think we all know of what I write. I think, if we look for it carefully enough, we will find that it is written on the back of our hearts, in the stories we live and breathe, celebrate and seek each day.

All the world's a stage

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

I've spent the last few days limping from place to place due to a basketball injury I got on Sunday. Trying to move to fast for my own good, I guess. The past couple of days I've been putting ice on it, heating it, stretching it, but it all seemed aimless--I would get up to walk around and find that I was still sore and unable to walk without a limp. But it made me think of David's "Cast Off Day" blog; we take our freedom of movement for granted so much.

Well, perhaps due to the effort of limping here and there, I've nothing too exciting to say today except that life still throws me beauty and mystery here and there, just to keep things interesting. This morning as I grunted and heaved my way out of my car, a bird overhead caught my eye; it was a raven carrying a branch. I'm sure there's significance in that somewhere; Noah probably would have laughed. Centuries too late my winged friend. The earth is dry, Ararat is forgotten, the ark has likely been stripped for firewood; we belong to times other than these. Still, at least you've not forgotten how to fly or build a nest.

Monday, February 13, 2006

A page in the encyclopedia of experience: Maneuver
The concept of maneuvering had not occurred to me at the time, though when it hits, it’s always an old new lesson. That I was doing my own maneuvering to keep up had in fact been on my mind for a while. And I felt badly about it—about myself, for being myself was something that by nature caused me to have to maneuver; being my friendly self led to my long conversations which made me come up short with regards to my time; being my generous self led to spontaneous, and sometimes unwise, giving, which in turn caused a shortage in my pocket book. Being my artistic self caused my disregard for the boundaries of life, the “rules” we’re supposed to live by, which in turn led to disarray—a cluttered desk, for example, or an unbalanced check book.
As I sat at the wedding reception dinner, chewing steak as I listened to my neighbor tell a portion of his story, it struck me. Here was a guy who was working hard, trying to make something of himself, but meeting obstacles all along the way, obstacles I had imagined one would not encounter if they just…I don’t know, maybe had the right job, or right upbringing. Yet he had the “right job”, and though his upbringing was unknown to me, the guy next to him had the “right upbringing” and the right job, and was clearly facing hurdles and circus rings in his own life. I mulled this over, and today digested it after talking to a friend at church. He too was struggling to make something of himself, though he had fewer resources than the two at the wedding, and was struggling to create the right occupation because no one would give him a job. He is “different”, and I understand and abhor the way people treat those who are “different”.
But the point is this: we all have to maneuver. The concept of it is that life itself requires movement and constant toil. It’s how we change, grow, evolve, if you will, from the babies we enter as, into the free spirits we’re supposed to be when we leave. You will never in your time on earth find a place that does not require some sort of acrobatics in some aspect, a place where you are truly at the end of the movie; the cameras never pan out as you walk off set, your lover in your arms, a knowing smile on your face, the score reaching a heart squeezing crescendo, and cut to credits. There’s always more to be done.
As this thought hit me, I smiled to myself. I was alone in my car, so I could get away with having a moment in the midst of my epiphany. I turned up my radio, caressed my momentary joy, imagined the camera panning out as I drove off set into the distance…
And prepared myself for more maneuvering up ahead.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

A page in the encyclopedia of experience:


Yesterday the sun rose sleepily, as if it was already on its way out; the haze from fires that had been burning in the Anaheim Hills for several hours tinted even the morning's crispness, coloring everything in a soft golden hue. It was an odd feeling; somewhat like having translucent yellow plastic wrap over your eyes. On the news later that evening, I watched as firefighters and policemen attempted to gain control of a situation that seemed so far away. I think it felt that way because, though I've passed by the area a number of times, I'm not really sure that I know anyone there...
I felt for the people trying to evacuate, their trauma being made into a media spectacle, today's breaking story. A reporter attempted to ask a girl (who was in the process of evacuating) how she was dealing with having to pack up her home, possibly permanently, in 15 minutes. He asked how she was choosing things to take, and I couldn't help but wonder if this 30 second soundbyte was going to cost her something more valuable than making the 10:00 news.
This morning I was relieved to look outside and see clarity in the sky. It seems these dreams resolve themselves; strange days do come to an end, and the confusion of things that should not be dissolves along with the urgent voices that constantly scream that today is the only reality we'll ever know.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Crisp freshness of a new year’s birth

Hazy fog clouding everything but vision—

Oh to not be a crazy driver this year!

* * *

On New Year’s Eve camaraderie is at its pinnacle—we’ve made it through something, some unspeakable journey. We watch the ball drop in Times Square, or simply count down with glasses raised in celebration; we make resolutions, just as we have in years past, trying not to think about whether they will be broken, but only about what boldness means when you’re celebrating time’s unceasing march forward. After all, what is a man or woman if they cease to aim for a higher level of existence? There’s an unnatural emptiness in movement without some manner of direction.

So here it goes again. I will tell you right now that I failed to complete some of my resolutions last year—in fact, I failed all the ones I had a sneaking suspicion I would. Yet I will hold to those for another year yet—otherwise, where would I be without a little tenacity to make up for procrastination? Some resolutions I managed to fulfill in the past year—all of which had to do with a changed outlook and personality rather than tasks and trials. These too will remain; life is meant to be a conglomeration of such experiences.

And here’s a new resolution; not for a new year, but for a new perspective on the whole: To find creative power in existence and renewal of myself each day; to truly be the indomitable lion that runs in my blood.

Here’s to 2006, my dear friend. Here’s to courage, resilience and all that makes life truly beautiful.

* * *

Empty streets full of the possibilities of parked cars,

An ancient year never yet seen breathes into our lungs,

One more time I put shoes to ground,

A marvelously new creation.