Saturday, March 26, 2005

TRUE STORIES (iii)

When I was in fifth grade, they made us run a mile in P.E. class. Since you already know that I was a little bit pudgy, and not exactly given to physical activity, I’m sure you can imagine how well the call to run vigorously around the track several times went over with me. It went over like an atom bomb. I’m pretty sure they told us a couple days in advance— maybe they expected that kids would stay after school and run laps just for fun, to prepare!—and I definitely remember the day before coming home and thinking to myself: crap.

It took me sixteen minutes to run one mile. If you’re not acquainted with running speeds, taking sixteen minutes to run one mile falls somewhere between ‘exceptionally slow’ and ‘not actually moving.’ Nowadays, I do a mile in about 9.5 minutes; fleet-footed seminarian Zach can do a mile in about 7 minutes, if he wants to break a sweat. But it took me sixteen, agonizing, huffing and puffing minutes. My friend Tyler, a very fast runner, lapped me sometime between minutes 5 and 7. He may have actually screamed “MEEP MEEP” as he passed me.

Grade school is a ruthless introduction to social Darwinism. The weak stay with their own kind; the strong prey upon the weak; the weak prey upon the weaker. I was one of two fat kids in my fifth grade class; the other one was a girl. I don’t remember which one of us finished the mile first—I’m sure we were both towards the back of the pack—but I remember thinking, “OK. David. You’re going to do really terribly at this run. But you can at least beat the other fat kid!” When you know you can’t really excel, you try to compensate by making sure the few people further down the ladder than you at least know their place.

One of my parents’ favorite verses of Scripture is Philippians 4:13, “For I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” I’d been grousing about having to run this mile to my mother earlier that week, and I’m pretty sure that she quoted it to me, probably encouraging me to remember that God was with me even in PE class. (Which, in retrospect, was probably a pretty important move pastorally; I’d be willing to bet I’m not the only person who’s ever despaired of God’s existence while attempting to climb a rope ladder or run a mile.) And I did quote it to myself, out loud, through increasingly short breaths, as I ran: “I can do all things (gasp) through Christ (gasp) who strengthens me. I can do all things (gasp) through Christ (gasp) who strengthens me.”

I’m not sure what I expected to accomplish by quoting that Scripture to myself. I don't know if I had the most reasonable expectations: would the run seem shorter? Would I move faster? Would teacher, miraculously, wave his hands in the air and say, “ah, forget it, just stop running!” None of these things happened. I still a pudgy nerd-child running laps, only now I was quoting Scripture to myself. So, as was (is) my wont in times of frustration or stress, I started swearing. “Fuck. Fuck. Shit. Fuck. Shitfuck. Fuckshit. Fuckfuckfuck.”

Only I didn’t want to just swear, and cease preaching Scripture to myself. So, in an interesting adaptation of the text, I mixed my curses in with Paul’s own words: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Shitfuck. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Shitfuck. Fuck. I can do all things…” I said that to myself over and over again for the last few minutes of my sixteen-minute odyssey, until I crossed the finish line and collapsed into a breathless nerd-heap.

Story of my life.

Many are the long miles I’ve run, in one way or another, while clinging to the reality of God’s presence and power and love for me. Sometimes, Paul’s promise—that God is alive and at work in me and through me, helping me grow and overcome obstacles I never thought possible—seems incredibly real and powerful and persuasive. And sometimes there’s just the sound of me huffing and puffing and cursing out loud.

And sometimes—maybe most of the time—there are both sounds at once, like two different conversations going on in my head. My prayers and my longing for God and my desire for peace and my frustration and anger and my embarrassment and my skeptical, questioning heart are all mixed up together like some bizarro spiritual milkshake.

I think for a long time my attitude about life’s challenges was: I hate this, but I’ll get through it. And when I’m done with it, I’ll thank God for helping me get through with it. But I’m discovering more these days that that’s a fool’s errand.

I once asked my mother what giving birth was like. She said, “Well, it’s like at soccer practice, when they make you run laps around the park. And you run three, and you think that you’re done, only when you get back, they tell you that you have to run another one. And then another one. And then another one.” Birth may be like that; my life definitely is like that. I'm always amused by my sense of entitlement in life; it's like I expect God to have set the overall level of difficulty for my life to 'medium' instead of 'hard.' But it doesn't work like that. In real life, as in birth, there's always another lap.

And I guess I’ve finally realized that unless I learn to be grateful for the good things that the challenges bring out—even, in some perverse way, to be grateful for the challenges themselves, to say, “I have to run a mile! Thank God!”—I’ll always be stuck waiting. Waiting for the day when I don’t have to run a mile, drag my ass out of bed, work for a living, have fights with friends, feel stressed out about one thing or another, feel confused, feel inadequate. That day is not coming. That day is not coming. All there is to do is run your mile as best you can, and learn, however slowly, to rejoice in the running.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

YESSSSSS!

After months of cajoling, persuading, arguing, joking, subtle and not-so-subtle hints, and straight-out arm-twisting, it's finally happened. Becca Sanders has cracked and started a blog, Groping for God. I invite you to check it out; she's already attempted to justify the rather salacious name of her blog, and engaged in some pretty deep reflections on Psalm 88 and the art of lamenting. I expect great things from a woman so reflective a reader of Scripture, so skilled a comment-writer, and so deep a lover of Smores. (mmmm...smores....) Go, check it out.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

JESUS FILMS

Wow. These are amazing. Check 'em out. The third one, which was probably just intended to be goofy, is actually a pretty brilliant satire about some important themes.

Via Cleave, who got them from Dean.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

CREEPY RABBITS

Here. My gosh. Also, here is a picture of a baby photoshopped to look like a famous fascist dictator, which I inexplicably found very funny. Both via Screenhead.

TRUE STORIES (ii)

When I was a kid—I don’t remember how old, maybe in kindergarten, maybe second grade—I was a bit chubby. I was a big kid. My favorite thing to eat when I was a child was anything that had been deep-fried and slathered with ketchup; come to think of it, I still don’t mind that type of food nowadays, although mercifully I eat much less of it.

Obviously, however, getting by on fried food and Taco Bell (another childhood favorite…Burrito Supremes…yum) is not a healthy diet for a young kid. And at some point, my pediatrician expressed concern that I might have high blood pressure. She recommended that I go over to the hospital in our area and have some blood drawn, just so they could double-check my blood pressure and make sure there wasn’t anything unusual going on.

In addition to being a bit of a tubbo, I was also very, very squeamish about needles as a child. Pretty much every time I’d go to the doctor as a kid and would need a shot, I’d freak out—crying, screaming, the whole bit. (Seeing a pattern here?) Ditto for every time I needed to have a cavity filled: there would usually be one knock-down, drag-out, rage-filled tantrum before I finally put myself in the car and went. I think it took me a while to grasp what was happening to me; it’s entirely possible my parents told me about getting blood drawn a week in advance and I just forgot or didn’t really listen. But needless to say, when we arrived at the hospital, and dad started talking about needles going in and the blood coming out, I flipped my shit.

I absolutely flipped my shit. Right there in the waiting room at the hospital. Crying, screaming, ranting, raving. I used every single childhood rhetorical strategy (and, come to think of it, passed through every step in the stages of dying): denial (“No! No! No!”), anger (“I hate you! I HATE YOU SO MUCH!”), bargaining (“Can’t we come back in a week and do this?”), plucking the heartstrings (“If you really loved me, you wouldn’t make me do this”), depression (“[sobs]”). But my dad, in his quiet, utterly implacable way, would not be moved.

He told me several years later that, numerous times during our 90 minutes in the waiting room, the hospital nurses came up to him and said, “Look, this sorta thing happens all the time. Why don’t we just take him and hold him down and get it over with? You can be outta here in ten minutes.” But he said no.

My father is not a perfect man, but he does have some great strengths. Among them I count the fact that he is good at being quite firm in a very loving way. He was that way on that day. He may have been frustrated, he may have raised his voice a bit. But he did not give me the third degree, or grab me by the arm and drag me into the nurse’s office. He just looked at me, talked to me, listened to me, and insisted: we need to do this. And if we’re going to do it, we need to do it now. So let’s get it over with.

He kept saying, over and over again: David, you have courage. You can do this. You have courage. It seemed like a novel idea, because I was certainly not feeling very brave at the time. Actually, the mere idea that I possessed courage seemed preposterous right then, given that I was probably wiping away the rivulets of snot running down my face because I’d been crying so hard, because the bad nurse-lady wanted to stick a big-ass needle in my arm. But he kept at it: David, you have courage. You can do this. I will be right with you, and so will God. You can do this.

I marvel at my good fortune sometimes. It wasn’t simply that I had good parents. It was that both my parents not only embodied love themselves, but pointed to the God who is love, whose love for me was real, strong, concrete, just like theirs—yet transcended anything I could imagine, ask, or think. That day, and throughout my childhood, Dad insisted—quietly, patiently, but firmly and persistently—that, though I might be afraid, terrified, shivering with hurt or resentment or loneliness, that none of those things were the final word. God was the final word.

Of course, I eventually got the blood drawn. Five-year old me vs. my dad in a contest of wills was like your uncle Lester playing Deep Blue. After 90 minutes (if it was that little) in the waiting room with me, I finally capitulated. Dad and I walked hand in hand into the nurse’s office, where she tied a small rubber cord around my upper arm. I closed my eyes, and dad and I began to pray, together, the Lord’s Prayer. We said it together: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come…

Somewhere around “thy will be done,” I hissed to dad, through closed eyes, “When is she going to stick it in?” And dad said, “David, they’re almost done.” The whole thing was over, with a minimum of fuss, ten seconds later. There was a vial full of my blood to prove it.

Emotionally spent as I was, I would have been happy to just climb back into the station wagon and go home. But Dad wouldn’t let the moment go by without making sure I’d gotten the point. “David,” Dad said, “you had courage.” It is typical of my dad that after all the work he’d done, convincing his stubborn, scaredy-cat son to suck it up and do what needed to be done—that he allowed the moment to feel like my triumph. You should feel free to let your imagination roam a little bit when imagining the influence such an event, and such fatherly praise, can have on a little boy.

I marvel at my good fortune sometimes. I came home that day with the biggest bandage I’d ever had on my arm, with a small piece of gauze right where they’d drawn blood. I swelled with pride when I showed my mother. It sat on my arm like a medal on my chest, or a scar earned fighting in a good cause.

Monday, March 14, 2005

WORST. WAY TO WAKE UP. EVER.

I'll take "painful charlie horse on a day when you have a midterm after having gotten only five hours of sleep" for $1000, Alex.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

TRUE STORIES (i)

When I was a kid, my mother enrolled me in pre-school. The first day of classes arrived, and she took me off to school. Once I understood that she was going to leave me in this strange place, by myself, for several hours, I immediately flipped out. Screaming. Crying. Hitting. Kicking. Eventually mom had to promise me she would see me in a few hours, give me a kiss on the cheek, and bolt for the doors, leaving me in the arms of my pre-school teachers. She presumably spent several hours at home wondering if she’d traumatized me for life (Dave’s future therapist: “So, you feel abandoned by your mother?”).

Much greater the irony, then, when she arrived at pre-school to pick me up to find a perfectly content David, screwing around with Legos or reading a story or playing with blocks or doing whatever. I had settled in quite nicely. So nicely, in fact, that I was actually rather reluctant to go. Intransigent. Irritable. Well, angry, actually. Crying. Screaming. And, finally, in a display of recalcitrance that I find both impressive and embarrassing, actually clinging to the doorframe, screaming “No! No!” as my mother attempted to pry me off it so she could get me in the station wagon and take me home and feed me applesauce.

Many are the good things in my life I have been dragged into kicking and screaming.

NERDERY

For those of you who aren't fond of the OC, here's the new Star Wars III trailer. (Click on the button that says 'trailers.') Via Zach, whose nerdacious fondness for Star Wars rivals even my own.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

THINGS IT HURTS TO DO

When you've gone weight-lifting with Nick, and now your triceps are KILLING you:

Brush your teeth. Put food in your mouth. Take your backpack on or off. Type. Roll over in bed. Wave to people. Put a bagel in the toaster. Reach for the soap, shampoo, or conditioner in the shower. Towel yourself off. Take or remove books from your bookshelf. Get yourself coffee.

Heal, stupid muscles!