Posted on February 10, 2013
Filed Under Journeyman Chronicles, Mundane | Comments Off on Parcel

We have an unhappy-seeming wood. At the old place the paths ran like rivers through the wood, and you could follow them without tearing through brush or stepping over more than the occasional tree. Here, riotous brush packs the space between snarled trees that have drowned in the inch of mud that holds pools of water all over the rocky hill. Some of the dead trees still stand, but others have toppled, the thin plate of earth and rock that was not enough to anchor them still clutched in their roots. Snarling thorns patrol the wood, lashing out and latching on.

The paths from years gone by have turned into soupy channels unwelcoming to even careful footsteps. Although animals track through the forest in abundance, they thread their way through narrow gaps and low overhangs, narrower and lower than a clumsy human in boot and coat can go. The deer and rabbit endure the scrub of the close brush and the sop of the inescapable water, and pick footholds through layers of collapsed, defeated trees.

None of the paths, animal or human, can be followed well, for the property lines now laid down were drawn by people divorced from the land who did not know or did not care for its lines. We are parked on a chip of land laced by nature’s many lines – elevation, streams, rays of sunlight, animal paths, the ranks of various shrubs in their kind  – but our allotment slices across all those lines, and the only place to go within its boundaries is across. Splash through the swamps, crash through the brush, force your way into the land.

It is a sad piece of land: abused pasture, forgotten farm, parceled up and sold out. The house had roots throughout the land once, still visible in the skeletons of old foundations scattered across the hill and found only by accident. People lived here once who expected and depended on what the land could provide. Now it is a parking spot, a recumbence for an creature that must go Elsewhere to Do anything.

We have already started to change the place, of course. The woodshed ties us a little more to the land even if the wood is trucked in from Elsewhere. The garden laid in on the bank of the stream does not know yet what it will be, but it is more already than it was. More than anything else, the animals we keep relentlessly reclaim the land. For ducks, Here is the best place for mud; for chickens, Everywhere is the best place to explore.

But we are confined and constrained, not by the land but by the lines that men draw on it. The best place to keep ducks is on a pond. The stream would readily support  pond but it is designated a protected trout stream. Here, although it is not definitely a stream at all as it spreads wide and shallow through a thick stand of brush, we cannot gather the water up into a pond to keep the ducks safe from the fox and the bear and the weasel, because some unobservant building-bound functionary was told that fish live in water.

The same dam might give us a way up onto the hill; without it, the best path is on the neighbor’s land, land parceled off as needless by some former owner for whom the hill was only a backdrop  for the house, an then parceled off again as a road–gated, now–to access the steel tower that dominates the hill and saturates us with radio waves to keep our plastic devices alive. It is the best use for a hill known to modern man. In former days it was pasture.

Just past our current property line the forest relaxes into something more stable and mature. The trees are more upright and there is space between them. This, too, was parceled off, sold to someone who cut a way for his four wheeler and left many of the trees where they fell. This part of the land is now used as a hunting ground, if you can call hunting what amounts to drive, sit, shoot, drive. It is not a real source of food and it is not a sport, if by sport you imply the exercise of some skill. It is a spectacle, a great deal of sitting and waiting until the glorious bang followed by blood and death. The four-wheeler path marks the boundary of the colosseum and defines the purpose of everything within it. He gets a tax break for being such a diligent farmer of trees.

You cannot follow the lines of the land here because, in one way or another, the lines of the law prevent you. I wonder, house-dweller, car-parker, nature-lover: how would you like a list of rules from the government on how you may love your lover?




Posted on February 3, 2013
Filed Under Mundane | Comments Off on Sickness

I am always surprised by how it feels to be sick. I remember sickness as a pain in a specific body part. More and more, I think, I experience sickness as a pervasive sense of ill health. Last Saturday I started the weekend with an exam at 8 a.m. I finished the test about an hour later. By noon I felt dreadfully exhausted. I drove home and pretty much collapsed into a chair for the rest of the day.

I felt better by the end of the day, and I thought I’d shaken it off. This Saturday was a replay, however. Tired beyond words. The travel I did this week, closed out by four hours of driving, certainly helped tire me, but I didn’t run particularly short on sleep. Nevertheless by the end of the day Saturday, with a good night’s sleep behind me, I still felt like the world was coming to an end. The tears of an overtired child would represent me well last night.

I’m not sure what kind of illness I am fighting off — we’re calling it the sleeping bug since that seems to be its dominant symptom — but I am unnerved by its ability to change my perception of reality. Everyday tasks appear to be sinister and unbeatable foes whose gathering power will kill me in my sleep. Particularly yesterday, I felt like I had wandered off the path in a dark wood.

Sunshine, a plan, and a little progress. That will be my medicine.


True Love

Posted on July 8, 2012
Filed Under Mundane, Theological | Comments Off on True Love

A blogger with more compassion than I have entertains a question from the audience about love:

“I know God loves me, but sometimes I get really lonely…”

Weight has never yet been a problem for me, but it’s not just fat girls that get lonely. As regards to feeling lonely I sympathize with the letter writer, and I know that the emotional weight is not lifted by knowing the “right answer” (most simply, the love of God is enough). Nice theological answer but useless and unhelpful.

However I would find it very difficult to say anything encouraging to this person. First, although it’s not stated, it seems from what is mentioned that the only reason someone might be lonely is an unattractive appearance. This is inconsiderate of the people who are just plain normal and lonely, or the people who are very attractive and lonely because they are only appreciated for their looks. It sounds like a great problem to have, but if you really think about it, it’s far better to have one friend you know is loyal and true than to never know if people like anything other than the pleasure they feel looking at you. When you have no friends, that’s lonely; when you have a million friends but none of them know you, that is desperately lonely.

Second, reinforcing the point above, the positive quality offered is having a “pretty face.” Great, glad you like it. Let’s not be hating on the people with ugly faces. Bluntly, if you want to be liked for your pretty face you deserve to be judged by your appearances. A lover would no doubt love your face, but that is not all he would love and he would not love it less if it became disfigured through some accident or disease.

“Don’t fat girls need love too?” Well that depends entirely on what you mean. If you mean a sexual partner, the answer is no. Neither fat girls nor anyone else “needs” a sexual partner. People have been reliably proven to survive celibacy. If you mean love in its essence, yes, of course everyone needs love. But it is quite possible that you are already surrounded by people who love you. Yes, not in the way you would like; but just because you can’t have a cheeseburger doesn’t mean you are going to starve to death. It’s human to want something and there is nothing wrong with wanting; but don’t exaggerate the effects of not getting what you want.

“Are all guys shallow?” Again, the answer here depends entirely on what question you are asking. The easy answer is yes, they all are. The love of God is deep; the love of man is shallow. Very, very shallow. But if you mean “will men only marry a woman with a body that is advertised in our media as sexy?” the answer is no–obviously no. Women in all shapes, sizes, and conditions are happily married. Look around you. Look at everyone. Stop looking at only the sexy people.

“I want to know the honest (brutally honest) answer to this.” No you don’t. That is the big problem I have here. Loneliness? Yeah, that’s problem. It’s no fun. It affects a lot of people…including normal people, attractive people, and married people. Yes, married people too. “I am like in love with my best friend but he doesn’t even know I’m there because of my weight.” What if it is not your weight? What if you are the one being shallow, focusing on your own appearances? From what you have written it sounds as though you are interested in a man and what you really want to know is if he doesn’t love you in return because he is a morally reprehensible person.

That’s not fair.

The kind of romantic interest you are looking for is not supposed to be always-on, available to everyone. You don’t need to be romantically attracted to someone for a reason and there doesn’t need to be a reason why you are not. Any possible reason to love someone can be matched, later, with an equal reason to stop loving them. Love IS the reason; it is the first cause. Reasons tag along after. In true love, in Godly love, you do not change to become loved; you change because you are loved.

Lonely? Sure, I sympathize. But this way of thinking about loneliness, as though it all depend on your appearances, reinforces, supports, and perpetuates all of the problems it is complaining about.




Posted on March 28, 2012
Filed Under Mundane, Theological | Comments Off on Paintball

Shortly before I moved I went with some friends to a paintball course. Up to that time I had never experienced paintball. It sounded like fun. I was taken aback by the cost of the actual paintballs, but it was something of a farewell party, in my mind at least, and I didn’t want to hold back on the occasion.

We were required to wear face protection, and in this case the safety seemed adequate and not, as so often, out of proportion to the risk. I can easily imagine being hit in the eye in that situation, and easily imagine it being more traumatic than any fun is worth. But, in the event, wearing glasses and a cheap plastic face mask presents two surfaces to fog up. You cannot move the mask enough to clear the fog while on the field. It would hardly matter if you could; the fogging was worst when my breathing was heavy, or, in other words, any time sharp vision and quick reactions would come in handy. Not a time for polishing spectacles.

I tried advancing toward the enemy, and got out to where the paintballs were smacking loudly into the surrounding terrain. I crouched behind a shelter and listened to the rounds pound the side, staring at a blur of gray and brown that was all I could see through fog and plastic. Eventually I got shot and walked out.

Returning to the field, I tried taking a position high on the wall of our fort, behind the bulwark. Rounds hammered the wall. Through the tiny, blurred spot I could almost see out of, I could not spot any of the attackers approaching. I tried firing back in the general direction the shots were coming from, but my course-issued gun did not seem to reach that far. It seemed most peculiar to me, since physics should have given me the advantage, firing down while their volleys would have to fight gravity the whole way. But if they were using guns powered higher than allowed they could achieve greater velocities. I was hit, soundly, and walked out.

Walking out was not always easy. Face protection was not to be removed while in the field, and I literally could not see out of it at many points. ‘Walking out’ consisted of staggering in a direction I hoped was correct, typically being shot at all the while regardless of following the protocol for a deactivated player, and wiping at my mask or daring to peek out of it.

Our team in general seemed to be doing little better than I myself. I had no context for comparison, but the consensus seemed to be that the opposing team ignored hits, fired on deactivated players walking out, and had illegally high powered guns. I imagine such allegations come along with the game, but as well as I could judge there was a disparity between how willing our two sides were, overall, to ignore the rules.

Once again I tried a sortie. It was useless to try to cooperate with anyone, because I could not see well enough to cooperate no matter what they did. I took a circumspect route and hung back, trying to to come into range of fire before I could pick a target. I lay close to the ground behind a small hummock. My position seemed good, close to the action but not exposed, and the excitement wiped out what little vision I had carefully conserved that far. I was growing irritated with my lack of success of any kind at all, lack of prospect for any improvement, and general abuse of the rules and concepts of the game. I had been hit enough to know that it was not pleasant, and hit often enough when I shouldn’t have been to want to pay it back. I knew I was in a risky position but I also knew it was my best chance so far to actually score some hits.

Rounds began hitting the ground all around me and I returned fire blindly. In short order I was hit. I raised my hands, per the instructions to signal an acknowledged hit, and I rolled on my back and groped for the plastic plug for my gun that was also supposed to signal I was an deactivated player walking out. As a reward I was further pelted with paintballs. Suddenly I was more than ready to be hit by paintballs, a good many more and harder than I had taken thus far. I had I mind to take my gun over to the opposing force and show them that, if they chose to adopt the rule of war by taking every advantage and disregarding the rule of sport, I would gladly meet them on their terms by clubbing them but good with my rifle, and we would see whether their overpowered rifles could match me.

I had a flash of insight into what war is. War is something far beyond a juvenile rock-throwing contest, or whatever disorderly pathetic sort of brawl you want to compare to paintball; I don’t mean that I comprehended the totality of warfare, or its essence. But I had reached a point where diminished regard for my own safety and diminished regard for the worth of my opponent made me quite willing to invent retaliations for them on an exponential scale; a few minutes more of fulminating and I would have tried to round up a posse to walk systematically beat anyone found with an overpowered gun, or firing on a deactivated player.

I walked out again, and afterward made one last foray. Our base was overrun, and the referees had all they could do to keep the opposing force from shooting us as we walked on the field. I gave up; not from lack of will to try anything else, but from sufficient will to not try the various remedies I did think up.

We wound up dispensing our remaining ammo – a good stock of it, too, and dearly bought – to anyone who wanted it.

I found I do not like paintball. There is such a thing as holding your own life too dear, and on that account I do not mind the idea of pushing myself up against a fear until I find it no longer fearful (although it must be said a paintball is a small thing to fear). But for my part, in my moment of epiphany, I could not make any clear distinction between that heroic self-sacrifice we commend and a general wrath and lust for destruction directed by emotion and not under the control of any higher principle. A bullet flies from a rifle along a highly controlled path, but not under any moral constraint; and so too the ability to direct men firing guns is not the same as the control of a moral principle.

War is the flower of hatred. You cannot have the flower without the root, and you cannot be rid of the flower while the root abides. But hatred is not only the enemy of love; it is also love’s true defense. The God of love promises war on his enemies. The problem is not that men hate, but that men hate what they should love and love what they should hate. But I cannot claim to know the difference.


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