A Day in the Life of

Here’s an article I recently wrote for another blog I contribute to on Tuesdays.
 
    Ivan Denisovich Shukov is a character in a novel by Russian author Alexsander Solzhenitsyn. Denisovich was a laborer in a work camp in post World War 2 Russia that was taken in part from some of the real life experiences that Solzhenitsyn had himself while living in the Russian gulags and work camps. We get to see one single day in the life of this prisoner during the course of the book. Nothing extreme, nothing extraordinary happens on this day, but it certainly gives a person a good idea about what it must have been like if only on the very good days, to put it mildly he doesn’t live an easy life even on these “good days”.
     Towards the end of the book one of the other prisoners, Alyosha, observes Denisovich at the end of a long day offer a sort of generic prayer,
    ” Glory be to Thee, O Lord. Another day over. Thank you I’m not spending tonight in the cells. Here it is still bearable.”
    …
    Alyosha heard Shukov’s whispered prayer, and, turning to him: “There you are, Ivan Denisovich, your soul is begging to pray. Why don’t you give it its freedom?”
     …
     “Well, Alyosha,” he said with a sigh, “it’s this way. Prayers are like those appeals of ours. Either they don’t get through or they’re returned with ‘rejected’ scrawled across ’em.”
     Alyosha goes on to encourage him, “But, Ivan Denisovich, it’s because you pray too rarely and badly at that. Without really trying. That’s why your prayers stay unanswered. One must never stop praying. If you have real faith you tell a mountain to move and it will move…”
     Ivan retorts that even with his faith and praying that the political turmoil and war still found Alyosha in the same work camp as himself trying to imply that his own prayers weren’t effective at all. What good has it gained him if it could not save him from the same fate? Alyosha replies that that is not what they prayed for, but instead simply for our daily bread.
     “Our ration, you mean?” asked Shukov
      …
     “Ivan Denisovich, you shouldn’t pray to get parcels, or for extra stew, not for that. Things that man puts a high price on are vile in the eyes of Our Lord. We must pray about things of the spirit–that the Lord Jesus should remove the scum of anger from our hearts…”
     Ivan goes on to talk about the hypocrisies and corruption of his old home town priest and how horrible of a person this priest was.
    “Why are you talking to me about priests?…It’s because their faith is unstable that they’re not in prison.”
     Ivan continues that he’s not really against God, but why should anyone be filled with the idea of paradise or hell. Why do you take us for fools?  That even still however much Alyosha were to pray that it doesn’t shorten his term in the work camp, that he is still very much here in the same condition as himself.
    “Oh, you mustn’t pray for that either,” said Alyosha, horrified. “Why do you want freedom? In freedom your last grain of faith will be choked with weeds. You should rejoice that you’re in prison. Here you have time to think about your soul. As the apostle Paul wrote: ‘Why all these tears? Why are you trying to weaken my resolution? For my part I am ready not merely to be bound, but even to die for the name of the Lord Jesus.'”
     Shukov gazed at the celiing in silence. Now he didn’t know either whether he wanted freedom or not. At first he’d longed for it. Every night he’d counted the days of his stretch–how many had passed, how many were coming. And then he’d grown bored with counting. And then it became clear that men like him wouldn’t ever be allowed to return home, that they’d be exiled. And whether his life would be any better there than here–who could tell?
     Freedom meant one thing to him–home.
     Alyosha was speaking the truth. His voice and his eyes left no doubt that he was happy in prison. 
     “You see, Alyosha,” Shukov explained to him, “somehow it works out all right for you: Jesus Christ wanted you to sit in prison and so you are–sitting there for His sake. But for whose sake am I here? Because we weren’t ready for war in forty-one? For that? But was that my fault?
     They’re interrupted for a time, but then Ivan continues shortly there after.   – Alyosha returned. Impractical, that’s his trouble. Makes himself nice to everyone, but doesn’t know how to do favors that get paid back. 
     Denisovich allows the distraction to jolt him out of introspection and writes off what Alyosha had to say because he thinks his impracticality discredits the message. He lets back in the realities of his everyday habits and struggles. Granted these are genuinely what he must face each day, but the message of something greater beyond these toils he cannot bring himself to hope for. He fails to recognize that Alyosha’s hope in Christ is the most practical thing of all.  “Exactly at the instant when hope ceases to be reasonable it begins to be useful”-GKC
      Has our freedom cost us our souls? No one has it truly easy, but for instance relative to those in the gulags and work camps certainly our lives are quite easy. Has our easy living cost us something we didn’t even realize we were paying such a high price for? Our constant distractions, busy lives, material possession; have they lessened our focus and our attention on the truly important teachings of Christ?
      Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

ban·der·snatch

In a letter from May 15, 1966, C.S. Lewis wrote “No one ever influenced Tolkien–you might as well try to influence a bandersnatch.”

I heard this recently while listening to a lecture discussing the friendship between Tolkien and Lewis and it just made me snicker so much that I had to find out what a bandersnatch was.

ban·der·snatch
1. an imaginary wild animal of fierce disposition.
2. a person of uncouth or unconventional habits, attitudes, etc., especially one considered a menace, nuisance, or the like.

It is possibly my new favorite word.

Atypical women I have known

Of all the women I’ve known so far the writings and impact of two continue to amaze me. One an acquaintance and the other a close friend.

I met Heather way back in 2005 when I was keeping a Xanga blog. Through the Xanga Springfield crowd I stumbled across her musings and was just completely floored. I thought to myself I’ve got to figure out a way to meet this girl. The only thing I could think of at the time was an offering of concert tickets and in order to be nonchalant about it I couldn’t just buy an extra ticket for her and give it to her. Instead I bought a gaggle of tickets for some friends of mine, literally a van load, and “had an extra” that away. Meeting her ever so briefly to hand over the ticket she was everything I had imagined from following her blog almost religiously(really checking it so frequent that I was only slightly short of stalking her prior to contacting her). I really have no excuse other than being completely overwhelmed and not having the boldness at the time to just come out with it and ask her on a date. It all comes back to her writing though. Thoughts written with no intended recipient, but instead a transparent look into her daily life. Introspective, spiritual, optimistic, and mature beyond any woman my age that I’d encountered so far save my other friend. Her entries were more of an open journal than a public blog. I’m not sure how she ever had the courage to write such things, but I’m certainly glad she did. I struggled and toiled to find ways to hang out socially with her; talking music with her, going to concerts, “casually” commenting to her blog entries. What a wiener right? I just wasn’t man enough yet to ever actually step out of my fantasy world of possibilities and see if these affections I’d convinced myself of might actually be able to happen by simply taking the first step of asking her on a date. Harboring imaginary affections from afar I went even so far as getting Radiohead tickets in Chicago and thrusting those upon her in hopes of stealing away her time and somehow inserting myself into her life. She was kind and patient with me though giving me the chance to learn my lesson and waited for  me to begin to truly interact with her like a strong, mature christian man should, but I never did. Sadly with too much personal growth still required on my end we were never more than acquaintances. I know that I probably always knew that would be the case, but man did I ever have hope that something might possibly develop out of thin air. Had I been then the man that I am now I hope that I would have been a bit less creepy and definitely a lot clearer in my intentions and direct with my interests. Taking the chance, but ah that’s another time and no reason to look back now on things that were never meant to be other then to appreciate them for the lessons they taught. Simply encountering her and seeing that there are indeed these few incredible examples of interesting, fun, beautiful(wow I mean beautiful), spiritually mature christian women had a huge impact on my life…and the music I listen to. I’ve not dated very many women, since high school a total of two, but round about the time I had first encountered Heather I dated a girl whom had I not met Heather I probably would have married and been woefully unhappy with. She was cute, we got along ok and she liked me a lot, but somewhere during the month we dated I came to realize something important. I found that now that I knew that these incredible women of Heather’s caliber and makeup did truly exist in this world that I couldn’t bring myself to settle for what I had. I don’t mean to say that woman I had dated had any less value or was some horrible specimen of a woman, but just that she wasn’t what I’d always been searching and hoping for. I couldn’t without reservation have committed myself to the relationship with her. No one wants someone that looks upon them with reservation. So I decided I would have to be content to wait it out for such a person to come along again even if it means waiting and waiting and waiting. Thank you for the music recommendations Heather and I’m sorry for creeping you out all those years ago. I heard that you were now married and so I truly do wish you the best with your marriage. Your thoughts and musings had great and lasting impact.

The other woman that has had a similar if not greater impact was my close friend Katie. Over the years she has counseled me and directed me with great wisdom and understanding on everything from faith and friendships to girls and life. I’m a better man and christian for having known her and been the recipient of her friendship. She was the same kind of weird that I identified myself as and the connection we had over the years transcended anything else I can relate to. Artistic, fun, womanly in that she just knew how to embody womanhood, goofy and always there when I needed her to be(which is different then always being there when I wanted her to be). Many a time my emotions were mixed up and left unexpressed concerning her for fear of upsetting and losing the deep, deep friendship we had. For literally eight years I floundered back and forth between loathing and loving her. Loathing the casual distance she seemed to keep, but loving the companionship we had when we were together. Very few friendships come along where complete communication and understanding can be had without the presence or need of words. She taught me the ability to appreciate the simplest, but most overlooked pieces of life; a bizarre film, a collection of laughs on a mini cassette, truly expressive art of the quality that only a few posses(and I don’t even mean the “artistic elite”, but just the always creating always learning type of artistic personality that doesn’t confine oneself to just one medium or one style). The experiences she put together were the highlight and definition of my twenties from start to finish. She was always writing, always cajoling always trying to help me to understand the female perspective. She was as she put it “someone who has been described as a not-so-typical girl”. That was really the best part about her; atypical. That’s the trait that bleeds out into all of those other areas to create such an interesting and balanced perspective. From time to time I’ve gone back and reread our email communique and always appreciate the boldness, candor, modesty and gentleness in her that she maintained throughout our friendship. The first time I think I really realized how cool our friendship was was on our way home from a road trip to Chicago in 04(I know what’s it with me and girls and Chicago). We had just spent the entire weekend meeting up with our friends both of whom introduced their own stresses and frustrations to the visit and so unexpectedly we had more fun together then with the friends we went to meet. The drive home could only be described as sublime, I’m not sure we said more than a few dozen words the whole way home. Just watched the world around us, enjoyed the music and drove. Sadly though friendships change, after finally bringing forward the feelings and emotions I had towards her I did indeed find our dynamic would have to change. I felt I needed to distance myself and part ways because I had not guarded my heart and so over the years I had quite a few hurts to be healed from and to get past. I look upon those times past with great endearment and affection, but know that not until glory comes will her and I enjoy the same level of connection and appreciation of one anothers friendship that we once had. And then more so only because of our shared inheritance as siblings in Christ.

It is for these great examples that I am fortunate to have come across in my formative years. Had they not come prior to settling down with a wife I’m not sure I would have had as an adventurous and enjoyable single life as I do currently. I definitely wouldn’t have known what a true friendship with a woman could be or been given the example of what a strong but atypical Christian woman looks like. Unbeknownst to them, but far reaching has been their impact and unable I am to repay them for their great gift.

A third has been recently surprising me with these similar traits even despite the fact of my attention being distracted elsewhere and my general inattentive nature to things directly in front of my face. The friendship is still as of yet too under developed to know what lasting impact she will have.

Hopefully more strange people will cross your path and change it for the better. Atypical peeps are the best.

As a completely unrelated note:
I’m not sure I will ever find beer as refreshing as Mountain Dew Voltage or Captain Eli’s Root Beer. There’s really just no comparison between the enjoyment, one clearly outweighs the other.

Hallelujah

I just found this in my documents on my Mac tonight. I apparently wrote it back in May 2006 even before my niece was actually born. The piece is satisfying in it’s simplicity.

Hallelujah
Hallelujah for my friends
Hallelujah for my best friend’s wife getting a teaching job
Hallelujah for a dad who stands for truth and righteousness even through adversity
Hallelujah for my sister having a little girl
Hallelujah for mercy
Hallelujah for forgiveness
Hallelujah for two great nephews
Hallelujah for music to uplift my soul
Hallelujah for a quiet house
Hallelujah for my mom’s prayers
Hallelujah for the cross
Hallelujah for the cross
Hallelujah for the cross
Hallelujah for HE is Risen and alive
Hallelujah for Christ’s love for me
Hallelujah