Outside the box, away from the line.

Prepare yourself for some run-on sentences and maybe some mini-brain explosions.  That said…

Earlier this week as I was driving to my parents’ house I was thinking about God, and how he is clearly a being that exists outside the realm of human understanding, or at least beyond it, with maybe a small portion, the tip of the iceberg, dwelling in terms that we can wrap our heads around.  We often use this characteristic of God, that he is not fully knowable by our limited minds, as consolation when things in this life do not make sense.  How could God allow such and such to happen?  Because God and his intentions are bigger than we can fathom.  We use this fact in response to arguments of logic: How could God be everywhere at the same time?  How could he have always existed?  How could a virgin conceive and how could a man rise from the dead?  How could any of the ridiculous claims in the Bible be true?  In response to secular thinkers and simply the skeptical, God is bigger than human understanding.  Even the smartest and wisest of us could not begin to explain the mysteries of God, and for some reason that takes some of the pressure on those of us who aren’t the smartest or wisest.

So here is what I was thinking about, specifically.  I was thinking about Kilgore Trout (of Kurt Vonnegut’s imagination) and his theory that time is not a linear experience, that our limited human minds may interpret our experience in a linear way, but really all moments in time occur simultaneously, or maybe eternally, or something along those lines, and a person who is aware of this can pick and choose which order they wish to experience life events, can jump around at their leisure.  (I’m basing this weak summary on Slaughterhouse Five which I last read a few years ago, so I’m sure that I’m butchering the theory.  But there is some incentive to go pick up the book and read it yourselves.)

Of course, this is the stuff of science fiction.  In reality, time is linear.  It has a beginning, and it has an end.  Human lives have a very distinct beginning and an often equally distinct end, and a series of events that take place between those two milestones.  Time is linear.  Right?  Or is it just that our tip-of-the-iceberg sized understanding of time is linear?  After all, God is eternal.  He exists infinitely in all directions of time and space; he always was, always is, and always will be.  How does one express such an existence with a time line?  There is no beginning and no end, and while experiential evidence suggests that there is a sequence to events, it’s quite possible that it is simply a perception that comes about when we try to explain something much more complex (if I knew what that something was I would probably say it outright here, instead of dusting around with all of these question marks).

I don’t know that it is necessarily important to fully understand the physical shape that time takes.  Except for this, which is what I was thinking about on the drive: if all time is actually occurring simultaneously, wouldn’t it make sense to adjust prayer accordingly?  Currently we pray God’s forgiveness for the past, we pray thanks for the present, and we pray supplication for the future.  I’m generalizing of course (there are some who pray forgiveness for sins not yet committed, or some who can’t stop thanking God for something that happened years ago) but this seems to be the standard association between prayer and time.  But if time is not actually occurring on a line, wouldn’t it make sense to pray for things that happened in the “past”?  If we prayed in 2008 for events of 2007, would it make any difference?  If we prayed today for things that happened in history, the genocides and wars and natural disasters, would we see any effect?  Not that the headlines of our newspapers would mystically change before our eyes (a  la Back to the Future) but perhaps that the current “result” (in quotes because without a chain of events there can’t actually be any causality) of those events would be altered.  That we would be changed in light of these things.

If all time is occurring simultaneously and I begin to pray for my “past” self and do so faithfully, then I could exist today knowing that my “future” self was praying for me on this very day.  Surely my “future” self would know better how to pray for me, having already experienced parts of my linearly-perceived life that my present-day self has not yet.

Mostly this was just a bunch of wild thoughts that were more interesting at that time than the farms and fields that I was driving past.  Probably it’s safe to say that praying for the past would not be the wisest way to spend valuable time, particularly valuable time with God.  Even if time is not happening quite the way we understand it, there is a reason that God wired our brains to interpret it this way.  Maybe it’s for our safety.  Or maybe we are supposed to think about it, and outside of the niche of science fiction.  Could we do it without laughing at ourselves?  I told my mom about the subject of this post and she laughed and said, “So it’s Christian Sci-Fi.”  Maybe that’s all it is.  Maybe I’ll pitch it to George Lucas.  And my future self can pray that he buys it!

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Speaking lately in Last Nights.

(Note from B: The frinternet is down again, which means I haven’t been able to post this, let alone perfect it. I’ve got all kinds of blog ideas that are just piling up without any outlet. This could damage me, if left untreated. Sorry for the infrequent posts. This one I wrote on Sunday.)

Last night The Art Table played at a wedding. Well, more accurately, Holly and the Non-Italians played at a wedding and I sat in for a few of the requested classics. Holly and I also kicked off the set by singing that Moldy Peaches song Anyone Else But You that they sing at the end of Juno (which the bride and groom had danced to five years before Juno ever came out, so it was their song first!) We also sang Mable, which was really the reason why I drove up to Green Bay this weekend, and once we realized there was only one vocal mic I ended up signing with Holly on hers while someone else played my drum part… so we all got to hear what Mable would sound like with a real drummer! (For those of you who missed it–it sounds pretty awesome.)

The wedding was held at the National Railroad Museum, which looks really neat inside with all of the party lighting and the train cars and such, and while Holly and the Non-Italians were setting up I sat on the front steps of an engine car and took the scene in. There was so much energy in that canyon of a room, with the wedding party dancing and Holly testing the distortion from her pedals and some little boy wearing a Mardi Gras mask beating away on the drums like he was the happiest kid alive. I glanced up and saw the Wisconsin flag hanging from the rafters, and the train cars lined up in a row, serving industriously as the backdrop of all of this. Life was pulsating. The noise of joyful conversation and laughter mingled with white lights and then kind of swallowed me up and I was for some reason overjoyed. I remember thinking, or maybe praying, “God, can you beat this?”

I don’t know what prompted me to say something like that. Even as soon as I thought it I realized it was ridiculous, because A) of course God could beat it, but more importantly B) God was there anyway, whether people were aware of it or not. Sometimes I forget that when I’m in a secular place. I feel like I’ve checked God at the door and any fun that I have is fun without him. Sometimes I feel like if I’m having fun while I’m not in church, if I’m having fun while drinking a beer, if I’m having fun while rock and roll pounds against my eardrums, then it must be wrong. But that’s a lie, and an unfortunate one. That’s the kind of lie that can lead to guilt, and what about this weekend should actually cause guilt? Nothing, really. Fortunately, guilt never came. This weekend was just fun. I had a great time with my friends and family, with the fireworks and art supply shopping sprees and too-big burritos, with the rock and roll wedding party and, hey, with church too. It’s really a great relief when you realize that there is nothing wrong with having fun, at least not inherently. And it’s a different kind of relief to be reminded that God is still there in the midst of it, no matter what.

An open note to Craig Thompson.

To Craig Thompson, author and illustrator of Blankets, I have a few things to say. First of all, well done, really. The first time I read this book I read all 582 pages in a single sitting while my friend and host slept into the afternoon. This was in San Francisco, the day after Thanksgiving, 2005. Your book had already been in print for a couple years by then, and I was embarrassed at the time that I had waited so long to read it. You draw the way I wish I could. Just last night I spent a half hour copying your ears into my sketchbook (I always have trouble with ears). Maybe you’re my favorite illustrator, even, I’m not sure yet. I love the way you draw yourself as a child. I love the way you draw Wisconsin.

This time I checked your book out of the library. This time, unlike that day after Thanksgiving, I read your book one chapter at a time, with days in between. There was sadness, just like the first time I read, but the sadness that time had come in a wave at the very end, whereas this time the sadness lapped and licked at my ankles throughout the entire reading experience (even the days in between). I think you meant for there to be sadness, didn’t you?

Here is the one objection that I feel I need to make, Craig. On page 533 your character says, “It [Christianity] denies the beauty of being human, and it ignores all these gaps that need to be filled in by the individual.” I’ll have to say that I whole-heartedly disagree with you on those points, and maybe it will serve as inspiration for future posts here. But for now, how is this? I went to art school and worked from nude models and never once felt guilt over it, and have never ever felt that the humanness of body or spirit was belittled or made profane by an active faith. Even my mother, who rolled her eyes whenever my artist siblings and I spoke of our figure classes, never made me feel sinful for studying the human figure in this way. Maybe the members of your church told you that art is a sin and a distraction, and shame on your Sunday School teacher who said you would never draw in heaven but only spend all of your time in song, but they were wrong. I feel like you experienced one corner of the Christian world when there are certainly other corners which celebrate creativity and artfulness and the individuality that feeds and is fed by those things. I’m not clicking my tongue here and saying “It’s a pity you lost your faith.” I’m just thinking, how sad that in your experience the church severed itself from your creativity, because in doing so they cut off an incredibly talented limb. Keep drawing pictures, please.

Rapunzel, you jealous fool.

I had my first jealous dream last night. I’m actually surprised it took as long as it did to creep into my subconscious, but it found its way. It made me feel really crappy, and came along at a time that I was already beginning to question my ability to sustain a normal human relationship, so that was cool. A friend and I used to debate whether or not jealousy is a sin. I tried to make the case that it isn’t, but Galatians 5:19 makes it pretty clear: “The acts of the sinful nature are obvious… hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage…” Fortunately I’ve kept my fits of rage to a minimum, but as for jealousy, it creeps up now and again. I tried to argue that jealousy can be justified, and I still think it can, but I guess there is also something very stubborn and self-interested about it. I guess it’s easier to look at it from the reverse angle–is there such a thing as healthy jealousy? Jealousy that makes you feel good? The answer to that pretty much has to be no. And I’d gladly agree to never have another jealous dream again in my life, but unfortunately I don’t have too much control over my subconscious (never quite figured out that lucid dreaming trick).

Writer friends: should my punctuation go inside or outside of the parentheses? If it boils down to a matter of preference, I think I prefer to keep it outside if the parenthetical is contained within a larger sentence, (like this). Or keep it inside if the parenthetical is a self-supporting, don’t-need-no-man-to-make-me -complete, single mother kind of sentence. (Like this.) What are the rules?

I need a haircut pretty badly, but I’ve been holding out until it’s long enough that I can donate it to Locks of Love. I’ve had it in the back of my head to do this for a few years now, but this time I’ve finally let it get to the length that it needs to be, and not a moment too soon. However, today one of my friends tipped me off to the fact that Locks of Love is actually overwhelmed with hair donations, and that much of the hair donated doesn’t get used to make wigs for children after all. I said, “No way! Hilary Swank donated her hair to Locks of Love right on the Oprah show, it must be legit!” She sent me this article. So it seems that Locks of Love, still a really wonderful organization, may very well throw my ten inches of hair into the waste bin, or, since it’s pretty healthy, might sell it to a wig company to cover their expenses. So, big whoop, I guess. If they want to sell it, why not? It will still make slightly more difference than sweeping it into the compost. I think, though, that after reading that article I will donate to Pantene Beautiful Lengths instead. Which, upon visiting the website, is actually the organization that Hilary donated her hair to. My mistake.

Ascend, then, comic friends, then, Mother hen.

Last week I declared that I would be writing a post about the Ascension, which is now 11 days in the past and still, here, unwritten about. Not for lack of time, and not because I forgot about it. I just couldn’t rouse myself to the task. The message connected to the Ascension, that Christ reigns victorious, is exciting, but it is also convicting. Or at least, the message we were delivered on Ascension Sunday, which said, in simplified terms: “Jesus’ ascension to heaven (after spending 40 post-resurrection days on earth) puts him on the throne of God. He is not limited to any one physical place, as a body on earth is, but he continues his ministry–omnipresent–from there.” And then comes the convicting part: “The Ascension means that Christ ministers to others through us. As his witnesses, we are to show others that his reign of hope, healing, love, compassion, and justice has already begun. We must demonstrate this through our lives.” It’s not a passive holiday, the Ascension. Well anyway, I would probably have let it go unmentioned–I don’t have anything very insightful to add here–but I can’t stand leaving an allusion unanswered. I have also noticed that I can be very lighthearted and maybe even a tad humorous in this blog, but as soon as the topic turns to religion or faith I become immediately stiff-backed, as if I am afraid to have any fun with the matter, as if I have been convinced by ages of rigid, starch-collar, religious formalities which were actually, for the most part, absent from my religious upbringing. I think we need to take God seriously, of course, and I doubt if God minds the sobriety. But I don’t think my witness can do too much good if it gets a reputation of being boring, and readers skip past any mention of God here. God is not the dry thread that runs around my otherwise amusing life, flossing teeth perhaps. God is inextricable from all of these other parts! He is deeply entwined with my creative process, both the lighthearted and the serious. That was the original point of this Easel Ain’t Easy, after all. Time to get back, perhaps?

To say a bit about the creative process as it stands currently, then: I’m taking a break from painting. I could go into all of the details behind this decision, but I will focus on the one that is most exciting: I’m in on the ground-floor of a very promising collaborative project. It will be a graphic narrative, and the goal is to have it viewable online once things get rolling (hopefully in an ongoing form, that is, with regular updates building on the story). Our team is a solid one, featuring one award-winning author, one acclaimed graphic designer/illustrator, and myself, a… spirited believer in graphic storytelling. And, well okay, I’ve got a few credits to my name. The plan is to get things started on a small scale, and then once it’s somewhat established, to invite more creative talent into the fold. So listen, if you are an artist or a writer, don’t be surprised if you’re asked at some point to contribute. It’s a team thing!

Finally, it’s Mothers Day, so naturally I started writing a post about my mother. However, the degree to which I love my mother requires that the post be nothing short of perfect, so I’m going to sit on it a bit, work on a few more revisions, and post it sometime in the near future. In the meantime, moms are the bombs, especially mine. I love you Mom!!!

American Idol Worshiper (or Focus, part two).

If something does not draw me closer to God, it brings me further away from him. There is no standing still. Everything is an action. If I have felt a distance from God in the weeks since Easter it is because I took an action to turn my eyes away from him. I don’t want to be so simplistic to say that giving certain things up for Lent was my way of drawing near to God, but, while it did afford me plenty of time to instead meditate on God, what have I done with my free time since then?

I have spent hours poring over my music and looking for new artists, I have spent hours watching movies and reading books that are unhealthy for me, I have spent hours worrying about my health and human relationships, I have spent hours watching stupid videos online and hovering around pointless websites, I have spent hours sleeping while dishes lay dirty in the sink and laundry collects in a heap on my floor. These are all active choices, and why don’t I call them what they are: they are idols (at least for me in my context). And I am an idol worshiper.

This is no revelation. I’ve always suspected music was an idol of mine, which is why it felt good to give it up on the times that I have. I probably should have suspected all of those other things were idols too, and while there are plenty of things in the human experience which I don’t idolize (fashion, television, celebrity, intellectualism, material accumulation – generally) a single, tiny idol is one giant idol too many. This morning I was reading in First Samuel the story that takes place right before the Israelites demand a king for themselves, where they are being afflicted by the Philistines and Samuel offers a sacrifice to the Lord to bring deliverance. Right before he makes the sacrifice, Samuel says to the Israelites: “If you are returning to the Lord with all your hearts, then rid yourselves of foreign gods and the Ashtoreths and commit yourselves to the Lord and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.” It couldn’t be clearer. I need to get rid of these idols. Everything eternal depends on it.

Yes, yes, just when I was starting to sound fun again I go and ruin it by writing a post like this one. But let me clarify something (I feel like I clarify this a lot). I don’t think there is anything wrong with music or movies or comics or romance or naps, and I don’t think God is expecting me to cut those things out of my life completely. But they need to be rightly ordered. I’ve gone through extreme phases where I thought entertainment in any form was inherently evil, but I’m certain now that it’s not. We are meant to have some fun in this life. Music and film and all of those things can bring glory to God, and often does! But it can also suck me of my devotion. It comes back to the matter of focus, I think, and it comes back to the line I opened with: If something does not draw me closer to God, it brings me further away from him. It’s about time I reordered a few things.

Focus.

I didn’t mean to complain about being sick. I mean, it’s a drag, but it’s a really small thing in comparison to pretty much anything else happening anywhere, to anyone. I should have kept writing this past week. I should have kept painting, I should have kept reading, I should have kept on, but mostly I just coughed and thought wistfully back on the nights of deep, restful sleep. Apparently this one lasts two weeks, so I’m over halfway through. And that’s the last I’ll write about it, I promise.

It’s difficult to write about much else, though, because in my past week and a half as a zombie I haven’t really experienced anything, or haven’t been alert enough to notice it. I checked out a couple videotapes from the library (if you recall that ancient technology) and I put the finishing touches up at Mother Fool’s (title cards and a wordy artist statement). I found my Dear Nora pin while giving my car a spring cleaning.

I feel like life took a little bit of a dip after Easter. The Church calendar can be a useful thing or not, depending on who you talk to, but I think that this past Lent was maybe a little too useful. That is, I think I was able to work myself into such a concentrated state of reflection on the events leading up to and surrounding Christ’s death that when the time came for us to celebrate his life and move forward I haven’t known quite what to do. I had put a lot of emphasis on Lent, this year.

This past Sunday at church we were reminded that, if we are fans of the Church calendar, we actually celebrate Easter for 50 days, right up until the day of Pentecost. When I heard this I was a little bit excited, thinking, “Oh good, another season I can throw myself into!” As if I needed something to replace Lent, something new to focus on. But I think that is where people who are skeptical of the Church calendar would say, “Faith cannot be a focus on events and rituals. It must be a constant focus on God.” Which, of course, is true. But for some people those events and rituals can help us to focus on God. I don’t know. For some reason I haven’t been able to look as clearly upon God in the weeks following Easter. Is it a kind of postpartum phenomenon? Is it simply because I’ve been sick? Faith is an intricate thing, and very complicated. Anyway, I hope to be writing more again, about it, or about anything.

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