Sunday, January 31, 2010


Most weekday mornings at 8am, I turn on my computer, brush my teeth, and assemble my plastic stair-step. With a movie playing, I’ll step up and down, kick right and left, count off my pushups, and stretch out my hamstrings in an unintimidating attempt at getting fit. Actually, it’s an attempt at preventing bone loss, a threat my doctors are already wielding with zeal. They tell me that my skeleton is eroding out from under me. “Weight bearing!” they press. I must bang this body around a bit. I must get strong, or I’ll become very, very, very weak.

Strength seems to be the theme for this period in my life. I come across it every day. One example: a recent assignment has me ghostwriting a man’s autobiography. We’ll sit down at a local coffee shop—only a few inches away from the next occupied table—and he’ll tell me stories of being raped as a child, of growing up with a learning disability, of becoming a drug and alcohol addict. This man does not dumb it down, does not dodge the phrases nor bat an eye at the things he says. Rather, he stands up to his broken experiences and says, “No more. I will not be beholden to you ever again.”

That sort of strength astounds me. But he’s not the only one who faces down beasts. Consider the person who sits beside the bed of a dying parent, never cursing God or running away. Consider the person who battles fears, anxieties, the crushing weight of expectation and still says, “I am my own person, and I will not be mastered by this.” Consider the person who has a heart beaten up time and time again by a should-be ally and remains buoyant and willing to embrace the world just the same. Consider the person whose body sears with daily pain, and yet who is a bright light to the world. Consider the person who lives life fully alive, refusing to be scared off of love or hope or faith that the world will be better tomorrow. Consider the person who asks for help, the person who lends a hand, the person who battles for a change.

These, these and so many more, are the strong. These are the heroes.

Heroism is not monopolized by the great among us, but by the once-weak. For weakness begets strength. The end of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians reveals this fact perfectly, reminding us that even the greatest have struggled with brokenness and challenges. “That I might not become too elated,” explains Paul, “a thorn of the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan, to beat me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me, but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’”

What power, what strength do we receive in our weakness? What might must we have to not be subdued? The silent and the strong are here among us every day, revealing heroism in the beautiful and broken world we experience. We must remain faithful to them, acknowledge their presence, take courage from their strength and their example. In their presence and fortitude, we discover hope in our own moments of weakness. In their lives we find possibility for our own.

Seeking out the strength of others—and admitting to our own weakness—we are made new and whole and ready. Suffering is not our enemy. It is the crucible that yields our strength. Just as my weight-bearing exercises yield a strength that will keep me upright, so too will our weight-bearing experiences yield a strength that will keep us going even in the worst of times. We find ourselves in our suffering. And by the grace of God, that is enough.

Sunday, January 24, 2010


“You’re reading Pride and Prejudice again?”

I’ve heard this comment many times. There I’ll be, clutching my Dover Thrift edition, gluttoning Austen’s mischances and Mr. Collins-eses. The wizened and satirical tone of the book’s narrator paints my world a new color with each perusal of the pages. Every time I revel in her word choices, her attitudes, her opinions, I feel as though I’m on a coffee date with a very dear friend.

Sometimes I wonder whether everyone else is reading the same thing I read when I pick up this classic. Certainly some readers are Mr. Darcy’s mistresses. Others seek a scholarly understanding of the time period. Then there are the pimply-faced high schoolers who are simply trying to survive the language. A reader’s reception of a piece varies by degrees with each perspective they bring to the pages. No matter how honed an author makes a text, there will always be a margin of error. Just as there’s a margin of error in every author.

Narrators are invariably broken people. Writers grapple with this fact and are constantly unearthing new ways to manipulate these voices. (Consider Gatsby’s Nick Carraway or Lolita’s Humbert Humbert.) The task of the writer and/or the narrator is to stretch or break open the nuances in his or her voice. To exploit the strengths and weaknesses of the perspective. This intentional manipulation succeeds when one is self-reflective enough to recognize the negative-space in each of our experiences. We’re each different. An author must be fluent in his or her own psychology as well as the psychology of everyone else. Then an honest voice may develop, one that is coherent and engaging. Only then. It is an understandably difficult task.

Whether we write things down or not, we are all narrators. But what happens when we don’t know that our narration speaks from a bias. Each of us has encountered that uncomfortable moment when we realize that our approach to a situation is skewed, unbalanced, or simply broken. There’s a miscommunication, a fallacy in our statement. Sometimes we backtrack, discover our mistake, and correct. Sometimes we fall and are forced to climb out of the crater-like hole in our language. Other times, though, we simply continue onward, ignore the fact that we’re fumbling about in the air like Wiley Coyote, and maintain our brokenness. We count on everyone else to understand our approach and not once do we consider whether we are, in fact, the ones off track.

Communication is key. I’m realizing this more and more as I continue a relationship with Ed. Our most common fights stem from our differing perceptions. Some topic will catch our fancy and we’ll digest it sweetly until suddenly something is misunderstood and everything turns sour. Take, for example, a very simple argument that had me storming for hours: We’re cleaning up after a photography shoot and our friends tell us that they’ll meet us later at our next destination. I comment, “That sounds great. We’ll follow you.” My assumption—my perspective—used the term “follow” in its uncomplicated definition of “Use the same path after someone else.” Ed perceived me to mean “Proceed directly behind.” When he disagreed with me and cited my statement, I was completely at a loss as to where our miscommunication lay. Who wouldn’t use “follow” in the way I did? Obviously, Ed wouldn’t.

We all have our broken lenses, our idiosyncrasies that taint our perspective or warp our understanding. That’s allowed. But to enjoy that benefit we must also recognize its cost. There’s a responsibility in communication, a responsibility to understand the other’s terms before too many personal assumptions cloud our approach.

One of my professors in college always used to make me define my terms when we began a conversation. I laughed at his eccentricities (I mean, really, who would think they’d need to define “How-was-your-summer?”?), but I’m now grasping his wisdom. Certainly we can’t always go around and ask everyone else to define their terms. But recognizing that each of us approaches the world with our unique perspective (and vocabulary!) will help us respond to miscommunications in the future. Hopefully then we won’t find our narrations so incompatible after all.

Friday, January 15, 2010


For the past several months—perhaps for the entirety of my self-awareness—I have been contemplating my motivations to write. In this contemplation I’ve encountered Two Antagonists residing within my core: one, The Egoist, fantasizes that I am a good writer and wishes to bestow my insights to the world; the other, The Child, halts the process of creation by saturating me with self doubt. The Egoist tells me that I should write, but that I should write for reasons that my heart knows are wrong. The Child tells me that I shouldn’t write, because even if I were writing for the right reasons, I would fail to speak any sort of Truth.

The Two Antagonists wield a lot of power over me, especially whenever I look at a blank page. However, if I can silence them, if I can get over my desire and fear of being a writer, I touch on something almost prayerful. It is all encompassing, something that my mother can see on my face and which she has titled “the Ozone.” In truth, her word choice may not be far from the truth: “Ozone” connotes “celestial” in my mind, a term that mirrors the event horizon I encounter while I write. It’s the same feeling I get when I look at a masterful piece of architecture or listen to a soulful piece of music. The hope to articulate something beyond myself. That hope subdues the desire to be known for writing and the fear of being good at writing. In the Ozone, I may actually simply be myself.

The title of this blog comes from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. He declares:

"For we know partially and we prophesy partially, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things. At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known."

-1 Corinthians 13: 9-12 (NAB)

The last line is terrifyingly hope-full: I am fully known. Every single thing about me is known. The good, the bad, the insane, and the contradicted are all viewed and understood by God. This level of nakedness in the eyes of God shames and exhilarates me. Fully known. Fully. Completely. Wholly. I find hope in such a thought, a hope that drives me to write despite the gnawing intimidation of the Two Antagonists. We know partially. We cannot know fully. We speak partial Truths. We cannot speak full Truth. But if we cling to Love, to God, we may discover, we may see, we may know fully, even as we are fully known.

I want to write of Truth, to analyze Truth, to know Truth. I want to create something beautiful—like a cathedral or a sacrament. I want to glorify God with what God has given me. Here lays my motivation. Here I may rest.