Friday, March 27, 2009

Ceaselessly into the Past

I think about The Great Gatsby a lot. And by a lot, I mean that I could probably read and reread this book only and have a fine understanding of the entire world. Fitzgerald was one of the great ones; his insecurity and brokenness gave him the insight to write the perfectly imperfect character.

I don't know what it is about the last lines of the book, but since reading it for the first time in 12th grade, I haven't been able to shake them.

I think it captures the spirit of the book in perfect prose. For the few hundred pages before these lines, Gatsby had been crafting and destroying himself, trying to regain his past "Beating against the current." I love the wind-out-of-your-sails brand of hopelessness it evokes.

"Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that's no matter--tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther.... And one fine morning-- So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."

What's the best paragraph you've ever read?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

On Sunglasses

I have diagnosed myself with a moderate-to-moderate case of "Photophobia." Which, according to my vast research (Wikipedia) and medical experience (WebMD) means that I'm either part vampire, or I have slight damage to my Oculomotor nerves.

Basically, when it's bright, my eyes hurt. Probably sounds like common sense to most (doesn't everyone's?) But for me, when it's even semi-bright my eyes try to commit ocular-suicide via hari-kari.

Fortunately, God has invented a solution: "Sunglasses."

The problem with sunglasses is that no matter who you are, no matter the style, brand or quality of sunglass, anyone who wears them looks like a jerk. Millions of sensible citizens have been unfairly prejudged in the hundreds of years since the invention of sunglasses.

Maybe it makes sense that the blooddrunk tyrant, Nero, was one of the pioneers of wearing them. After all, burning Christians is difficult in the bright Italian sun. Also, turns out Hitler was a big fan.

Bottom line, please accept my psycho-biological excuse for looking like a jerk.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

You are not your job.

At what point in our youthful idealism have we outgrown the need for knowing someone? When did it become standard to evaluate a person based on their economic occupation? How did I become so lazy as to reduce someone's entire life into four easy, monosyllabic words?

"What do you do?"

Hang out with anyone 25 years old or older and I guarantee it's among the first of three (at most, three) introductory questions. Usually the newcomer's name will be offered, followed by some obvious commentary: "Crazy night, huh?" "How do you know John/the groom/my brother?" etc.

But invariably and inevitably the question comes.

"What do you do?"

For some, the question is met with pride and relief. Finally, you've been given opportunity to announce your station in life. Maybe your job connotes some prestige or respect or earning power and you're now allowed to bask in the validation afforded by your job title.

For others, the question is met with sheepish indifference, usually followed by some kind of qualifier. "I work in a warehouse, but I'm going to school to be a teacher" or "I'm a teacher, but I'm starting a small business." The question we've asked has now placed an uncalled-for burden of anxiety on the person, all in the name of "getting to know someone."

Since when has a person's job title been enough to know them? When has the way someone converts time to money ever been a sufficient peek into their lives?

The truth is, I cannot know someone by knowing their economic occupation. You cannot know their heart or their passions by knowing where or how they spend 8 hours of their day.

There are times when someone is genuinely interested in knowing your job. But, I would submit that most often the interviewer is simply too casual, too lazy to ask the hard questions.

It is always wrong to assume that someone's reply to the question will tell me who they are. At this point, all we're doing is sharpening our stereotyping skills (I call it discernment) by measuring them against our imagination. A losing game, for sure.

"I'm a lawyer"
"I'm a teacher"
"I work in a warehouse"
"I work in a restaurant"

It's the ultimate question in failure, there is never a right answer. Essentially, we're asking a new person to play some sort of mind-reading trivia game against all of our past experiences. Any answer the person gives is immediately measured against your unique and distinct emotional history with that occupation. We've got it so wrong. I have it so wrong.

And every assumption is never fully accurate and always fully unfair.

These four words have irretrievably and indiscriminately reduced someone to the answer of your careless line of questioning.

How disappointing it would be to realize that what you do for 8-10 hours a day has become your identity, your single identifying trait worn proudly/humbly/begrudgingly as a badge of introduction.

I think the offense goes beyond the laziness of the person asking the question. For so long we've supported the idea that our validation comes from our occupation. Our business has become our business card, our mutual link to the understanding of another. I've traded passion for pretense.

What if we chose never to ask the question? What if we decided that the value and estimation of a person is found in his passion or in her heart. There's too many proving this wrong. I know guys in "noble" occupations who aren't noble people, and I know just as many who carry mundane tasks with the heart of an adventurer. You are not your job.

I know teachers who "do it for the money," and lawyers who wish they were teachers.

What if we responded to the inevitable question by answering in passion?

What do you do?

You are not your job.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Longing for the Sea

  • I want to go to Nepal
  • I want to fly to London, alone, for a three-day weekend.
  • I want to climb any one of the world's major peaks.
  • I want to be a lawyer.
  • I want to be a doctor.
  • I want to be a teacher.
  • I want what God wants.
  • I want to hike the long way up Machu Picchu.
  • I want to write something that inspires someone.
  • I want to act in a small, sparsely attended community theater.
  • I want to shepherd a few sheep.
  • I want to bale hay.
  • I want to breathe deeply and sleep.
  • I want to sail a boat.
  • I want to write a book.
  • I want to stand tired and worn before a merciful God.
  • I want to feel the cool spray of redemption.
  • I want to drive my kids to school.
  • I want to listen.
  • I am no longer a boat longing for the sea and yet afraid.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

God does not love the bottom of the ocean.

I don't like scary things. I most definitely don't like Oceany-scary things.

I'm well aware of the beautiful correlation between both the earth and our bodies being composed of 2/3rds water. I'm pretty sure it's one of God's profound metaphors for deep, worldwide connection.
I love that all of us are connected to the earth and each other, bound and branded by beautiful and purposeful design.


God does not love this creature.

Maybe He does, but I hate everything about this shark. I hope he's swimming on the opposite side of heaven and we happen to "just miss each other" for all of eternity.

I hate the Goblin Shark.

Also, almost every other water-breathing, bottom feeder.