Content in Imagination

"Poetry is sane because it floats easily in an infinite sea;
reason seeks to cross the infinite sea, and so make it finite."

--G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy


Love-Hate Words

Writing is a dictator. It demands and it governs and it punishes.

Writing is a lover. It sees through me and challenges me and brings out the best in me.

This love-hate relationship has me completely knackered! I think I'll go eat a mince pie.


Plant, Part II

(This is part II of a short series about the plant that lives outside my window. It is dedicated to my friend Brooke who encouraged my fictional narrative of a sappy little plant. If you missed part I you can click here.)

Fall dropped its head into the gutter. It burrowed under the soggy leaves, rolling into a tight ball to escape winter's pounce. But one little plant, living below the gutter, shouted in excitement, "Winter! Winter is here!" He'd heard bedtime stories about winter and the wind that would would snap up his leaves, preparing him for Spring. But this little plant, living in a window well, didn't get his leaves snapped up. The wind didn't care to reach into this little cubby.

"Wind can't be too wonderful," he consoled himself. "It's cold and it's probably painful and besides, who would rake my leaves? I'd be looking at them 'til Spring."

But still, Plant knew the truth: to grow taller and to sprout more beautiful leaves in Spring, the old ones must come off. To be taller then the well someday, he would need to lose his leaves. But how?

Everyday the wind blew colder and the fog grew thicker. Steam covered the window, leaving cracks like broken glass. He peered through them enviously. If only the people inside would tear off his leaves for him. As he looked at his gnarly fists, dry and stubbornly clinging to his branch, he wondered if maybe the rain could drown off his leaves. But as time went on, the leaves hung strong.

One bright morning Plant woke to the sound of bells and carols. As he looked upward to see what the fuss was about, he caught a glimpse of himself in the window. The leaves had fallen. The leaves had fallen! There hadn't been rain or wind. Instead, he saw a thick layer of white fluff glittering on the cement floor. His leaves were peaking out in dots of color as if to say, "Told you so!"

Plant smiled big and shook his empty arms. Light, refreshed and clean, he laughed about his worry. Silly worry. Spring would come soon!


My Sun is an Orange

The rain trickled down, streaking the basement well—my only view onto the outside street. So hidden and sanitized from the world that an airplane and even a loud dragging something I mistake for thunder. But yesterday there was thunder. And lightning. It calmed me. And when I had been inside all day the orange I ate made a bleak day bright despite fluorescent lights that chilled me. It was my taste of the sun. It refreshed my soul and dry mouth.

Today I ventured out onto the uneven squares of pavement. They were shiny with morning rain but I had just missed it. A drop dripped from the trees above me. I clenched my fists, a habit against the cold. But it wasn’t too cold. This week is the first week I’ve been able to see my breath, and it was frosty enough that my ears complained. But fresh air is worth the occasional chill. When I dress in sweaters and scarves and an overcoat, and I wear waterproof, rubbery shoes, I can’t complain. I’m just happy to spend time breathing air that’s not my apartment, and not walking from my car to a building and from the building to my car, like I do at home in America.

I think I’ll like winter here. Especially if I can eat an orange everyday.



Yesterday Jonathan and I went to Hillsong London for church. At one point the main guitarist got up and explained that some friends had called him up the other day to tell him they were in London, and that they wanted to visit Hillsong. Turns out those friends were the pop/R&B Christian singers Mary Mary. And they sang two songs for us in church! Jonathan and I aren't that familiar with them, but when they sang "Shackles" (their number one hit) the entire church was dancing.

Hillsong is held at the Dominion Theatre on Tottenham Court Road, which is where they also show the musical "We Will Rock You." I like that the theatre is in the middle of a busy square, right by the opening of a tube station and that it doesn't look like a church. I wonder how many people have stumbled in under the giant bronze rocker's legs accidentally, wondering what all the fuss was about. Because it is alot of fuss. I've never been in such a crowded theatre--even for a performance. We arrived at 12:15 for a 12:45 service and found masses of people chatting, drinking tea, and flipping through the various programs and CDs that Hillsong produces. Eventually we made it into the theatre.

It was a worshipful experience. The musicians knew what they were doing, had great transitions and jumped and danced all over the stage. The songs were well-chosen too. The only qualm I had was with the visuals behind the musicians. I've seen some powerful presentations during worship services, whose images draw your thoughts upward and magnify your awe of God. But Hillsong's images were close-up shots of the musicians and their sweaty hair. Not exactly inspiring. But despite the sweaty hair images and a pastor that rambled, it was a good experience. We got to see Mary Mary, anyway :)


it's never too late for Santa

I struggle to understand how some American evangelicals come to their conclusions about popular culture, particularly when they ban books, movies, and TV shows. I am confused by pat answers, by formulaic solutions to the world’s problems or personal struggles. I am jealous of a belief culture that allows people to ascribe to the political stance they want to, rather than assuming there is a God-ordained position on every issue. I am tired of being told not to think. Mostly, I am frustrated with an American evangelical society that says there is a black and white answer to everything. Therein lies the greatest difference between the American evangelicals and the British evangelicals, and makes me want to live in England forever. Faith is not easy. God is complicated. Life is hard. Don’t pass it off to me as a step-by-step program to success, because that is a faith based on rules and no one will want your God.

What we need instead is to be in the world, to know what the rest of society is feeling and thinking and struggling with. And that means watching movies and TV and reading books, but being discerning at the same time, so that we can contribute to the conversation. Because sometimes it’s too easy as Christians to find ourselves caught up in our comfortable lives. It’s easy to forget that other people have questions, and we might have the answers.

And then, once we’re outside our front door and in the throes of reality, that’s when we remember not to be “of” the world, as Jesus said. Our faith is unlike any other faith in that it is not based on rules—it is based on forgiveness. Apart from all the church-a-nese we may have learned, that’s what it comes down to when we’re in mainstream culture. People are desperately trying to survive, to figure out life, to have fun, to contribute to society, and the last thing they want is another institution governing their lives. What they need instead is hope, and a promise they won’t have to work for.

It’s sort of like if kids went to the Mall and sat on Santa’s lap and later found out that Santa actually worked for the mall. The man who had heard their deepest desires and who promised the sort of happiness you can only get once a year was just an anonymous stranger with a fake beard needing extra cash. And he was skinny under the pillow. When kids realize that Santa is just another actor in the commercialism of Christmas, they stop believing.

The church has to stand out. It has to be blazingly different than the rest of the world. If the church does not stand out as separate from the state, or if it conforms to the pop culture like the rest of the world, it will be seen as a governing institution rather than a redemptive community. And the world will stop believing.


a Sampling of Paris

A tribute to our autumn weekend in Paris:

of crackling leaves, Latin Quarter gyros, and MonteMarte's soaking rain.
Cheese and baguettes, warm sucre crepes, and Eiffle lights tower
sparkling like flashes of diamonds
in Moulin Rouge.
Browsing books at Shakespeare and Co., strolls on the aimless Seine
my feet hurting, his soles burning--
souls warming in search of beauty

on the bridges--light bounces

Hauntings of Notre Dame by moon and climbing 274 steps--
our Triomphe of the Arc
just in time!
to laugh at Smart Cars controlled by remote
and admire a city of lights--
sprawled out in orange trees and skyscrapers and the ancient
and the shops on Champs de Elysses.
We speak our best "Merci" and "Bonsoire" and look for the dreaded Tabac.
Climb the hill to Sacred Heart,
Hands enfolded--
until we reach for the umbrella, and tuck in a shop,
and buy a painting or two.

Return to hotel Ibis. Soak in a hot tall bath. Drink french wine till the glass is dry--my J and I fall asleep and dream of the lights--bouncing on bridges of Seine.


My Criminal Record

Yesterday I had an illegal weapon confiscated from me at the British Library's bag check.

"Ma'am, is this pepper spray?"
"I'm going to have to take this from you."
"Can I get it back when I leave?"
"Ma'am, did you know that if the police caught you with this on the street that you would be arrested and put in jail?"
Gulp. "Really?"
"Pepper spray is illegal in the UK. I'm going to have to take your name and address."

Does this mean I have a criminal record in the UK? If so, I blame airport security. They stopped to search my carryon after they screened it, but it turns out they were only looking for plyers and a carton of yogurt (which were stuck in my bag in the frenzy of moving out of an apartment and flying to London in the same morning.) They didn't find the pepper spray, though. And now I will have a criminal record. In the words of Michael Scott: yeesh.

After I left the British Library I helped an old lady cross the street. That was redeeming and I didn't feel so much like a criminal anymore. Afterwards I had some time before church and stopped by Starbucks where I had another odd situation. I smiled at a stranger (will never do that again) and he returned it too enthusiastically. He proceeded to move to the couch next to me and for ten minutes he talked about nokia phones, the war in Iraq, grace kelly, religion, the death of his mom and girlfriend from cancer, and about the strange affinity he feels with his "cousins" across the pond. He then proceeded to ask when he could see me again and if I would like his number. And he was about 50.

London life is never boring.