Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Gag Reflex

legs scream at bikes
and bikes scream at trucks

and motorists curse their lousy luck
crossing guard's not doing his job

and traffic's not about to stop

for the first casualty of thought

it's the rules it's the rules*

“He can do that for hours,” Linda described the focus her 2 year old son, Cooper, maintained as he roared his toy car round and around the edges and over the lumps of fabric of the family love seat. His concentration was immense for someone so small.

I was sitting with her daughter Audrey with Audrey’s feet on me, waiting for tiny blue toenails to dry. It was our little ritual that happened each time I was over. Audrey gets her nails done while mom and the rest of the girlfriends get caught up. Audrey was joyously eating a chocolate chip cherry oatmeal cookie one of us had brought. Then her face tautened with alarm, the way that major tragedies do with almost 4-year-olds.

“I don’t like it.” Audrey pulled a half chewed cherry out of her mouth. I took it from her hand and placed it on the towel on my lap.

“Sorry, she inherited her father’s gag reflex with certain things,” Linda apologized. I didn’t mind it, I was glad it was out and not working itself back up. I thought briefly of what the girlfriend/maker of the gourmet cookies spent on the cherries: time, money and talent. When Audrey was done, four shiny, mangled, leathery cherries gathered on my lap.

Lately we’ve reached out from under all of this snow to spend time with friends over wine and good food under kitchen candlelight. Having people over or going to their home feels like Christmas and a vacation all at the same time. The reach has felt good, like a long yawn and stretch following a long afternoon nap.

A few Saturdays ago a couple that stood up in our wedding came by for paella and garnacha. We ate and ate, watched obscure Roxy Music footage and played Scrabble. Over the evening they revealed their doubts about their faith, how they were in the process of figuring out who Christ was and is for them: difficulty with the red letter words of Jesus and the council of Nicea was what I heard. Raised in the church and after a long absence during their marriage they had reentered a faith community only to exit it and seemingly regretting the awkwardness this created in their friendships there. As my husband and I listened, the quote from Say Anything played through my head where Lloyd Dobler talks about what he wants to do in his life.

"I don't want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career. I don't want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed. You know, as a career, I don't want to do that."

I told my dear girlfriend that I was glad she was in the process of rediscovering her faith. I, too, was secretly tired of being oversold by the religious right because it had become in the public eye exactly what the movie described: not love.

superfarmer's bent on the cover of time
the moralist screams he's all mine
so the bard isn't doing her job

the vacuum night

the darkest rites
the small quarantined thoughts

it's the rules it's the rules

People have kidnapped portions of our culture and very little has been done to supply a ransom let alone a rescue mission scheduled. It's difficult to express anything about this time in history without feeling a general sense of disappointment. Disappointment has become the rule of the day, expressed as the simplest of personal actions. For those of us who lived by the rules before, the rules have shifted to a more astringent form and it almost feels as we are being punished for others and their living off the rails for a long time. At what time do you speak up? To whom? Will they listen?

I had recently stumbled across a blog of someone condemning the practice of yoga and thus the moniker Christian yoga. I was baffled by the superiority of someone so little acquainted with my own reality. It was an old post, and I doubt the individual even read my response. Yet I was not stopped. I wrote the following:

"First, yoga cannot be called "Christian" any more than an apple, a collection of music or a calendar can. Only people can be Christian, and to say that the product of their efforts is "Christian" is to lessen the objectivity of being called by the name of Christ. Secondly, Yoga was developed by Hindus, yes, yet there are other practices to which people who are Christians devote their efforts, and the religion of the creator is not called into question. Football. Baseball. Basketball. Soccer. Lacrosse. If you research the origins of these games, some of them have primitive, dark, ritualistic roots based in what can be termed "paganism". And should we dump psychoanalysis because it was developed by scientists with no devotion to religion of any kind? Lastly, as a Christian and a yoga (little "y") teacher, the foundation of the practice is religion-less, seeker oriented and essentially healthy as well as morally challenging. Please take the time to research the yamas and niyamas as well as the rest of the 8 limbs of ashtanga before committing an opinion. Often Christians make too many assumptions without effective research to develop an observation due to fear of contamination. It is with respect I write this post."

So many people have taken a piece of Christ over past and present history that his image has become like the bloodied corpse that was taken from the cross. It felt like and continues to feel like that moment. I don't blame my dear friends for harboring doubt. We stand outside little Cooper's circular, certain, childlike intensity, the same effort we see in those that are content to move in seeming effortlessness through the mainstreams of faith. For many of us, like Audrey, the sweet delicacy of life has become an un-chewable, over-sweet, meaty mess that just won't go down. Discontent breeds disinterest in mainstream thought and deep longing for truth. For many like my dear friends and me the nights are lengthy and we crave a dose of empathy as well as honesty.

salesman says this vacuum's guaranteed
it could suck an ancient virus from the sea
it could put the dog out of a job

could make the traffic stop
so little thoughts
can safely get across

it's the rules it's the rules
guaranteed or not it's the rules

I think back to the character, that young hero Lloyd Dobler, and his simple, well thought out request of life and how that was tested. He also said to his Joe obsessed friend in a moment of doubt:

You probably got it all figured out, Corey. If you start out depressed everything's kind of a pleasant surprise.

I don't want life to be what it is now. I don't think any of us do. After all, what comes after the choking sensation driven by irresponsibility and assumption? Gord Downie's tongue-in-cheek, lyrical sarcasm from the song above calls into question how this has been steadily filtered into our lives and grown roots of compromise. I am not going to be oversold by something that guarantees my unseen language of feelings and thought and, yes, doubt gets verbalized and communicated. I don't want life to exist in a haze so that the small miracles I encounter become just a "Huh!" and a smile. I can't let the mediocrity of those who un-fruitedly claim to be experts or self-righteously deem themselves (religious or not) knowledgeable enough to deliver some interpretation of history or implant some idea to pass off as truth influence my heart's honest reality or my quest for principle. I don't want my faith in Christ to be something served to me and un-digestable, casting dark shadows over others who do not believe as I do when truly all I and those who genuinely feel called by His name want to do is love.

It's time to re-write the rules.

Board the plane. Be seated. Clasp hands. Lift off.



*from The Rules by The Tragically Hip (click to listen)