Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Man in the Well

"Faith is not necessarily, or not soon, a resting place. Faith puts you out on a wide river in a little boat, in the fog, in the dark. Even a man of faith knows that we've all got to go through enough to kill us. As a man of faith, I've thought a considerable amount about a friend of mine (imagined, but also real) I call the Man in the Well.

The wooded slopes and hollows hereabouts are strewn with abandoned homesteads, the remains of another kind of world. Most of them by now have no buildings left. Everything about them that would rot has rotted. What you find now in those places when you come upon them are the things that were built of stone: foundations, cellars, chimneys, wells. Sometimes the wells are deep, dug to the bedrock and beyond, and walled with rock laid up without mortar. Those walls, laid underground where there is no freezing and thawing, will last, I guess, almost forever.

Sometimes the well is the only structure remaining, and there will be no visible sign of it. It will be covered with old boards in some stage of decay, green with moss or covered with leaves. It is a perfect trap, and now and then you find that rabbits and groundhogs have blundered in and drowned. A man too could blunder into one.

Imagine a hunter, somebody from a city some distance away, who has a job he doesn't like, and who has come alone out into the country to hunt on a Saturday. It is a beautiful, perfect full day, and the Man feels free. He has left all his constraints and worries and fears behind. Nobody knows where he is. Anybody who wanted to complain or accuse or collect a debt could not find him. The morning that started frosty has grown warm. The sky seems to give its luster to everything in the world. The Man feels strong and fine. His gun lies ready in the crook of his arm, though he really doesn't care whether he finds game or not. He has a sandwich and a candy bar in his coat pocket. And then, not looking where he is going, which is easy enough on such a day, he steps onto the rotten boards that cover one of those old wells, and down he goes.

He disappears suddenly out of the lighted world. He falls so quickly that he doesn't have time even to ask what is happening. He hits water, goes under, comes up, swims, or clings to the wall, inserting his fingers between the rocks. And now, I think, you cannot help imagining the way it would be with him. He looks up and sees how far down he has come. The sky that was so large and reassuring only seconds ago is now just a small blue picture of itself, far away. His first thought is that he is alone, that nobody knows where he is; these two great pleasures that were his freedom have now become his prison, perhaps his tomb. He calls out (for might not somebody chance to be nearby, just as he chanced to fall into the well?) and he hears himself enclosed within the sound of his own calling voice.

How does this story end? Does he save himself? Is he athletic enough, maybe, to get his boots off and climb out, clawing with fingers and toes into the grudging holds between the rocks of the wall? Does he climb up and fall back? Does somebody, in fact, for a wonder, chance to pass nearby and hear him? Does he despair, give up, and drown? Does he, despairing, pray finally the first true prayer of his life?

Listen. There is a light that includes our darkness, a day that shines down even on the clouds. A man of faith believes that the Man in the Well is not lost. He does not believe this easily or without pain, but he believes it. His belief is a kind of knowledge beyond any way of knowing. He believes that the child in the womb is not lost, nor is the man who's work has come to nothing, nor is the old woman forsaken in a nursing home. He believes that those who make their bed in Hell are not lost, or those who dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, or the lame man at Bethesda Pool, or Lazarus in the grave, or those who pray, 'Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani.' Have Mercy."

-Wendell Berry, Jayber Crow

Monday, October 27, 2008

Spoiled

Louis CK gives some (hilarious) perspective:

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Linky Stinky

Some more things that caught my eye this week...

  1. The story of a really great dog.
  2. A fascinating photography exhibit of some of Chicago's tucked away churches.
  3. Rod Dreher on artistry, honesty, and "Christian movies".
  4. Michael Bird chimes in on Trinitarian debates.
  5. Our friend Becky Eklund recently preached at the executive board meeting of the Covenant church on what it means to be "In it Together".

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Good Times

We’ve had a full but fun weekend here in the Kennedy house. Saturday was a full day at the farmer’s market for the two of us, but Saturday night we had the pleasure to go see one of my newer favorite bluegrass groups at the Riviera: Old Crow Medicine Show.

OCMS put on a great show with high energy alternative-country that mostly classifies as bluegrass but occasionally reaches into Hank Williams kind of blues ballads. OCMS is definitely “old school” string music, but done with a bit of a punk attitude. OCMS’s self titled album is a quality piece of work; excellent musicianship that carries on the deep traditions of mountain music into the 21st century. Folk music of the American south in the 20th century was steeped in faith, populism, local culture, love of place, a sense of both outrage and resignment over the plight of the southern poor, and the metaphors of great journeys and great wanderings . Like Johnny Cash’s “Man in Black”, OCMS sings about solidarity with the disenfranchised in “I Hear them All”. While many of the great country musicians have sun g extensively about battles with drugs and alcohol, OCMS plays the contemporary version of the same battle with songs like “Methamphetamine”, “Tennessee Pusher”, and “Tell it to Me”—exploring the great struggle rural communities face against the scourge of substance abuse. The band played with unprecedented energy, speed, and skill that kept the crowd dancing throughout the evening. OCMS mostly tours the south, so their concert here in Chicago was a special event which brought out fans from all across the Midwest who raucously sang and danced to all the great music. They didn’t sing any louder than when the band played their hit song, "Wagon Wheel"—a song I can listen to over and over and not get tired of. Like some of the best country music, it’s a song about struggle that makes you want to sing loud in with a defiant hope. It makes you want to cry but also makes you want to sing out with joy.

Even though we were out late on Saturday, we decided to get up early on Sunday to head north and spend the day in Wisconsin to see some old friends and take in some brilliant fall foliage. We worshiped with our family at Anchor Covenant Church, and it was good to be among them again. We admired the brilliant colors of autumn in Lake Geneva, took a drive through the country, took a little hike in the Kettle Moraine Forrest, and then sampled some cheeses on the way home—getting home just in time to watch the Seahawks embarrass themselves on Sunday Night Football yet again.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Plateau

When a couple breaks up, its said that it takes as long as you were ever with that person to get over that person. If you dated for 6 months, it might take 6 months for you to finally get over them. They also say "time heals all wounds". To compare the loss of a child to a break up is a grotesque comparison (though that's obvious, I'll still elaborate later). What I would like to say is that time does not heal all wounds. Some wounds we will carry all our life. That's a lesson I'm learning as today is now 11 months since Evie was born. Its been much longer that Evie's been gone than we ever knew she existed. In just a few weeks an entire year will have passed. While my journey of grief has come along way (I am no where near the place I was in January or March or even June), in some ways I've found that the sense of healing has plateaued somewhat. In fact, pain and grief now show up in new ways and it stings worse than it has. They are fresh wounds.

So what is happening? How could things steadily get better and then not? I think a few things have happened. The first is a simple phenomenon: I have more free time. This spring I was breaking my back trying to finish incomplete work from the fall on top of a full load of spring coursework in addition to an internship. The "busyness" of life was a suitable distraction from the deep grief inside. Then with my new work this summer, I've still filled many hours with work, but its a different kind of work. Its a lot of time spent alone. Its a lot of hours alone in traffic. Its a lot of "body work", and a lot less "mind work". I now have the time for my mind to wander-- and it wanders back to Children's Memorial Hospital. I relive the frightening experiences in unprecedented detail. Images, sounds, smells, and feelings are as clear as day. Memories of these are not as frightening as they once were, but they still hurt.

There is a second phenomenon that is more unique to the premature death of a child. We mourn not only the past but the future. We will mourn the entirety of what Evie's life should have been. We mourn the those life-markers that will not happen: first steps, first words, first birthdays, first day of school... those are all little deaths that we must mourn in the wake of our great loss. While it doesn't bother me to be around the children of my friends, for some reason when I see a stranger with a child about the same age that Evie would be--it feels like a roundhouse kick to the stomach... and to the heart. We grieve the loss we experienced last year, but we continue to grieve the lifetime of joy stolen from us.

We feel anger, sadness, and a bit of "lostness". Still, I've considered this new phase of grief a necessary stage of the journey. Grief is work. Its work that I may have set aside in my busyness this spring, but like all things there is a time to collect on debts. What I'm realizing as I return to the work of grief is that the payoff might not be what I initially expected. Healing might not look the way I think. What I mean is that I now no longer ever expect to be "fully normal" again in this life. Everything is different. Its not unlike a physical injury. Surgery and therapy might return you to function, but it is still likely you'll continue to walk with a limp. The process of grief has and will continue to return me to functional, but I still live and love "with a limp".

As I have always said, writing about these things is not to fish for sympathy. Its merely that there is something cathartic about talking about it. It feels good to tell our story. Thanks for listening.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Presidential Debates

I've come upon some exclusive advanced footage of tonight's presidential debate practice round...




Its good to see some civility return to political debate!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

A gift of charity

You might have noticed the poll I put on the right side of this page about charitable contributions as alternatives for Christmas gifts. So far everyone that responded has said they would prefer this type of gift to something material. There are a lot of days left until Christmas, so please vote because I am really curious about what people think! It's anonymous, and even if it wasn't, I wouldn't judge you based on your answer. :)

This idea was introduced to me when I discovered a website a couple of years ago called Buy Nothing Christmas. I like this idea. Think of the people you buy gifts for, your friends and family. For many of them, if you're like me, you struggle to come up with something to give them because they have everything they need and a lot of what they want. Why not give them the gift of a charitable donation in their name to one of their favorite charities? Or something you put a lot of heart and only a little money into, like their favorite cookies or a craft? I haven't done a Christmas like this yet, primarily because I always procrastinate and then I run out of time to be creative. That's when you find me at Target and the mall. And I probably never will do a Christmas when I truly buy nothing, because I absolutely love gift giving, and even if I craft every last gift I would have to buy a lot of supplies. But I really love the idea of giving to a worthy charity at least for a part of a loved one's gift. I know I'll always end up buying things, and I'm sure most people will, but the idea of a "buy-nothing-Christmas" has got me thinking about how I can be more creative and thoughtful with how I give gifts, especially on the day we celebrate Christ's birth. If you have any ideas to share of how you've given gifts that are: 1.creative 2. frugal 3. unique, please share those ideas!

I'll be sharing some posts in the upcoming weeks about some of the charitable organizations that I think are impressive. I'd also love to hear who you like. In the meantime, speaking of charity, this website (WARNING: includes near-nudity) is quite funny if you are familiar with the Product(RED) campaign. Please know that I absolutely don't think there is anything wrong with the Gap or Dell or whoever giving a part of their proceeds to charity. I just like buy(LESS) for their tongue-in-cheek take on it.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Maps

I've always been fascinated by maps. As a kid, whenever we were on a road trip I would love to trace our route and note the things we might see along the way (I still do this now). Recently I've been following the election polls and examining the "electoral map" of the United States, noting which states turn "blue" or "red" with different public opinion polls (www.fivethirtyeight.com is my favorite site for this). Yet there are things about maps that are deceiving. For instance; on a world map North American and Europe are always at the top? As our planet floats in space is there any real objective way to say that North is up? Yes it could be a matter of aesthetics, but I think it mostly is a product of perspective. We who are wealthy and strong want to see our homes at the top of the map. You might also notice the way that taking a round globe and putting on a flat map distorts some of the preportions of the globe (is Greenland really almost as big as Africa? No, its only about 40% the land mass [see also Australia).

The subjectivity of our perspective can fundamentally alter the way we think. Hard data is not that hard to the human mind. Consider the fears we might have of terrorism, kidnappings, or freak accidents to our apathy about the mundane things that are more likely to prematurely kill us: heart disease, cancer, drunk driving, driving while texting. The odds are astronomically greater that the donuts I had for breakfast is the more likelier cause of my death than gang crossfire. But you wouldn't know it the way we talk about what scares us.

So as we consider the great threats we face in the United States of turmoil in our pocket books as well as geopolitical turmoil, it would do us well to try and get some perspective. Take a look at these maps.


This is our planet as it appears geographically. But look below as the map is altered to reflect what people suffered the greatest casualties of warfare in the 2oth century.


Its not hard to see how Africa, Asia, and the Middle East have suffered the most catastrophic war-time suffering even when you account for the devastation of Europe in WWII. Consider now what the future of global economics might hold...

This is a projection of the distribution of wealth through 2015. Notice that even though India and East Asia project to grow enormously, Europe and the U.S. still maintain a huge portion of wealth-- and Africa remains far behind.

I posit all of this to say, for us in the United States, all the fear we may experience as it relates to financial and national security might be overstated. It might be that the reality of our situation is not that we're "crashing", but that we're coming back down to earth. We've been insulated from so long from the violence and poverty of the rest of the planet that the economic and political troubles of our day feel more threatening than they really are. Don't get me wrong, I know things are tough for a lot of people-- many Americans are suffering the burdens of medical debt, unemployment/underemployment, or fear for a loved one deployed in a war zone. All I suggest is that as the world gets smaller, each of us should expand our outlook to consider not just quality of life here in America--but all over our small world.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Our vacation

Wow, this blog got kind of pathetic over the last few weeks. I guess I've either been too busy or too lazy to write! The most exciting thing of note to happen in the month of September was our vacation in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico with a couple of good friends. It was very refreshing to get away after a really hectic few weeks at work. We were really worried about the weather with it being storm season and all, but it would seem that Chicago ended up getting the storms we were expecting in Cabo. While we were nursing sunburns from all our time enjoying the outdoors, the North Park campus was being flooded! Luckily we came home to a dry basement.