Sunday, March 15, 2009

My dad’s gone crazy

He hasn’t, actually. But he may if he ever reads my blog. I’m afraid to check my comments today, afraid to even check the blog, so I’m writing off-line, in a safe text document. Does everyone hate me now? I feel a little like I’ve come out of the closet. I seem to be an equal-opportunity offender--capable of offending the nonbelievers in the crowd with the primacy of my faith, and offending the believers with my counterintuitive politics.

Oh well. Can’t please all the people all the time, can I? Didn’t Abraham Lincoln or Bob Dylan or someone say that? In reality, I feel much better today, freer, as telling the truth does. Jesus wasn’t kidding when he said “the truth will set you free.” Truth, though, is a difficult concept, another one that theologians spend their lives writing incomprehensible juried journal articles about, thus elucidating the concept not at all. Pilate asked “what is truth?” and no one seems to have been able to answer him.

I like Emily Dickinson’s answer: “Tell the truth, but tell it slant.” Jesus didn’t even answer Pilate with erudite theology (he saved that for the Apostle Paul). Jesus answered with a slant-y story, first a series of difficult parables that he refused to explain, and then the ultimate parable of his own death. Tell the truth but tell it slant. “For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes; so that they might not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and understand with their heart and turn--and I would heal them.” In short--tell stories.

My dad and I did have a good conversation this morning about art. I made the point, as I always do, that one of the first elements of all of the world’s cultures is story-telling, that story-tellers always have a place of honor in primitive cultures, often the highest place of honor. Human beings have a need for art, a need for explaining their experience through the language of pictures, the language of music, the language of story. We even need to tell ourselves stories, paint ourselves pictures, in order to stay sane, every night as we sleep.

It’s the Puritans who took that from us Americans, with their black clothes and their work ethic and their suspicion of anything that smacked of papist Roman froofiness. Architecture? Paintings? Stories? Gasp. What we need are good sermons, and, if we’re feeling particularly soft, a nice stern a capella hymn in 4/4 time. We’re still suffering under their curse. No wonder all our writers flee to France.

I recently took a trip back to western Michigan, my dad’s homeland, where I braced myself for the continuing onslaught of questions. Yup, still no husband or children. Still no nice career that can be handily summed up in one word, like “teacher,” or “accountant,” or “engineer.” Still no mortgage and house in the suburbs. The only way my art will earn legitimacy with that set is by earning a lot of money, and even then it will remain suspect. If I make a million dollars from a novel, what have I done, really? Only string a bunch of pretty words together. Nothing that puts meat and potatoes on the table.

These are tough demons to fight. They are legion, and they rise up in my consciousness every time I hesitantly touch the nib of my pen to paper. The war is ongoing, and I take arms now for my next, new battl

No comments: