While sitting around the lunch table a couple of days ago, one of my coworkers mentioned that she had a professor who hated Disney stories with a passion. They’re too simplistic, the professor said, too black and white. They don’t represent the real world, which is much more complicated than good guys against bad guys.
I disagree — not that the real world (especially the people in it) is more complicated than good good guys and bad bad guys, but that such stories are too simplistic. If such stories are anything, they are too powerful.
There isn’t a boy in this world who can resist the siren call of adventure on the open sea. So when a pirate ship showed up in the harbor beyond the hill, the boy ran home, packed a bag, kissed his mother goodbye, and sprinted to the quay and up the gangplank, where he asked the weathered captain if he could join the crew. The captain, of course, said yes, and Scrappy Jack, at 2.5 years old, became the youngest pirate boy to ever sail with such a ragtag bunch of ne’er-do-wells as this.
The other day, while discussing some not unsubstantial family problems, someone asked me, “How is it, Josh, that you turned out the way you did?”
I assumed this was meant to reflect positively on me, and replied, “Only by the grace of God.”
In retrospect, my response sounds a little trite; it’s the sort of insincere response that people often give without thinking much about what exactly they’re saying. But I meant it. I mean it. I’m not sure of much in this life, but I am sure of this: I could very easily have walked a different path to end up in a much darker place and as a far worse person. And I’m not on my current path—a path of faith and hope and grace and life—because of anything I did. No, I’m walking this path in spite of anything I did. Left to myself, left to my pain, my past, my family, my circumstances and the natural consequences of my too often foolish decisions, I would not be here. But for the grace of God.
When I pulled up to the parking lot of Engedi Church last night, I was surprised to see how many cars were there. Certainly more than I had expected for a Monday night — nearly as many as I find for a proper Sunday morning service. We had shown up at the abandoned strip mall-turned church building-turned temporary movie theater for a screening of Reparando, a documentary film about Guatemalans who are “embracing the pain of their past to repair the next generation.”
After watching the trailer, I had planned on seeing a powerful film. What I hadn’t planned on was seeing such a moving testimony about the power of the gospel to transform lives. The documentary follows the stories of Tita and Shorty, two Christian leaders who work passionately to improve their community, La Limonada (‘lemonade’). La Limonada is an asentamiento, an urban slum community that, if I remember correctly, is home to some 60,000 people. It’s the largest slum in Central America. This is a story that needs to be heard.
I picked up a copy of Wendell Berry’s Jayber Crow on the recommendation of Andrew Peterson and some of the other folks at The Rabbit Room. It promised to fit into my recent exploration of agrarianism, simple living, and earthy Christianity — and in that regard I wasn’t disappointed. I wasn’t disappointed in most regards. The book was brilliant. It’s the closest thing to literature that I’ve read in some time (too much Hornby and Bryson and McCall Smith for me of late), and I’m glad I took the time to invest in this one. The writing is at once simple and profound, and it’s filled with snippets of Berry’s wisdom like: “Every shakeable thing has got to be shaken,” and “But here is maybe a harder thing that I have thought of at last: What if they endured and suffered through so many years together because, even failing each other, they loved each other?”
“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of hops—and wort—and homebrewed beer—
Of barley malt—and yeast.”
You’re right — the Walrus never said any of that. But no one cares about cabbages and kings, right? Not when my first attempt at homebrewing is sitting in the fridge, waiting for me.
And so, in honor of the occasion, I present to you, the faithful few, my inaugural live blogging endeavor:
Yesterday, after nine months of determined devotion, I finally finished my first entire read-through of the Old Testament. Genesis through Malachi. “In the beginning” all the way to “lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”
I won’t be stopping here, of course. The New Testament is on the other side of the page, and I’m eager to get started — but it’s worth reflecting on what I’ve noticed while reading through the L. and the P.
Earlier today, as I was having the get-to-know-you conversation with Group Tour Media’s newest editorial intern, Carly, I informed her that, in my exact words, “I’m actually pretty dull.”
She tried to tell me (though she knew me not at all), that surely I must be mistaken. Dullness, she seemed to think, is a bad thing. Many people believe this.
I’m not one of these people.
Simplicity has been a recurring theme in my life lately. Through books, movies, conversations, t-shirts, and bumper stickers, I’ve been relentlessly pursued by the gentle insistence that I need to simplify. In some regards, this is nothing new. When Becca and I were house shopping a few years ago, I told her, “I want something nice, and big enough for the family we hope to have — but modest.” No ostentation for me, thank you very much.
I’ve come across the concept of “already, but not yet” often enough recently that it’s stuck with me. I’m pretty sure that it has theological significance (the kingdom of God is both “already” and “not yet” here, or something like that), but I last thought of it while showing a friend my garden earlier this afternoon.
To be honest, my garden is an embarrassment. Sure, it has been yielding a fair share of crops — a zucchini the size of my thigh, for example, and grape tomatoes that are so sweet when you bite into them that they almost taste like candy — but the edges are overgrown with weeds, my corn stalks are pathetically thin, and my pepper plants have been eaten by pests of some sort or another. It was clear to me, and to my friend, that I don’t have the time to maintain a garden.
This is where the already and the not yet come into things. I already have a garden, but I’m not yet ready to take care of it properly. And it isn’t just the garden: as a general rule, I have an already/not yet understanding of most of my life.