Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Glorious Struggle

In the way of self-deprecation, I have told Devan many times that I am one of the laziest people you'll ever meet. Though I'm not above false modesty, this doesn't qualify as such.
It is a frank appraisal of my own wants and desires and discipline.
Inherent in the remark is the unspoken caveat: But I try to work hard enough so that no one knows it.
In other words, I recognize the necessity of hard work, and will strive to achieve it, I just find it very distasteful.
So, when I hear various and sundry health buffs and nuts wax eloquent about the "invigoration" and "rush" of exercise and cardio and pumping iron, I get a tired sneer on my face.
Self-convincing mind control.
See, I think it's paradoxical to claim you enjoy struggling to supplement your health. Or, I don't know, maybe you don't find it paradoxical, maybe you're just masochistically twisted.
If the principle of "no pain, no gain" is paramount in exercise, then aren't you as much as admitting you get a rush out of pain.
This is what I find perennially disquieting about exercise; the ever-extending line that must be crossed in order to benefit.
I'm something of a legalist, and no less one when it comes to this. I would prefer to get mine out of the way all at once.
If I could exercise 24/7, more or less, for a year, and have it out of the way for the duration of my natural life, I would somewhat cheerfully, at least resignedly, commit, and peddle, run and pump my way through October of 2009 just for good measure.
Unfortunately for my laziness, all I'd get out of that is job loss, a heart attack or two, and possible marital complications.
So, it seems we've all been sentenced to share the fate of Sisyphus, the size of the boulder being relative.
(And here is the part where I draw a spiritual parallel. But it really isn't necessary, is it?)
Sufficient grace, and meal in the barrel, and all that, but isn't that missing the point, at least slightly?
As much as it seems applicable at times, God isn't given to the carrot-and-stick approach. And He doesn't require a certain amount of punishment or misery to recompense a reward.
Mostly, it is just the pendulum effect. Not in the sense of Poe, so much, though maybe a little. But rather in what Screwtape referred to as the law of peaks and troughs, reminding his hapless nephew that humans are insufferably mortal, and must undergo this perpetual cycle of ups and downs.
What I find show-stopping about this obvious statement is the implication.
God created us as such!
So where's the glory in redeeming an angel, the grace of walking in our shoes if it were no problem for us?
Strength, His, not ours, perfected in weakness, is the mysterious and majestic remedy.
No, progressive.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Really Good Grief

Give us this day our daily low-carb, gluten-free bread, and forgive us for eating three slices instead of the one we would have eaten, wanted to eat, had it been white, or thick.
In my own mind I know I'm a great writer. So . . .how does one go about escaping one's own mind?
What I really wanted to talk about was Peanuts.
Peanuts have become a staple of my diet. Once a superfluous fiber, along with popcorn, pecans, particularly have taken the place of dessert. Rather, they have become dessert, I didn't bother much with it before I couldn't eat it.
But, I meant Peanuts, the comic strip; the daily public journal of a very American man.
Sparky (as he didn't like to be called), also known as Charles Schulz, has been an influence on my entire life in much the same way that observation affects outcome, so said Schroedinger.
At the risk of sounding maudlin, Schulz comforted me with distraction even as a child.
As did the short-lived Jalapeno flavor of Lays potato chips.
As did curling up in the antediluvian plaid arm-chair in front of the picture window which no doubt comforted me as well.
Psychoanalytically speaking, I'm quite sure I gained a preeminence over the world-at-large by sitting in front of a large picture window with no curtains while maintaining my comfort zone
in my nook,
with the chips,
and the book.
Too young to suspect I was empathizing with Charlie Brown (although I had more in common with Linus,
the blanket
or perhaps Shermy, as he was a filler, whereas at least Charlie Brown enjoyed the miserable center stage, with his cool, ungrateful dog.
The philosophy of Schulz never occurred to my eight-year-old brain, at least consciously.
But over the years, the perpetual failure of Charlie Brown, and the fact that this failure was the subject of humor, has molded a part of my personality with gentle pressure.
At once as cuddly as a plush Snoopy, and as brutal as a disrobing line drive, Schulz's narrative of what he called his everyman was an enveloping buffer for my world at large.
I do identify with Charlie Brown, although my fellow characters have been much kinder than, say, Lucy, much kinder indeed than Patty or Violet, (particularly notable for their almost sociopathic psychological abuse of Charlie Brown.)
But many of my characters have exhibited the same fair-weather friendliness of Schroeder,
the same cloying,
self-serving attentions of the insecure Peppermint Patty,
and the animal ingratitude and disinterest of his transcendentally hip dog.
Any dismissal of Schulz as a mere cartoonist reveals a lack of depth in the critic.
He was not wise, but he was exceptionally honest and wickedly comfortable with his immersion, if not understanding, of the life we live.
So, grab a Peanuts book next time you're at the library and keep it in the bathroom.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Creeping Tolerance

I've kept my ramblings pertinent recently. I've tried to speak of what matters most.

I've kept my nose out of politics. Partly because, since the primaries are over, and both parties have their candidates, anything I say would be a combination of preaching to the choir and stating the obvious.

What I have to say may be stating the obvious, but I've become sufficiently irked by a media mantra to not care anymore.

Since Barack Obama makes a point of expressing his faith (likely to combat the Muslim rumors) and since he is a Democrat, the media has gleefully lifted the embargo on discussion of religion in politics. The incongruity of the most liberal Democrat in the Senate stating frankly that Jesus Christ is his Savior (yes, I meant incongruity) has been lost on us.

The reason for this new-found faith of the DNC is two-fold.

The Democrats finally saw the light and found God in exit poll data. Statisticians and marketing experts could have told them that excluding the God plank from their platform was off-putting to many.

The other reason is that Barack Obama is black. And divesting a black man of his religion is unnecessary, even offensive, because African-Americans are stereotypically religious. The cringe-inducing shell-shock of W.'s statement about Jesus Christ in his coming out in 2000 is dissipated. God is welcomed with open arms now if He watches His p's and q's and doesn't become too confrontational.

The media mantra I spoke of is pure subversion, whether or not they realize it.

Ad hominem is the order of the day. They are ever ready with the defense, "Obama is a Christian, he has attended a Christian church for the last twenty years." Besides the fact that I thought we were supposed to forget that Obama attended a church pastored by a man named Wright, the defensive statement presupposes a right-wing evangelical litmus test. Apparently we're all sitting around asking "Yes, but is Barack a Christian?" And when supplied with the affirmative, we're good to go. (The disturbing irony is that all too often this is true.)

Now, first of all, I would have hoped we had gotten past the idea that attending church magically bestowed the blood of Jesus on the attendee. Guess not.

Second, I would have hoped, but knew better, that the creeping tolerance, of the mutant, 21st century cross strain, had run it's course. No such luck. In other words, in today's world, if a man says he is a Christian, calls children mistakes, supports infanticide. . . .he is a Christian and don't you dare presume to question the dubious fruit hanging from his withered boughs.

Christianity has been stripped of any identity, thus any salty savor, by creeping tolerance.

John Wesley has said that his brother Charles made people prove their profession while he himself took people at their word, and that he was more often proven right than Charles.

This is a Christian principle. But it has parameters.

I'm assuming that if John came upon a falling-down drunk prostitute in the act of extorting money from a helpless child he would suspect her veracity when she slurred, "Praise the Lord, brother, I'm a born-again Christian."

There are rules you follow if you are a Christian, even in this post-post modern world.

Obama doesn't follow them. No surprise. I'm not shocked. He is the candidate of a party who has long disassociated itself from Christianity, and his politics are simply what we expect.

But can we stop with this, "Of course he's a Christian, he's gone to church for the last twenty years."

By the way, equal time wise, neither does John McCain's story, heart-warming as it is, of his experience with the prison guard in Vietnam confirm his Christianity. But the fact that he opposes infanticide gives us a little more reason think that maybe he actually subscribes to the creed.