Sunday, January 31, 2010

Where Meaning Comes From

If my family were to ever exchange the words that are slung about like water balloons in "Rachel Getting Married", we would never recover.  The words would dig down into the very fibers that keep our family knit together.  They would destroy us.  How is it that Rachel and Kym's family, on the other hand, can be so illustrious after such horrific family conflict?  Any moment can devolve into a painful shouting match, and yet, blink twice and they're redeemed by some intangible magic that transcends the excruciating words spoken bonding the family merrily back together. 

Is it because their words have no meaning?  I shall offer here an alternative.

This week I met a Bulgarian, here in Koper, in an Italian restaurant.  He told me that Slovenes don't exactly have a word for grace in their language.  The word they use, "milost" is the same word they use for mercy.  Our language allows for a nuanced distinction between the terms, where Slovenian sees no separation.  Why?

Often in my prayers, I don't know what to say.  Amid times of distress, when I've found myself unhappy, I have no power to change my lot in life.  There's nothing to do to change my surroundings.  And so, being upset, I do what is within my power.  I whine.  I whine to God, I whine to myself.  I utilize my words like slingshots, hoping that the drama of it all will cause a big enough stir to change something.  When you're unhappy, any change is welcomed.

Anne Hathaway's character, Kym, does the same thing.  Her sister blames her for their brother's death, and Kym can do nothing to undo this blame.  Her actions are powerless.  So in her lack of power, she tosses her words about in the same manner a tramp carelessly exploits her own body.  These listless words, unfortunately for her, bring Kym more condemnation from her sister.  So she goes and cries to her mother.  She tries to shift the blame with an arsenal of words.  It doesn't work, and so she is left only to destroy herself with her actions.

When the words fail to have meaning, action becomes the only avenue of understanding. 

There is a quick and deep bond between word and deed.  Where one ends, the other begins.  I use my words to uplift my deeds if I am happy, and I use my deeds to undermine my words if I am unhappy.  This is human nature.

And so in a place where one's words have consistently been undermined by one's deeds, the actions do all the talking.  Words serve only as a mirror to one's actions.  Perhaps Slovenian's don't have a word for grace because they don't believe in it.  The stories of the Catholic Church's actions in this nation don't reflect a Church that works to display grace in daily life.  Rather, at best they exercise mercy with their power.  And so in this way, grace loses it's brilliance and becomes only mercy.

So, do Kym's words have meaning?  Sure they do.  They mean whatever she does next.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Collapsing In

"And the children of men take refuge in the shadow of Your wings." Psalm 36:7b 
And the year was 2027, or maybe it’s 2010. Either one sounds futuristic to me. The plotline of “Children of Men” is a kind of human-wide claustrophobia. The world becomes infertile. This is the last generation that will be. The near future is limited. The far future is dead.

And strangely, it is not the plot that causes the film to feel so devastatingly cocooning; no, it is the view we are permitted. When the film was released, it immediately gained applause for its ingeniusly long shots. But besides exhibiting cinematic excellence, these 10-minute-plus camera takes without cuts don’t let us breathe. You are not given even that fraction of a one second cut-to in which to gain your composure. You are stuck.

And this is the real world, is it not? We are blind and stuck on a path with no future. How excrutiatingly bleak this earth is. The dog I laughed at yesterday while walking in the park may be gone today. As far as I know he has no future. The tortured soul, the remorseful killer, the daydreaming teen with a heart condition, the betrayed, the diseased – they all fit in here.

And despite all this, despite our lack of future, we are not claustrophobic. We dance tonight, work tomorrow, and drink to wash our cares away. We dance next week, work, then drink our concerns away. We dance next month, work, then drink our lives away. And when we grow tired of the rhythm, we find a new drum beat.

And there is nothing to do. There is nothing really to fight for, for there's nothing really to be gained. Why aren’t we more depressed? Why don’t we scream more? We should. We should form some form of initiative. We should find a way out button. We should unite to do something, anything to keep the future from imploding in. But we don’t. We don't notice how crowded it is. We sit back and ignore the ever dwindling dimensions of our room.

But there is a rumor of hope; a hope beyond. Oh God, if it’s true! The great hope, the great Tomorrow! Oh God!

If only we embraced the hope. If only.