waiting for United


Personal journal, 1/15/2008: a redundant recording of the date, to be sure.
My bride and I are going to board an airplane together for the first time, so we have discovered to mild mutual surprise, since the trip we took to England in 1978, just within a month of our wedding day. It’s been that long since we’ve really had a vacation (and that wasn’t a vacation, it was a college history class with assignments and mandated places to see in Ye Olde Countree) and here we are, set to go somewhere vaguely exotic for the express purpose of doing nothing, in terms of meeting anyone’s expectations, for ten days. I’ll try to keep a little record of how it goes.

No one has ever accused me (I think) of being what’s called a Type A personality. I’m pretty laid back, but it has been noticed recently that in a certain way I am driven. I surmise that it goes with the territory in my line of work. I’m always looking for the one that got away, the job undone, the parishioner unvisited, the meeting unattended, the notes not taken, the book (alas, the book!) not yet written. I preach a good game about observing the Sabbath, but my own sabbaths are as filled with toil as all my other days. Of course, I pass that off with a mystical slant: in the work of God all is rest and peace, etc., which is certainly true, but one must remember, musn’t one, that it’s best to begin with rest and peace, and use that as a foundation for peaceful (and peacemaking) action. In a world torn by war and conflict, it seems that bustling about in the name of promoting serenity among one’s fellow-creatures is de rigeur. No matter; this weekand next, we decompress, live with no agenda except our own. What will that be like?

What might it be like to live without an agenda? Impossible, of course: one must sleep, and eat, on some sort of schedule, and as the day and night follow one another, the circadian rhythm will to some extent conform. Much work awaits us when we return to our place; perhaps we will do so with a clear mind and fresh insights, ready to take on the challenges that will no doubt be beating at our door. But look, please notice: I got all the way to Paragraph Three before mentioning the work that awaits. A bit of progress, that, isn’t it?

Lately I’ve been trying to express to a few people how I think about big ideas: not in words, in the first instance (though the words come, eventually, on the best of days) nor even in pictures, though sometimes an image can be evoked; rather I think of, or rather look at, big ideas in terms of what I call their shape. Almost it’s like being a blind man in the presence of the proverbial elephant, don’t you know; and now look, I’ve put words and an image on this idea I have about big ideas, and have thus perhaps made it intelligible to some reader, to some degree, but have also limited and diminished it, just as the proverbial blind men do when they try to describe their piece of that elephant to one another. No, I look at, take the measure of, an idea by (not exactly this, but it’s another image) walking around it, perceiving dimly its general shape, too much to get my arms around (there I go again) and undefinable in terms of any single image or set of words, but there it is, an idea, something that can change how I perceive and think about many other things, something that if I can get hold of it, let its shape shape me in some way, will give me a better capacity for interacting with the world as I find it. A preacher’s or philosopher’s or storyteller’s task is to draw that shape around his audience, enfold them in it, so that they feel it themselves, see its outlines, share its space, and begin to articulate in their own ways the images and words that it calls forth.

All of life is poetry. It is the attempt to give expression to the inexpressible beauty and sadness inherent in all things.

First update: Arrived in Orlando a bit late, got the luggage alright, waited in line at the Alamo counter and talked the attendant, somehow, into upgrading us from an economy to a compact…. got the paperwork and walked over to the garage, picked a Chevy Cobalt (just what I wanted). Paid for a full tank of gas upfront, cheaper than paying four dollars and change for them to refill at the end of the rental. Then off we went, with the address of our first night’s hotel and the google map on the iPhone, only to find after a while that we left the airport going south where we should have gone north….. paid two dollars in tolls we didn’t need to, added some driving time, and got to our one-night stop at going on two a.m. The protocol here was to use the courtesy phone outside the door to get the attention of the night attendant. It took about five redials (going to voicemail each time) before he came on the phone. I guess we woke him up. However, now we are here, more or less settling, reading and writing and soon to turn out the lights.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008 7:53 AM: It will take a while to get the two of us in sync. Free of all responsibility, I find myself well rested after just a few hours sleep, but best beloved roused up to worry out loud about my health. Not to worry. Did I say all responsibility? I’m thinking I do need to call the senior center where I would have normally had an event next Tuesday, to let them know I’m not coming. Will sneak off and do that sometime soon.

At the airport last evening, and on the plane, I got to reading The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. Lots of detailed analysis here of movements and events, with the basic premise being that much can be understood about changes in social behavior if we think of them as structured like epidemics of disease. Gives lots of meat and bones to the little “truth is a virus” meme — and even to the virus-like character of the concept of meme at all. I guess much of his target audience is marketers, people who want to influence behavior. However, the sorts of things he points out do seem to map pretty well onto the spread of ideas all beyond proportion to their beginnings. Got me to thinking of a fellow like St Paul as an infectious agent for Christianity. Methinks he had characteristics of all three of the special personality types —Connectors, Mavens and Salesmen — who contribute to the bringing about oflarge-scale change.

Notes on the visit to the Magic Kingdom to be continued in the next entry.

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