Wednesday, August 25, 2010

New Home for This Sleepy Blog:

[despite the fact that WordPress doesn't give you font control, I've finished converting everything]

[in fact: you've all got TWO new posts waiting for you over there]

[and don't worry: I've already figured out a sneaky way to code myself out of the font-shackles they tried to lock me into. I'm like the Samson of font-prisoners]

[so: I bid adieu to Blogger]:

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Sleep: In the Sick Pet Sense

[I am in the process of moving to Wordpress, thus the relative silence]

[Oh, stop. It won't be that bad]

[Look: their fonts and designs are a lot cleaner, and I'm sensitive to that kind of thing]

[Soulless design, you say? It should be. Shouldn't my writing be the soul here?]

[When it's ready, I'll post a link here, and you can all migrate peacefully]

Monday, August 16, 2010

Letter to an Invisible Church: No. 9

Dear Church of the Holy Abstraction:

I just don't get it.

I don't get why some people reject faith because it's not logical. But I also don't get why so many of your parishioners and authors try to answer their doubt by appealing to logic, like explaining Jackson Pollock to a group of eighth graders. It's just a bunch of dots, they say. Any five-year-old could do that.

And so: let's give the brush and the pulpit to five-year-olds.

The young do not rely on logic because it hasn't all added up yet. They survive on intuition. I have been afraid of children for a long time now, and it's more or less because of this very reason. They don't apply logic to their thoughts and actions, and words fall out of their leaking brains as fast they enter. 

The young, then, are sleep-walkers. 

When N sleep-talks, I start sweating with fear, thinking that the vulnerable person beside me is not the person who, in her logical mind, married and vowed to never punch me in the face. But who is she in dreams? I could be a moth she is trying to burn, the murderer she is trying to escape.

So: I am afraid of children and sleepers, though I resemble both.

But what if fear is just a discomfort with the laws of intuition? People are not afraid of what a logical brain will say, do, but they are frightened of people who bypass thought altogether and simply move.

Christ said that prophets are never accepted in their hometown, and the Jewish Scriptures give plenty of examples of citizens-turned-cave-dwellers due to their unabashed, inspired views of the future. Maybe it's not that they are telling the future, but that intuition lets them look back on the present.

It's not about getting it, I would tell that imagined group of middle schoolers. Rewind to their unwired ages, and they will more than likely respond to Pollock without first trying to place its logical method with its artistic worth. In the splatter they will see the images of the mind in technicolor. Teach them about cause+effect, the scientific method, economic trends, and they will cease being able to trace the shapes borne of the soul. Teach them about the irrefutable law of entropy, and they will stop acting as if death wasn't the end, that intuition was/is the key to eternity. 

So, when Christ said that heaven wasn't for those who had not "turned and become as the children," he wasn't saying that you must be childish, but that you must retain the capacity to glance at spilled ink and walk away changed without worrying why.

Waiting, Always,
a sleeper

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Letter to an Invisible Church: No. 8

Dear Church of the Holy Abstraction:

At the risk of slicing down whatever cred you/I think I have, I was thinking about this line from the Bush song, "Greedy Fly": 
We are servants to our formulaic ways.

It's that our that gets me: we create formulas, and then we not only follow them, we serve them, and not necessarily in the redemptive way you might use that word in a sermon. In fact, a formula is something through which to devise any system of consistent results--meaning, a blueprint for making habits of things. I have a formula for tea and coffee. For brushing my teeth before breakfast. For running twenty minutes before lunch because I've convinced myself it burns more carbs then running after lunch. The thing is, I hate running, and for the sake of my stomach, caffeine shouldn't be a daily thing. But I need these repetitive actions to help me navigate the new territory I embark on everyday.

I know what you're thinking: "This is why we have to be careful what we serve. Thou wouldn't want any false gods, wouldn't thou?"

Well, no. 

It's that kind of one-plus-one analogizing that makes many of your homilies too much on the repetitive end, and not enough toward the unexplored. Christ's daily ritual was to not have a place to lay his head--his morning coffee was to wake up and move to the new.

You have formulas inside your walls. A lot of you put on holy airs and call it liturgy, your eyebrows lifting on the lit, your lips pursing solemnly to let us know how sacred it is. But liturgy is mundane, quotidian, daily, routine, habitual, formulaic. And that's not a condemnation: we need the mundane desperately.

However, we'd be fine if tomorrow we lost every inky drop of liturgy, each suppliant letter of printed "common" prayers (common, meaning that a certain action repeats itself), and all the resounding gongs of commentary.

It would not be anarchy, and we would not have lost revelation. We would start writing just as deeply, succinctly, mysteriously as anyone from Hippo or a desert cave could. After all: We are servants to our liturgical ways. My fear is that not everyone would accept this passing. Many would dedicate their lives in search of lost liturgy, of habits with unknown origins. And in so doing, church would become an homage to the idea of church.

I am a memoirist, an archivist by nature. The past, too, can be new territory. But, remember that it is populated by the shadows of ghosts, a mythic armature dripping with a smoky liquor that will turn you into a cloud--that is, the illusion of being.

Waiting, Always,
a sleeper

Monday, August 9, 2010

Letter to an Invisible Church: No. 7

Dear Church of the Holy Abstraction:

I was pawing through the archives today and found a column I had pitched to a Christian magazine. I think it fits with what I've been trying to tell you, so I wanted you to see it. Especially since the magazine wasn't interested in it. Ok, that's not completely true. The editors there are brilliant and I love them dearly, but they were afraid that more conservative donors wouldn't appreciate reading a story about a church-search that didn't end with, "and that's when I learned to love everyone at Our Lady of the Frontal Lobotomy." The saddest part is that they are right.

So, I give you, "In Your Dreams, Pal":

My dreams have been very specific lately. It started when I had a dream that I stepped in poultice, and then when I woke up, had to look up what in the world poultice was (it’s an outdated medical powder that was applied to wounds).

A few weeks later, the narrative was drawn out even longer. In the dream, I was at a catered event,  though I was never sure of the purpose. [My old writing professor] Mark Stevick was sitting next to me as was, inexplicably, my Aunt Sandra, who we all call, inexplicably, Aunt “C." I recognized the main course as Tasso Ham, although I had no idea what that meant. I took a salty bite and struck up the following conversation:

“This ham tastes like charcoal.”

“It’s just like that Charcoal Ham I made last Christmas,” says Aunt C. Stevick, through all of this interchange, remains silent, but retains a knowing grin.

“What on earth is Charcoal Ham?” I ask.

“Well,” she continues, “You take a ham and cover it with walnuts. Then, you scrub it with a charcoal briquette. Problem is, I used one of the brands that was pre-soaked in lighter fluid. The whole thing burst into flames the second I put it in the oven!”

At this point, I turn, smirking, to Stevick, and say—as I imagine I would in real life—“Sounds like you had yourself a real hambĂ©.” We both laugh in that shoulder-bouncing way that only pun-loving word nerds seem to do.

When I woke up, I was still laughing, trying desperately to hold on to hambĂ©. But quickly, in that haze of waking, my mind does what it does best and analyzes things until I’m depressed. I was left with this question: “Am I so desperate for community that I’ve resorted to conducting witty banter in my dreams?”

I have big dreams. Most of them are selfish and involve what my bio will say underneath the jacket photo on my future, innumerable books, that will never sacrifice art for accessibility, yet somehow everyone from Wal-Martians to UTNE Readers will find something elucidating.

I also really want a farm. I want a plot of land with a community garden, and a barn with a music studio that, on Friday nights, is abuzz with the clangs and plucks of all my people.

In fact, that’s what I want most—people.

Discussing this with my freshman roommate-turned-groomsman, Ryan, on the phone, I said, with much conviction, “It would just be so awesome to all be living close—not in a commune or anything since they tend to look too inward and spoil—but some structure that people could visit at least once a week and catch up for a few hours.” I paused. Ryan was clearly stifling a laugh, erupting after I continued saying, “Oh. That’s called ‘church’ isn’t it?”

But here’s the thing: I’m tired of organs, of three-chord songs, of sermons that promise Americanized versions of Jabez-wealth, of groups that argue what to name themselves until they start calling each other names and then uprooting. I find power in dressed-up liturgy, but I also find it in a pub, where t-shirt garbed conversations feel like Holy Improvisations.

All my life speakers that promised a mighty move of God in New England visited my church. Over time, however, their numbers receded faster than their hairlines.

Many have told me that I can’t customize a church. That it’s not about me. And I get that. But it’s this kind of language that’s kept me in my spare room, quietly writing music for services that don’t exist. It’s this kind of language that pours money into restoring steeples instead of restoring people. Steeples and cathedrals started as the artistic dreams of humans, stemming from the desire to be together and take seriously what it means to take up our cross—our death, not just our burden—and not just ride out faith in the broken rollercoaster of a pew, waiting for someone to come and get the sparks going again.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard friends and acquaintances say something like, “I’m off to seminary in the fall,” or, “I’m thinking about the ministry.”

Well, where are you? I want to be your Director of Worship. Ryan wants to be your advocate for social justice. Stevick wants to eat your Charcoal Ham with a green salad grown in the garden behind a building where we’ll meet once a week for a time that our parents called ‘church,’ but has for too long been an abstract concept, something we would call a dream come true.  

Waiting, Always,
a sleeper

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Going to Sleep

[will be away from you, my blessed curse of the internet connection, for a few days]

[will be painting houses, breathing chemicals, inducing tendonitis]

[this being the only way to make money of late]


[see you/me soon, same swirling time, same invisible place]

[night night]

-a sleeper

Monday, July 26, 2010

Letter to an Invisible Church: No. 6

Dear Church of the Holy Abstraction:

A quote:
It is possible that all architectures, everywhere, are tangent to one another. One leaves a building only to enter its neighbor. A continual entering and exiting. - "Eight Short Films About Architecture," G.C. Waldrep

By now, it is a common present-day Christian thing to say, "the church isn't a building; it's the people." Of course, they are right. Of course, they are wrong.

Obviously, the success of a community is based on those who commune, not the room in which they break bread and eat reduced fat Oreos. But, I can't forget about the architecture, because it is everywhere, and in fact, we are human architecture, cartilage spread over bone like a brick wall, skin sealing us off from the possible pain of air. We are buildings, and we are a stack of closed doors trying to open.

So, yes, there are home churches, and churches that meet in cinemas, attics, subways, mountaintops, anywhere, really, but still, we bring with us the fears that have been nailed to the beams and steeples of the churches we grow up in/around, despite the fact that the bucolic white church is still just a product of architectural vogue. 

The philosopher Michel Foucault discusses Jeremy Bentham's idea of the panopticon--a structure (in his most common example, a prison) with a tower in the middle of a circle of high-rise chambers. In each chamber, the prisoner/occupant has no choice but to view the phallic tower, and has no way of knowing whether a prison official is inside watching her/him. This, as Foucault says, creates a non-violent means of control that encourages self-discipline. 

The idea of something we can't see watching us. Not a stretch for you and me.

When I first studied the idea of the panopticon, I had thought that Foucault was criticizing Bentham's all-seeing eye, as it would surely make everyone crazy with the paranoia of who is/is not watching at any given moment. As I look back over it though, it seems he was suggesting it was a good idea, and that it could be used in schools and for mental patients--any mass of people that needs to be constantly controlled. 

The architecture of power, then, is the architecture of fear. In "Eight Short Films...", Waldrep says there is no word for the fear of architecture.

The idea of God in the Panopticon isn't as scary as the thought of your leaders, pastors, reverends, elders, bishops, deacons, etc. camping inside the eyeball, watching us learn to be controlled. We cannot speak to you when you are behind the Pan-pulpit, and therefore your lessons become a power play. We are the unruly mob, and you are the one getting inside our head. 

I want the architecture to change, and to expand, and I want you to get out of the panopticon and preach to an empty stage, so that you can know, like I do, a little bit about what it's like to talk to yourself. Then, we can experience the blessing of leaving this building together and visiting a neighbor's building, and another, and, hopefully, the visitation will never stop.

Waiting, Always,
a sleeper