Formerly Famous

A while back I was walking into the public library, and I nearly ran into a baby stroller that was pulling away from the circulation desk. I begged pardon of the mother who was pushing the stroller–a tall, attractive woman whom I was supposed to know from somewhere. From the look on her face, I got the impression that she was trying to remember where she knew me from, too. I was just about to say, “Did you used to go to Covenant Presbyterian?” when Keith Urban walked up behind her, and I realized that the woman was Nicole Kidman.
Celebrity sightings are relatively common here in Nashville. My wife stood in line with George Jones at Bread and Company, a shi-shi bakery in Green Hills. That hurt my heart. I suppose The Possum has as much right to a buttered scone as anybody else, but he lost some street cred with me.

For my money, however, famous people aren’t nearly so interesting as people who used to be famous. There are plenty of those folks kicking around Nashville too. Today’s story–a rerun of a Rabbit Room piece–tells about an encounter I had with one of them. I changed his name, so don’t even try Googling him.Read More

On a Wedding

A few years back, some friends–Boris and Martha–asked me to give the charge at their wedding. Here’s part of what I said…
The old wedding ceremony from the Book of Common Prayer says that Christ “adorned and beautified” marriage “with his presence and first miracle that he wrought in Cana of Galilee.” You know that story. The wine had given out, so Jesus turned six big stone pots full of water into wine. A hundred gallons of wine.

When they served it out, the guests were astonished—not because Christ had turned water into wine (they didn’t know that), but because it was better than the wine the host had served first. The steward marveled, “But thou hast kept the good wine until now.”Read More

Susan O’Farrell’s Notebook

Note: This is another re-run from The Rabbit Room. This piece originally ran in that august website in February 2008.
Fifth grade wasn’t kind to Susan O’Farrell. No longer an undifferentiated mass of squirming humanity, our class at Miller Elementary began to sift itself into the social haves and have-nots, the in-crowd and everybody else. Susan O’Farrell, a plain and unremarkable girl, suddenly found herself on the outside of friendships she had never had reason to doubt.

And even I, oblivious as I was, became aware of the growing sadness that seemed to be the central fact of her life. The angles of her face got sharper, and the dark circles under her eyes got darker, giving the impression that she was sinking more deeply into herself. I was a nice boy, and I tried to be nice to Susan. I imagined myself one of the few rays of sunshine in this girl’s darkening existence.

Why, then, did I wrong her so unaccountably?Read More

Beautiful Someday

ugly duckling

ugly duckling

I love that moment in “The Ugly Duckling” when the poor, persecuted duckling, set upon on every side by ducks and hens and cats and henwives, sees a flock of swans:

“The duckling had never seen anything so beautiful. They were dazzlingly white with long waving necks. They were swans, and uttering a peculiar cry they spread out their magnificent broad wings and flew away from the cold regions to warner lands and open seas. They mounted so high, so very high, and the ugly little duckling became strangely uneasy. He circled round and round in the water like a wheel, craning his neck up into the air after them. Then he uttered a shriek so piercing and so strange that he was quite frightned by it himself. Oh, he could not forget those birds, those beautiful birds.”

Was there ever a better depiction of what it’s like to be a child? The duckling, so full of self-doubt, marvels and trembles at the thing he is destined to become. We know what he doesn’t know: he will be that beautiful someday.

Beautiful someday. The duckling’s great revelation is that he is himself a thing of wonder. He admired the swans, but it never occurred to him to aspire to swanhood. When he finally comes face to face with the swans, he assumes that they will kill him for his ugliness. Bowing his neck for the fatal blow, he sees his reflection in the water. And there he sees a swan.

It’s the divine comedy. Our wildest dreams turn out not to be wild enough. Our fondest hopes turn out to be pale beside the truth. And we long and ache for that which turns out to have been true all along.

Blogging, Frictionlessness, and Hell’s Housing Crisis

AR-102-0122

AR-102-0122

In The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis describes a housing crisis in hell. It’s not that houses are too hard to come by, but too easy. Don’t like the house you live in? Just imagine yourself a new one, and, poof, there it is.
It sounds like a dream come true, this world where material comfort isn’t constrained by the laws of physics or economics or the time-space continuum. If you can imagine a house, you can have a house. No contractor. No mortgage. No zoning hearings. Poof.

The problem is that the homeowners are never content with the homes they own. This is hell, after all. You quarrel with your neighbors, so you imagine yourself a new house, out in the suburbs where you can have a little more room for yourself. But that new house doesn’t make you happy either, so you move again, a little farther out. Even there in the exurbs, new neighbors arrive, disgruntled before they get moved in. You quarrel, you move… Lewis’s hell is forever expanding.

Friction and gravity and inertia–the physical facts of the universe–may be a drag, but I will say this for them: they make it hard to pursue every bad idea that crosses our minds, every self-indulgence that darkens the heart’s door.

The Internet reminds me in many ways of Lewis’s hell. It promises us a frictionless existence. It makes it so easy to put your ideas into action. Easy to buy stuff. Easy to say stuff. Just look at your email inbox. How many of those jokes and hoaxes and heart-warming (if not quite true) stories would you have gotten if the sender had to ask himself, “Is this really worth a 43-cent stamp and the trouble of finding an envelope?”

Which brings me to the matter at hand: blogging. Setting up a blog is only a little more difficult than imagining yourself a new house. I’ve accidentally set up about five just in the process of starting this one. There are no barriers, no friction, nobody to say, “That’s not good enough for public consumption.” None of that is bad in itself, but I’m a little daunted by the thought of having so little friction to slow the progress of a thought from the mind to the public domain.

Strange to say, but the ease of entry for a blogger is a big part of what has kept me from entering. I’ve been afraid that I would, like the failed tower-builders Jesus talked about, find it easy to start but impossible to continue. I started a blog, in fact, in 2006. When technical difficulties caused it to crash a month later, I was so relieved that I wasn’t able to make myself start back until now.

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