Thursday, June 08, 2006

Looking for love in all the wrong places

I was talking to a young friend recently and found myself saying about a certain kind of sinful behavior -- "What they want is real and good, and I believe there's a real need at its core, but the way they're going about it is out of harmony with the cosmos."

The reason the sentence struck me is that it's not the first time I've said that to her, and the prior time had to do with a different sinful behavior. Am I, I wondered, a stuck record blandly repeating an all-purpose platitude, or do I really believe that many -- if not most -- of the sins people commit are broken and counterproductive attempts to acquire a real good in their lives.

I suppose, if sin is distributed in a bell curve, as most things are, you would find a few saints at one end, more and more giving themselves to God's way of doing things at the expense of their own. At the other, you would find approximately the same percentage doing things against God's way, again at the expense of their own ("He'd cut off his nose to spite his face" is the way they would summarize that where I grew up).

And in the middle, you find the nice, the comfortable, the go-along-to-get-along, and somewhere on the one downslope or the other of that curve, you would find the "looking for love in all the wrong places."

I don't have anything profound to say about that bell curve. On the one hand, enlightened self-interest can add to social civility. "You treat other people well, and they'll treat you well," is not the Golden Rule, but if it's practiced, there's less chaos than if it's not.

On the other hand, in the Gospels, Christ always seems to show a special love for the "looking for love in all the wrong places" folks. As in the case of the Samaritan Woman, he pointed out the dead ends where they were searching for what they needed and where to find what would be real and deep and lasting. He was also quite impatient with those who were pleased and comfortable with themselves for following the rules (which may be another example of looking for love in all the wrong places), even over against the ones who participated in making the chaos (for example, the Publican and the Pharisee).

I've never quite gotten my mind wrapped around the notion that in Orthodoxy, sin is not transgressing a law but "missing the mark." But that's the key to it, isn't it? "Looking for love in all the wrong places." Looking for release from pain in addiction, looking for affirmation in illicit love affairs, looking for spiritual reality in fortune-telling and spiritualism, looking for recognition and respect in power games. In all those cases -- and more, more, more -- there is something real and important and needful at the core of it, but those pursuits can't fill the need and instead make the need harder to fill and bring their own next level of chaos, disharmony, anti-cosmos, in a downward spiral.

Or that downward spiral can make plain how false and hopeless is the attempt to fill the need outside God's providence. Hitting bottom (the sooner the better) is the place of spiritual poverty at which we receive the Kingdom of Heaven. Knowing to give up the ineffective treatments of both the woman caught in adultery and her captors can bring us to that place of emptiness where God can fill us.

And of course in true Christ-like fashion, He turns the whole bell curve inside out and upside down. Even as we pray several times a day for "calm and ordered lives," He proclaims disgust for the comfortable, the go-along-to-get-along, the lukewarm and states a preference for the hot or the cold. It's a paradox, not a contradiction, but it leaves us, once again, on the high wire with nothing to depend on but God's own guidance. And that tiny umbrella that the wire-walkers carry.

And the last shall be first, and the first last.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Creepy Dr. Kildare

I used to watch the Dr. Kildare television show back in the '60s when heartthrob Richard Chamberlain used all the latest technology to save (or not) the winsome patients who came his way.

This 1940s radio episode has the same basic plot, but hindsight has the amazing power to turn melodrama to horror.

It seems that an old friend of Dr. Kildare's, a talented pianist, has become increasingly erratic. She can't play in public, although her father wanted her to be a concert pianist (think Shine without the upbeat ending). But she's also exhibiting signs of paranoid schizophrenia -- thinking her hands are locked into playing a certain piece, and that her husband is trying to kill her when he's not.

Young Dr. Kildare diagnoses her problem as obsessive-compulsive disorder with paranoid delusions and prescribes a prefrontal lobotomy.

And so this young doctor, who apparently isn't necessarily a specialist in anything, much less in brain surgery (or every episode would be about a lobotomy) does the surgery. The sound of the power saw only goes for about a half second, which was merciful.

Three days later her husband goes for a visit, and she's just fine. A couple of weeks later, she throws a big party and sits down to play a little Chopin for everybody and announces that her hands are free.

What a long way from Dr. Kildare to Nurse Ratched.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

New Onion Dome up

We're not as regular as we used to be, so to the handful of people who still check out new posts on this blog (thanks for that, I mean it), there's a new issue of the Onion Dome for June, featuring a classic tribute to Prof. Penguin, an Orthodox protest about the Da Vinci code and Duwamish County Orthodox favorites.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Why Justin loves the New York Times

I've been hanging out with a different group of people lately. Frequently imaginary.

When I was a kid, I had imaginary friends. My mom and her fellow parents discussed it and interpreted it as loneliness, because I was an only child. Little did they know that even when I was much older and not at all lonely, a fictional person would wake me up at 5 in the morning to tell me why he loved the New York Times.

His name is Justin Lieberman, and I've told his story nine times now without getting it quite right, but this time, it's the definitive tale. Right or wrong, as good as Seth or as lame as Brown, whether I sell it or podcast it, it will be finished.

That's still down the road a bit. I'm working on my treatment, from which I'll write my draft, and I'll give updates. But for now I'll tell you what Justin told me, which he may or may not tell anybody else in the course of his story. But since he's fictional and in the dystopian future, he won't have a chance to read this blog, so I'll tell you.
It was the New York Times. If I couldn’t be part of the Times, I couldn’t imagine being anything else.

Some of my earliest memories are of sitting on the floor in my parents’ apartment with the Times spread out all around me, the smell and texture of the ink gradually modifying the chemistry of my brain. I couldn’t even read yet, but I stared at the pictures until they resolved into dots and back to pictures again. I looked at the stories until they resolved into letters and back into stories again. My parents carried on happy and rancorous debates about subjects I couldn't understand, pointed at the graphics to back up their arguments, all the while hinting to me, whom they had forgotten sitting in the midst of their cast-off sections, that there was knowledge, mystery, power of information, community, a shared world, in those pages, if I only knew how to interpret them.

I was still a kid when the scandals hit -- the plagiarism, the cooked stories, the revoked Pulitzers. I was angry, and my friends looked at me as if I had lost my grip on reality, but the scandals couldn’t break the spell. By then I was reading, and the world my parents had pointed to had opened out to me -- the ponderous editorials, fashion glitz, emaciated models, a ream of book reviews every Sunday. Even more, there was a vast army of reporters going out into all the world to find out what was happening and what it all meant, and even then, even then, I knew I wanted to be one of them. The Times was the paper its enemies cited to prove they had done their homework. It arrived with the morning coffee of every head of state on the planet.

In middle school, I would cut class and take the subway to the Times Building to watch the shifts change. It seemed to me that if you were a reporter for the Times your footprints must glow on the pavement under ultraviolet light.

I didn’t give it up. It was pulled from my cold, dead fingers.