On Failing and Succeeding to Combobulate

I hope you all have been having a wonderful holiday season. As it comes to a close and we face the looming prospect of another go-around with the world, I have some thoughts I’d care to share. Per usual, they’re not the most coherent thing in the world but they’re thinks that I’ve thought.

My favorite Christmas movie is It’s a Wonderful Life. You may recall it is in my top 5 movies ever. Watching it on Christmas day, I was basically teary-eyed the whole time. One of my favorite things about it is this: it’s not about how one moment, or a thousand moments, can change your life–it’s about how a life can change a thousand others. In fact, it’s not even really about how it can, it’s about how it does. George Bailey is a pretty extraordinary character (though he’s plenty ordinary, too) but every life has an impact on countless others. Because that’s how we work. We’re inherently social. Even if you were abandoned in the woods as a baby and never encountered another human being, you still have effects on, for example, your mother and, through her, a variety of other people.

There is no wasted time because all time spent is time spent, if you catch my meaning. Anything that is done is a thing that is done. Even the decision not to decide is still a choice. We are always moving and doing and spending time, whether or no. And in all that moving and doing and spending, we are among others. It’s like that tale of the thread tied to everyone’s ankle connecting them to everyone they ever connect with, forever.

Anyway, what I’m trying to say is. Something. I’m not sure. So we’re going to abandon that and move on to story time instead, perhaps that will make things clearer (for the both of us).

My sister was planning on flying in from Genado, Arizona on Christmas Eve. Instead, there was a blizzard, the airport was closed, and she was stranded in Flagstaff. Naturally, we video called her and played Scattergories. The next morning, she walked two and a half miles through calf-deep snow to the train station where she caught a shuttle to Phoenix where she caught a flight to SeaTac where she was picked up to be driven about two hours to home. Upon her arrival, we had Christmas #3 with #4 to follow the next afternoon. With all the comings and goings of family and things, it was a bit hectic, as I’m sure many of your Christmases were.

With such things being such things–things. That’s what I feel about it. But at the same time, it is absolutely extraordinary that she was able to a) come despite a spate of cancellations and b) we were able to talk with her and play a board game while she was still in Arizona. I don’t understand the people who think technology has made us less social. Differently social, no doubt, but no less. Indeed, I think these technological means are critical to a young generation raised in an increasingly mobile and global world (at least, for middle-upper class Americans, but that’s another issue altogether). Of course while I’ve been very concerned to spend as much in-person time with her while I can, I’m so extremely appreciative of the time we spend together virtually.

As I said last week, Christmas is just a strange thing. That post mostly talked about the strangeness of the first Noël, if you will, and this week I’m struck by how strange it is still today, even outside of the religious sphere (if one could say such a thing). Coming home for Christmas, there is much competition for your time and it can be overwhelming. At the same time, though, there are a scattered (sometimes few) moments of complete and perfect combobulation. Many are familiar with the ill effects of discombobulation, but when you get the combobulation just right, sitting with your family, eating cookies, watching a movie, playing a game, just talking… there is nothing quite like it.

As I head into this new year, I will hold onto that feeling which I fear will be felt all too seldom in the months to come. None now know the next or the next or the next and for me, I’m feeling much more intimidated than excited for things new. However, knowing that combobulation can be achieved is perhaps enough to see me through periods of irksome discombobulation.

At any rate, I at least have some candy to last me a few weeks, if I scrimp.

I’ll see you on the other side of the closing of the year. I wish for you all the happiness that can be wished, not because I want your life to be easy but because I want your life to be joyful in the midst of discombobulation.

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Странное Рождество

Very important news:

After much, much, much ado, I have finally received my grades from Trinity. I passed!!!!!!

It would be inaccurate to say with flying colors, but colors hovering above the ground a bit is plenty good enough for me. I’d love to say that the saga is finally over, but graduation isn’t until the spring so I still haven’t technically ‘graduated’ even though I’ve earned the degree. Close enough.

So that’s an enormous weight off my chest. As much as I was expecting to pass, you never know until you know, you know? Anyway.

The cat pictures this week features Béégashii, the stray cat that my sister has partially adopted in Arizona. She claims that Béégashii (meaning Cow in Navajo) is basically the perfect cat and, having heard stories and video chatted with her, I’m inclined to agree. I hope you enjoy the very adorable Béégashii (pronounciation: BEG-uh-shee).

I have long had a great love of calligraphy and there are two phrases in particular that I would love to have done and framed and hung on my wall. These phrases have just stuck with me through the years, both from music, and I think a graphic representation would be the perfect way to combine their musical and artistic beauty. And I take no responsibility for these translations, just a little disclaimer.

The first, in Latin, would be in that great medieval, illuminated manuscript style.

Si iniquitates observaveris, Domine, quis sustinebit?

 If you mark our iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?

The second comes from a Slavonic hymn we sang while on tour in Russia (Slavonic is to Orthodoxy as Latin is to Catholicism). It would be written in the tradition of Slavonic calligraphy as seen painted on frescoes in Orthodox churches and inlaid in gold on icons. 

Странное Рождество видевше устранимся мира, ум на небеса приложим. 

Having witnessed a wondrous birth, let us withdraw from the world and turn our minds toward the heavens.

Which is to say, the title of this post (STRAN-no-yeh rozh-dyest-VO) means ‘wondrous birth,’ or alternatively, ‘strange Christmas.’ I’m honestly not certain which I prefer.

Christmas is a strange thing, to be sure, and wondrous beyond imagining. The people who had been walking in darkness saw a great light. God, who had always been with us, became with us. And that is a truly remarkable thing. It’s one thing to hear that the Lord of the universe cares about you, it’s another to hear that he both knows your struggles and knows what it’s actually like to struggle. I’ve said many times (and the internet has said many more times) that 2016 has been a tough year to be living in the world–and Jesus also lived in tough times. And there’s something wondrous about that.

I don’t know if you remember the post I wrote a while back about having a ‘strange dinner’ but it is sort of a similar thing. Things are strange when they aren’t normal. Duh, you say. But think of it like this: normal is an absolutely relative term, anything can be normal if enough people do it. Jesus’ birth is strange because, in the scheme of world religions, it’s absolutely not normal. Word became flesh, dwelt among us, was perfect, and sacrificed himself for our salvation. What an inexpressible wonder.

I do not believe that we are to withdraw from this world in the sense of quitting humanity because humanity is the worst (which it definitely, totally is). Rather, I think Christmas is a time for us to recall of very strange Christmas is, to withdraw from normalcy, to relish the wondrous and distinctly abnormal God-Who-Came-Near. Turn your mind tower the heavens because our help cometh thence. Turn your mind to the heavens because they are infinitely strange and infinitely better than this poor, broken earth.

Anyway. I wish you all a very merry Christmas. May you enjoy time together and time apart. May you be blessed and may you bless others. May you be still in heart and in eye.

Clear, what we need is here.

Wenceslas, Cold Feet, and Finding Blessing

As a quick follow-up to last week’s post, I just wanted you to know that it snowed again last Thursday night and with much more gusto. It was still not much for someone from, like, Chicago but I was plenty pleased! And it lasted much longer even though it started raining immediately after. Anyway, I like snow. On to new things for this week.

First, this cat picture because a cat laying on a cat is about as cat as you can get, I think.

Also, some of you may wish to listen to this song on repeat while reading the remainder of the post in order to achieve maximum enjoyment. Or at least, maximum Keegan empathy.

Some among you may know from experience that I have had Good King Wenceslas stuck in my head for, not an exaggeration, like eight years. Not just at Christmas–all the time. I get other songs stuck in my head and I’m not always singing it, but if I’m not thinking of anything in particular for a while, chances are it will start playing in the background of my mind and I will likely start humming it. Again I reassure you, this is not an exaggeration. People around me can confirm that I am always singing this song and have been for years.

Making matters worse (or maybe better, who knows) is that I only know really the first verse, and even struggle to remember all of that. I’ve looked all the lyrics  up many times, they just never seem to stick. But last year we sang it caroling with Choral Society and, at least to some extent, I learned more words. And, for the first time in quite a while, I could read the whole story of the carol right there and finally get what it was about. It’s sort of a strange song, as carols about medieval Czech saints are wont to be, but it’s nice, it’s catchy, and I do think there’s a point to it all.

Without going into the actual story of the saint Wenceslas, I’ll just give you a rundown of the tale told by the tune (because I’m not going to reproduce all the verses here, though I encourage you to look them up if you wish). So the king and a servant are hanging out, whatever, on the feast of St. Stephan. It’s cold and snowy outside and the king is shocked to spy a peasant going about his business in possibly a blizzard. Wenceslas calls to his servant who tells him that the peasant lives like three miles away up in the mountains. The king gets the servant to find some food and wine and they set out into the storm to feed the poor peasant and get him warmed up. The servant, though, is having a tough time because, you know, blizzard, and he’s like, “Sire, it’s dark and freezing and I’m gonna say we stop.” Then the king is like, “Nah, just step in my footprints and you’ll be right warm.” And that’s basically it, surprise, I guess Wenceslas is a saint because his footsteps were warm in the middle of a blizzard.

So. Reasons to write a blog post about it, other than to share my involuntary mania with you. Let me give you the last little bit and then I’ll explain. The song ends by saying,

Therefore, Christian men, be sure
Wealth or rank possessing
Ye, who now will bless the poor
Shall yourselves find blessing.

And now the title all comes together, yeah? That was the idea. Anyway.

So there’s this whole thing commonly (in my circles, at least) called the prosperity gospel which is basically the idea that being a good Christian automatically results in being healthy, wealthy, and wise. Needless to say, I do not believe this to be the case. Possibly it is what the lyricist of Good King Wenceslas had in mind. But perhaps not.

See here’s the thing, you may have heard it before. Doing good is good for you. Blessing the poor may not make you wealthy, but it can make you rich– in love, mercy, compassion… the milk of human kindness. Additionally, the poor can be defined in many ways. Certainly we should give to the physically poor, whether it be with food, housing, clothes, medical care, friendship, legal representation, common courtesy. But in the same way as there are many ways to give, there are many to give to: the poor in spirit, the poor in health, the poor in relationship, the poor in hope.

I’m rewatching all the Harry Potter movies (and will reread the books too) so you’ll forgive a little HP analogy. At the end of the first installment, you may recall, the Mirror of Erised grants the Sorcerer’s Stone (or Philosopher’s, if you prefer) to one who seeks it but does not wish to use it. When we give without expectation of receiving anything in return, we not only bless others, we ourselves find blessing.

The carol is not about the cold peasant, in fact. You’ll note that the song concludes without the king and page having actually reached the poor man. Instead, the song is about the journey (woo, we’re all about journeys here 😉 ). The story told by the carol is not one of doing good works, it’s about trying to do good works and getting cold feet. I’ve said it before and I’m sure I’ll say it again: doing good is hard. Often, it involves a great deal of discouragement, disappointment, and darkness. But, strangely enough, when we seek out opportunities to do good, even if they are confounded again and again, there is blessing in the warm footprints of those who have gone before.

If nothing else, Jesus. Because when all else fails (and all else will fail) he’ll keep your feet warm. He is the God With Us and that’s a big part of what he came for.

 

Cold as Snow

If you do not currently or have not ever lived in the Puget Sound lowlands, you may perhaps not understand the excitement with which I write to you: it snowed this week!

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Our backyard

Of course, because it is the way of things, the snow did not amount to much nor did it remain long. Nonetheless, I rejoice because I love snow and there is little joy quite like watching snow fall, even if it’s in huge, wet flakes that foretell the incipient return of rain. the morning was made even more delicious by the fact that I didn’t have to work so I could wake up lazily (at seven) and spectate without a cloud of weariness. Indeed, I basically glanced outside (after winning the battle to leave my warm bed), saw white, turned on my phone to take pictures, and ran outside in my bare feet.There are some things worth numb toes.

Regardless of the length of the snow’s stay, this event has helped me overcome, in part, the difficulties in feeling Christmasy mentioned in last week’s post.The snow also recalled to mind a wonderful carol from my childhood, but more on that at the end. Suffice to say, the snow was well enjoyed while it lasted and called attention to inner chills of perhaps greater import. Anyway, a brief feline interlude.

The cat picture this week is a little different….. because variety is the spice of life? Also because the British Museum is the single most incredible building I’ve ever had the privilege of spending a day inside.

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Cats deserve an afterlife too. Yes, there’s a mummified cat inside.

Many, many moons ago, I sang a song in choir called Child of Peace for our annual Christmas concert, Gift of Song. The third and final verse reads, in part, thusly:

Child of Peace who came so long ago!
Child of Love still with us here we know!
Let thy tears of passion freely flow,
Melting hearts within us cold as snow.

This world is certainly not at peace. This world certainly does not exhibit much love, it seems. This world is a world of snow, and not the fun holiday kind. Like, snow in January snow– nobody wants it because January isn’t a warm, cozy month full of Christmas decorations. The next world, I think, will only have December snow. But until then, we look to that Child who came so long ago and in so looking we are reminded that he is with us here, now. We not only wait for the surpassing peace of the world to come, we work it out now because the Prince of Peace is with us.

Let us, then, be melted.

Let us pray for peace, people everywhere.

Let us serve both the poor in body and the poor in spirit.

Let us remember that his law is Love and his gospel is Peace.

Goons and How Not to Be Them

I listen to Christmas music any time and every time, but in my book it becomes socially acceptable on Thanksgiving while cooking, though Black Friday is I guess the first real day of the season. So I hope yours is off to a lovely start. We’ve gotten and decorated trees at both houses and I’m ever so glad because yay Christmas trees. Also just yay Christmas in general.

Last year around this time, in the midst of my eight million Christmas song quotations (which I will not apologize for), I mentioned that great line from Muppet Christmas Carol that says, “It is the season of the spirit; the message, if we hear it, is make it last all year.” Aside from Muppet Christmas Carol being fabulous in a general way, this line is a key one. Allow me to take a moment to expound.

With everything that has gone on in the past few weeks (and eighteen months or whatever, you know of whom I speak), it seems a little trickier than usual to feel Christmasy. Everything that Christmas stands for (which is to say, everything that Jesus stands for) has been challenged. Not by a ‘war on Christmas,’ an silly idea with which I choose not engage at this present time, but by a war on common decency and human kindness that apparently has millions of ostensibly very religious supporters. Let’s not get started on that statement because  yes, other things and stuff and reasons; I get it, let’s just take it at face value for a second and move on.

So. Goons. I looked it up, because I try to be accurate when I write on here, and goon has two meanings, basically: a silly person and a thug. I would suggest a third meaning to apply in Bunny Foofoo’s case, referring to a squidgy monster of no consequence or something of that sort. But that’s beside the point. The point is this: don’t scoop up field mice and bop them on the head. If you’ve been systemically ignored and suppressed by the Good Fairy, that’s a shame. If the Good Fairy has lied to, offended, and ridiculed you, I’m sorry. But nothing about that justifies inflicting pain on the least of these. Indeed, imagine being one of the field mice whose entire existence seems to consist of being bopped on the head.

Wow, okay. Looking back at what I’ve written, it’s just really not what I wanted to write this week. It’s not a great December opener and, frankly, the Bunny Foofoo stuff is pretty out there even for me. I clearly don’t have myself together enough to say quite the right things yet. But at the same time, I don’t want to not say them because it’s difficult. I’m confident that at least one person will get what I mean (over what I say) and that’s enough for me. In fact, I know what I mean over what I say so I don’t really care if you do (though I do very much hope you do). Anyway. I’ll leave you with a final thought which is much more coherent and generally just better in every way. Plus, it has a call to action so my AP Lang teacher would be pleased. Okay. Here you go.

The other day, I did something I had never done before–at least not that I could call to mind. I hand-wrote letters to my three congresspeople (and was reminded that both of Washington’s senators are women, yay Washington). 10/10 can recommend writing, respectfully, to your representatives at any and all levels–plus you know how much I like telling you to write letters.

Now, I have a generally positive opinion of my three Congresspeople and their records so the letters were mostly thanking them and highlighting some issues that are important to me (environmental protection/renewable energy, education, and marriage equality/LGBT non-discrimination). The gist was basically aiming to encourage them in what will almost certainly be a very difficult four years to be in Congress. I concluded each letter with a particular sentence and I would like to conclude this post with it too, not because we’re perfect but because we can aspire to form a more perfect union, whether in government or otherwise.

Please continue to be tireless in your defense of the defenseless, neither relinquishing your values nor fearing compromise.