A (relatively short) meander in two and a half parts that have (mostly) nothing to do with literature. Sorry for the downer after Ed’s lively and entertaining piece; it’s all I have today.
In Ephesians 2:19 we read:
19. Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God;
20. And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone;
21. In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord:
22. In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.
I’ve always felt vaguely guilty about this passage because I still regularly feel like a stranger and often times a foreigner—or at least an outsider—in so many ways when I meet with my fellowcitizens of the saints and the household of God, both online and in person.
It’s a hazard of any group, whether social, political, cultural, academic, or religious. We tend to share a significant set of common interests that provide us a strong affinity that overcomes the things that separate us. But with time and familiarity those differences become more evident, and the sense of dissonance more acute as we bump up against more and more of those areas where we are not fitly framed or builded together.
It shouldn’t matter. The things that bind us are clearly stronger than the things that differentiate us. And most of the time they seem trivial or irrelevant. But once in a while the rubs seems impossible to avoid, and in unguarded moments our collisions of lesser beliefs especially bothersome.
We saw a fine example of that in our corner of the blogosphere with the discussion around Annette’s post last week. Despite our unity in appreciating Mormon literature (in its many, many forms and expressions), our methods of interpretation and fundamental viewpoints turned out to be sufficiently different to expose some very sensitive concerns.
I couldn’t think of anything to add to that conversation because I felt affinity to all sides. I think it is a shame when people are unwilling to seek new or different experience, because I think there are many things worth knowing that can only be understood if we reach beyond our safe places. I also feel the frustration of being snubbed by academia (and by fandom) and judged as unworthy because of my literary or aesthetic tastes.
It can be very lonely at times inside this big, wonderful tent. Despite all the noise and fanfare and moments of deep intimacy and connection, there are an awful lot of moments when that same fanfare serves to separate rather than integrate. It might well be that we are perceiving inaccurately (see a previous entry from January 25th on Perception of the Sacred), but that doesn’t make the experience less frustrating or alienating.
Fortunately, we believe in both continuous improvement and repentance, so the hope remains. I look forward to the day when loneliness is banished altogether and I can truly perceive perfect unity.
I have a USB VCR that I’ve been using to make digital captures of old video tapes (my regular VCR is dead, and they’re getting really expensive to replace these days). The system captures the video in real time, so I get to watch them on my computer screen as they’re digitized.
Two films in particular stuck out—Dumbo and Beauty and the Beast. I know I’m supposed to view both as the triumph of the outcast as they find their connection to mainstream society, but both left me feeling vaguely empty for essentially different reasons.
Dumbo ends up being accepted only because of an exceptional (and accidental) talent—not for any inherent value in himself. He had to bribe his way into acceptance, and there’s no reason to believe he (or his mother) will continue to be accepted when he finally grows into those ears. He didn’t solve the problem; he just bought a few years of peace.
The Beast had nearly the opposite problem—his curse required a completely external (and thus uncontrollable) validation before he could earn freedom. It wasn’t enough that he become honestly and truly loveable; he also had to be loved by someone else. No act of his own could break the curse.
I suppose that one uses a more Christian image—after all that he could do the Beast still required an external savior. But the curse still seems unusually and disproportionately cruel in that it demanded a confluence of events completely beyond the realm of repentance or change of heart, and his savior was a fallable human. Beast might have been perfect in every way and still not be saved. Nearly as bad, he might be a fully changed and worthy man who then spends year after year in deepest loneliness to no purpose.
I think I understand something of Dumbo’s lament. It’s not all that hard to feel alone despite the massive size of the tent, the density of the crowd, prior witnesses of the spirit, or the joyful noise pressing from all sides. One of the things I think literature can offer—especially the more emotionally difficult stuff—is a lifeline not only to those seeking the tent, but also those feeling deeply lost and alone within it.Just as importantly, it can teach some of us to look a little more closely and see those sitting alone around the edges of the room so we can know to explicitly invite them in.
Not as the only true literary genre, but as one part of a broad and diverse literature that both comforts and stretches our hearts and minds.