Thursday, June 25, 2009

Open Letter to Sam and Andy

“We must play. But our merriment must be that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.”

-from C.S. Lewis' "The Weight of Glory"

It is that time of the year when I need to start thinking about new recruits for next year and how to position leaders to take over for you and the graduating seniors. This is all quite an enormous shift for me at this point after spending the first half of the semester preparing for and then pulling together all the pieces of our chapel recording. I wear many hats. Head coach, big brother, shepherd, intercessor. I get busy, fatigued. I grow reclusive, the classic introvert who needs to hide from everyone in order to gather myself back together. No matter, I continue to think about you two—how you are and who you are and who you are becoming.

Don’t be surprised by who you are becoming, but prepare yourself for surprise. You have no idea where you will be in five years. The setting, the major and minor characters, the details of the plot and the themes will morph, fold and expand, twist, turn and ripen; but the thread of your being, the essence of who you are will remain. That essential being is the goodness of you that has and will always remain in Christ.

In the musical Man From La Mancha, Dulcinea is Don Quixote’s beatific vision. Her real name is Aldonza, a destitute, failing lady of the night. As Don Quixote continues to romance her with a new and beautiful name, she begins to re-imagine herself through his eyes as a princess, something more splendid than she could have imagined herself before.

I’ve wanted to be Don Quixote in some way for you. I’ve wanted you to be Don Quixote for each other. I’ve wanted your time at Hope College to be an experience of looking and seeing each other, this ministry, this campus, your text books, exams and papers, the music, the instruments, the art, the world—all—“back to grace.”

Indeed, where will you be in ten years? Who will be your people? What will you be doing with your hands? What name will you answer to? True one? Hopeful one? Blessed one? Promised one? Healing one? The seeds of your tree, your roots and trunk are here before me, and what I see is tov, very good.

Both of you are sequoias and I pray you will plant sequoias too. Mind your time. Resist panic. Restlessness is like the night. Your morning will come. It will come on its own without your straining.

Beware of what is quixotic, but don’t believe for one minute that this is not a fairy tale. Once you’ve found Buddah, kill him, and so it should be with Don Quixote. If you try to live in a fairy tale, you’ll most likely end up having yourself a tragedy. You must yield and after surrendering you’ll look back and realize that all is well, all is well and all manner of things are well.

Much of what I’m trying to say comes down to music. Remember that music is not only an ethereal form. It’s arguably the most physical. It is both beat and melody, dirt and wind, and so are you. Make sure you do not neglect the record store. This is not a logical fallacy: once you start downloading music, it’ll all start evaporating. I wish I had the nerve to get into vinyl. It makes sense. I played that Stan Getz record before I bought it for Tryg. The stereo had a single speaker hanging crooked by a single nail. What an event! I was at a store that let me pull out a record and drop the needle. No one worried that my hand might slip. The store allowed me to freely take in that which a record can give. We need to touch music, to feel the static from the record raise the hair on the back of our arms. We need to turn the album around, to read the liner notes and study the artwork. We need to smell the cardboard, judge the balance of the needle arm and to feel it slide into the record’s grooves. We’ve lost the imprint of a record. We’ve lost the oscillating hiss and we’ve lost a world.

Buy used CDs unless of course it is a favorite that you can’t wait for. Buying used CDs not only saves money, but it helps you avoid the illusion that only the newest is the best. Try to collect all of the CDs put out by a few bands. Buy even the discs that don’t get critical praise. Listen to those CDs at least three or four times. Try to imagine why that music excited that artist and how it connects to their later work.

Buy your books used too. Take good care of your CD cases and liner notes, but get coffee stains, Gatorade, grease, dirt and even blood on your books. You’ve got to find a few books that you will read at least three times in the next four or five years. Let them be a security blanket that you pull apart to the nubbins both literally and figuratively. They should be capable of helping you fend off the loneliness and angst of being in your twenties. They will help you realize that restlessness is universal and it is overrated.

Please continue to make things with your hands: picture frames, bookcases, cards, lanterns, sushi, matzo balls. If you run out of time and energy to do things with your hands, you are most likely too busy. Learn how to say “no” to even the best of people and events otherwise you’ll find yourself sitting down with a friend at a coffee shop and you will not be able to taste him or her and you won’t be able to taste the coffee either. Everything will become a nuisance. All beer will be skunky. All wine corked. The necessary patience will require you to trust yourself and others. Trust that not only will they invite you again, but especially trust that you are worth being invited again.

That being said, there will be a few seasons to burn at both ends. Count the cost and make sure you are done burning like this by the time you are in your thirties. Your restlessness can inspire a kind of hard work that you may never again duplicate. These seasons will give you a sufficient bump forward and will provide you with much to reflect on during your thirties. Make sure that you know how to hit the eject button during these seasons otherwise you will become your busyness, your self-importance, your self-power and you will miss the Sabbath and an opportunity let your story be narrated by the greatest, most cosmic story teller.

Most relationships will take much longer to develop than you could possibly imagine. You can be intentional about meeting people, but you have very little control over who will love you. And you can’t hold a grudge against those who don’t love you the way you’d like them to. You have to forgive them. If you can’t forgive those who don’t love you, then it will also be hard for you to forgive those who actually do love you. Everything is an opportunity for grace and a reminder that beggars can’t be choosers; and we are all beggars.

Keep risking on the local church. Keep at it. Believe in both the reality and the idea of the church. Go. Be the church to others and be a church yourself. Accept the loneliness of the notion that you are a church already and hope that many will come and find their place in your communion, birds nesting in the expanse of your branches. It will happen as sure as the snow will thaw here in West Michigan. It’s that kind of wintertime longing, and it will never go away this side of heaven.

I like our habit of toasting everything. Teach it to the others you love along the way. The toast is a thankfulness that gives weight to communion. At the least it is ceremony. And if it is true that we Westerners are adrift, our lack of ceremony and etiquette is surely a sign. Discover, recover, or even create rituals that will make our being together more regular and more accessible. Showing up is the start of all discipline. Show up then “dwell in the land. Do good and cultivate faithfulness,” and if you find that you must leave, “never leave any place easily.”

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