Saturday, December 17, 2011

Collin reads actual literature

The lovely Carol is pursuing a Master of Fine Arts degree in—no, not computer programming or mathematics (the latter especially being a very Fine Art)—Creative Writing. Consequently, new books appear on our shelves and in our travel bags. One of these books, a short story collection by Andre Dubus, caught my attention (actually, the lovely Carol may have asked my opinion about one of the stories) and WOW! I read every one of them.

Todd Field wrote the preface to this collection, named after his 2001 film In the Bedroom, which was based upon Dubus’s story Killings. Field’s title does not mean what you think; according to this wikipedia article, the rear compartment of a lobster trap is called the "bedroom," and if two males and one female are together in it, one male will kill the other. Killings, the first story in the collection, is superbly crafted, the story of a moral failure following a tragedy I hope never to experience; if it happens, I pray I have the strength to do what Jesus would have me do.

Yet the story drew me in, and convinced me of how a man might murder his son's killer and feel the inevitability of his own crime, and paradoxically also remorse.

Dubus’s writing is accessible; if literature must be abstruse, opaque, ponderous, difficult, painful reading, then this isn't it. But these stories are filled with deep insights expressed in beautiful language. Here's Dubus in Rose:

Rose and Jim... could not see a single act of renunciation or affirmation of a belief, a way of life. No. They had neither a religion nor a philosophy; like most people I know, their philosophies were simply their accumulated reactions to their daily circumstances, their lives as they lived them from one hour to the next. They were not driven, guided, by either passionate belief or strong resolve. And for that I pity them both, as I pity the others who move through life like scraps of paper in the wind.
Rose, from In the Bedroom, Andre Dubus
(Vintage Contemporaries, 2002), p. 65
Rose is also a tragedy. I do not like tragedies, but the insight Dubus brings to the tale makes it a gem—no, an X-ray, exposing the human condition with its faults: living without thought, without courage, without taking responsibility for our careless words and actions. There is an awakening and a repentance and a victory, and perhaps it isn't really a tragedy after all.

So what do I find so captivating? Besides the beauty of the language—the expertise he brings to the craft—is the deep thought behind the insight evident in these stories. Field writes in the preface that Dubus desired from a young age “to understand how my two sisters had to live in the world compared with the way I had to live as a boy.” (op. cit., page x)

The other thing is that I have come late in life to an understanding that just as "A gallon of good California red in the kitchen closet will do more for your cooking than all the books in the world" (The Supper of the Lamb, p.33) so this book of short stories will do more for a person's soul than all the math and computer science books in the world.

And there is the pleasure, particularly in the last story of the collection, titled All the Time in the World:

"I want a home with love in it, with a woman and children."

"My God," she said, and smiled, nearly laughing, her hands moving up from the table. "I don't think I've ever heard those words from the mouth of a man."

"I love the way you talk with your hands." (146)

and near the end of that story:
And this time love was taking her into pain, yes, quarrels and loneliness and burning rage; but this time there was no time, and love was taking her as far as she would go, as long as she would live, taking her strongly and bravely with this Ted Briggs holding his pretty cane; this man who was frightened by what had happened to him but was not frightened by the madness she knew he was feeling now. (148)
Why that story in particular? I guess I'm a sucker for a feel-good story, and as the father of daughters it pleases me to read about a young woman discovering the truth about herself (on p. 142 I read that "[s]he wanted love, but she did not want her search for it to begin in someone’s bed.") and then taking a step toward the life she actually does want.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Keller talks on marriage at Google

It's at

Here are my unsanitized incomplete distracted inaccurate [etc] notes.

Preface: Presenting Christian views of marriage. Some of you think, "That's partisan." Well, whatever your view, it's partisan; it's religious or quasi-religious; it's not scientific.

Essence of marriage

You've heard it said, "I love you, why do I need a piece of paper to tell me I love you?" "Marriage is just a piece of paper" but what does the piece of paper do? What does the covenant relationship do?
  1. Adds security. There are two types of relationships:
    • consumer-type relationship. You buy stuff at the store, that's great, but if you find another store that provides same stuff at better prices, you'll go there, because your needs are much more important than your relationship with the grocer or whoever.
    • covenant relationship. If your kid cries and is selfish and bratty, you have responsibility; you can't just dump him somewhere with "you're not meeting my needs."
    If you're "dating" and not married, you don't have a covenant, you're in a consumer-type relationship where the other person could just leave at any time. So you have to continuously sell yourself; you can't just be yourself; the covenant creates the security within which you can be vulnerable and honest.
  2. Adds stability. 2/3 of "unhappy" marriages, if they stick it out, are happy 5 years later. What keeps you in there, through hard times, to something really great? Think Ulysses past the island of the sirens, tied to the mast.

    Auden, "Any marriage, happy or unhappy, is infinitely more interesting than any romance, however passionate" because it's the product of time and will, not just of fleeting emotion.

  3. It adds freedom. Kierkegaard: if you don't know the discipline of making a promise and sticking to it, you're not free; you're slave to your impulses, the moment, the circumstances, your feelings. Hannah Arin: without promises, no identity. Smedes, "when you make a promise you are most free."

"He loves me but doesn't want to marry me." Keller: "He probably means, ‘I don't love you enough to marry you, to lose my independence, to bind myself to you in a covenant relationship.’"

Mission of marriage

What's your marriage for? What do you hope to accomplish with it? To many people, it's passion and romance, maybe to combine your fortunes together to form a more comfortable life.

The Christian purpose is for deep character change through deep friendship. People want a compatible soul-mate... who will accept me the way I am and whom I can accept and appreciate just the way they are; someone who won't try to change me. If you want that, that's why you're not married yet. You want someone low-maintenance who won't change and won't try to change you. But no such person exists, and you're not that way either. You pose like someone who is, but you're not; you've got flaws. What might some flaws be?

  • fearful person with tendency to anxiety
  • proud person who tends to be selfish
  • inflexible person who tends to be demanding
  • undisciplined person who tends to be unreliable
  • perfectionistic person who tends to be too critical of others
  • impatient, irratible person who tends to hold grudges
  • a cowardly person who tends to twist the truth to look good
Everyone comes into marriage with these kinds of things. Your parents told you, your siblings told you, but you didn't really believe them. But you get married, and those issues that caused small problems now cause big problems. Marriage doesn't create flaws, it reveals them.

Hauerwas says, we assume there's someone out there who's just right for us, but this overlooks the fact that we always marry the wrong person.

Marriage is a huge thing and it changes us. So we change. Hence even if you could find someone compatible to marry, after you've been married awhile, they won't be any more! So what are the Christian responses to this?

  • First, not to be surprised, because the Christian view is we're all selfish. Think Kim Kardashian. Embrace the conflict.
  • Don't look for a finished statue, look for a great block of marble. You want to be in love with the person as they are, but you want to love the person they're becoming. Don't overdo what they look like, as that'll change. Don't focus too much on their character as it is today, but who they could become!
  • Look for someone who could be your best friend. Remember that great friendship doesn't come out of great sexual chemistry; it's other way around. The praise of the praiseworthy is its own reward.

    The feeling I got the first time I kissed her was shallow; it was all ego. It wasn't about her; I had no idea who she was. It was about me, the thrill that she liked me. Now it's like a deep river that makes no noise, vs a babbling brook one inch deep.

The secret of marriage

To be able to love your spouse for periods when you're getting very little back. They might be discouraged, sick, absorbed in their problems. Very important to keep on giving love. That takes a source of love from outside.

Seen this happen a lot of times: give to child, don't get much back, but you give and you sacrifice [etc] anyway for 18 years. These actions engender deep feelings of love. But your spouse -- if you don't love me the way I want, I won't love you the way you want, and at the end of 18 years, you love your kid, you don't love your spouse, and the marriage falls apart.

And it's your fault because what you did with your kid you didn't do with your spouse. "Love philanthropy." Financial philanthropy possible when you got a lotta money. Love philanthropy possible if you got a lotta love from God.

Christ loved us not because we were lovely but in order to make us lovely.


  • On finding a spouse, not just physical; what criteria? 4 or 5?

    First, someone who really understands you, maybe better than you know yourself. Who isn't surprised by your reactions. Second, someone you can already solve problems with -- had a serious conflict, solved it in a way satisfactory to both people.

    btw if your faith is important to you, then for somebody to "get" you they have to share your faith.

  • I think we have a great marriage, my husband would say I have a lot of flaws and am not making real good progress. How can I change? I think I'm trying but it's harder than I thought.

    If you agree on what needs to be changed, then 2/3 of your problem's over; you just need a coach. You might want to get a 3rd party involved. You need add'l fellowship.

  • Love analogy of truck exposing stress fractures in a bridge; kids are like a 2nd truck. Your perspective on that?

    You spend more time together but you're not talking with each other as much as talking through the kids. Probably not so much disagreements about children, but time. You might travel less, work fewer hours, to get time with family -- but time with my wife very specific.

    Mothers get a lot of their "skin hunger" addressed with kids and don't have as much desire for physical intimacy as husbands have. Husbands' desire is less complex.

  • Criteria... sounds like it could take a long time to be sure about that.

    If you go to a film, have dinner, that's maybe an hour of conversation; doesn't have to take a whole lotta time.
    At other end, you describe the case of both spouses withdrawing, and it's been going on 18-20 years, what do you do?

    Too general a case. There are grounds for divorce so I don't know that you absolutely can work it out. Intervention.

  • About attraction -- ego rush vs real love?

    Ego rush is inevitably there. If the main thing that attracts you is physical (women disproportionately look at height and economics; men likewise disproportionatelylook at body and face)... you need something more.

  • Role of dating? Dating vs engagement etc?

    Nothing in Bible about dating. Lots about marriage in the Bible. All I can tell you is, get a picture of marriage and let that affect dating. As you get older, probably you shouldn't be dating if in your view there's no way you could get married to that person.

  • Advice for an engaged couple? Not premarital counseling.

    The book is basically about that. So don't get discouraged in the short term. The basic cancer is self-centeredness. It's not "I've got into conflict w/spouse; marriage has brought me into conflict with my self-centeredness." Mission of marriage: become best friends and figure out how that happens. Look at sex as a covenant renewal ceremony, or covenant cement.

    Sex outside marriage is no preparation for sex within marriage. They're completely different.

  • What you've said about marriage, most of that would apply to gay marriage. What role in society?

    Christian view of marriage is that it's between a man and a woman, because primary mission connected with bringing together people of diametrically opposed genders. We clash and mesh. It's intrinsic to the Christian idea of marriage. My wife teaches me things that I could not learn from another man.