Tuesday, February 28, 2006

I've got a couple of blog posts I could make, but I should probably let you (whoever "you" are) about the Viennese Ball before it gets stale. I have found that Viennese is a lot like scuba diving: the key to having fun is to never be in a hurry. If you're rushing around worrying that you haven't danced enough or haven't seen enough people or haven't seen enough performances, you're not going to have fun. There's too much friction for that. If you're bent on maximizing your dance time, you'll run afoul of the endless performances, band breaks, and contests as well as all the people you haven't seen in ages and with whom you must catch up, and if you leave your partner ever it will be ages before you can find her again. If you're bent on catching all the performances you won't really get to dance and you'll be enslaved to the schedule. If you're bent on seeing all the people you haven't seen in ages you'll miss both performances and dancing. Just take it easy, float along, and look at all the pretty fish. That's the way to do it.

Since that's what Chariessa and I did, I had a fabulous time. I like dancing with her: she gets the difference between giving weight and helping her partner get around (related, but by no means the same thing!), as well as the difference between pulling her weight and pulling half of our weight. She's also a good date, and we had fun and lots of good dances. I also had the most fantabulous tandem redowa with Gwendolyn (formerly Wendy) to ... I think it was "Breakaway." Omni\\shadow redowa is probably easier, because it has more of a frame, but I have decided that I like tandem redowa better because it feels more like flying, and Gwen's a great partner for it. The trick seems to be that the follow needs to push her (or his) velocity when going forward, or the connection falls apart. We had a great connection on this particular dance, and we also got to shoot some fantastic rapids. I like flashy variations as much as the next guy, but navigation remains my favorite figure of all time.

I also managed to gracefully bow out of the waltz competition, which was a relief. The waltz competition is my least favorite part of Viennese. This is because whenever I think about it I feel like I'm better than the last X couples who won and I should have won instead of them, whereas in fact I've never even gotten to the finals. Leaving aside the question of whether I actually am better than the last X couples who won (and really, who's to say that I am?), the very thought of comparing myself to them in that way makes me deeply uncomfortable. Now, I enjoy having people look at me when I dance, but that's more along the lines of wanting to share my delight in the dance. I can't say why other people enter the waltz competition, but I want to win a waltz competition so everybody will acknowledge how good I am, and I emphatically do not want to become that kind of dancer. If people think I'm good, that's fine. If people enjoy watching me dance, that's great. But I don't want to give place to the small, petulant part of me that wants to prove myself as a dancer, that wants accolades. No sir. I don't need to be that kind of person. So I'm glad there was a graceful way out of the competition, since as it happened there was no graceful way to avoid getting into it in the first place.

One of the things I like about Viennese is that it fits very well with my sense of what dancing is. Dancing is, as it were, an entry into Narnia, but especially when I am dressed up for it. When I put on my tailcoat, I hold my head high and my back straightens. I walk not quickly but with assurance. When I ask a lady to dance, or when I bow to her, I mean it. It's an honest question, and an honest courtesy. When I am armed in tails, I can more easily believe God when he says, "You are my son, and the one true king." And what is more, I can (I hope) more easily act like it. Graciousness, assurance, charity, gravity, and gaity - I assume these things when I put on my tails. And I get the sense that most people at Viennese feel something of that as well. It's a good celebration.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

These days even more than ever I get the core social elements (fellowship, teaching, and worship) of my Christian walk from a variety of sources. There's fellowship (by which I mean RUF), and Bible study, and more Bible study, and church, and friends, and family ... and not only that, but the elements themselves are split up as well.

Take worship, for example. The kind of worship that is teaching - that is pulsing deep truths right into your bones - that I can get either at church or at RUF. The kind of worship that is like roaring - that I can get at church or at RUF. But there is another kind of worship that I find fellowships are ill-suited to, and that I have been missing lately.

This is worship that isn't just roaring or declarative - not just triumphant. It's sweet. It can be hard and fast, or slow and tender, and it's not so much about teaching truth as savoring it. The kind of worship that doesn't just dwell on truth, but dwells also on the goodness of that truth. The kind of worship that feeds your spirit in its war against the flesh by strengthening your true self's affection for God. The kind of worship that shatters you before the Lord and doesn't just draw you but seizes you to repentance. This is worship like sex. Okay, so I've never had sex, but I'm 100% sure the analogy holds. Let me put in terms of something I have experienced: this is worship like kissing - the kind of kissing that crushes your beloved into your arms and covers her mouth with yours and is like drinking of her entire person as if she were the first and last spring on Earth.

Growing up at The Church on the Way and being the child of Jack Hayford and Scott Bauer, I am convinced that Scripture teaches the necessity of this kind of worship for spiritual vitality and spiritual victory, both corporately and individually. If I have never found it in an on-campus fellowship, that's no slight to them. I think it is best found in a church. This is, in fact, the single biggest factor that drew me initially to The River. Lately it has been missing. But you know what? We've finally hired a full-time worship pastor, and ... well, man. You should have been there today.

My church is back.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Peter Pan is a very deep movie. It contains what I believe are the most horrifying words I have ever heard spoken by a woman. Peter and Wendy are fighting:

Wendy (angry, shouting): Sir, you are both ungallant and deficient!
Peter (arrogant): How am I deficient?
Wendy (whispering, in sudden realization): You're just a boy.

Watch the movie; this exchange is simply awful (not artistically; artistically I adore it). Of course, the ways in which Peter is just a boy are myriad - he is Peter Pan, after all. But the immediate way in which Wendy means what she says is that he is afraid. She is calling him a coward.

I saw The Vagina Monologues tonight, and their 2006 spotlight is on the case of Japanese comfort women in World War II (I hope that your WWII education covered this, but in case it didn't, the Japanese military abducted or deceived a great many young women for servicemen to use as sex slaves during that war). They had a new monologue about the experience of those women.

If you know me well, it will come as no surprise that that monologue made me think of the servicemen's experience. What had they gone through to precipitate their participation in the serial rape of these women? How did they feel about it now? Were there any heroes among them who had done what they could for these abducted girls? How many of them had a moment of clarity where they recognized the barbarity, the utter smallness of what they were doing, and were driven by other horrors into doing it anyway?

I don't mean to excuse the institution, or the actions of those who participated in it. I do mean to call attention to two facts. The first is that the evils of rape go both ways. It is horrible to be raped. It is also horrible to rape someone. I should not wish either experience on my worst enemy.

The second is that this monologue made me think of something which I have wrestled with for at least a decade now: that people get hurt when men give in to fear. More simply put: cowards kill people. Each of the men who drove their Arrows into those women (thanks for the book, Blue Rose) had their own story. Like as not their psyches were battered by their own horror stories of the awesome calamity that was the Second World War. I expect that many of them, deep down, were driven to these proferred women for the animal comforts of sex and control.

I can sympathize with such a story (even feel sorry for the men in it) but it is ultimately a boy's story, ungallant and deficient. A man does not face his fears and rape an abductee. He faces them and overcomes them by grace through faith.

This basic maxim, that cowards kill people, is the reason that Alanna is one of my literary goddesses. It is the reason that Keladry became one, later on. Anybody willing to be halfway honest with himself can see that the world is full of girls seriously wounded (or being wounded) by the cowardice of one or more men. Men and knights (a knight is not a man, but I think a man will be a knight in all the ways that count) don't do that. As Tortallan knights are instructed: You will be sworn to protect those weaker than you. To wear the shield of a knight is an important thing. It means you may not ignore a cry for help. It means that rich and poor, young and old, male and female may look to you for rescue, and you cannot deny them. You may not look away from wrongdoing. The world is full of males ungallant and deficient, mere boys who never grew up into the Narnian kings they were meant to be. And God help me, I'm one of them.

This is why I say that this maxim has dogged me ever since I first apprehended it. So far as it goes, I think it is merely a statement of truth: cowards kill people. Cowardice (being ruled by fear) pertains to death. Courage (acting despite fear) pertains to life. God has not given us a spirit of fear, etc. But he has not just given us the Spirit of power and love and sophrosune. He has given us the Spirit of Life Himself. So far, so good. But what am I to make of the fact that cowardice pertains to death? The obvious answer is that I must be brave. I might even instruct myself as Alanna was instructed: You have learned the laws of Chivalry. Keep them in your heart. Use them as your guides when things are their darkest. They will not fail you if you interpret them with humanity and kindness.

I have made that mistake often enough to be utterly convinced it is a mistake. For one thing, it's acting out of fear - fear of cowardice, but fear nonetheless. But more importantly, I cannot make myself courageous by act of will or moral effort. Anybody who has tried to be courageous will know the truth of this, and the greatest of the historical knights testify (I know, I just read one of them) that both courage and chivalry come alone by the grace of God. If I cannot be courageous by trying, what then? What is there but to admit that I am ungallant and deficient, and just admit that I'm going to kill people?

I think the answer is that courage - indeed, manhood itself - comes only by grace through faith. Isaiah 35:4-6 says,

Say to those who are fearful-hearted,
"Be strong, do not fear!
Behold, your God will come with vengeance,
With the recompense of God;
He will come and save you."
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
And the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped.
Then the lame shall leap like a deer,
And the tongue of the dumb sing.

Then, boys will be men.