02 December 2007

Yin And Yang

Winter arrived this weekend, with a smorgasbord of snow and sleet and rain. Fortunately it was in that order so that by Sunday afternoon it was rain and I could shovel out. There was not all that much, but what we had was slushy by mid-afternoon and so it was heavy going. The forecasters tell us it will sharpen up tonight and freeze over, which is why I wanted to shovel as much as I could today.

The second half of the day was very concrete in that I also cooked dinner for the first time in many a day and got back to ironing shirts. Few things have the compressed satisfaction that is ironing a dress shirt. In about ten to fifteen minutes you can see a measurable result to your labor. Dinner takes somewhat more time, and shoveling snow yet more. But that’s what I think of when I mean concrete – an action that has a perceivable beginning, middle and end with a result you can touch.

Most of my work is abstract, by which I mean actions that have imprecise boundaries and outcomes. Take preaching. You might think this was concrete. An old saw tells of the seminary student who asks the professor what a sermon should be about.

“About God and about twenty minutes,” was the answer. And about as good an answer as you can fashion in six words.

And yet, when it’s over the task may be done but its outcome is uncertain. Today, for example, I had one of my better productions. All week long I pondered it, not finding a path until early Saturday morning. Then it fell into place within three hours. Not seamless, but above average I think.

It was one of those rare ones for me that had several citations in it. I used to spend hours looking for good quotes and essentially footnoting them. Mine is an intellectual sort of faith as you know. We learn that quotations from great minds are important to show we are not going off half cocked, but its real roots are in the discipline of biblical exposition our ancestors believed in. Even though the Bible is not the touchstone anymore, we still think touchstones are important.

Most of mine are not studded with quotes anymore. It was just too much work to read that hard, and for the mercenary purpose of harvesting pithy quotes. Ruined many a good book that way. This one though seemed to summon aphorisms easily. By the end, including the readings that set the thing up, I had referenced The Bible, Dickens, Melville, William James, John Kenneth Galbraith, Tertullian, Maya Angelou and Albert Camus. Surprised myself.

On paper it was really excellent. In the pulpit, not so much. No one went to sleep or complained, mind you, but my evaluation of it was not echoed by a majority of those who heard it.

You see what I mean by abstract now? The edges are ethereal, the effect unmeasurable, the value uncalculable. On the other hand a solid supper, clean sidewalks and crisp collars pay off very reliably. Ironies and paradoxes are the staff of life, at least the examined life. It was a good day.

You can read it yourself if you like. Drop a line and I'll send it along. Of course it will be different for you as well. context and all that. Tell me what you think.

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