If you are following along in the Summer Read, it would be helpful if you’ve read through Chapter IV of Laputa in Gulliver’s Travels.
This week was slow for reading. Our schedule (and a couple nights of illness) didn’t allow for the same time in the story. That makes me sad. It happens, though. I’ll catch up with the kiddos tonight, and then we’ll be off for voyage #3. I hope you’ve been able to enjoy your time in Gulliver. I know our family has found reasons to smile throughout. Even our three-year-old asks for it by name (I’m not sure he knows what’s what, but that doesn’t stop him from asking for “Gover”).
Satire knows no rest. At least, not in the world of Lemuel Gulliver. A mere ten days after arriving home from two extraordinarily strange journeys, he is invited yet again to sail the seas. Two months later, he is adrift. If I’m being honest, though the first two voyages are perhaps the most well known, it is the final two which stand as my favorites. They are, in many ways, the most absurd. And yet, at the same time, they offer us an even larger mirror through which to view humanity – sometimes in particularly relevant ways.
The floating island of Laputa, unusual as it may be, doesn’t hold a candle to the natives in terms of absurdity. Two particular features scream with modern application… flappers and fancy.
Laputans are known to drift mid-conversation into a world of their own self-important imaginations. (We know nothing of such problems here in the sophistication of the 21st century!) What happens when an island is entirely inhabited by humans incapable of sustained focus on other humans?
Flappers, or Climenoles in the native Laputan tongue, follow the natives, carrying a pea-filled bladder strung from a stick which is used to flap people on the ears and mouth (and occasionally the eyes) in order to reset their span of attention and welcome their inflated minds back to earth. Swift is believed to be jabbing at London’s Royal Society, a learned group of scientists established sixty-six years prior to the publication of Gulliver which still exists today. While Swift may have had a target in mind, I think it’s safe to say his commentary extends comfortably into our modern context.
It would seem that these Laputans do have the capacity to dial in and focus… just not for another human. They are content to chase their own thought processes, their own calculations, their own discoveries. But along the way, it is the inclusion of another member of the species that requires an extra jolt. In other words, it is in relationship that they most desperately fail. In communication.
Think about the last person you met, for the first time for the last time. (Sorry, Spaceballs was on last week). What was their name? I am excessively guilty of this. I meet a person. I get their name. I immediately forget their name and go back to thinking about myself. What do I want to say next? How can I make this person like me? How can I get rid of this person? (Hint: forgetting their name helps) So often in conversation, my mind drifts to the next thing I’m going to say – and in the process I stop attending to the living, breathing human in front of me. This is probably why I need 2-5 quality interactions (preferably at my house, for some reason) before I remember anything of value.
Personally? I could use a flapper. How about you?
Another key feature of the Laputans is their apparent inability to bring their brilliant encounters in the clouds down to earth in any practical way. For example, they are renown for their mathematical prowess, yet they cannot use simple geometry to craft a shirt. The illustrated version pictures limp third sleeves, baggy proportions (and horrid colors?!). All the intellect in the skies over Balnibarbi is useless without practical application. Somehow, their servants are able to carve food into geometric shapes – a clearly useful skill – but they cannot properly clothe themselves.
This is probably something of an extension of the whole flapper business. But here I am convicted of a very basic principle… a killer reading list, a puffed-up noggin, and a top-notch vocabulary (anybody knock out the vocab assessment on facebook this week?) are useless if the knowledge attained never finds its way into practical application. At the same time, I would emphasize that I view this as no reason to avoid study, but rather as a clarion call to pursue studies that produce practical fruit in our lives.
As I write this, I am preparing for my summer run of camp preaching. I’ll be speaking 23x in 26 days. I am thankful that 19 of those occasions allow for me to overlap material, but there is still a ton of preparation involved, which means (for me) a boatload of reading. Regardless of my audience, I choose to challenge myself deeply in preparation. I will read biblical and systematic theologies, scholarly papers and books, commentaries and novels… to teach children. (for the first 10 messages, anyway!)
Now granted, I will never share 97% of what I read, but I’m always feeding the conversation inside my head in order to gain a better understanding. I chase knowledge to the exclusion of everything around me, at times beyond my own comprehension, just so I can stand in front of a group of kiddos and say “Jesus loves you” with an extra measure of confidence.
If I’m not careful, I pay closer attention to the conversation in my head than the one in my living room. If I’m not careful, I spend so much time reading that I forget to apply the most simple expression of truth to my own life. If I’m not careful, I confuse more than I instruct, failing to pass on the wisdom I’m called to impart.
This Laputan business is not stuck on another continent, in another century. This is my life.
I laugh at the flappers. I think about sending flappers to friends and family. But who needs the flappers more? Could it be *gasp* me?
I laugh at the thought of a three-armed shirt. But how often do I misapply the knowledge I am fed?
More and more, I’m thankful for the light Mr. Gulliver is shining!