The Man-Mountain: Gulliver #2

If you are following along in the Summer Read, this post was born of Chapters I-III of Gulliver’s Travels. If you happen to be reading the kiddos’ version, it would help if you’ve read through pg. 27. 

On Reading

Monday we sat down to read to the end of Chapter III. More accurately, I sat down to read aloud while my wife was painting the walls. It happens. We found ourselves laughing aloud for a few portions, offering a simple “Hmmm…” for others. Gulliver keeps you on your toes, and I’ve enjoyed the challenge of reading Swift’s extensive vocabulary out loud! The book is indeed challenging in that way. Swift demonstrates the unique gift of being able to place 18th century potty humor (Gulliver is not shy about his bathroom exploits) right next to stabbing, yet engaging, human commentary.

The nerd version features a number of footnotes that hint at the possible historical persons who show up in the various characters. Gulliver was a work of offense to Swift’s original audience, but I’ve quickly come to realize that the footnotes add nothing to the enjoyment of the story unless you are interested in finding out what they have to say. Is it helpful to know that Flimnap is “usually taken to represent Sir Robert Walpole, chancellor of the Exchequer and head of the Whig government from 1715-1717?” Maybe. But let’s be honest, if you don’t know, you’re not missing much. It’s a fun story.

 

On Time

Gulliver - 3I found the inventory of Gulliver’s pockets to be enjoyable. It is probably a comment on my own typical reading habits, but trying to decipher the contents of his clothing from the perspective of a man six inches tall, combined with the period in which the book was written proved to be a fun game! I found myself going back, after reading about the gunpowder demonstration, to realize that the pieces in his pockets were in fact pistols.

Most fascinating to me, though, was the pocket watch.

As I sat down to write this post, my son was watching intently over my shoulders – not because he cared to read dear ‘ol Dad’s words. He was watching the clock on my laptop. You see, 3:30 is snack time. He returned to my back three times in the ten minutes between 3:20 and 3:30. At 3:28, he was content to wait for the digital readout to change. Is it snack time yet? I’m sure by having a snack time at all, I am guilty of promoting this pattern, but it speaks to the Lilliputians viewpoint of time.

“And we conjecture it is either some unknown Animal, or the God that he worships: But we are more inclined to the latter Opinion, because he assured us… that he seldom did any thing without consulting it. He called it his Oracle, and said it pointed out the Time for every Action of his Life.”

The nearest reference (as I remember) to specific time in Lilliputian terms is the “fourth Day of the eighty ninth Moon of your Majesty’s auspicious reign.” They had apparently taken the time to record the length of their good fortune, but the notion of hourly tracking was unusual.

I’ve often heard it said that the obsession with linear time is an American trait. (For a rather lengthy article discussing the proposition, check this link. You will be redirected to Business Insider. Whether fact or no, the article addresses the idea.) From a biblical perspective, this is certainly true as well. For example, what day of the week was 9/11? Easy enough. What day of the week was the Last Supper? Scholarly folks are still arguing about that one. Today, we obsess over tracking every single minute of every single day – studying the trees. Other cultures, perhaps, pay more attention to the forest… or at least different trees!

As I’ve studied biblical Hebrew, one of the most fascinating differences is the treatment of linear time. Verbs in Hebrew do not retain, in and of themselves, a past/present/future voice. Rather they exist as perfect/imperfect with regard to completion. Linear timing is determined largely by context. If that notion confuses you, that’s OK. It confused me as well, at first. I’ve tried to learn from a non-linear expression of time the significance and spatial relationship of the event, rather than simply a timeline.

I am a time-tracker. I’ve not always been surrounded by time-trackers, though. This means I’ve spent unfortunate portions of my life waiting. Only in the current stage of living have I taken considerable time to pay less attention to the clock, or rather to be less controlled by it. Obviously, if I fail to show up to work or class on time, there are consequences. But while this may be true, it is all-too-easy to allow the clock to have a say in my mood or my view of others, or perhaps to dictate the actions of my day, including how I spend my time waiting.

I have been challenged over the past few years on how to strike a balance between honoring the time of others (particularly those who obsess over the clock more than I!), while also resisting the urge to watch the clock to the exclusion of the person or event in front of me. I’ve tried to “calculate” my day based on both time and the importance of the action. It’s not easy. A creature of habit, I am.

At the outset of this year, I spent considerable time (ironic?) considering how I would govern my time. I’ve never been able to maintain an accurate calendar for long, and I am no good with tech calendars. I prefer paper. I can’t help it. I came across a number of interesting resources, including one from Donald Miller called The StorylineWhile I did not adopt the planner as my day-to-day scheduling process, I found the premise to be fascinating, and I have visited the concepts from time to time. His aim is to combine time and significance to achieve productivity (and a hint of peace along the way). If nothing else, it’s an exercise in thinking differently about your time.

 

How much is the clock an Oracle for your life?

How do you react when the hours fail to follow the schedule?

How do you spend time waiting?

And what would the Lilliputians find in YOUR pockets?

 

There is another post coming today!

 

 

The Queue: The Great Divorce #1

Books capture me when they capture my experience. The first few pages of a book are often enough for me to know whether or not I care to continue. If an author speaks directly into my life, captures my imagination with something I understand, then my guard is down and I’m in for the ride. Lewis grabs me from the beginning.

I hate waiting in line. I would never choose to wait in line. This is why I jump back and forth as I approach check out counters and toll booths (my apologies to the shopping and driving communities). The brilliant image of the first chapter is that waiting in line is actually the best thing going for the writer. Every other aspect of his existence is bleak – not dark, yet nowhere near bright. Endless walking in a lifeless backdrop. The best thing going is this line. Miserable people surround, but they are the only people and so he waits.

 

“But for the little crowd at the bus stop, the whole town seemed to be empty. I think that was why I attached myself to the queue.” (the Writer)

 

An angry woman, the bitter man at her side. The scowling short man, the proud beefy man. The indifferent pair. The cheating man, the whiny woman. Hanging out in this line with these people was the option. I hate waiting in line. I even like people and I hate waiting in line.

Ah, but the bus driver is different. Full of light. Comfortable driving. A look of authority. Moves with purpose. The striking difference is that the writer seems to observe the difference with calm, while the bitter crowd growls. Even the driver himself notices something, swatting at the greasy steam in his face.

Then there’s the tousle-haired youth, also different, but a different different from the driver. He observes. He engages. But the youth is part of the queue. The writer is quickly annoyed, grabbing an excuse rather than read the youth’s stuff before the bus took off… into the air. Yes that happened.

In the preface (yes, you should absolutely read the preface), Lewis makes it clear that he is not trying to expound on the biblical realities of heaven & hell. Rather, he is presenting a story with a moral, creating a sequence with a sense of the reality we face. One quote in the preface stuck out to me.

 

“But what, you ask, of earth? Earth, I think, will not be found by anyone to be in the end a very distinct place. I think earth, if chosen instead of Heaven, will turn out to have been, all along, only a region in Hell: and earth, if put second to Heaven, to have been from the beginning a part of Heaven itself.”
(Lewis, Preface)

 

People in the first chapter seem to be caught in this very situation, inhabiting an “earth” that is, in fact, either a region of hell or the departure ground unto heaven. In our story, the queue exists. The bus exists. Few join the queue. Fewer persevere the queue. Most board the bus grudgingly.  Two slink to the back.

I once heard a preacher say that, for some, this life is as close to heaven as they’ll every taste. Amidst sin and brokenness, pain and sorrow, evil and death, “heaven” is but a temporary pleasure on the third rock from the sun. For others, this busted life is as close to hell as they’ll ever taste, for one day the old will pass away and only glory shall remain. Lewis takes the eternal reality and extends it into our current situation through the queue and this bus ride. His story takes off (literally) in the heart of this choice about eternity made from an earth that is either a region of hell or a slice of heaven.

Random Thinking

(No, this is probably not related. But if you follow me around long enough, you find that virtually everything and everyone I encounter has the potential to send my head somewhere)

I’ve had a long internal dialogue lately about the way that I view people. More often than not, I’m guilty of viewing people through a selfish lens – either as a project, a distraction, or as a means to an end. I believe we’re all guilty of this, it’s the nature of sin, but I’ve been more acutely aware of it in this most recent season of life. I’m grateful for the conviction, though conviction leads to change, and change is not always easy. As I read the writer’s thought process through the queue, I was challenged to think about the last few lines I endured. Do I remember any of the people who waited alongside me? Could I even describe them as “well” as the writer in the Divorce? Was I at all attentive to their needs?

I think about the writer’s encounter with the tousle-haired youth. When was the last time I met someone who wanted to talk when I wanted to be left alone? Or someone who wanted to show me something and I instinctively moved to my excuse without even giving them a chance? What holy compassion and generosity was I suppressing? Actually, as I type this I think of a man I met at the hospital last week. He was lost. His English was rough, but he and I were looking for the same place and so we were walking together. We shared the small talk about how easy it is to lose our compass in this maze of a medical facility. When we arrived, he started talking about his hair. He styled hair for a living, and he wanted me to see his work. There was a conversation there somewhere, but not for me. I smiled, I offered a brief compliment, but like the writer’s reading glasses, I searched for the fastest avenue out. He was another guy in the queue. Tuesday morning conviction.

Good fiction takes you places. Good fiction takes you where the author wants to go, but I also believe good fiction draws on reality and takes you places you never saw coming. I’d love to know where The Great Divorce takes you. Share a random thought if you’ve got one!

 

 

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