Yesterday marked a full month since I submitted my doctoral thesis project. In the past 30+ days, I have caught up on sleep, spent lots of time simply hanging out as a family, played lots of board games, watched all seven Star Wars movies, gone on a couple hikes, and started on my stack of post-dissertation leisurely reading. It’s been a delightful space to be in. Soon, I’ll need to give attention to preparing for my defense (later this spring), but for now, the space to breathe and play has been good.
What I’m Reading
Since January 1, I’ve worked my way through a couple books already and have a couple more on the go. (Check out my Goodreads feed for details.) I delighted in reading through Chris Hadfield’s You are Here. The perspective he offers in his pictures and his commentary offered a wonderful transition away from the necessarily narrow scope of a dissertation. Watterson’s Complete Collection of Calvin & Hobbes has been a delight as well, partly for the nostalgia – I remember reading several of those comic strips while delivering papers as a teenager – and partly as a recovery of humor, something not often considered appropriate within the academic genre.
As I’ve been reading, certain turnings of peculiar phrases have caught my attention. The one that has sat with me this week comes from Hugh Cook’s collection, Cracked Wheat and Other Stories. These ten stories come to life through the cultural friction experienced by first and second generation Dutch immigrants to Canada.
In the process of narrating “A Canadian Education,” the central character, Eddie, a young boy whose family recently arrived in the Fraser Valley, describes his father: “He had a rage to suppress chaos wherever he encountered it in God’s creation.” From Eddie’s perspective, his father’s rage extended to raking stones in a gravel road, so that the road itself might display the beauty of a flower bed.
And Now I’m Wondering
I wonder what it would be like to live with “a rage to suppress chaos.” It seems to me that such a rage demands a different spirituality, a different Christianity than is typically imagined. Perhaps, it’s the difference between renouncing and resisting sin.
Though we prefer contemporary euphemisms for sin – brokenness, disconnect, poor choices – there is general recognition that we have personal done things, which have contributed to a separation from God and from others. Even in the most watered down expressions, we recognize that have not lived as well as we could have. To renounce my sins, a phrase that turns up in baptismal litanies, expresses an admission of guilt and a desire to no longer live apart from God’s ways. In many ways, renouncing sin is a letting go of a former way of life. Typically, we are content to stop here. I admit that I have sinned and I receive God’s forgiveness of those sins. My conscience has been wiped clean and that is good enough.
It seems to me that a rage to suppress chaos calls for more than simply renouncing personal participation in sin. While renouncing sin is a good and important step to take, what if it’s only half the picture? What if another aspect is also called for in the process of taking on a new life in Jesus Christ?
Cook’s turn of phrase moves beyond a passive Christianity, toward one that actively engages the world around it, seeking to undo the chaos that has come about on account of sin. A “rage to suppress” involves some level of identifying sin and its attendant chaos and then deliberately choosing to resist it. As I envision it, such a rage need not be boisterous or proclamatory, but calls for a certain steadfast perseverance, being convinced both that sin is harmful, even deadly, wherever it occurs, and more importantly, that God is in process of making everything distorted by sin, and its attendant chaos, new again.
Like, Eddie’s father’s approach to the gravel road, resisting sin not only seeks to end the chaos, but does so with a vision and bent for cultivating a hitherto unseen and often unimagined beauty in its place. It is not enough to stop the potholes from forming or even to fill them in where they occur. Rather, a garden rake is also required in order to bring the gravel road’s beauty to the surface.
I realize its only one phrase in a short story – and it wasn’t even about the main character. But maybe that’s the beauty of Cook’s collection, even the passing characters have something to say. For now, I’m enjoying being provoked by this image of a Dutch man raking a gravel road. It’s not the whole story, but it’s a beautiful vision of how every part of God’s creation can be cultivated through a rage to suppress chaos.