Thursday, July 15, 2010

Carpe Diem

Dead Poets' Society came out one summer when I was in high school and captivated the minds of a generation . . . or at least of my compatriots in both youth group and at school. One of my guy friends resonated with one of the characters and one of my girl friends had an aunt or someone who lived in New Jersey or something and somehow vaguely knew some of the actors. My friend and I spent our entire senior year fantasizing about a trip to visit her in which she introduced us to those young gentlemen, but naturally no part of it ever happened. For my own part, I had to give a speech at the beginning of school that year, and I chose as my theme that of the movie: carpe diem--seize the day.

I don't really remember what I said, but I remember feeling very inspired and, as I went to a Christian school and was very intent on its being as Christian a school as possible (as if I had much to do with it), I tied the theme in with our faith. As I say, I really don't remember how I did this. And, as I implied in the last post, I don't know that I lived it out very well, as "spontaneous" and "Jenn" are not usually words that show up in the same sentence. Not this Jenn, anyway.

After my friend's comment the other week, though, I had to reassess whether "carping" the "diem" is truly a "Christian" approach to life. I think I decided I can still at least mostly agree with the sentiments behind the email; on the other hand, the way in which I perceive them is likely different from the way my friend does, and, if I am genuinely trying to walk in the steps of Jesus in some way, it probably should be.

So now I'm going to "explicate" that email I mentioned last time, with the Bible in mind. (The last time I explicated anything, it was for a literature class in college, so whoever wrote this email forward should feel really honoured at all the attention their writing is getting over here.)

Life is short.

Yes. It is. "As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more" (Psalm 103.14-15, NIV).

Break the rules.

I'm gonna go with yes, but probably not in the way the writer of the email meant. There are the 10 Commandments and the perceived traditional morals which are usually implied as being the rules that need to be broken in this sort of thing. But it seems to me that those are just convenient scapegoats for a fairly amoral society which wants an excuse not to take responsibility for decisions. There certainly are and have been societies or pockets of society where oppressive legalism is the, er, "rule" of the day, but I kind of feel like the "rules" in this society are about living completely for oneself and running roughshod over other people, ideals and beliefs that differ. So . . . I'm okay with breaking those rules. Yeah. Let's be counter-cultural. Let's actually think about the results of our actions and make decisions based on true, self-sacrificial love, and not self-love. "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law" (Gal. 5.22-23).

Forgive quickly.

I don't know that that's always realistic--I think true forgiveness is a process, and if what's being forgiven was a true injury, too quick a forgiveness is probably more of a suppression. BUT--the whole point of the Bible is forgiveness, and if someone has wounded us, forgiveness and it's process isn't even really optional. "For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins" (Matthew 6.14-15).

Kiss slowly.

Um . . . okay, how 'bout we not talk about kissing?

Love truly.

Along with forgiveness (being a specific manifestation and capacity of love), the whole point of the Bible is love. "Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love" (1 John 4.8). The "truly" part is kind of important in this context, though. I think the general understanding within this type of email is "love with feeling." But God's love is beyond emotion and has a lot to do with choice and decision, and less to do with spontaneity. This isn't some "love the one you're with"--although, I suppose you could argue you should love the people you're with. It's just that true love doesn't necessitate the physical, and the danger of emails like this is that if you were so inclined, you could always justify doing something "spontaneous" . . . and not God's idea of the best way to live life and love others . . . by saying you were "loving" in the "truest" way that you could, when really, it was just the most physical, or immediate, or convenient--or self-indulgent.

Laugh uncontrollably.

I'm pretty down with that. It raises your seratonin levels or endorphins or something. You know, "Science has shown . . . " Plus it's fun, and in my own experience, the times when I've laughed the hardest have usually been the times when the humour has been the most innocent. It's a little tough to find a Bible verse about this. But there is always this: "A happy heart makes the face cheerful, but heartache crushes the spirit" (Proverbs 15.13). Which I guess kind of implies that true happiness, smiling, and even laughter, overflows from who a person is on the inside to begin with.

And never regret anything that made you smile.

This is probably the bit with which I disagree most. There are plenty of things that can make me smile, I suspect, for which the time or place or means is not actually pleasing to God. I guess that's probably the main difference between the possible different interpretations of the advice in the email. You can interpret it in such a way to provide short-term pleasure for yourself, or in such a way as to provide pleasure to God. The second way sometimes (but not always) limits the responsibility. I tend to think, though, that it also provides a longer-term, deeper, more repeatable pleasure that you end up enjoying yourself, even as God does.


G. Norman Lippert said...

Damn but that was good. I especially resonate (normally I hate that word in this context, but I'm going to go with it this time just to seize the moment) with your comments about breaking rules. I won't attempt to reiterate them, but will simply say hear hear.

I am often riled by bumper stickers, based on their flimsy (pun intended) but catchy faux-logic. Your comments about rule breaking reminded me of the popular one that declares "well behaved women don't make history". I know there is a grain of truth to this, but it is buried, I think, in a black pearl of selfish, pointlessly irreverent irresponsibility.

Most likely, the best women in history were generally quite well behaved, in fact. (Ruth? Esther? Elizabeth Cady Stanton? Hermione?) As with any of us, the breaking of the rules is only meaningful, methinks, when it is done for a powerful reason, and not just to be cool.

And I seriously doubt that Queen Esther would have celebrated it with a bumper sticker on her chariot.

So look at that! I reiterated anyway. Damn.

One more thing: STEVE TAYLOR! Awesome. I bet you even know who One Bad Pig was.

Jennwith2ns said...

GNL--Thanks for reading, and commenting so thoughtfully, and reminding me of the name "One Bad Pig." Because I had been trying to remember that at one point, and . . . couldn't. More musing related to your point here, in the next post.

There was an error in this gadget