Read Paul Born's latest book:
Read Paul Born's latest book:
Ellie is a doorstopper. Her heaviness - of necessity - is the measure of her success, but her deepest grace is to usher in the breeze. She serves simply, synchronizing her assigned gateway with the tune and flow of life: when breezes become gales, she steps aside, in lieu of the padlock. Within her subtler self, she houses an entire community of diverse values. In lowercase terms, Ellie is a Tupperware bin weighted down with old coins. For me, she shines as the crux of a local paradox.
Most of the faces that glance through her transparent walls are stoic. Obsolete copper queens (and occasional presidents) all project the same tea-drinking regality. They collectively ooze the G-forces of several lifetimes worth of pomp. Seriously. The deal is sealed in the survival of an 18th-century (wig-wearing?) mug, who brazenly declares "In God We Trust". It's the kind of gravitas that for me resonates best with the pew-gathering sobriety of my upbringing in a Reformed church.
Within the textured flavour of life inside this institution, the taste acquires you. Bonds are strong and decade-spanning, and family values are more than mere jargon. The strength of a thousand (cross) stitches of fabric woven into the cloth of covenant. Once your identity is aligned with such a coin in a such a jar of change, stability is palpably embodied. Don't expect any jarring changes.
I still joyfully participate in these politics. "We're here to learn more about God," says Marla, when our Bible study group is asked about the purpose of our gathering. Through fits of ironic doubt, I have come to celebrate the fact that she's right. Sure, part of my progressive pretence would have it otherwise. Is America's Almighty a who or a what? Shouldn't we explore other, less naive alternatives? What about artists, AIDS activists, atheists, couchsurfers, Christians, terrorists and glacier hikers? What about engagement with other cultures, places, peoples, and faiths? And yet, our Christian creeds have somehow remained, somehow survived. Though we hesitate to equate "us" and "them", we continue to lay claim to the life we find in the mystery that God dwells among us (and them).
Stifling isn't it, the dogma of staying in one place?
Yes. But tell that to Ellie, and she'll say she's grateful that it is so. Not all forms of stubbornness can justly take credit for giving safe passage to the breeze. But if you desire any kind of doorstopper, a degree of stubbornness is essential. Do I rightly discern, in the green glimmer of corroded pennies, and the faded contrast of quarterly antlers, the scars of those whose gift has been resilience? The definite expression of boundaries has not stifled - but, rather, enabled - the arrival of fresh air in my lungs, and the emergence of pathways to journey on.
This is my Christian keel. I simultaneously mourn for and celebrate its rigidity. I worry when joyful mysteries get swallowed up in floods of literalism. But I'm grateful for the narrow focus of gathering together to pray and read scripture. I'm grateful that here, God is not merely something we posit, but someone we love. It's a weighty sort of love, weighty enough, I believe, to hold the door open.