Friday, January 13, 2012

Thoughts on Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl

As I read the back cover of Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl, I kept thinking of those TV chefs that reel off ingredients so quickly you can't remember them all, but you catch enough of them for your mouth to water in anticipation. Reading the book itself, my analogy shifts to that of being in a virtual ZORB and pushing it around our world as a way to see it from different perspectives.

The narrative is incredibly sensory. At times, I rolled my eyes at the abundance of metaphors, but then I realized this excess was purposeful. This book wasn't meant to be an intellectual exercise as much as a sensate experience. Being in the Reformed community, I'm used to using the ol' grey matter to analyze and discuss areas of Scripture and truths of God. However, the Lord also made us with a right side to our brain and if we are going to be fully developed, we must use it in these endeavors as well. He writes in the introduction, "A neutral observer would not find this world to be believable. Ergo, the cause of said unbelievable world must place similar stretch marks on the imagination.

Wilson begins by looking at the created world as art, especially the devalued artistry of snowflakes - each one unique and masterfully created and yet so plenteous as to be thrown around by shovels and plows! That says something about the God we serve. Without a microscope, we won't see all the intricacies of these snowflakes, but the Creator is an Artist who creates beauty for His own enjoyment. Wilson pushes us to see the wonder, the whimsy, and the magic in creation:
"What is the world? What is it for? It is art. It is the best of all possible art, a finite picture of the infinite. Assess it like prose, like poetry, like architecture, sculpture, painting, dance, delta blues, opera, tragedy, comedy, romance, epic. Assess it like you would a Faberge egg, like a gunfight, like a musical, like a snowflake, like a death, a triumph, a love story, a tornado, a smile, a heartbreak. . . This painting is by an infinite Artist. It is a reflection of Himself (could there be a better subject?), worked out in colors, lives, and constellations, in a universe that to us seems endless but is to Him a mere frame, a small space, a confining challenge for His artistry."
Wilson says instead of philosophers:
"Give me priests. Give me men with feathers in their hair or tall domed hats, female oracles in caves, servants of the python smoking weed and reading psalms. A gypsy fortune-teller with a foot peddle Ouija board and a gold fishbowl for a crystal ball knows more about the world than many of the great thinkers of the West. Mumbling priests swinging sink cans on their chains and even witch doctors conjuring up curses with a well-buried elephant tooth have a better sense of their places in the world. They know this universe is brimming with magic, with life and riddles and ironies. They know that the world might eat them, and no encyclopedia could stop it . . . Marx called religion an opiae, and all too often it is. But philosophy is an anesthetic, a shot to keep the wonder away."
If this world is God's art, His story, then what character are you? What role do you play? Would you like yourself if watching yourself portrayed on the silver screen? Do you respond the way you would want the character in the story to respond? More importantly, if we are characters in His story, then we have a story arc with all that implies - tragedy and comedy, good and evil, wins and losses.

Wilson address "The Problem with Kittens." Go into any Christian bookstore and you'll see cards or plaques with photos of adorable kittens in baskets with a comforting verse tacked on. The problem is: The same God who made kittens made the kittens grown up to be lions, cougars and tigers who kill Bambi and other adorable creatures to feed to their young. The same God who made bunnies made red-tailed hawks and eagles who rip the cottontails apart with their talons for food. We must have room for kittens and lions, bunnies and hawks in our concept of who God is. We struggle with evil in our lives, but we don't in our art. We understand the evil in a story moves the plot along. Wilson puts it this way:
"The Problem Part Two: The world is rate R, and no one is checking IDs. Do not try to make it Go by imagining the shadows away. Do not try to hide your children from the world forever, but do not pretend there is no danger. Train them. Give them sharp eyes and bellies full of laughter. Make them dangerous. Make them yeast, and when they've grown, they will pollute the shadows."
Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl is rich in beauty and instruction. I loved the poetic look at our earth: "The ocean can never forget the Flood. It has tasted mountains. Waking and sleeping, it chews," and the four seasons as analogous to our lives: "My grandfather is like his house. Once strong and young, now his beams and timbers sag beneath the weight of long use, heavier even than the piles of snow on his roof and the fanged ice stretching down from the gutters . . . Let the Winter come. It is the only path to Spring. The house is battered with cold, but inside there is a warmth that cannot and will not die."
"Do you resent this world, this art? Do you hate Him for cancer, for car wrecks, and for the sudden shocking sleep of the young? . . . Go to Him or go to Hell. Those are the only two choices because Hell will be wherever He is not."
Our world is God's painting, sculpture and play. When the curtain is drawn on our role, we will walk off this stage and on to a greater stage - with Him or without Him.

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