Incongruent Laughter

Sometimes I laugh at inappropriate times.  I laugh too loudly or in the wrong company.  Sometimes I don’t laugh when others clearly think I should.  Sometimes my sense of humor is a little twisted and I let on to how immature I really can be.  This can be a tricky business, particularly between cultures.  Yet what is most important is now how we laugh, not when we laugh, but precisely that we laugh.  It is essential to the human condition.

What makes us laugh?  Or why do I sometimes laugh at a different time than others around me?  One of my favorite authors, James V. Schall, suggests that “our laughter depends on our seeing the incongruity of things.”  (The Order of Things, p. 17)  The world was created a natural order, with categories, and our minds built to recognize them.  When those categories don’t match up or when our rational mind perceives an apparent irrationality, it does not interpret this as foolishness.  Instead, we find comedy, laughter.  Perhaps like these pictures below:

Art for Arts Sake

Google: “Did you mean battleship?”

Customs Sniffing Dog

Ronald Reagan on a Velociraptor

(Ok, maybe you didn’t find that last one as funny as me.  But if you shook your head rather than smiling, I guess that validates my introductory statement.)  The point is this, we find something humorous when it is not as we would expect; two things dissimilar aren’t meant to go together, but yet they do.

We have much to laugh about in this life, even when the world seems dark around us.  That is not by accident.  The Creator of this world, who transcends time and space, stepped down from his post and limited himself by taking on human flesh (John 1:14, Philippians 2:6-8).   The savior and king who was sent to deliver this hurting world arrived in a manger, surrounded by filthy animals, travelers and misfits (Matthew 2:9-11, Luke 2:7-11).  And one day the lion will lay down with the lamb without hesitation or fear (Isaiah 11:6, 65:25).

The Lion and the Lamb

What peculiar images!  Maybe these don’t inspire us to laugh out loud, but they are indeed reasons to give us joy.  This Christmas season, amidst parties and family gatherings, I hope you have found much cause to laugh.  More richly, I hope the incongruency of this season brings joy to your soul that laughter can only begin to describe.

Writing and the Imagination

This week I’m taking Harford County Public School’s Methods of Teaching Reading course for professional development.  For most, this mandatory course is a drag and, undeniably, the 40-hour course does rob a teacher of much deserved personal time in the summer.  But given the motivation to learn, I would argue this course is actually turning out to be quite worthwhile.

For my teacher friends in particular, here are two particularly insightful quotes from an article we read.  From Stimulating reluctant writers by Ian Thompson:

(1) “…the process of composition begins as a social and cultural activity….The child’s mastering of writing is integral to the movement from interpersonal social interaction to the intrapersonal development of abstract thought.  This development takes place initially through play (imagination) and finally through the conscious thought required for writing….A child’s greatest achievements are possible in play, achievements that will tomorrow become his basic level of real action and morality.”

In plainspeak: Social interaction and play –> development of higher level thinking –> writing

Teachers need to recognize that imaginative exercises are the first step in the developmental process that gets a student to start writing.  What an incredible power there is to be found in childish recreational and the creative activity of man!  

(2) I made a quote poster of this one.  I’m sure everyone can relate.

Not the most comforting words but certainly true.  Be encouraged!  If we are willing to work hard and persevere, it is through our failures and frustrations that we grow.

Tangled

Just saw Disney’s CGI movie Tangled and it was fantastic!  This is an animated film with all the classic elements of a fairy tale but just enough of a modern twist to keep it interesting.

Tangled will appeal to children for the sense of wonder it evokes.  The scenery is fictional, taking viewers to an imaginary land, while similar enough that we can still understand its rules and design.  Among those magical alterations: animals respond to human dialogue, a flower can reverse the curse of aging, and excessively long hair can glow under provocation by a song.  Disney infused enough humor that adults will be drawn in, too and – I can’t believe I am saying this – it carries neither political messages  nor sexual overtones.

Probably the most admirable quality that Tangled presents is a spattering of practical lessons through story and art.  Rapunzel and Flynn Rider find genuine love under unusual circumstances, the sanctity of one’s home is maintained, and the viewer is advised “good things come to those who wait.”  How rarely is instant gratification suppressed in modern society!  Above all the main characters question in what person or object they will place their security and learn the consequences of their greed.  Even actions taken with good intentions cannot in themselves be completely pure.

And so it is in our experience.  In a world where love does not come easy, magical flowers escape our grasp, and hair must be cut, we are reminded: The Lord is our security.  Apart from Him there is no good thing.  He alone is our portion and our cup; He makes our lot secure.  (Psalm 16) 

Go rent Tangled or borrow a copy.  Arrange a family night, a date on the couch, or share some popcorn with friends.  As you recapture that child-like spirit of wonder and get caught up in an animated fairy tale allow your heart to be glad, your tongue to rejoice, and your body to rest secure.

The Art of Daydreaming

Ever catch someone daydreaming?  This is the uncomfortable moment when the teacher calls on the student and he can only give a blank stare in response to the question.  When you are having a conversation with someone and you need to give them a little snap back to reality.  Or when the person sitting next to you on the subway is staring into oblivion, then jumping to their feet only to realize (all too late) that their stop has already passed.

I just came to a new understanding of this phenomenon while reading the book “Love God With All Your Mind” by J.P. Moreland.  You see, daydreaming is all well and good if confined to private moments when no one is around.  Yet our reaction can range from annoyance to hysterics when people around us are daydreaming.  What does this all mean?  And how are we to respond?

For starters, a human being is a composition of two distinct realities working together: the body and the soul.  The body is material, physical.  It is the part of us that utilizes all five senses.  The body places demands on us such as sleep, and it delivers messages to us, whether pleasure or pain.  In contrast, the soul is immaterial and transcendent.  This part cannot be seen nor observed under a microscope.  It is not bound by time (progressively speaking).  Consequently, when the body dies I, as a person, live on because I am my soul.  In theological language, this complex understanding of a person’s existence (body + soul) is known as “substance dualism.”

On to our primary focus: Daydreaming is that curious state of existence in which my physical eyeballs are functioning yet my soul is inattentive to that reality which is before it.  I could be standing in front of the stove cooking eggs while my thoughts take me to London.  Until I move too close to the frying pan and my chemical receptors signal the warning ”AHH!  HOT!  YOU ARE BURNING YOUR HAND YOU FOOL!” my soul is withdrawn to a distant place or memory.  It takes that physical response to draw me back.  And surely we have all experienced one of these moments.

When I consider this interaction and the implications thereof, daydreaming is an absolutely wonderful thing!  It is – if I may be so bold as to make this claim – one of our nearest ways to experience heaven on earth because the soul is active apart from the body.  Please don’t misunderstand me.  Heaven is an exclusive place.  Only one who believes in Jesus Christ may truly enter heaven, though isn’t it interesting that even a non-believer may have a taste of this existence through daydreaming.  God has revealed Himself to creation in natural ways.  For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. (Romans 1:20)  So maybe He designed us humans in such a way that we can all foreknow an existence apart from the body and anticipate heaven.  Maybe daydreaming is a tool He uses to point us towards the divine existence that is Himself.  And maybe in daydreaming we are not merely spacing out, but we are engaging an opportunity to worship.

Daydreaming certainly has its time and place.  It may not be the most appropriate course of action in the classroom, in conversation, or five minutes after the subway car has braked at your destination, but under the proper circumstances it needs to be encouraged!  And whatever magnificent places your daydreaming takes you, remember the glorious destination of which the soul has yet to go.

NASA Posts Thousands of Images from the WISE Telescope

Every now and then something catches my eye that is so incredible I can’t possibly keep it to myself.  Recently, NASA began posting thousands of images from its Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) telescope, launched on December 14, 2009.  The mission is now terminated and WISE has fired off its last shots although NASA has released enough deep space photographs to leave me breathless for years.  Here are some quick links to learn about the mission and a sampling of the gallery:

WISE mission fact sheet: http://wise.ssl.berkeley.edu/documents/FactSheet.2010.1.4.pdf

WISE Homepage, Hosted by Berkeley: http://wise.ssl.berkeley.edu/

NASA Gallery of photos from WISE: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/WISE/multimedia/gallery/gallery-index.html

1 O LORD, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory
above the heavens…

(Psalm 8:1)

Confined Spaces

In my junior year of college, my friend David and I shared a very small room.

It was even more cramped by our unusual arrangement of furniture.  The two desks were set in the middle of the room, computer cords and power strips running across the floor to outlets on the walls.  We had the chest of drawers set in a position where you could not simultaneously open a drawer and the adjoining bathroom door.  There was no floor space for my foldable three-tier bookshelf.  We stacked it on top of the chest of drawers to save space.   And area rugs were scattered about in the strangest geometric patterns merely toavoid collision with those pieces of furniture.  Not ideal but we made it work.  I named our dorm room “The Battleship” in association with a navy destroyer’s tight quarters where I once slept during a Boy Scout overnighter.

Several months later, given the freedom of Christmas break, I shifted the furniture around in a more sensible arrangement.  Pushing the desks to the walls and utilizing all corners, we opened up “the Battleship.”  Not surprisingly, more friends came to visit in the spring semester, more movies were seen by all,  a few late night study sessions – no, procrastination frivolities  – transpired, and memories were made in “The Lodge.”  It was still a tiny living space, but this was home.

Today I recalled these episodes while going on a run.  I saw numerous children playing outdoors, taking advantage of the sunny spring weather, running around in the same yards where I, too, once played as a child.  Some yards were fenced in or some only a few square feet wide stretching from one townhouse to the next.  Looking back on those spaces now, they really weren’t all that big.  Yet from the eyes of a child they were magnificent, enormous, thrilling places to have an experience.  There was always something new to explore.  A mere tree could be a lookout post.  A dark garage could be a secret agent’s base.  A yard could be a meadow or even an entire country!

Now I look upon these places and they aren’t so large afterall.  Still, my preference remains with confined spaces… where adventure awaits.

An American proverb suggests that “bigger is better.”  I suppose that is true for people with small imaginations.  To the rest, imagination opens a small space up to a world of wonder.

The Secret Room

Some people talk of recurrent dreams.  I can’t say that I have had repetitive dreams although I can relate on some level to those who do.

A number of dreams I have had take place in this particular house.  I don’t know if I own the house, if a family member owns the house, or if it belongs to someone else, as in a hotel.  The last option is most likely because the house is more likened to a mansion, filled with many rooms and ornate furniture or decorations.  The inhabitants – if they may be called that at all – seem to come and go.  Some nights the same individuals can be found; other nights a recognizable face might enter for his or her first appearance.

What is most unique about this mansion is that I travel many paths to get to my destination, rarely taking the most direct route.  Sometimes I take an elevator, sometimes stairs, and sometimes I explore corridors whose existence might not be public knowledge to the less inquisitive guests in the house.  Consequently, I have a secret room in this house.

In the earliest dream that I can recall, someone had died and left instructions in their will which allowed me (and me alone) to find this room.  It is situated near the attic on the top floor which could explain why it remains hidden so well.  To gain access, one must enter a crawlspace on hands and knees.  Sometimes the narrow tunnel forms a straight path; sometimes it is likened to an ascending chute.  It is similar to the changing staircases at Hogwarts: you will never find it exactly the same as the last time and yet I still have no trouble finding it.  At the end of this opening is a small door with a brass keyhole.  The key, of course, is in my possession.

Grand finale and we have entered the secret room.  I can share this with as many people as I want or I do not have to share it with anyone at all.  My most valued belongings are kept in this room.  I can seek it out for privacy or silence at any time.  It is my place of safety.  I always take caution when entering the room.  No one is around and very few know it exists – only the few friends whom I have granted access.  It is a wonderful dream, one that could be extracted from the movie Inception, only I am my own architect.

That all changed last night when I encountered two figures in the room…uninvited.  A childhood fantasy fell apart as I learned that my place of sanctity had been breached.  The thieves shuffled off after picking a fight, leaving me curled up on the floor, devastated and forever vulnerable.

If anyone has interpretations to offer, even in jest, I welcome them.  But more importantly, the secret room delivers a message.  As a child everything is safe and secure.  There is always someone to protect you, always a place to run and hide, to cry when no one is looking, to play where no one is watching, and to make funny faces in the mirror.  As an adult, some of these supports and securities disappear.  But there is still laughter and hope because when the secret room gets stolen away the thief cannot kill the imagination.  Whether waking or sleeping, one is never too old to wonder.  Time to rebuild.  Another room…

Scoop