Dear Winn – 17 February 2016

Dear Winn:
I loved the piece Ginsberg wrote about Scalia. I needed to hear that too. I really did.
In your last letter you wrote “I wish I had words to describe the estrangement I feel from the dominant storylines in our world.” Thanks for that line. Man I feel that too. I confess I’m not the biggest fan of The Benedict Option. But the other day I realized its essentially the same thing Colonel Ludlow did in Legends Of The Fall:
So he decided to go his own way.
He wanted to lose the madness over the mountains, he said.
Begin again.
Lose the madness, he said.
Maybe we oughta rename it The Ludlow Option, I like that better (the only Benedict I approve of is preceded by Eggs). And sure, the madness eventually followed them over the mountains, and found them, like it always does. But I guess at least you’re in the mountains when it finds you (HA).
I don’t know what all that estrangement I feel is about, Winn. Its nothing new, been around as long as I can remember. There do seem to be seasons when its more acute, but it never leaves. Its not like an outsider vs. insider feeling as much as an off-to-the-sider feeling. I have to thank Harrison for that phrase. Harrison is the one, the writer I started reading years ago and I kept having that feeling of kinship on page after page, like here was someone like me. When you find someone like that, be it in a book or in the flesh, you feel less lonely. That’s why books and flesh are so important. 
So many of those “dominant storylines” you mentioned have, in my unhumble opinion, at their core one word – power. Either I’ve had the power for ages and by God I’m gonna keep it, or I haven’t had any power for ages and by God look out ’cause here I come. Not all mind you, but take many of the current religious or political storylines, strip the veneer and you’ll find power crouching at the door. Power, power, power. I’m not afraid of power, but I believe it exists to serve what the old ones used to call “the common good.” Much of what I see these days has to do with a selfishness that I fear has hobbled us. I’m not saying the scales of justice don’t need to be realigned, because they do in some significant ways, but if we’re not real careful we’ll simply end up exchanging seats on the bus instead of creating a different mode of travel. I feel the losers in this will be our children and grandchildren. I often have this dream-image of a grandchild (I hope to have one one of these days) looking up at me and saying, “Kringle, what were y’all thinking?” (Kringle as in Chris, as I hope to play Santa Claus at the mall in my rockin’ years).  
But then there’s the non-dominant storylines, like one-eyed Harrison shuffling over his property in the mornings with his dogs grieving the loss of his beloved, or Mary gotta-love-her Oliver sitting crosslegged in the sand looking at the sky for days on end she too still grieving her beloved, and neither one of them giving a rats’s ass about power while at the same time wielding words with a warmth that rivals the sun. There’s the power that means something to me. Then of course there’s your pal, Wendell, who could have lived somewhere powerful doing powerful things alongside powerful people, but he chose instead the Port Royal high road of fidelity and fecundity, and you and I and all of us are, I believe, the better for it. That’s some of the estrangement piece for me, I’m simply not interested in the power-grab. I’d rather look a child in the eyes and ask, “What would you like for Christmas?”
Here, this poem captures what I’m trying to get at. I cannot recall the poet’s name.
It grieves me to hear
men in the afternoon
of life wrangling like
its the morning.
There are sixty year
old men still booming
over the inerrancy of
scripture instead of
growing quieter and
quieter, learning the 
verses of bird song.

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  1. Sheila Seiler Lagrand on February 17, 2016 at 3:01 pm


    I self-identify as “ideologically disenfranchised,” though of course the impact stretches far beyond things electoral.

  2. Marilyn on February 17, 2016 at 8:29 pm

    I grieved feelings of estrangements a long while,
    as if it was something I was waiting to be cured of,
    only recently realizing
    what I’d come down with
    was a good case of being rendered alive.

    • sara on February 18, 2016 at 7:44 pm

      John – I’m loving these letters.

      Marilyn – those lines brought me tears of kinship. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Jacky on February 24, 2016 at 4:30 pm

    Ok, I’m tuning into Winn now, John. Thanks for his link. Though I could easily have gone on simply reading your posts, it’s good to kick out the tent stakes a bit to see what relationships are influencing your writing I recognize many of the references you use to books and people, but not all. Winn, however, is closer in and therefore gives me a more intimate context.

    Two things: Yes, I agree that we feel less lonely when we find kinship with “books and flesh”. And those of you who dare to put your words out there in the cosmos gift us readers that opportunity. As an added dimension, perhaps it’s also about community, the kind (kinship) that we were created for, not back to Eden, but forward to Eternity that is held for us by HE who suffered to break through all barriers binding and blinding us in death. Perhaps you poets and authors are amongst the many gifts He gives to glimpse our belonging and belovedness that He alone can give. I think so. And I am grateful.

    The second thing is in response to your words about Wendell Berry and those in the “afternoon of life”. My on my…I’m just now beginning to appreciate this “slowing”, looking at it totally upside down (that Kingdom kind) as a a gift more than a loss. Since I’m approaching 70 this year and since moving from full employment at our local school district three years ago to a fuller Kingdom longing, I am discovering more space to be still and hear the “bird song”, and yes, even learning a few verses.
    Martin Buber said, “To be old is a glorious thing when one has not unlearned what it means to begin.” You think so? I do.

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