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Saturday, January 15, 2011

Standing In More Than One World And Looking For My Feet

Sometimes I get my hands on a book that blocks out the incessant demands of all that beckons and pressures around and at me. Those things simply must wait as I descend into a world that is constructed entirely of words not my own.

David Bergen writes in violent, sensual imagery. Tempted to be offended, I am instead drawn into the images which depict loss, fear, desire, striving, and the search for redemption. There is love, selfishness, piety, honesty/dishonesty, disappointment, grief and joy. Drawn into the writing as I was, I spent a little time online reading about the author and his writing.

Wikipedia, that ever accurate and unquestioned source of all factual information; notes the following:

Raised as a Mennonite, Bergen has noted that the tendency of the church to stifle questions and criticism affected his decision to write fiction. "Writing is a way of figuring things out," he says. "If you can't ask certain questions in church, maybe you can ask them in fiction."
I understand this in a way. Although I remain commited to my faith; my questions and fears about "the church" continue to rise like the Red in May. It saddens me that this is true, and I feel a profound sense of loss. However, my concern over raising my children in a church environment that feels more religious than honest; more contrived than raw, and more romaniticized than real is not a mistake I'm willing to charge into naively.
Bergen easily draws me into his story, as he creates characters out of the people I brush up against in the bank, post office, and church foyer. He paints a picture of raw humanity- a picture in which I don't need to stretch my imagination even a little in order to place myself in "A Year of Lesser"'s setting. My own post office, credit union, and church foyer's walls emit the smells of souls who pass through them. Good, bad, sad, desparate people who want to be known. Who want to know something for sure.
Being brutally honest, or even spinning a tale based on your own honest story is rife with risk. Telling a story which wells up from within but reveals the honest fears and questions of your own heart and experiences is welcoming vulnerability, criticism, misunderstanding, and disdain. Needing one another as desparately as we do; how many of us are willing to take such a risk? To fear coming out the other end disliked, pitied, or misinterpreted?
Authors like Bergen disturb me with their imagery, their willingness to stand alone on their words and wait for praise or criticism, both of which become inevitable.
It's a kind of bravery that makes me intrigued to learn more.
(what are you reading?)


jenn said...

So, I guess you are into the book...

christine said...

i just finished reading" Mennonite in a Black dress". i wanted to check it out after reading your post (back in november) and seeing all those ladies in black dresses!!!!!!.
I don't know how many times i laughed out loud!(not at the ladies in black, but the BOOK). I'm glad i read it.
Don't know whats next. Maybe i should continue on the mennonite theme and pick up one of d. Bergen's.
very intriguing.

Judy said...

I'm reading "The Help". It is amazing.

Karla said...

I'm reading "Three Day Road" by Joseph Boyden. I'm enthralled with it - the story of First Nations people during World War 1 - out on the battle field, finding their way home, finding their way.... it's heartbreaking, disturbing, and so very raw. You can smell and hear and feel the images he writes about. You would love it, dear Joycie, but it takes something out of you.

Now on to your thoughts on church. I'm sitting with you in the trench. What is it about the culture and the building and the "us" in church that strips away our ability to be honest, dirty, gritty, and authentic? I know the usual answers, but they're not good enough for me anymore. I'm so perplexed, and so disturbed by it.

I'm not finished with this. Neither are you. Let's keep walking through it. In the meantime, pick up "Three Day Road".

David Bergen's work intrigues me. I've read several of his books. You almost feel naughty as you're reading them, don't you??

joyce said...

Jenn, after beginning to read the book it kept me up late on Friday night (after already having a late night), then followed me into the city where I read while Brian tried on shoes, then I ended the day in a hot bath with a glass of wine and the book... Only to go upstairs in towels, sit on my bed and finish the entire book. Very riveting. Thanks for sharing.

Christine, I'm so glad to hear that you had the same visceral reactions- she writes so well- combining respect with an utter lack of respect. I really, really loved that book. These Mennonites are onto something.... (Rhoda, Miriam Toews, David Bergen.... and I know there are many more... Di Brandt- although I haven't read her work. Must do)

Judy- never heard of it, but after this, I'll be dashing over to google to check it out.

Karla- parallels to the First Nations people fitting in, then not fitting in, and trying to "find their way"? Wrenching, these books that require pieces of our souls. (I'm slowing inching through "We regret to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed"- (Rwanda). It requires intellect, and chunks of the heart and soul. Makes me think that humans are VERY primal. That we are all one step away from hacking each other to death. Which in our culture we generally do with words...

Church and its ability to produce PRIDE and superiority makes me afraid that we've moved away from Jesus. It seems to be all right to feel superior to the first nations people, to look down on the slut, the homo, and the lazy. But somehow we're supposed to attain to MORE of that?! confusing. But I don't like to confuse CHURCH with JESUS. It's hard sometimes, but that's my intent. I also come face to face with my own snobbery and judgementalism when I recognize how intensely I dislike some people. Confusing, again.

It is impossible not to feel naughty reading Bergen. I mean seriously- the man can use graphic sensual imagery to describe schmondt fat, don't you find? Makes me wonder about the inner workings of his mind, and yet I totally see the imagery, and it's accurate and powerful.

janice said...

I read Mennonite in a Little Black Dress after you recommended it. I read Miriam Toews after a colleague accused me of being her sister (apparently we look alike) and both were AMAZING. So now I have to read David Bergen.
I am going to Mississippi on Sunday to build houses with MDS, with my nephew, the agnostic, who is a trip leader, in my Dad's church, because he has been driving Grandpa to church all these years, he loves them, and they love him. A woman on my hockey team, who I barely know, called it 'faith in action' when I explained why I would miss the game next Sunday.
I am kind of a hermit since my one and only kid moved away. But, this too will end, when time comes.
But, I faithfully read peenapotty, and you are truly an inspiring wordsmith.
I found Kehlers in my family genetic book, and my grandpa's side was all from Manitoba. We can be friends, even if we are relatives. Some of my best friends are my relatives.
I am the slut and the lazy - and I remember being taught to feel superior. I know you don't feel superior to me - we are people, mothers, making peace with our children and our thighs.

joyce said...

You MUST give me some names of the Kehlers you are related to. There are not so many of us here (Not like the Pletts, Penners, Friesens...) This makes sense to me now- you know that the Kehlers are known as fiesty, strong, hardy, and opinionated? (and fun to be with...) So, I'm thinking you've got some Kehler in you. I really like my Kehler relatives/friends, although the ones (hundreds?) who refuse to treat their rampant mental illnesses can become tiresome...

I love what I am reading about you going to Mississippi with the agnostic. It's all so confusing and untidy and somehow gracious and hopeful.

It's not the sluts or the lazy people who I have trouble liking. It's the ones who think they have it all together, and think that they have some gift of wisdom they'd consider condescending to offer to the likes of me. Or the ones who feel sorry for me for sitting alone. yech. I also hate thin people but some of my favourite people are thin, so I"ve had to come to grips with that :)

"We are people. Mothers.
Making peace with our children and our thighs".

THat's really beautiful.

I've got such a long ways to go with "my earthly tent". Seriously. It's pathetic and sad and sometimes I really lose hope. Perhaps I'll really stick my neck out one of these days and write about it AGAIN. I tire of myself... and I am TREATED!! :) (although a few days behind on the happy pills. May explain why soup commercials make me weep....)

Anonymous said...

Lots churning in my mind from your words. I wonder if someday (of course after you write a book or several) people will look back at the Mennonite author "Joyce" under some (can't spell pseudonom?) other name and sing praises. I don't see you hiding behind another name though really. But back to my scattered as well as comments are all so much what I love about your whole wheat honesty. Keep it coming. I would love to go on and on contributing to these themes, but it seems like I've yapped on enough for the moment.

joyce said...

Why hold back- none of us do :)

church yesterday was AMAZING. Why does this always happen just when I'm fairly convinced that church is not a good fit for me? (I"m grateful really. I love church- love what it ought to be about, love the people inside of it, love the history, the learning, and the hope.)

joyce said...

and thank you for affirming the honesty. I'm trying to lose my fear and charge back out into blog world, making myself vulnerable and trusting in the redemptive possibilities of living without pretense. Or living with less pretence at teh very least.

Roo said...

i just read "the rag coat"

Elmer said...

I like authors like David Bergen and Miriam Toews who raise questions and make us look back and wonder about life and where we came from, where we're going. I'm with you on the journey... I think my faith is deeper and more secure than it has ever been, but I know almost nothing for sure anymore. And when I look back at the 'faith' I used to have, I don't recognize it at all. And I too have great difficulties with church from time to time, almost all the time maybe. I'm allergic to 'american evangelical fundamentalism'. Which sometimes seems to be our main flavour. And still I keep going! So keep writing out your doubts and thoughts...there are a lot of us that are encouraged that we are not alone!

Elmer said...

Guess my 'google' account says 'Elmer', but actually it is Brenda this time!

joyce said...

Elmer/Brenda- You were always a strong pillar in my siblings genuine faith roots. You've always carried some sort of rare authenticity, and although I "missed out" on that wisdom in my growing up years (too young for youth at the time; I think), I'm thrilled to have you as some part of my life in the here and now. And I so deeply appreciate your encouragement and insights! I am amazed, really. How is it that some of "us" keep pulling on the grey suits and trudging along, and the others of us become so sort of.... Radical! I respect and honour all that I've come from. I am so grateful to have someone comment who knows of what I speak, who probably has some deep gratitude for it as well, but who also goes anaphylactic at evangelical fundamentalism.
I must write about church this past weekend, if I can find the words.

thank you.

joyce said...

(I know you said it was Brenda, and not actually Elmer-- but since the name brought his face to mind, I replied to the both of you!)

Mary K. said...

Just read (on the beach, I might add) The Naked Gospel by Andrew Farley; Sabbath by Dan Allender and started Half Broke Horses by Jeanette Walls. All good, but Naked Gospel one of those "must reads"!