Points of reference

Leah Libresco:

But, in the defense of the soft-spoken, it’s hard to let the beating heart of your faith show when you speak about it primarily in the context of political or cultural controversy, or scholarly disputes where you’re summarizing the research you’ve seen written up by other people.

I get dinged a fair amount by other bloggers and in comments for being a bit bloodless and analytical. And I wouldn’t recommend my writing on church/state jurisprudence, even when I think it’s tolerably clear, as an introduction to my life as a Christian. The living parts tend to happen at a smaller scale for me, as when I was meditating on various Broadway showtunes in the run-up to my baptism. And, there, I was trusting you all to listen to the songs and hopefully have them catch you the same way they did me.

The more personal an experience, the harder it is to assume that your audience has all the necessary references to get a visceral experience of it. I remember one discussion with a coworker where, in order to talk about sin, I wanted to make reference to The Great Divorce, The Brothers Karamazov, ergonomic approaches to posture, Les Miserables, and a New Yorker article on phantom limb pain.

I can find myself in the position described by Douglas Hofstadter in his work on analogy Surfaces and Essences where you end up envying a language that has managed to end up with one word that encapsulates a concept that your own language has splintered into nuanced, separate words. Since I don’t know the name for that central idea in your private language of metaphor, I keep showing you ideas from my experience that nearly catch it, in the hopes that you’ll end up on the same page. (Think of pointing to a stop sign, a tomato, a candy cane, in the hopes of communicating the idea red).

This is part of the reason for why I have been hitherto unsuccessful in actually describing my conversion – what happened to me and what it was like for me. It is almost impossible to just isolate a few key moments in my life and still have the meaningfulness of them make sense to other people.  It increasingly becomes an attempt at autobiography, since the aspects of my life which would ultimately push me in that direction go way back to childhood.

The parts of this blog where I think I’m at my haziest is when I’m trying to articulate my lived experience. All the things which may seem perfectly clear to me are often obtuse to other people, and when I try to ‘translate’ it, there’s a tendency to make it mushy or falsified (a question I’m often asked: “how was Church today?” I always kind of want to say something like, “I confessed my sins to Jesus and then consumed His flesh and blood, so it was pretty intense, I guess.” )

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About Josh W

A Catholic. Likes to write stuff and draw pictures.
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