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I own a punching bag full of women’s clothing.

If I ever told that to my therapist, she’d probably get that hungry look. But there’s nothing symbolic about it, I swear. The guy who used to own the bag, a schoolmate of mine in college, went to the basement of the girls’ dorm at the end of the semester, collected everything from the box of castoffs, and stuffed it all in.

I guess he didn’t have any sand. Or he hates women. Whatever.

I’ve had the thing for nine years without really using it. In my previous house, I hung it from an eye bolt that was already sticking out of the garage ceiling. If it hadn’t already been there, I wouldn’t have bothered. And then, since it was a fairly thin bolt, a few good kicks were enough to break it, so that was the end of that.

But I’ve got a competition coming up and I want to learn to do a spinning back kick the way Sihing B. does, like a cat lashing out with its paw, quick as lightning; so I finally hung it up in the basement.

Hanging the thing was its own ritual, and I wanted to do it right. I laid out the steps: ask the internet how to do it, check for the right tools, buy what you don’t have, and then get to it. I tend to cut corners whenever I’m doing anything technical. I want to do things the quick way instead of the right way, and I’ll often make do with the wrong tool because the right one’s all the way upstairs.

Something in me protests against paying attention to details. Details are unfair; desire should be enough.

This way of doing things doesn’t usually end well. I’m not quite convinced that it’s necessary to spray the bolt with loosening agent, and it probably won’t work anyway, and even if it did, who wants to wait? So I give it a cursory spray, wait ten seconds, tug at the bolt, and strip the !@#$ thing. The ten minutes to wait for the spray to penetrate would have been worth the untold time it’ll take to deal with the stripped bolt, but I gambled, and I lost.

This makes me angry. But oddly, I’m not angry at myself for being impatient. Instead, I’m angry at the universe, for not being the sort of place where eagerness and good intentions are enough. I want the universe to be merciful; I want it to say, “Very good, Joey, you tried; so I’m going to go ahead and let that bolt turn for you.” I want the punching bag to be hung just because I’ve willed it into place.

But Christians aren’t pantheists. God made the universe, but he allows it to run according to its own rules. If you don’t do things right, they either don’t get done at all, or they end up worse than they were before.

I’ve quoted this bit of William Lynch before, but it’s one of those paragraphs that changed my life. Listen:

People who do not attend to detail are poor in hope. They do not believe that anything will come of detail. They rather expect that the pattern will form of itself, without the detail. This is contempt, which is the opposite of hope. The mentally ill frequently find it extremely difficult to have hope in language, in talk, in the use of one word after another, in actually saying to the doctor, step by step, word by word, what they think or feel.1

We love to paint our lives in broad strokes and bold colors. There’s comfort in saying I’m depressed or I’m defective or I’m broken or I’m different. Believing these things about ourselves — believing that change is too big a thing to be possible — relieves us from the responsibility of taking steps, actual small detailed tiny real steps, towards getting better. Like walking all the way upstairs to get the philips head screwdriver instead of the flat one. Like waiting an extra ten minutes for the spray to penetrate.2

Like going to your computer for five minutes to order Clean Of Heart, even if it takes you six weeks after it arrives to actually open it and start. Like emailing your mother to tell her, no, you’re NOT fine, actually, even if you don’t know where the conversation will go after that. Like going to Confession one more time, even though you’ve fallen into the same stupid pattern every stupid week for the last six stupid months.

What is hope is also humility. It is arrogance, as well as contempt, to believe that the atoms of the world will arrange themselves just because we decided they’d look better that way.

If we can’t even bring ourselves to submit to the laws of nature, how can we ever hope to submit to nature’s Lord?

1 From Images of Hope. I forgot to write down what page, so you’ll have to read the whole thing. Oh wellsies.
2 Yup, that’s it, that’s my only excuse for this post’s title! I hope you like it.

18 thoughts on “How To Screw Without Stripping

  1. joey

    “It is arrogance, as well as contempt, to believe that the atoms of the world will arrange themselves just because we decided they’d look better that way.”

    Isn’t that exactly what the Church is doing according to a non-believer or outside viewer. It seems to be telling its followers what God “meant” when he created a certain thing, instead of just letting it be.

    Reply
  2. joey

    I guess there are both general and specific situations. For example, the organization of the Church itself. “Creating order out of disorder”. This violates the tenet that you stated. What I’m trying to say is, you believe in what the Church teaches, but does Church teaching account for most interactions with nature/the universe? The Church and other people tend to put meaning to different events that happen in nature. Why not just let those events be without trying to organize them into subcategories of teachings and beliefs?

    Reply
    1. Mike Stratacaster

      “..to believe that the atoms of the world will arrange themselves just because we decided they’d look better that way..”

      If I understand correctly, then Joey P was saying that doing something, whether it be in the name of getting it done, because it’s easier than the “long way around”, or because you enjoy it, despite knowing it should be done differently, or just not be done at all, is like expecting the very fabric of time and space to conform to your logic. More often than not, doing something you shouldn’t do, doing something improperly, or taking short cuts and trying to accomplish your task the easy way will lead to nothing good.

      How does that in any way seem similar to what the Church does? The Church doesn’t try and change the way the Universe works, but rather according to the beliefs held by the Church, it attempts to connect people to their God, and with each other, and desires to strengthen an individual’s faith, sense of morality, and overall character, as well as.. you know.. saving their sole from eternal damnation. That whole bit. The only beliefs that I’m aware of, that could be twisted to fit your description, are with regard to certain carnal human desires and abstinence, and that has more to do with morality than ‘changing the way the universe works’. I’m not even a Catholic or even particularly religious, but I can’t see how the Church is in any way attempting to subvert nature or the Universe. In my eyes, they’re generally very complimentary. So long as the Universe doesn’t get cute. Then it’s game on, and watch out Universe, you’re about to get a whoopin’. ;)

      Reply
  3. joey

    i’m sorry if my meaning isn’t coming through to you. I have a hard time explaining things that I experience. I’m just trying to understand where you’re coming from.

    Reply
  4. Das

    Joey, are you asking why the Church strives to create order, instead of simply allowing things continue on their current path in the hope (belief, deference, humility, what-have-you) that they will, ultimately, fall into order?

    Reply
  5. Sarah

    Joey – whether you agree with the Catholic Church or not, the “design” of the Church’s teachings is not to interpret or add meaning to the universe but to simply reveal what God reveals to us about that meaning. So the intent isn’t to arrange anything according to our (or the Catholic Church’s) vision but simply submit to the arrangement that already exists.

    The Catholic Church is actually very specific about “the universe” far less often than you think. Most aspects of the universe, the Church does simply “let it be” or allows for science to speak with authority.

    Reply
  6. Joanna

    I think I get what Joey is saying. It seems to him that the Church looks for greater order and reason in nature than actually exists. Things are, in reality, a little more chaotic than the platonic ideal so is it always a good idea to try to force people to conform to the ideal rather than letting them be a little different and live their lives by slightly different rules?

    Reply
    1. Rivka

      But the point of the original post was that there is a certain order of things in the universe, and in order to succeed at things our actions have to be in detailed conformity with that order. When it comes to success at physical actions, such as a sport or whatever, most people already understand this, and, if they really care about that activity, carefully match their actions to the detailed order of proper nutrition, for example.

      Reply
  7. Becky Duncan

    “Details are unfair. Desire should be enough.” By far my favorite line. I live like that a lot. And yet I have discovered in myself a willingness to embrace details in matters that I really care about, and have come to understand, including making a white sauce, or bread, and training a horse or dog. I TEACH details in these things. There is a book called “The View From Saturday” which addresses this in one part.

    So I am guessing that you worked on getting the details right in that spinning kick, but the bag you just wanted to get done. You did not lovingly embrace the process of hanging the bag.

    BTW, about details, your second note (1) should be a (2).

    Reply
  8. William Eipper

    Five minutes to order Clean of Heart, eh? It took me a week! Now, the same book that I was initially too afraid to order, the same book that I scowled at for so long after it’s arrival, has become a source of grace and freedom. Thank you so much for sharing it with us.

    Reply
  9. Becky Duncan

    So I was talking about this with the women in my Bible study this morning. A couple of them did not get it. I said “Haven’t you ever had that feeling that details are just unfair, that if you want something enough it should just work?” “No” they said. These are people who actually get things done much more efficiently than I do. Sigh.

    Reply
  10. TheReluctantWidow

    @Becky, I get it. Recently, my 12 yr old son put together an ottoman/file storage furniture piece. I was going to do it, but he volunteered so I let him. It took him two hours and he followed the instructions step-by-step to the tee. Yeah, I wouldn’t have done that. I don’t like to read the instructions. I think I can go to the store and buy a piece of furniture that has to be constructed and just do it from “intuition” because I know what it should look like. Instructions? Who needs them? Yes, this is why I get very poorly constructed end tables that fall apart at the slightest touch, and my 12 yr old son puts together a very sturdy ottoman.

    Reply
  11. Laurie

    I’ve been here since this was posted but hadn’t read this one… and today I did… and today was the day I needed it. :) Thanks.

    Reply

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