So it was that after reading Ariel's post last week, I went on a country drive with my husband, and found myself thinking of attics and parlors.
I live in a good place for a country drive, because I am surrounded by beautiful places, and the wilderness is never more than a five minute drive in any direction.
But once upon a time I lived in California's Silicon Valley, in a mature housing development surrounded by strip-malls, fast-food restaurants, and other mature housing developments.
So it seems strange that it was in this place that nature invaded the attic - repeatedly - but that's the truth.
We had a nest of yellow jackets - in the wall, but they got in through the vent in the attic. (I read the first page of Sue Monk Kidd's The Secret Life of Bees, and know exactly the static radio sound she describes, though it didn't make me think of honey.)
After the yellow jackets were gone, my husband lifted the trap door one night to investigate a strange noise, and found himself nose to nose with a raccoon.
But the varmint we referred to as "the neighbor upstairs" was a female possum who took up residence, and stayed for quite some time, because we feared to repair and lock the broken vent, lest we inadvertantly trap her inside. We didn't wish to deal with a frightened, cornered animal with sharp teeth, nor did we want to fetch a dead one out. So for the several months it took us to devise a clever plan, she stayed.
The ceiling was thin plywood. We knew she slept directly above our heads when we were in bed, because she snored, and we could hear her loud and clear. We also heard - everything - when she brought her boyfriends home...
All to establish that an attic can be a wild place. And the critters are just the beginning. It's us humans after all, who stuff them with boxes and boxes of things we don't want to see but can't throw away: old love letters from people we didn't marry, journals filled with melodramatic ramblings of our youth, photographs and momentos that remind us of things that cause us sorrow or shame.
Stuff writers refer to as material.
Which brings me to the parlor.
It's a different sort of place. We try to keep it tidy, and more than any other room, we decorate this one. We read the magazines, tour the model homes, compare fabrics and paint chips, and spend money and time to make it nice. Brocade and mirrors? Leather and paisley? We bring our company to the parlor, after all, so we take control of the story it tells, to reflect the life we want to believe we are living, the life we want others to see.
Some writers get their material here.
I'll bet you can see the mistake, but it's an easy one to make - especially for Christians. Other writers may project an image, but that image is for their benefit alone, and the one they wish us to see may even be enhanced by the darker, grittier material found in the attic.
We Christians are unique in that we consider the image of Christ we present, even more than our own. Who else in the world worries that something they say or do may knock another's doctrine askew, and lead to serious eternal consequences? Wow man, that's heavy.
But please, listen to me:
That prettied up, surface part of our mind is a terrible place from which to draw a story. People's parlors tend to look the same as other people's parlors (we all read the same magazines), and the stories that come from there all read the same.
If we want to write stories that mean something to people with attics of their own, we have to climb to that shadowy place in our heads full of strange noises and wild animals. If you're a storyteller, you must go there.
Ever notice how little faith you need in the parlor? David didn't write, "though I walk through the valley of gingham and stripes." It's the valley of the shadow of death that forces us to reach for God.
But we fear ourselves. We are human and fallible. Experience has taught us our viewpoints and even our doctrines will change as we study and pray and listen and grow over time, so how can we open our mouths about the things we will find up there? What if we say the wrong thing?
I'd like to submit that you can say the wrong thing in the parlor. It may be pretty, but it will still be wrong.
Even more, I'd like to submit that there is Someone in the attic besides the possum and her boyfriends. He is wise and good, and He can handle you. He filled His Bible with stories. At night He fills your head not with graphs and facts but with stories from the attic. He cherishes those photographs and love letters and journals, and He works all things together for good. Even - especially - inside of you.
You can trust him.