Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Two Ways

Back in August 2007 I posted a poem called "Reverie" that some folks have said is one of their favorites. My wife commented on the poem which really made me feel good; however, up to now I declined to answer the question she posed. "Who were you thinking about when you wrote that?" is what she asked. The reason I didn't answer is that I've always had this aversion to the artist providing interpretations to the art. But, Chrisy was on to something in not being certain as to whom I was writing about. I wanted it to be ambiguous even though to some it is not ambiguous at all (read to the end for more on that).

I cannot believe I am going to talk about one of my third grade lessons, but I am. In my class we are currently reading a fantasy story titled "The Cat Who Became a Poet." It's from the book "Nonstop Nonsense" by Margaret Mahy. In the story this cat eats a poet mouse and then against his own desire, he turns into a poet himself! Poor guy.

My favorite part of the story is when the cat is chased up a tree by this dog Max. In order to defend himself, the cat tries to hiss and spit at the dog, but a poem comes out instead. The poem contains these lines:

"Colonel Dog fires his cannon
And puts his white soldiers on parade."

The dog loves the poem and then goes away flattered. After that, the cat is stupefied and says, "If only he knew. I wasn't meaning to praise him. Poetry is very tricky stuff and can be taken two ways."

You see, apparently the cat viewed the dog as a hostile warlord, the cannon being barking and the white soldiers being his teeth. The cat thought the dog was mean! The dog took it as a compliment, an admiration of his power.

The cat has a point, poetry is tricky and it can be taken two ways. For me, a good movie is the same way. I've often said that I don't like movies that "spoon-feed" me the ending. Usually, I love films that are left open for the viewer to interpret the ending. One example could be a love story. If it is not "spoon-fed" then the pessimists in the crowd can walk away saying, "They don't stay together" whereas the romantics can say, "They live happily-ever-after." Perhaps those somewhere in the middle might add, "They make it, but it takes years of counseling." The antithesis of this would be the PRETTY WOMAN ending: There is no need for counseling if you're a hooker with a heart-of-gold!

In my opinion, many great works of art are left open for the viewers to place their personalities, beliefs, and "baggage" upon the art itself. Therefore, two of us might walk away with two different views. DEAD MAN WALKING is a good example as I noticed my friends who are "pro-death penalty" though the movie supported their view AND my friends who are "anti-death penalty" thought it supported their case as well. Forget two, a good movie, painting, poem, or song might have three or four possible interpretations!

I once went to my friend's art exhibit and my favorite painting there fell into this category. One person thought it was a lake of fire. Another thought it was a volcano. I thought it was the Holy Spirit moving into action. Could we all be correct?

Another classic example that comes to mind is the song "Obvious Child" by Paul Simon. It contains this line:

"The cross is in the ball park."

Once I saw the great interviewer, Bob Costas, question Paul Simon. He asked him about that line. He wanted to know what it meant. They noted that it could mean "ball park" as in "a close distance." For example, "That's not the correct answer, but you're in the ball park." It could also mean a place where you play baseball such as "We had a great day at the ball park on Sunday."

Given the word "cross," Costas obviously thought the song had religious imagery. Costas offered Simon the first two obvious interpretations of the line and then added a third one which is what the line meant to Costas. Paraphrasing, here they are:

1) Actualization or full maturity is within reach, "The cross is in the ball park" as in the end of my life is close.
2)Redemption/salvation is possible as in a true religious interpretation speaking to Christ's suffering for us.
3) "Salvation" or joy or what matters is actually found in our national pastime: baseball.

Given Costas's love of sports, baseball in particular, it would make sense for him to say the cross is at the baseball stadium. What is good, what is right, might be found with your kids on a Sunday afternoon at a the Dodger game. Personally, the closest thing I've ever had to a religious experience at Dodger Stadium is when Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band played there in 2003! But, I digress.

For the record, Simon essentially said that Costas was right and so was everybody else. It was supposed to mean whatever it meant to you, not Paul Simon. He refused to spoon-feed.

Back to my poem, "Reverie." It too can be taken two ways. My good friend put a much appreciated comment on the poem that read, "You're not your dad. Period!" Obviously, there we are talking about my earthly father and his behaviors. She was correct. But, now in an effort to address my wife's question, I invite you to think about my Abba, my heavenly father and then reread the poem. What meaning does it now have? Read it that way, thinking of the ver last line, "father's reflection," in a divine way and you just might see that, indeed, the cross is in the ball park!

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