But what, exactly, is it?
Bruce Charlton wrote some exceedingly strange things, recently, about earthly existence, that I was, am, and will probably continue to be, at odds with.
Christianity, he holds, is about living oneâ€™s life in complete denial of, and abstention from, any kind of enjoyment, or pleasure. In order to enjoy everlasting life, when one is dead.
Whether or not, the reader agrees with this view, let it be clear that I do not.
And here, if I am able to, I will describe why…
The sort of lives that the majority of us live, and I assume most will agree with this, are pretty dire affairs. Disappointing, dull, flavorless and predictable. That being so, we like, at every opportunity, to spice things up. This spicing-up may take many forms: sex, drugs, bungee-jumping, sex, drugs, alcohol, music, movies, skydiving, sex, fighting, drugs, sex, alcohol, sex, sex…
And, lest I end up sending everyone on a real downer, let me say that all of this is entirely understandable. Even â€œnormalâ€. Whether or not it is beneficial, well, weâ€™ve all heard religious sermons before. Good? Bad? Sinful? Who gets to decide, anyway? So in this context, it would seem that Mr. Charltonâ€™s view is, at least, understandable. But is it accurate?
For what, exactly, is pleasure, anyway?
I suggest it is something we get so little of, that we scurry around trying to manufacture it, with spotty, sporadic and often unpredictable results. Itâ€™s a bit like vitamin pills: everyone agrees they are good for you, but how do you know? Or salt: without it, we die. But how much is good, and at what point does it become not-good?
Lying in warm sunshine can be pleasurable. It can also be very damaging. Doing so can deliver a healthy dose of Vitamin D, but then so can unpleasurable vitamin pills. Then factor in the danger-to-come from skin cancer. Oh Man. Here we go again: more stuff to worry about and get anal over.
Well. Here is my take on all of this…
Life is a gift. For some, it may seem an unwanted gift, or no gift at all. But weâ€™re stuck with this thing that we had no hand in, that arrived, for free, and now what to do with it?
Participation is the secret key. The missing thing that either makes it work, or not.
Participation in oneâ€™s own life, is what makes that life worth living.
And he spoke to them in parables…
A tree is a very big, heavy, and difficult-to-deal-with thing. Like us, it has a lifespan. Sooner or later it will die. This may occur sooner rather than later; the result of a windstorm, or exceptionally heavy snowfall. The tree will either fall, and die, or die and fall. Some die and remain stubbornly standing, so…
Enter the chainsaw. The axe. The balls to cut this sucker down. The forethought to do so without ending up like the tree. The big, heavy, cumbersome reality of the thing lying prone on the ground. Now what?
Youâ€™ve bought a wood-stove, right? Hacked a hole in your roof. Installed all the critical donâ€™t-burn-your-house-down stuff. Had some fool in to inspect it. So now you buck that downed tree into fourteen inch rounds. If itâ€™s a fir, this is hard work. If itâ€™s an alder, itâ€™s easier. But whatever it is, all of this takes time and effort.
The gas/oil mix for the saw must be right. The chain must be sharpened often. Angles, pitches, files and gauges. Ear protectors, goggles, hard-hat.
And of course, the tree was never in a convenient spot, and so now the heavy rounds need moving to the woodshed. Did you remember to build a woodshed before you started?
Then you need a maul, a wedge, a sledgehammer, to split the wood, before stacking it. And a splitting block, of course: one of the rounds will do for that.
Oh: almost forgot: kindling. Back to the forest to drop a dead cedar, buck it up, split kindling from the rounds. A hatchet, machete, or froe is needed for this. And leather gloves, and finely focused attention, if you wish to retain all your fingers…
I hope you climbed up on the roof to clean the chimney? Special brushes, a length of chain, a sturdy ladder, head for heights, etc.
And then to load the woodbox, using empty toilet-paper tube, fine cedar kindling, heavier kindling, thinly split wood, and finally regular wood…
Well itâ€™s no wonder we invented electric heat, eh?
But to sit in front of this glass-fronted stove, as the shadows lengthen, the flames flicker and waft, the incomparable orange glow and dry heat, cat curled up and loving every moment…
Can turning a thermostat dial compare?
End of parable.
The effort expended holds unexpected benefits. Every stick of wood is hand cut, hand split, hand stacked, hand transported, hand picked. One is keenly aware of this, as each new piece is loaded onto the coal-bed. Each piece has a history, like a song, taking one back to its original context.
Itâ€™s a messy, expensive, back-breaking, time-consuming way to keep warm, but, oh, so, very, satisfying. And this, this satisfaction, is what pleasure is.
If your life is crap, then find another way. Thereâ€™s no excuse not to. Anybody can do it. It doesnâ€™t take money. It takes life. And you still have one of those, donâ€™t you?
When enough people say no to the lifeless, unfulfilling, soul-destroying manner in which most of us have come to exist, then we will have ourselves a whole new society. Governments, banks, employers, will have to adapt to us. Not us adapt to them.
Weâ€™ve tried it, done it, seen it for what it is. There is no real pleasure to be had, any more; only manufactured pleasure, which, unsatisfying as it is, is no pleasure at all.
I had better stop here, before I really get carried away.
Thank you, Bruce Charlton, for giving me something to ponder.
We all play our parts, whether we had planned on it, or not.