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Thursday, March 31, 2005

the laughing God


There are certain queer times and occasions in this strange mixed affair we call life when a man takes this whole universe for a vast practical joke, though the wit thereof he but dimly discerns, and more than suspects that the joke is at nobody’s expense but his own… all (this) and death itself seem to him only sly, good natured hits and jolly punches in the side bestowed by the unseen and unaccountable old joker.
(Herman Melville, Moby Dick. 1851)

here’s one: try to imagine the face of God laughing. i mean, i know that there is that one painting of Jesus guffawing at something peter suggested (okay, we don’t know that it was about peter, but read the gospels… he was often the comedy relief!) but for some reason it is difficult to picture God the Father enjoying a real knee slapper. the closest we can get with our imaginings ends up looking like santa. i try and try but Almighty God, as far as my imagination is concerned, has the countenance of a wise, kingly ruler with a long face and an even longer grey beard. where did that come from? who said that wisdom couldn’t smile? where is it written that holiness is solemn? why is it that the creator of the duck-billed platypus doesn’t get to smirk once in awhile?

i think i know why. i believe that our sense of humour has fallen with us.

comedy was probably originally anything that would make the face of God break into a huge smile, something that would cause thunderous divine laughter- “good one!” he would howl at the end of a busy day of creating. and you know how it feels when you have had more fun than you can possibly stand? well what if God set apart the seventh day just to take a breather? i think i can begin to picture a laughing God if i read the scriptures looking for him.

God places adam into the garden and then sits back. he says “it’s no good for the man to be alone… let’s have some fun!” and so he makes all manner of beast and bird, from the very straight to the very strange. he creates the dodo. he creates the warthog. he creates the hammerhead shark and allows it to swim upstream from the ocean (hammerheads are known to do this every now and then) so that the man can note the curious placement of the eyes without actually having to face it in the water. he creates the baboon (just think about that one for a minute…) then he puts the man to sleep and creates someone for the man to wake up laughing with. remember how much you laughed when you were on your honeymoon?

this God is hardly an unseen and unaccountable old joker. this is the God of face to face delight. this is the God of the open smile, not some sly fate that waits for the chance to say “GOTCHA!” and then snicker at the confusion of humankind. likewise, the laughter of this God is not like the laughter of the fallen, full of irony, surprise and wit. it is an announcement to all creation that he is having a great time loving and expressing that love.

so how did we get where we are today? how did laughter become something that somehow celebrates the imperfections that ensued once humankind made the decision to try and run it all? how did laughter become this explosive vocal mockery of all that has fallen short of God’s original design? just as God’s crowned of creation fell, so fell pop humour. we learned to somehow laugh at the tragedy of our fallenness, complete with its limitations, pratfalls and relational faux pas.

what a sad case is fallen man. taking such comfort in his own depravity- that which is both self-satisfying and self-destructive. we have accepted satan’s invitation to abandon righteous laughter in place of a bedroom farce of the heart and we spend our lives sorting out mistaken identities, confusion, clumsiness, self-consciousness, identity crises and even mortality itself- laughing all the way.

i recognize that it is the nature of the accusor to bring to the front our greatest doubts and fears about our personal worth because of how that so powerfully works against the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus on our behalf. in Jesus is our greatest worth, our greatest pardon and our greatest peace. anything that can distract us from that allows the evil one to feel that he has somehow won something. the heckler in the crowd thinks he has had the last word.

so what might God have had in mind when he invented laughter in the first place?

that’s easy: worship.

divine comedy takes place when God takes advantage of our inability to fully know his character in order to surprise us by bringing us delight in ways we could not, in our fallen state, imagine. God's sense of humour celebrates his faithfulness, not our fallenness. God's sense of humour is miraculous, not monetary. God’s sense of humour is steeped in his love for us, his beloved. perhaps God laughs a mighty laugh when he answers the prayer that we didn’t really expect to see answered. God probably finds it funny when he can sneak up behind us and dump a bucket of life in abundance over our heads. he wants us to enjoy his goodness, not just experience it.

Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. Long long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ. (What pleasure he took in planning this!) He wanted us to enter into the celebration of his lavish gift-giving by the hand of his beloved son.
(Ephesians 1.4-8. The Message, paraphrased by Eugene Peterson)

i think that God’s greatest pleasure is to share a really good laugh with us over a jar of living water and then pick up the tab as we reach for our wallet only to find filthy rags. we laugh and he laughs and no one even thinks to ask what ever happened to that loud mouth who was trying to spoil the party?

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Tuesday, March 29, 2005

whose

yourself is not just yours
(I corinthians 6.19-20)

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Wednesday, March 23, 2005

whether poetry

so we're having this cool blog exchange in the comment box of a different blog and i'm responding very thoughtfully to the comments below from john - i mean, i'm really engaged here. anyway, i take a phone call and inadvertently click on X(close) rather than 'publish.'

aaarrrrggggggh!

lost for all time, apart from what i can remember. how many blogs have you lost?

here's the uninspired version...
***

What is truth? Is it solely the domain of the poet? Is it solely the domain of argument?

...I think that is the point of the parables. It isn't just about the argument, which is substantial, but just as important it is about style and tone. The truth needs to be heard for those with ears to hear and eyes to see. But, like poor Willy, a 'tell it slant' is required and sometimes it is not enough. (john www.penseethoughts.blogspot.com)

truth is a nomad.

it is probably more fitting to ask what truth's license plate number is than it is to enquire as to its sole domain. truth is to be found everywhere and nowhere at the same time. augustine said 'all truth is God's truth' and i believe that deeply. our problem isn't with location, it's with recognition.

let me start by telling you a lie: "it is a lovely day out there."

well unless somebody informs you that i am lying, it's pretty easy for a completely inaccurate picture to be painted of the day outside- especially if either you do not have a window of your own, or your window is a long way from mine. yet at the core of what i have said is some truth about the weather out there... it's just hidden.

what you are receiving is a message expressing my deeply held conviction concerning snow in spring, not-so-cleverly disguised as window weather. i think snow can be quite lovely in december on the ski hill. however, i hold very strongly to the position that snow has no place in the air or on the ground after the spring equinox- it's just wrong, and that's what i'm actually saying.

so what is sarcasm? a poetic device? sure. we use all sorts of gimmickry to dress up even the most uninteresting facts for public consumption. that's why the weatherman is usually the one wingnut on the 'channel 7 alive-at-5 newsteam.' the weatherman knows, as does everybody else, that the basic facts known even to a flunky meteorologist are rather difficult for the average citizen to get excited about. we are flippant people, dazzled by catastrophy and bored to tears by everyday life. we long for escape and, let's face it, there is no escaping weather (apart from, perhaps, getting a room with no window- but even then you can still stumble upon a blog written by someone who has nothing better to talk about!) the weatherman turns the reporting of the daily environmental conditions into performance art- he has to or his employers will find someone who will.

nietzsche said 'The more abstract the truth you want to teach, the more thoroughly you must seduce the senses to accept it.' i would also argue that the more common the truth you want to teach, the more thorough the seduction of the audience's senses must be as well.

the style and tone is what engages the crowd. the slant makes the information appealing to a target audience. however, what we really enjoy is not the reported weather, but our relationship with the weird guy in the hat. the weather just happens to be the topic that is central to every exchange as the newsroom mascot puts it out there for us all once again.

the truth is that we value human contact, and perhaps we feel some sort of human warmth in direct response to the humour and candor of the weatherman. the weatherman creates social weather while reporting the temperature and expected precipitation.

truth is sometimes about information, but very rarely do we actually pursue information devoid of some form of human connection. i think that that's why Jesus was crucified, not simply ignored. he had this way of connecting with people that either changed lives or threatened lives that were set in their religiosocial castes and in desperate need of change.

love him or hate him, people tuned in daily to see what Jesus would do next. and, as john points out in his blog comment...

Christ is truth incarnate and as a poet or theologian or philosopher the truth must be incarnate in our character as we reflect the image of Christ.

Where is truth? Truth resides in us as we are conformed to the image of Christ. Bono is right: everytime I look in the mirror the incarnate Christ is looking back... Pilate stared truth in the face and perhaps the 'slant' was too much.

i think it would be interesting to know who tunes in daily for the my weather reports, and what people are really getting from it all. hopefully relationship. hopefully love. hopefully Jesus.

only they can say.

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Tuesday, March 22, 2005

damaged goods

what is to be done with a heart that has been broken, yet healed wrong?

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Monday, March 21, 2005

living the lines

suffered silence
self-righteous violence
empty compliance- all of these fall short

power glory
kingdom of the sorry
story of stories: all of these are yours

and all to you i surrender all i am

for you said 'come walk with me'
and i said 'i'm afraid to leave'
but you shed your light on me
and i know it is time
so we step way out of line
and become holy bread and wine
poured out that the starving would dine
and know your love

freedom fighter
love song writer
soul igniter: all of these, you are

grace and gladness
joy in sadness
holy madness- passion released

to you alone i'm falling to my knees

preacher for hire
set me on fire
in the land of the liar, let me bring truth

(you said 'come walk with me'; march 7, 2005)
***
this song came as a heart response to a rather dark journal entry (most things being relative to everything else?) where i found myself on familiar ground. the journal bit was called 'come walk with me'

'come walk with me'
he said
and stepped off the ledge
onto a cloud
which supported only the idea
of the man he had once been
before the gravity of
his decisions and indecisions
provided
the little boy holding the piece of chalk
with something new to trace

these windows betray
the secret exodus of all that once
dwelt within
tenants of hope and peace
of imagination and faith
of inspiration and awareness
of perspective
have long since moved on, leaving
behind no recyclable trace of soul
and no forwarding address

there are days when
my heart behaves like a bastard
knowing right but
going terribly wrong

but who would receive such unlove with any love at all?

'this feels familiar- vaguely familiar' (sung by gonzo in 'the muppet movie')

welcome to the new adolescence
***
a timequake
a deja vu
a glitch in the matrix
a chance to live the line "i wish i knew then what i know now..."

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Friday, March 18, 2005

theme parks

sometimes you have words and sometimes you don't-
sometimes there are a lot of them- other times there are not...
it's just breathing.

my journal is this way- so is friedrich nietzsches...
(i guess that i am in good or bad company there, depending on whether you like his stuff- but that's a whole nother blog now, isn't it?)

well i realize that this morning there's not a whole lot there. rather than go on and on about having nothing to say on days like today, i think that i'll just punch out a shortword, label it, and leave it at that.
***

disappointment with God?
he made the garden
we make theme parks

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Monday, March 14, 2005

lost passion


i have a question: why the recut?
mel gibson's controversial film 'the passion of the Christ' has been recut with the more 'offensive' stuff removed.

i have another question: feel better now?

once again we have opted for a tidy retelling of the story- as if there aren't already enough of those. about a month ago my blogfriend marcy and i were tossing around some of film's more comical (:-0) portrayals of Jesus' story.

***
marcy said
This all started when Marcy (me) started asking people who they thought the worst ‘Jesus Actors’ of all time where. I mean, we’re talking from Mel Gibson’s ‘The Passion’ on down through ‘The Robe’ and what-not, the worst Jesus Actors of all time.

We’re talking the worst method actors known to cinema: “A November Boston Globe review of Jesus Christ Superstar called the non-Equity show "so unspeakably awful it's enough to make a writer give up theater criticism forever and set up a shoeshine stand in the middle of a mudslide."

Anyways, here’s a partial list of Jesus Actors:
Willem Dafoe in The Last Temptation of Christ
James Caviezel in The Passion of the Christ
Jeremy Sisto in Jesus (made for tv)
Brian Deacon in Jesus (from '79)
Claude Heater in Ben-Hur
Kenneth Colley in Life of Brian
Ted Neeley in Jesus Christ Superstar
William Powell in Jesus Of Nazareth
Max Von Sydow in The Greatest Story Ever Told
H.B. Warner in The King Of Kings
Jeffrey Hunter in ‘The King of Kings’ (61)

Okay, as for what Marcy has to say about this list, Willem Dafoe also played the mad scientist in the Spiderman movie. Enough said there.


to which i felt compelled to reply:
as for willem dafoe, thank God actors play roles, rather than live them (another plug for "Jesus of Montreal" yay!) because a bunch of the guys on this list have either taken bizarre/embarrassing parts somewhere along the way, or have never worked again...

ted neeley played 'curly' (the cowboy with a glove full of vaseline- which, until someone filled me in this year, i actually believed WAS to keep his hand 'soft for his wife')in the 70's version of "of mice and men"

"max von sydow was 'brewmeister smith' (a deranged scientist who goes for global mind control by adding hallucinogens to canadian beer at oktoberfest)in bob and doug mckenzie's "strange brew" (major canadiana piece there)

jeffrey hunter went on to be commander pike in the "star trek" pilot, returning to the little screen in a recut version of it called "the menagerie"

there's probably many more great laughs we could have over the aesthetic folly/curse (it's kinda interesting that in casting the new superman, both jim C and willem D were not even considered because they had both already played JC. darned do-gooders!) attached to playing Jesus- i just don't have my big fat cross-referenced movie book handy to go digging further.

i am just glad that malcolm mcdowell has never played the Christ (unless you include "a clockwork orange"- but that one's probably just conjecture) because i don't think that i could see "Caligula Christ" without becoming really uncomfortable.

and on it went...
***

point is, there are already a bunch of 'biblical epic' type portrayals of Jesus' passion which just don't rate, and clearly it's not about visual desensitization, because desensitized people would dismiss the flogging scene as merely running too long without moving the story forward...

it's about letting love in. we hate that a good person could be so cruelly treated; or we hate that people will watch a film and weep, but will eat supper on the couch while watching wars and their atrocities chronicled on cnn; we hate the idea that such horrific torture could be undergone by the son of God on our behalf (although that is still too personally and spiritually problematic for many- let's just stick with the good person part; it permits filtered consciencing.) telling a story is one thing, but depicting a troubling historical event in such extreme detail is somehow too much.

give us 'kill bill.' we know that that's silly. we know that that isn't supposed to get into our hearts. we know that people are not, as presented (brilliantly, i might add) by tarantino, huge sacks of blood just waiting to explode, and therefore we can laugh at our mortality rather than fear losing it to face a loveless forever, completely absent from the presence of God.

don't kid yourself- none of us has any idea how dark the darkness really is. how dark can you imagine? does it compare to what we find offensive about the original cut of the film?

Jesus said 'forgive them, for they have no idea...'

it feels like we've given up truth for lent.

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Thursday, March 10, 2005

our homely naked man

this is a blog from 2002.
i am leading the worship at a similar event this evening, and was planning the song list when my brain went back to a period when i used to bother with capital letters from time to time...

God keep our land
Glorious and free
O Canada we stand on guard for thee...

have you ever noticed what we're singing there? I was at a prayer event for ALPHA recently which opened with some worship singing, led by a talented singer/guitarist. just when the crowd was really warmed up, she transitioned into our national anthem.

now, I don't know about you but I need to confess something here: O Canada has never really done it for me. for my unnecessarily critical self, it has always felt like a rather light, albeit well-intentioned theme song for a country. it doesn't have the patriotic swells that star-spangled banner has, nor does it bear the smug superiority of the old soviet national anthem that I remember from watching the various Canada-Russia hockey series. O Canada, for me, has always been an easy-going, nonpretentious "how's it goin' eh?" kinda song... ranking right up there "artistically" with "koo roo koo koo koo koo koo koo..." by the McKenzies.

this is not meant to sound unpatriotic or anything, just a bit aesthetically snobby.

however, as has happened so many times in the last few years, God took me into a moment and challenged all that I felt I knew on the topic (in this case, that of spiritual patriotism with those final lines.) a prayer of intercession for our Country- that God would keep our land glorious and free... I have, in typically Canadian fashion, bought into Canada's inferiority complex and said "take off, you hoser" one too many times...

from here i don't know where i went. perhaps the server melted down or something, i don't know. all i know is that this is all i have from that old blog. it is, however enough. i can finish it now...

the song ends with a pledge: we stand on guard.

i know that if i think this is standing on guard then i am sleeping at my post. i don't lift my country up enough in prayer or in practice. do i do anything extra, that God would keep our land glorious and free?

as we find in jeremiah 29.5-7, God commands us through the prophet to not only live here, but to pray for the peace and prosperity of the people with whom we share a driveway. he goes on to say that when we all prosper then we all prosper- pretty straight forward. my best friend and fellow pastor preached this 'social gospel' on sunday, but some of us are slow learners. it took me until today to think of our national anthem in this context.

but what the heck is the title of this blog all about?

the first line of the anthem goes 'O Canada! Our home and native land...' and i have always joked that a little child could very easily mistake the lyrics if they are not enunciated properly. however, i think that the problem lies not in the elocution of the lyric, but in the application of it. the exiles in the bible passage were commanded to pour their lives into the land of their captivity, yet i take my homeland so for granted (like a lot of easy-going canucks i know) that i make jokes rather than pray for its political, social and spiritual safety and stability.

i love being Canadian, and i love that people generally like Canadians wherever you go. i just wish that we stood for more than good hockey, good beer, cold fronts and warm humour, ya know?

sounds to me like real change, once again, starts inside and works its way out.

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Tuesday, March 08, 2005

your name here

names are funny things. sometimes they bear great literal significance, other times they are merely ironic and often they just sound nice. my sons' names mean 'poet' and 'warlord' respectively, and although we didn't presume the clairevoyance to be able to make the personality calls ahead of time, the names totally fit. my personal name means 'beloved' and, judging by the good stuff that seems to be so liberally dumped into my life, i would have to say to my parents 'good call there.'

but blognames are different yet again, for the person chooses his or her own handle based on a variety of motivations, artistic and otherwise. often clever pseudonymal descriptors and poetic license are part of the process of attempting to be indentifiable. i know that most days i am neither jolly nor destitute in the literal sense (see yesterday's blog) but i liked the quote so the hook became mine. when i read blognames, i try to presume nothing out of the ordinary.

well, it turns out that the only thing about ordinary is that nobody is.

i'm not sure that Jesus is distracted by the same things that throw us, though. i know that i was a bit surprised to discover that a blogfriend of mine was in fact the owner and operator of a chain franchise of 'spas' in the chicago area. i was more interested, however, to discover that she, like all of us, is on a journey, spiritual and otherwise. someone once said that we are spiritual beings having a human experience (not the other way 'round- the glass is half full, my friend)

i mean, when Jesus thinks of me, does he call me 'jollythebeggar'
or is it just 'jolly?'

i don't think it's any of these. i think that when Jesus thinks of me, he has one name and one name only... in fact, it's the only name that matters:

'mine.'

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Monday, March 07, 2005

bankruptcy

grace substitutes a full, childlike and delighted acceptance of our need,
a joy in total dependence.
we become jolly beggars
(c.s.lewis)

hence the handle
sorry, too preoccupied with opportunities and deadlines to write something long and rambling.
-jb

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Friday, March 04, 2005

innuendo


























so i've been thinking a lot lately about lies that we believe.

here's one: it's got to be bad to be good.

how many stories have we heard of people who spoil their appetite for a home-cooked meal by grabbing a bite to eat on the way home from work? or find themselves standing by the candy machine oggling the treats that lie just out of reach for an imagination boost to get them through the day? or have a little something right there in their office desk that is just waiting for the moment when no one will suspect a thing? our appetites are fickle and it often seems that something legitimate and healthy just doesn't compare to the non-commital treat because, although we know we should wait until we get home we have the munchies now... it's the whole 'instant gratification meets forbidden fruit' thing.

i don't know. we always want what we can't have, and are willing to forsake what is freely and lovingly given to us in order to gain a sense of adventure and control in order to feel alive. we know that we shouldn't, but we find our logic working overtime to convince ourselves that we should, justifying our actions with lies and validating our lies with actions.

my wife and her friend were talking about this the other day after having gone to a matinee movie which dealt almost entirely with fast-food counterfeits (believe it or not...i didn't know that they actually showed films of this sort in public theatres- you ever notice how sometimes the starkest, most explicit images of feasting generate virtually no hunger? a bit more mainstream, i recall that scene from the first matrix film where cypher is making his deal with an agent to betray neo while eating steak, and although he looks like he is apparently enjoying it, watching him eat is just kinda 'yecch'. too much eyes closed, succulence savoring for me.)

well, whether it was due to the strong culinary content in the movie or the powerful conversation that followed i do not know, but when i arrived home there were candles lit and a surprise dinner waiting which was so absolutely incredible that a second helping would have probably killed me! i wanted to go outside and stand on top of my house shouting:

"MY WIFE IS THE MOST AMAZING COOK IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD AND I WISH THE REST OF YOU ALL THE BEST IN YOUR SEARCH FOR NUMBER TWO!"

i don't know if it's got to be bad to be good,
but it's got to be good to be the best.

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Wednesday, March 02, 2005

adverblogging

most recent peeve:

advertising blogs

i just went snooping around for someone interesting to read: i love hitting 'next blog' to see what kind of spin on life i will get next... but i got three advertising blogs in a row before actually landing on an idea from a human being.

i realize that blogging is probably ALL advertising in a way.
you're advertising your perspective, your beliefs, your convictions, your experiences, your creative voice... all that.

but it's still cybersocial. thank you, all of you who actually write about life as you know and experience it. write a little/ write a lot. doesn't matter... just get the idea out there where somebody can decide what they want to do with it.

advertising blogs have no redeeming social value- cyber or otherwise. they are as useless as email hoaxes or pop-ups or that annoying 'hot wife wanst to cheat on husbnad' spam crap.

they are the waste of my time that other people's ideas aren't.

that's all i have to say.

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Tuesday, March 01, 2005

be good. work hard. learn lots.

Every day I send my kids out the door of the truck as I drop them off for yet another day of "education" and I tell them "be good, work hard, learn lots." so much so that my youngest now cuts me off before I even finish. "yeah yeah, be good, work hard and learn lots just like you tell me everyday!" We laugh and she goes. My older daughter sometimes looks a little puzzled like she's caught off guard or something, like I'm speaking another language (which I kinda am since she's 19 and I'm 41) blows a kiss and tells me she loves me all while carrying with her the important parts of her life; her purse and books. and the door closes.
I've spent my life coming to this conclusion which really isn't a conclusion at all because that somehow implies an ending. I mean I didn't sit down one day with a goal of writing a "personal statement of mission". If I have to write it down on paper to refer to it's not going to be there in the crunch you know. "Let me see. What do I do in this (hypothetical) situation?? ... oh yes 'be good' that's right I remember now." Too late.
But it hit me the other day, these aren't words I just say to my kids to give them a morsel of something noble as they head out into their worlds. I really believe them. simple isn't it?

be good - lots of people want to be happy, but if you do this first part you'll have a lot less to apologize for and have a lot more friends (this in turn will make you happy)
work hard - the effort is worth your time no matter the outcome because you showed yourself you could do it even if no one else noticed
learn lots - you never knew how handy tying your shoelaces would be did you? never forget how you learned to do that.

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pulp mill

i worked at a pulp mill for five summers during university.

one thing that you regularly had to deal with in the industry was poisonous gases- it was just an occupational fact, and was addressed at the very first 'safety induction meeting' every year. the really creepy thing was how our olfactory nerve works...

(warning: a completely non-specific, non-scientific attempt at making a point is imminent... proceed with grace)

our olfactory nerve communicates to our brains, safely encased in skull and tissue, what is atmospherically going on in the real world outside. that would be great except for one dangerous fact: there are many harmful gases (SO2 and H2SO4, for example) that temporarily disable or paralyse your olfactory nerve so that, after a moment or two, you fail to detect their presence... in other words, you think that they are gone.

so you're walking around in a poisonous environment, completely unaware that you are in the early stages of dying.

i wonder if our conscience works the same way.