Friday, November 14, 2014
Toward Freedom XXXIV
God, who made the universe and all of its life, looks at people and sees... what? For him, all of time and space are spread out under his gaze and feel.
One day I was working on a sand sculpture. It was a busy day on the beach, and the place I'd chosen to build was right in the middle of the traffic. The sun was racing to the western sky and I had a sculpture to finish.
"Are you going to leave that rough place inside there?" a man passing by asked.
I looked at the place he indicated. "Yes."
"You should clean that up."
There was no time for a detailed answer. "It provides contrast. It stays that way." I went back to work.
"I would have to smooth it out," the man said as he turned and walked away.
"That's why I'm doing the sculpture, and you're walking," I thought.
I do understand what he saw. My own training was in the same direction: one flaw in the middle of the almost-perfect shouts its presence. Much has been written about the intentional imperfection left in some craftsmanship. Concentrate on the mistakes, ignore what's right about something.
Define "perfection," please. While you're thinking about that, I'll tell you about sand sculpture, at least as I practice it.
The day begins with light, the most basic of requirements. I have to see what I'm doing.
After light, there are sand and tide. High tide covers the good sand, so I start when the tide is dropping, and this has to happen early enough in the day that there's enough light to finish the sculpture. After I get my equipment to the building site, i spend a couple of hours building a pile of wet sand. The rest of the day goes into designing, carving, polishing, clean-up and base smoothing. When all of that is done I sign it.
Like light, energy is a limited resource. A sculpture involves all of me: thinking, feeling, moving, and some very heavy lifting. Time and energy spent on one part of the sculpture can't be spent on another part.
Design is essential. If the shape isn't beautiful, I'm not satisfied. The carving has to bring the design out. Polish removes ambiguities, unless the ambiguity is desired. The clues are subtle and surprising, and sometimes my hand is stayed to leave a happy accident.
Ideally, sunlight, tide and energy all run out at about the same time, leaving just enough for me to get some photographs. The day's last act is to get home, something like 10 hours after I started.
In the day's torrent of decisions there is much opportunity for mistakes. A slip of the carving tool, momentary distraction of a pelican flying by, a decision based on one idea that promptly proves to have been suboptimal for the design. In sand there is no taking it back; the mistake becomes part of the design unless it's the occasional fatal one that puts the whole sculpture on the ground.
What is a "mistake?" Some are clear, written in lumps of sand scattered across the beach. Others are questionable; no sculpture comes out of the design cloud with more than a passing resemblance to the mental image. I can't model all of the details.
So, the sculpture emerges from that design fog as a process along a winding path with many forks. Decide. Decide now, because the sun isn't waiting.
Have you figured out what perfection is? Yes? Well, let me make it more complicated. Today's skills enable today's learning, but today's learning enables tomorrow's new skills. Today's sculpture might be perfect, but if I repeated it precisely would it still be perfect? Should I suppress the new learning in order to retain perfection?
God never changes. "Be perfect, even as your father in heaven is perfect." Fortunately, in Jesus I am perfect. He looks at me and sees not the flaws that everyone else points to, but his Son's perfection wrapped around my shattered soul.
So, yes, I left the places inside the sculpture rough. Roughness does provide some contrast with the sculpture's smooth exterior. Roughness is also less obvious when it's shaded by the smooth panels outside. This is both a design decision and necessity; if I were to polish every surface equally I'd be here for three days.
The key is in vision. Finding imperfection is easy. Everything has flaws. If you don't find flaws, change the standards so that flaws become apparent. This happens to all of us. I'd really like to break this habit and see as Jesus sees.
Wednesday, November 12, 2014
Toward Freedom XXXIII
"If you love me, do the things that I command you."
"If you love me, you'll buy a diamond ring for me."
The statements are equivalent. Choose to love, choose to give up freedom. I'd like to think it doesn't have to be this way, but I'm swimming against a very strong current. I got tired a while back and quit trying.
Of course, I couldn't discuss this with God. He is, after all, the one talking about love and commandments. There comes a time, however, when not asking the question hurts less than the damage done by imitating a rock inside a desolate garden. Waiting for the storm to pass is a survival strategy only when there's enough energy left at the end to stop being a rock. When rock becomes the default, well, years go by in there.
For what? Why is survival so important? Don't go there, as a cliff is just beyond.
I'm fascinated by God's techniques. It's best to be an invisible rock, because something about a rock invites the hammer. "Break you out of there. It'll be good for you." Look at the history of revolutions in our world and you'll see just how effective that tactic is. Force is met with more force until something breaks, and as soon as the broken one heals enough that side takes a hammer to the others. God's way doesn't involve a hammer; his is more the way of flowing water, sunlight and invitation. Maybe the invitation will be ignored. He doesn't give up. All it might take is a little more time.
I could have saved a lot of time by asking God first. That means I'd have had to listen, and with ears tuned to the sound of a coming hammer I can't hear love. God doesn't quit. My resistance makes no change in his approach. He continues his movement and planning as if the outcome is certain. "There is no shadow of turning with you." But... I wasn't able to hear back then.
Life continues. Cells divide and make energy. Blood flows, breath blows, fingernails grow, time passes. What happens in these times when it seems nothing is happening? Something changes. Truth becomes more visible, or audible, or sensible, maybe all three and more.
I was in a half-dream, half-awake state and got to half-thinking about Jesus. "We love because he first loved us." And yet, he is Himself. No mistaking him for anyone else. Look at his encounters with people and there is no sign of him being anyone else and quite comfortable in being that. Enjoying, even.
"If you love me, do the things that I command you." There is no lack of people willing to tell me what God commands me to do. What does God, Himself, say to me? "Don't quit. Please don't quit." More recently, "Please don't go back into that abyss." It's a short list, and these are things that I can do. With difficulty, at times, but still possible.
Note how these are phrased: it's "don't do something." Rescue starts with stopping the destructive act: talked down from the bridge, letting go of the gun, stop walking toward the train. God knows that I react violently to any attempt at making things better, which is why what might be a garden looks more like a desert. Determined to be myself, I have a definition to maintain. Self-concept is everything. Lose that, I lose myself. I am This Way. Anything else is Not Me. Coming from a lifetime of being under assault it's not a surprising attitude.
God's invitation continues, however, unchanged from the very first day. "I have come to set the captives free," and he is willing to teach them everything starting from first principles. No matter how long it takes. Eventually, even I with my determined self-determination, begin to see beyond my own assumptions and into what God offers.
Tyranny is easy. Victim or victimizer, the roles are defined. What is my role with this God who offers much and works a very long plan to lead things to his conclusion? Do I just bob along in the river, or am I allowed to swim? Row? Water-ski? Skip? Tyranny is the habit I face. Its grip is surprisingly durable.
Tuesday, November 11, 2014
Toward Freedom XXXII
Big locks on a strong door might as well be painted in day-glo orange, with an accompanying sign that reads "Valuable Stuff Inside." Save time and hand out engraved invitations to every thief, vandal and raider in the neighborhood. Big fancy tombs in Egypt were plundered before the concrete had set. The excavated materials landed on top of other tombs, hiding them so they could be dug up thousands of years later.
Sparrows know better. There is nothing obvious about a sparrow. If you aren't strong enough to win the fight, then blend in. You can also use subterfuge: paint phony locks on a door, light it up, sprinkle some tidbits around inside. "Nothing unusual here," people will say, and then they'll leave.
The real action is around the back. Nobody ever goes here. The grass grows thick, leaves gather in the corners, the windows are cobwebbed and dusty and the doors are all weathered wood with rust making it obvious that they haven't been opened. Just another forgotten alley. Putting guards here would be futile advertising. Nothing to see. Move along.
Not everyone is a walker of the main routes. Some notice narrow branching paths. Like cats, they wander behind, under, inside, on top of, following their noses or whims. Some believe that anything not expressly allowed is forbidden. A curious nose might pursue a scent, nudge a door, and find that not only is there no guard but there's not even a latch. Others take the approach that if it's not locked, it's open to all.
What do we do now? The nose is inside the door. Using force to push it out just increases the curiosity factor: what's in there that's being so obviously defended? The better answer is to cede the territory, absorb the blow, giving no obvious signs of alarm or distress. The curious nose finds only common plants, abandoned objects of no value, and turns around.
Attritional filtering accounts for only so many. Truly persistent explorers push on against the defenses in depth, be these the Amazon jungle, Antarctic glaciers, or artful misdirection scattered about a garden. What remains attractive in such a place? I don't know, but it shouts "Failure!" at the top of a voice that is heard only by the sensitive. Maybe that voice acts as an attractant for some.
The coco de mer, fallen from the tree into a hostile ocean, simply drifts, defenseless, tough and small enough to ignore the battering whims of the waves. It's easy to ignore. Eventually the storm subsides, the invader loses interest, and the hard kernel floats away.
Once in a while there's an extra-persistent one, tapping on the hard nut. "Hello? Is there anyone home?"
"Nope. Nobody here."
Eventually... bloom, or die. There is no such thing as stasis. As big as the Indian Ocean is, the coco de mer is likely to wash up on a shore someplace. Bloom, or rot. Is there a way to reach inside, without using a rock? Without shattering the nut, which is the usual response to obvious defenses?
Grow, or die. Those seem to be the choices. Growth is death, in a way; to a believer in stasis, change brings up all those cliches about caterpillars turning into butterflies. Does the caterpillar know what's going to happen as it makes a chrysalis? From the outside it appears to be following a program but no one can get inside its mind. Does it hurt? Does it experience the repeated disappointment of previous attempts to change that simply result in more battering between wave and stone? The caterpillar does it once for all. Humans die many times. The record of failure is long.
Yet the heart keeps beating. Simple animal life. Metabolism, movement, mentation as the sun goes around. Stuck inside the nut is... what? A tree? A human? A butterfly?
Who enters? Who can enter, when any attempt is seen as an attack? But... here's this little tendril, come through a tiny crack. The tendril brings life. It also brings change! Close the crack! It can't be closed; to do so is to die... again. Inevitable? The cost of closure is simply too high. I can't do it any more.
Fold up. Let it happen to someone else. I'm not really here. Nobody home but a simulacrum made of habits and mirrors grown up around with weeds and dust. Cede ever more territory to the God of the Universe, but he will never touch me! Wait... he already has. Back and forth.
The issue is forced, without force. Purely choice: stay with God, or turn my back on him. I know how that goes. With God in here, is there any room left for me? Do I have any right to my own soul? If I do, how do I express that? I never had that right; anything I discovered and enjoyed was likely to be taken away, so I learned to take it away from myself before someone else did it. When God entered I ceded everything to him, as per instructions. Given this lifeline I didn't ask questions.
Of whom would I ask? I know all the church answers. Ask God? That's asking for trouble, like asking the man with a rock if he likes coconut. God, however, seems to have no self-interest. At least, he doesn't put his interests before those of his people.
What of other seeming invaders? If they make it through three levels of defenses and are still interested, what can I do? I have no idea what of myself is inside the automation and shields. The only way to learn is to try being there, letting go of the programs and seeing what happens.
Friday, June 27, 2014
Toward Freedom XXXI
I initially turned to Jesus as an experiment. The only way to find truth is to seek it out and try things. The experiment was going pretty well, I think now, until I, though lack of knowledge and confidence, derailed it. Believing that I was actually talking to God, back then in 1971 and '72, became too hard to hold onto.
What keeps anyone going in life? What kept me going was an idea both hazy and strong. There was more to the world I lived in than what anyone around me admitted to. Even when they went to church and dragged me along with them, the background assumption seemed to be that this was a social good more than something done through personal conviction. I steered clear, for many years, of complete reliance on rationality and answers built up like brick walls.
Still, there are things I don't know, and I still have curiosity. This world uses rationality to build its things, beliefs, ideas, principles, and to figure out how things work. I took the concept in with the air I breathed, and sometimes it was useful; if you want to learn the principles of aerodynamics, for example, you can read books of knowledge. If you want to to build a small flying glider you have to use the principles. If you're in pursuit of beauty, as I was, the book principles are just the start. Can I make it work this way? Or this way? I could experiment.
How does one experiment with God? As I came into more contact with churches after I became a Christian, my belief in having a conversation with God became harder to hold onto. Experience? Teaching?
One of the lessons I learned so strongly that it became part of how I work is that I should blend in. This was the Achilles heel in my relationship with God. Blending in as a Christian means going by the Book as interpreted by a succession of preachers and teachers. They were always going on about self-sacrifice, preaching, proselytizing, reaching out. One showed one's love for God by doing these things. Not knowing any better, but feeling somewhat conflicted, I went along with it, not realizing at the time how well this connected with how I'd been raised.
If I'd have been able to feel it, I would have known that God was very sad. He cares about people, and is hurt when they turn away, but there is little he can do besides wait and then take advantage of cracks in that rational wall when they develop. Cracks must; rationality is much too stiff to accommodate the differential motions and strains of life. No, however. I knew better. Build it strong, build it solid, to hold up under the weight of increasing years.
God waited. When, in 2003, I turned back in his direction it was because I'd reached the end of my road. Rationality provided no motivation to keep living. God arranged a remarkable series of events that pushed me just hard enough to ask for help without going so far to pieces that I gave up entirely. I asked for his help.
I didn't care very much what happened; my life was over, as I couldn't see anything beyond a month or so ahead, so how could it get worse? I was willing to try the absurd. At the time I didn't even hear the echoes of 1971.
The good thing about knowing what doesn't work is that one doesn't need to try it again. I didn't even bother trying to make myself conform to the church's doctrines, and eventually this led to a parting of the ways. Throughout the ensuing 11 years I've been surprised by God's direction.
For one thing, he hasn't shown any sign of wanting to wipe me out or break me by force. The walk is with my hand in his, on a path that gets very strange at times, little by little building trust. After a while, new steps can be made, into even stranger places, trusting that the destination and result will be good.
"He who loses his life for my sake will gain it," Jesus said. This verse is used to support self-sacrifice, abnegation, destructive humility and intentional suffering. Losing a life is easy. You can walk out of a window, you can sit down and wait for things to happen. What keeps people from giving up? There is, I think some kind of pride involved.
God made us, as we are. We have pride in what we're doing, what we've done, who we are. We enjoy things. We feel pain, We get involved in things, and share our ideas, build things. From about year 1 the church has tried to control all of this, because the church grew out of human history that has very often been about control. Freedom is antithetical to control, so the men in charge do what they can to stamp it out and the church follows along. Anyone who wants to find real freedom has a lot of muck to wade through. Most of the muck equates to "If you put yourself into bondage with us, you'll find real freedom." Tell that to the ghosts of Jim Jone' followers.
Religions prey upon those who have been taught that pride is a sin, without anyone ever talking about exactly what pride is. God also teaches that pride is a problem--look at the Pharisees--but he will also teach you what pride is, and what kinds of pride are a problem. Jesus certainly had no trouble respecting himself and his father enough to toss the moneylenders out of the temple.
It's not an easy path, to walk toward truth. There are surprises around every corner.
Friday, May 16, 2014
Toward Freedom XXX
It's a disorienting process, reading the history of the ancient world. Groups coalesce, become stronger, add more groups, become kingdoms. Changing conditions encourage movement into areas new to the arriving group but home for those already present; assimilation or displacement. Ideas move with the people.
Is God really just an opinion carried about by empires, one more burden amidst the bundles attached to pack animals? I found myself somewhat adrift; why do I believe what I believe? Do I really believe it? I have always tried to sort facts from all the noise of life, but there's no scientific test of the existence of God, unless I conclude that my own unstably continued existence is proof of someone in this universe who cares more for my life than I do.
In a discussion a few weeks back, some friends and I were talking about avatars in Second Life. I've tended to see my avatar there as just a place-holder, but more recently I've learned more about how to do things there and have made some adjustments to my avatar's appearance.
Some people really go all out in customizing their appearance. In my real life I treat clothing as mainly a way to stay warm and protected from the sun. Beyond that, I just like color. None of this au curant beige or black, please. I do the same in Second Life, and have often marvelled at those who spend much time sculpting and dressing their avatars.
My thinking spread out from that. In essence, I've lived as an avatar in real life, I thought, avoiding many of the interactive aspects of human life. I just wanted to be left alone. Encounters usually ended badly for me; the main defense I learned was to avoid and, if avoidance failed, give up as little as I could and then repair the damage later.
As we discussed avatars and relationships I saw a hint of an abyss at my feet. My avoidance of things led to not learning about those things. How to get along with people, especially women. How to get along with myself. I'd stereotyped a lot of this, and ran on automatic habits. Freedom in the future was always in the future. Now it was right in front of me. I have to go there?
Aloneness is how I do things. It's a state of mind. If I can't do something myself, I don't do it, as asking for help was always fraught with danger. Help usually devolved into the other taking over, and who was I to fight?
It's the same for my relationship with the God who has picked me up several times. I let him patch me, and then I forge on alone. "God helps those who help themselves," after all, and that idea clings.
Last year I started to get an impression that God wanted to join me on the walk. He wanted to comfort me on the long nights, help guide me through the confusion, hold my hand when I was scared. Being me, I said "That's nice" and then ran. Help is NEVER on my side; it's more the way large empires have wanted to "help" their smaller neighbors throughout history.
Man encounters God, and man ceases to exist. Or... man encounters God, and God does something in that man's life. The man stays a man, becoming more able to make decisions that come from who he is rather than from habit. God allows mistakes but shines some light on the process, and the man slowly learns that here is help that's neither a demand nor an attempt at domination.
It's hard to believe. Hence, the shakiness when presented with the waves of gods that come and go in world history. What differentiates one from another? For me, presence. I don't know who all those other gods were beyond their names and the facilities built for them. So far as I know any dying done in their name was done for the purported sake of the god's glory: people striving to be good enough. None of them made any attempt to approach people on their own terms. Only Jesus has shown real interest in people as they are. Only Jesus came to our world to walk with us.
Where does belief come from? Is it just a chemical imbalance, changeable with the right injection? It can be shaken, and it can be destroyed, but before anything is done there is a belief that it can be done. I'm glad God has enough belief for the two of us.
Tuesday, March 04, 2014
Toward Freedom XXIX
I learned how to hold on. I did not learn how to change gracefully. As change was always something imposed from outside, I pictured myself as the one obdurate tower set amidst the wolves and waves of demands that I join them. That way lies self-righteousness, but that way also lies survival.
So, what happens when the unchanged one meets the Creator? Love. An invitation to the future, hand held in hand. Who could believe something like that? I was a lot more familiar with promises than performance.
How is God different from any other profligate promising dictator? Seen through the small window of survival, one eye looking out suspiciously, everything looks the same, especially in monochrome. Discrimination goes by the boards. Survival demands simplicity: paint everything black. And yet... even that tiny window allows a tendril of truth inside.
God has never acted like a dictator to me. I read stories like that of Ananias, "invited" to go look for the man he considered a truly mortal enemy, and wonder how that works. Where did Ananias start? I don't know.
Change is necessary for life. If the seed stays a seed, you get no zucchini. No one dictates to the seed, either; you plant it, and sunlight does the rest. People are more complex, and I look for the hidden fist behind the illuminating invitation. In the ten years since God picked me up again he has given me no hint of a fist.
Love is an invitation written in a language I can barely read. I have to learn each letter, sound things out, test and prove. Whatever happens, I'm unsure that the future will be any better than today, so I hold on to what I have. Yet this works against God's touch.
I'm wary of touch, anyway. It's often a lie cloaked in duty. I want it, oh, yes. God's finger on the desert soul, bringing, on those rare times when I allow it, a gentle rain that feels so good in a way too deep for words. I spend my days as a rock, determined to be unswallowable. Take that, world! You will not get me! God gets painted with the same black brush.
Is he really like that? I don't think so. It takes so damned long to become convinced that his hand in the future is there only to bring life. His hand is there to make the journey endurable; take the iron lid of judgment off and new life takes off in new directions. Change, leading to an unforeseeable future, which is danger in the moment and forever. Panic! Don't allow that! Yet, God whispers, and hints of that life-giving rain come through along with the subtle rainbow of colors. Life must be felt and figured. I'm far better at figuring. God doesn't quit. Love wants the best.
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
Toward Freedom XXVIII
I'm always a little surprised when daylight comes back. Streetlight-moderated darkness slowly gives way to dawn, the moment of change happening but unidentified, and the new flood of light washes across the world outside.
The future is out there, somewhere. Many futures. In my twenties, I didn't think much about it; I took care of the days, and the months and years took care of themselves. I spontaneously went where interests led me. Sometimes this worked out well, from my point of view, and other times not so well. I remembered the failures.
Failures accumulate, taking up mental space, each of them a voice talking about what not to do or how not to do it. By the time I was in my forties, I was thinking more in terms of failure analysis than in terms of possibilities. Failures lead to predictions of what not to do, and the path gets narrower. Whatever future is left looks a lot like night, with no possibility of sunrise. Ever.
God is said to be the light of the world. He is portrayed as a supernova, exploding into the world, actinic, scarifying. The need for change is here, but what change? Oh, yes, a supernova changes everything, blasting the light out of a volume light-years across. If you're a new sprout, you're gone in a flash, ash.
Where is the space for a sensitive soul in God's new world? For the last few days God has been whispering to me "Don't stomp on the future." Prediction has turned into a dictator, ashing new growth before it even gets a chance. Even doing nothing is better than wearing the dictator's shoes in the new garden. Let things grow. Wait. Let new light gently flow into this nearly sterilized space so that something new can grow and make a home for all those deranged, homeless soul-creatures you've both harbored and punished.
God cherishes life, in all of its fantastically varied forms. He spreads his arms and light blooms across the flowered expanse, lending life to the delicate and the strong. I am alive. He cherishes me, not as another number as a dictator, but as a living being. His future is better than mine, if strange and therefore frightening. He asks--not demands--for me to hold his hand and walk with him, not on the path that I dictate but on the path that he invites.
Failure isn't an option because it's impossible. God is patient, and allows this idea to seep slowly into the ravaged garden he planted 61 years ago and that I have mis-tended by trying to tell things how to grow. I don't know what will happen tomorrow, next year, the next moment. Control isn't an illusion, but it is incomplete; some things I choose--whether to write a story or go back to bed--and some things happen. Jazz musicians don't dictate, but respond, and dancers flow with each other through communication going to fast for full perception. Surfers ride waves, each one different within the model of physics that dictates the shape but not the details.
I fall down, run away, hide. God invites and waits. Gentle light comes to the desert and... who knows? I feel the need to control because surprises have usually been bad, at least in my perception. I get scared. God waits... and continues inviting, with a smile.