Thursday, August 26, 2004
Learning to Walk
Everyone concentrates on the physical part of this. The man's legs are healed. A miracle. There is another miracle here that no one talks about. How did this man, who had never been able to walk, suddenly learn out to not only walk but run and dance and leap? It takes children years to learn this. God entered this man's mind and gave him the ability to walk, in all of its balanced and unpredictable complexity.
Think about it. While you're walking you know where your feet will end up. You don't have to think about or govern this process. Actually, if you do, you're more likely to fall over.
So, here we have an instant healing. Why is it that instant healing is so rare nowadays? Specifically, I wonder why God can't just rewrite everyone's software to do whatever is necessary.
A year after starting this experiment with learning God's way, I haven't gotten very far. Why can't depression be treated as a crippled leg and simply rewritten? I asked God about this last night and the answers were, in one way, surprising, and in other ways not surprising.
Walking, it turns out, is pretty much a learn-it-once kind of thing. Depression took a lifetime to learn, and it's a part of who I am. The threads are much more tangled and delicately connected to everything in me. Experience is a big part of that, so I have to keep leaning on myself to change course and get new experiences that will change my outlook.
What makes this possible is God's caring. I never had any idea he would care about this. Depressed? Get out there and work. Live with it. Life isn't supposed to be enjoyable. God is doing it anyway, healing my depression, one day at a time, through a variety of means. Much of it right now is stopping me from just breezing through life without thinking about anything.
God wants me to be aware of what's around me, and also what's in me. I've lived most of my life trying to ignore as much as possible, so what's happening now is confusing, and painful at times. It's rather as if your leg has gone to sleep and now it's waking up, with the pins and needles. God very kindly manages the pace to something I can handle, and he's provided me with some people who encourage me. From a distance, of course, because if they got too close I'd run.
Healing of this sort takes time. I'm trying to be patient, but I'm still wondering what that "Un-believable Life" is that the preacher promised. Maybe this is it. It is unbelievable that the God who made the Universe would care about one creature's mental state.
How Do You Say It?
Writing was slow. Same problem I had in school. The physical process of making letters on a page took so long that my mind ranged far ahead, and the thoughts in between would be left out. I wound up writing only things that were very important to me.
The first time I used a word processor, in 1982 when I was going to school and taking a BASIC programming class, I didn't like it. I'd type my essays for the English class, make notes and then retype them. This process was much easier with the word processor, even the very primitive one the school had on their VAX 11/780 system, but I became very wordy. So I went back to the old way. Once. I decided after that to deal with the wordiness in some other way. Shortly after that I owned a word processor, Wordstar running on an Osborne 1 portable computer.
I wrote more. Then something even stranger happened: I began to find a few people who liked what I wrote. This overall pattern has continued, and I'm still a better writer than speaker. The Osborne gave way to a Mac, then to faster Macs. Wordstar was replaced by Writenow, then Nisus, and then BBEdit. Publishing happened by hard copy, then by Web, and now by Blog.
The craft of writing fascinates me. There are many ways to say anything. Choosing the words and putting them together is much like making a sculpture, and the story that results will be seen differently by everyone who reads it.
Weblog entries are related to journal entries, although not as loose. Stories are much more organized, but mine are too long to publish here. If you'd like them Emailed to you, let me know. The most immediate ancestor of these Blog entries is what I call "Weird Email." These are the wild ideas that I get, write, and send out to a few people who expressed interest. I haven't used my printer in years. Now I've discovered an even more direct link between weird Email and Blog: I can simply Email them to the Blog.
So, maybe Lu was right. Engineer enough to understand how to go through the changes, Artist enough to craft the expression, and Warrior enough to go ahead and set it all up for everyone to read.
Wednesday, August 25, 2004
The bomb exploded and the poor fragile pieces of my soul ran for the bushes. They're all dug in now, in a state that is much too familiar. The body is here but I'm gone.
Two days more I have to be here. It's a retreat for Mosaic men, with games and meetings and such. They're good people. I wish I could join them, but I'll never make it. In the past when things like this have happened I've been absent for weeks, days, months. A sort of testimony to just how little involvement is really required in today's world.
The future is right now. Blank. I can't see beyond this moment. I know the track I'm on leads on down to oblivion, but is there any other option?
Well, this is a church meeting. I've seen some examples of people who seem to think God is real, and that he is interested in what the people are doing. It's different from anything else I've seen, more life-oriented, more interested in whole people. "We'll be glad to have you, no matter where you are on your spiritual journey," they said. I didn't even know I was on a spiritual journey; I was just trying to survive. Now, even that looks doubtful. The moon slowly slides across the sky and my mind is just a whirling soup of loose idea-chunks.
"God, I don't know if you're real. If you are, would you please help calm my mind so that I can learn what the truth is? What really happened back there?"
Quite quickly a stillness comes to my tired brain. I've been awake far too long, but with the calming I can think more clearly. What happened? I run the event through from the start.
We'd gotten to the conference facility just in time to get something to eat. While eating, the pastor of the church came over and told me how much he'd enjoyed the stories I wrote about my experiences in the church. His church. I wanted to crawl under the table and disappear but the best I could do was just lean my head on my hands and wait for him to go away.
Exposed! And by someone who really reads! I've gotten used to readers who notice very little. This man actually read the piece and understood. I'd become unguarded through the years of not caring, and now I found that I did, after all, care. Invisibility is the key to survival and I'd just thrown it away. So I ran away and hid internally, putting up the old automatic front to keep up appearances.
It was actually quite simple. He paid me a compliment. He liked what I wrote, and asked me to continue. The truth gradually comes out, there in that guided session in the silent cabin, and the various hiding soul-bits poke their figurative heads out of their familiar hidey-holes and see that the country is safe. At least there won't be open fighting again tonight, and the rest of the weekend looks OK.
Who could imagine it? Tell this story to the average preacher and he'll say it can't be. God isn't concerned with one man's hurting soul. He expects the man to put things together, get out there and do the work. God had, however, already shown me instances of his gentle power. This was the latest and most powerful, and I finally started to remember the God I started to know in 1971. Church ideas dragged me away.
No more. I walk as an experiment now, checking all learnings against each other. Who am I? Only God knows, and I'm finding out. Finally. Perhaps it took those 25 years away to get me to the point where I could see the truth of God instead of the assumptions.
Jesus, Order and Chaos
You really are quite an amazing amalgam ---- You have the mind of an engineer, the heart of a warrior and the soul of an artist. It's no wonder you have been flummoxed at times, especially in this last year as God weaves them together. The world -- heck, even the church most times -- works hard to convince us that those three things just cannot coexist in one person. Obviously they've never really met Jesus.
We were both Temple Slaves at Mosaic in Beverly Hills. She mixed the sound, I helped set it up and took care of problems. It was quite a pressure cooker at times: 12 minutes to showtime, and why doesn't monitor 3 work?
I went to work for them even before I had any idea what my relationship with God was. Work is something I know how to do, and working with people is a good way to find out what they're like. Every week we'd meet, open the place up and make it into a church where hundreds could come and celebrate.
At the start I had nothing to celebrate other than a sort of suggestion of a reason to hope for something better. After all, all these people act as if God is real, so maybe He is.
One of the big problems was that I knew churches. Big organizations just don't like odd-shaped parts. They want everyone to fit their definition of order. I learned that too much order is just as deadly as too much chaos, and my life at the time was suffering an excess of order.
So, what's all this about wrapping an artist, an engineer and a warrior into one person? Wholeness. If that's the way God made me, that's the way I want to be. I don't really know. Walking with God is a process of discovery.
Much of that discovery is worrisome. I've made my compromises and have set up a stable life. But, remember what I said about order? I wasn't having much fun, and yet I resist God's changes. My life has been a delicate balance of factions, all competing for the same internal resources.
We hear a lot of talk about "releasing the inner child," but there isn't much said about how to really do it, or how to find that child, or what to do with him when you find him. Get in touch with him and everything will be fine. That's the New Age line. Reality is different: I stuffed that inner child down into a crack in the ground because I didn't want him around. That crack became a weak point in my foundation. Not much can be built on a cracked foundation.
So, naturally, when God started reacquainting me with that inner child--I have called him the "cowering child" for his perpetual stance of readiness for beating--I ran. But running from God purely frustrating. He knows everything. He also runs faster than I do. And he cares more. He has also pretty much convinced me that his way is the best, so I sort of slowed down to take another look.
Inner child. Outer adult. Neither complete. Both stuck in the same room, and the best way I've been able to handle this is by keeping the lights turned off. God, however, brings light to everything he touches. God-stuff rubs off onto us. The light comes on and these two long-separated aspects look daggers at each other.
The cowering child has learned to love God because God never beats him up. Unlike me. And I have learned to trust God. That has led to an internal detente; we can at least look at each other without reaching for knives.
So, perhaps a warrior is one who can tolerate a certain amount of chaos in order to learn.
Tuesday, August 24, 2004
Taking the Exit
On the surface there was nothing wrong. I had a good job, some friends, and a unique means of self-expression in sand sculpture. For all of my life, however, I've wanted more. I didn't know what the "more" was, but it was out there. Sometimes I could almost touch it or taste it, particularly after a really good sculpture.
So, I tried to get ahold of it. Searching, searching. I tried psychotherapy, psychoanalysis, looking for answers inside. While that was going on I also considered outside answers, coming to the conclusion that religions are all matters of opinion. I wanted something with the self-stated grace of confirmation that imbues real truth. Gravity is a fact, sunlight is a fact. Buddha is an opinion, and I put Jesus in the same category.
In 1971 I met a man in college who was a Christian. He was also the first person I'd met who seemed to care about me as myself. I put two and two together and later that year gave my life to Jesus.
A few years later that experiment dissolved into noise. I had been digging for years, trying to find the "gravity" truth to Christianity, but never found it. My filters always came up empty. No fish, just noise. So I simply terminated the experiment and assumed there was no God.
25 years later I was on the beach doing a sand sculpture. A man walked up and asked if I could at least consider the thought that creativity came from God.
"That answer's as good as any I've come up with. All mysteries. But I don't believe in God. I don't not believe. I simply don't know."
"That's good," he said. He told me about a church.
So there I am a few months later looking into that fogbank. And I'm getting scared. One day, not too far ahead, I'm simply not going to get out of bed. Someone from work will call and I won't answer the phone. A couple of days after that the police will come knocking on the door. I won't answer. They'll break the door down and find me there in a mess of my own making, and they'll take me away to some dismal hospital. End of Larry as we know him. Oh, well, don't worry. Just go on. Maybe something will happen. I already knew I lacked the guts to off myself (if I could have found a guaranteed effective painless way to do so, I would have) so I would have gotten involved in something worse than death. Doctors, helpers, etc, etc, etc.
Well, what's it going to cost to visit this church? They're within bicycle range.
Now, who knows where hope comes from. Why did I make the effort to visit this place? Call it, for now, a coincidence.
I visited Mosaic in Beverly Hills, and took the first step onto that last exit before oblivion. Here were people talking about God as if he were real, as if he cared about them and would participate in their lives. And they moved FAST!
Before I really understood what was happening, I was a part of this community. I knew that somewhere along the line I'd have to reconsider what I thought about God. Later. Six months or so.
It turned out to be three weeks. I was invited to a church retreat for men, and the first night there I came face to face with my needs and God's offer. I was desperate. For some reason, I, who had given up hope, was leaping for new bait.
Since then God has been building a foundation under that leap. The process has been amazing. I'm an experimenter by nature, and I treat this as I would anything else. Try something and see what happens. Sometimes God says "No," other times it works. It's the only way I know to really learn.
And, you want a miracle? Here it is. I'm still here.
Engineer, yes. Artist, check. But... warrior? Where did she get that idea? Maybe she meant "...heart of a worrier."
What have I done that would lead her to this astounding conclusion? I'm really curious, so I asked her. Maybe she'll tell me.
Now, the truth is that I run from my own shadow! God shows me what he has planned and I quake in my bare feet! The future terrifies me. So... I don't look at it. One day at a time, please.
If she's right... oh, boy, am I in trouble. "Much will be expected from those who have been given much." I'll try not to think about that, too.
But it does bring up an interesting question. What is a warrior? We in this world know nothing about God, and we know nothing about love, so maybe we also know nothing about what truly makes a person a warrior. And it could be there are different kinds.
My guess, however, is that she has confused desperation with ambition. I know that if I depart from God's way I'm dead meat. I know what was ahead when I took that last exit, and I have a good memory. So, it's God's way or no way. And you know something? I've learned that God really does know the best way. If I follow what He says, my life becomes better. Not easier, but better.
I'd like you to reconsider self-love. I know the idea leaves a bad taste
in the mouth, but that's because it has been warped and over-emphasized to
the point of causing an instant nausea.
There is some truth to it. We're taught a lot about love but what we
learn has very little to do with the real thing. If you take God's love as
the standard then nearly everything people associate with love is wrong.
Intentionally so: how better for Satan to keep people from understanding
God than by warping our ideas of God's essence?
So... how many people have you known who, as soon as they do something
they perceive as wrong, start beating themselves up? "There is no judgement
for those who are in Christ Jesus." Self-love, I think, is just an
appropriate response to how God loves us. He has given us a very clear
statement on how much he values us. And yet a lot of us barely tolerate our
own presence. Some actively hate ourselves. We wtill wash the hair and go
to work and do the basic maintenance, but we're dying inside.
God gives us the choice. We can take his love and run away and hide, on
the assumption that it's like human love that changes with the weather. We
can accept it but still be hard-bitten and ascetic. Or we can simply throw
ourselves into Him, let his constant rain of love wash and erode the old
hard structures until we learn that we truly are valued. For some of us
this takes some time. Eventually I believe that if we just keep following
Jesus and listening to the Holy Spirit, we'll get so full of love that
it'll start slopping over. But some of us are very dry. Takes a lot of love
to reanimate a 52-year-old man who's never seen it before.
"Love your neighbor as yourself." This gets used as justification for
that syrupy stuck-in-mud kind of human love that's modelled after
somebody's idea of what God is like. The truth is that some of us do simply
hate ourselves. If I'd had the guts I'd have terminated my life years ago.
Tired of argument. The truth is much deeper. We are to love our
neighbors... but this doesn't mean we have to let them run amock and lay
waste the land. There are boundaries. Love is an essential part of building
boundaries: empathy, walking in others' shoes, identifying with their
troubles. It takes strength to make the right kind of boundaries, and
strength to love, and the only source of that kind of strength I know of is
Many people take a small idea of God and His love, and make that into the
whole thing. I believe the whole is much richer than we've been led to
believe. I believe that God teaches us to love ourselves through the
process of living with Him, and he has the audacity and faith in us to
assume that we'll stay with him for the whole rest of our lives. He's
willing to invest a lot in us because, eventually, we'll just start
throwing off sparks that we can't help. Shine like a beacon that even 28
baskets can't hide.
Now, I can't attest to the accuracy of my ideas, but they feel right and
square with my experience, that written up in some books, and other
sources. It's just like sand sculpture: make a plan, start it, if it fails
start over. (g) Better to fail with God than succeed anywhere else. At
least I know he loves me.
--Larry 2004 August 23
Monday, August 23, 2004
Everyone thinks they know God, but the God they know isn't a God I'm interested in knowing. He's too much like my parents: judging, criticizing, distant. I paid more attention to these beliefs than the ideas God Himself was teaching me, and the rift between us widened.
Eventually, 1979 or so, the chasm was so wide that I just couldn't see any reason to continue believing in God. It was a nice fling with some friends, but nothing lasting. The truth was that I'd have to do everything myself. No illusions.
That lasted through the summer of 2003, by which time I was really wondering what the future held. I couldn't see beyond a few months ahead. If I'd have been able to feel fear, I would have been afraid. What would happen?
What really happened is that God stepped back into my life and brought me back to himself. I wrote a series of stories about this event, which I sent to some of the people who had helped me along this new path.
Some of them told me that I should have a Blog. I asked them what that was, and then did some research on the Web. What I saw there didn't encourage me. Then one of my friends moved from L.A. to Nashville and started a Blog because she's not very good at Email. I read her Blog, liked what I saw, wanted to comment and ended up creating an account and a Blog in about a minute. Few things in my life have been so simple.
You know what? Those people were right. I like Blogging. It's a chance to write a story with one concept, not some big and sprawling thing that takes weeks to write. Now at the end of five months I'm rewriting this introductory piece, and there are more than 100,000 words on this Blog.
And I'm part of a Weblog Fellowship that I enjoy greatly. Real contact, more so than I've experienced in most churches.
The original idea here was to describe how a man who didn't believe in faith was led to change his mind. From the outside, following Jesus looks like just another job of work, no different from all the other ways people have to kill time in argument.
From the inside... ah, that's a different story. God's way of dealing with people--I'm not the only one--is wholly different from what we've been led to believe. Comparing our kind of love to God's is like comparing a bucket of cold water to the Sun.
This Blog is intended to give an outsider's view of the inside workings of following Jesus. A year ago I was looking at a future that I expected to run about three months. I'm a year and a half into this experiment, and I'm still here. Nothing less than a miracle. I took the last exit before oblivion, and it turned out to lead to a very lively place.
Larry Nelson 2004 August 23 (as "Last Exit Before Oblivion")
Rewritten as "Introduction" 2005 February 2