Thursday, September 30, 2004
Dead Men Can't Sin
There were many more bad kings than good. It's a sad story that ends with the whole nation of Israel being carried off to Babylon by their conquerors.
I was depressed by reading this. How could it happen? These people have seen God at work! They've seen the God of Abraham drive huge armies away. They've gone up against nations larger than themselves and come away the victors, over and over. Yet the people soon abandon their real God and turn to the more tangible Baals.
Yes, how could it happen? There is evidence of God's work all around us. Specifically, there is evidence of His handiwork running like a strong cable through my entire life. It's very clear. I would never...
Well, it's easy for a man 98% dead not to sin. What could I do but hold tight to God's coattails and hope for the best? But after he raided the castle and started dissolving things in his love, I started to come back to life. Not only respect for God came back to life, but the ability to turn from him. This is sad, but true.
It's more of a struggle now to stay with God. Having begun in the Spirit, I'd just as soon leave Him behind and do things my way.
I was thinking about this on the way home yesterday. Why does God bother with individuals? He has to completely remake me; guide me, give me hints about what to do, and then He has to give me the power to do it! If I choose. What is the point? What has this done to improve my life? I used to be dead, but making my own decisions. Now I'm alive, and all of my decisions seem to be bad; does this mean I've become a robot?
No, what it really seems to mean is that I don't know anything about what it takes to live. I have habits, and experience in expressing those habits, but I don't really know what it takes to make a life worth living.
When I started this adventure a year ago, the first thing I learned was that I didn't know anything about God. Then I learned that I didn't know anything about living as a follower of Jesus. Now I'm learning that I don't know anything about living in general!
What does it take to have a good life? Something more than I know. I really don't want to rebel because that leads me back to that familiar mostly dead space. One more of those and I'm dead meat. But, yeow, what is the point? I need God for everything? Why'd he make me? What can I offer to this process that 6.6 billion others can't also do?
Singularity. Step over it. Faith. There must be something better out there. It's hard.
Wednesday, September 29, 2004
The Postern Gate for Truth
It needs to be strong. Life throws a lot of garbage: insults, insensitivity, active attempts at corruption.
Walls are expensive to maintain, and they're impervious. How do you learn anything new when you're inside there? Some people never do change; they go through life on a ballistic track, propelled by their childhood and then coasting until the final landing.
I could have been like that, but there is a weakness in my wall. I have a postern gate that only allows certain things in. I don't know how this happened; if I had to guess I'd say that God guided the construction of my walls around this gate for truth.
I simply can't resist truth. Our culture doesn't believe in truth; everything is relative, everything is good. Truth starts with the basics, such as not jumping from the tops of high places, and continues into more subtle things like don't spend time with people who drag me down to their level. It takes work to identify truth. You have to test it, use it, modify it, and each day begin anew because today's problems require something more than yesterday's answers.
The key point is that truth exists. God is truth, and the Holy Spirit helps us to see and identify truth and separate it false information.
Down near the base of my wall, hidden in the shrubbery and entered by a circuitous path, is that little gate. Anything that bounces off of the wall usually goes away. If it hangs around, sometimes it finds this gate and wanders in, where it is subject to various tests. Does the new information fit with old? If not, can I extrapolate from old to arrive somewhere in the vicinity of the new? If not that, is the new at least feasible?
How rigorous the testing is depends on how essential this piece of information is. If it's just about a new sunscreen, the testing is easy and cheap. Buy some and try it. If it works under my conditions--all day on the beach, crawling around in the sand--then it becomes a sort of truth. More important things, such as anything that purports to put meaning into my life, gets much more rigorous testing.
This is mostly an intellectual process, but there is an emotional component. A problem can't be considered solved unless all of the problem is solved and there is an emotional component to life. There's a particular feel to truth, and this is one of the characteristics I use on anything that works its way through that little gate.
I needed something, but I didn't really know what. I visited Mosaic and they suggested that what I needed was God Himself. This idea immediately showed up at the postern gate.
God? I was through with all of that. Religion is an opinion. Believe what you will, but that won't change the fact that we're all alone here. Solve the problem myself, or it doesn't get solved. There is no help. And yet, here I was in a room full of people celebrating knowing a God who was not only real, but interested in helping them. I had to reconsider a lot of old decisions. God's truth was knocking at the gate. I let it in. I let Him in.
Why? I used the usual tests. What are the results of this action? Can I predict anything based on what I've learned? What do other people who use the same information look like? Results are largely unpredictable, but anything had to be better than what I had, and God made some promises. Prediction was more difficult, but I used as examples the people I worked with in Mosaic. Other people who used this concept were very attractive. Going places. Interested in life. Excited. Lively.
I let Him in. Again. This time I didn't slam the door immediately. I kept it open and God brought in other new concepts. It was a busy time, doing truth analysis on all these things. Most importantly I learned that God is not an opinion. He is a person, powerful, and interested in what we're doing.
But He really doesn't like walls. He got in through that postern gate, but one of the first things He did was widen it. With more freedom to communicate, I discovered that He was dissolving the walls from the inside out... and rebuilding the person inside.
Truth is worth respecting. It's dangerous, but life-giving.
Tuesday, September 28, 2004
No matter how clearly I present my ongoing experience with God, the truth gets filtered out It's very similar to what happens when I tell someone I'm a sand sculptor: I say sculpture, they hear castle. I have to show them pictures before they believe what I make. Unfortunately I can't show anyone a picture of God, or hand them a recording of His voice.
Assumptions get in the way. Our culture assumes there is a God, but he's at best a distant foggy presence. Anyone who says he hears God's voice is assumed to be out there and not fully connected to the real world. God just doesn't talk to people.
It took God a long time to work through my assumptions. Something like 25 years. He's patient, the very opposite of our short-attention-span culture.
I say I can't live without Him. People hear echoes of a million sappy songs, and remember what the preachers have said on TV. Satan is very good at twisting the truth just enough that it looks plausible but is no longer useful.
I point out what the Bible says about Jesus. They remember all the other guys who've said the same things, and then asked for money.
Is there any way for the truth to make inroads on a closed mind? Yes. If there weren't I'd be dead or locked up right now. The Holy Spirit is powerful, and God's Word is very sharp. But the whole process is very delicate because God honors our individuality and our free will.
God spreads the table. We choose what to eat. Assumptions turn fresh-baked bread into last week's doughnuts and people walk on by. It's truly fresh bread, not a stone. Turn to Jesus and eat what He offers. He is alive, and will speak to you.
You watch a man labor mightily to drag a heavy trailer loaded with unfamiliar items through the dry sand. When he reaches a spot that seems no more significant to you than any other spot, he stops and then unloads the trailer. A little blue table, many buckets, a big grey cylinder, and other things. You can tell he has done this before; all his movements are economical, practiced.
A couple of hours later you watch as he splits the grey cylinder, leaving a solid column of sand standing proud of the wide beach. Up to this point the activity has been largely incomprehensible. You've never seen anything like it. But then he picks up a black tub, carries it to the column of sand, and puts it down. He takes an object--you suddenly recognize it as a knife-like tool--and starts cutting the sand away.
Sand sculpture. No different from what any kid does on the beach except in scale.
You watch, as the shadows swing around, northwest, straight north and then moving around to the east. You see a number of people stop where the man is working. They may ask a question or just stand there. Whatever happens, nothing deflects the man from his carving. None of them stays long except for one man in a blue jacket, who watches intently and occasionally gives the sand carver a cookie.
In the middle of the afternoon the sculpture is well along; the man's cuts are finer and he's spending more time working on the inside. Another passerby approaches, one more random person on the beach.
You see this man stand at a distance from the sculptor, apparently watching, and then he slowly approaches. He asks the sculptor a question, and the sculptor looks up from his carving. One more interaction in a day full of them. You start to look away; there are pelicans fishing out in the bay, and you like how they dive. But something draws your eyes back to the scene around the sculpture. The two men are talking to each other, the sculptor with his hands in his lap. This is the first time you've seen his hands idle.
The second man takes out a video camera. Their dialog continues for several minutes, during which the sculptor stands up, his sculpture seemingly forgotten. He hasn't done this with anyone else while you've been watching.
I have met a number of evangelicals on the beach. When you do sand sculpture, you're a fixed target. I eventually learned that they are also an easy target. Push a few buttons and they leave. Challenge their worldview and they'll just dismiss me as completely unrepentant. Maybe they'll pray for me. In any case, they walk away, unaffected.
So this guy shows up and ask a question. I give him an answer, and then he asks another question. Here we have another singularity: his new question tells me that he actually listened to the first, considered it, and then decided he wanted to know more. I knew he was evangelical. I pushed the button: "I don't believe in God." He didn't walk away, but rather listened, considered, and the dialog continued.
He told me about a church called Mosaic. In Emailed messages after he went home he'd ask me if I'd been to a Mosaic meeting yet. Eventually I said yes.
A simple act, listening. He listened to God's suggestion of who to talk to on the beach. Then he showed me respect by listening to my answers. I listened to him, and respected him for hearing me and ended up going to Mosaic, where several people helped me relearn how to hear God myself.
The sun sets over the rocks beyond the beach. The sculpture stands, its shadow fading. The two men are long gone, but have been changed forever.
Monday, September 27, 2004
There's a real first contact. I had mine in 1971 when a friend introduced me to Jesus, by the example of his life and by being persistent. I drifted away from Jesus but kept the friendship.
Last year I got a second chance. God Himself synchronized events so that I'd end up visiting a church called Mosaic.
In that first celebration I saw a God who was much different from the judgmental, demanding one I'd known earlier. I'd gotten hints back then that there was more to Him than was being presented to me, but I weighed the evidence and people's words were heavier than God's. Weight isn't truth. At Mosaic God was living and watching them, encouraging the people to live fully. This is a demanding lifestyle, but God provides the resources so it seemed possible to me. The people demonstrated this. None of them appeared to be laboring under a heavy yoke, and they all knew God was doing great things.
I joined the team--they said they'd welcome me, no matter where I was on my spiritual journey--and discovered first-hand how powerful God is.
Mosaic moved out of Beverly Hills at the end of April. I thought about alternatives and have been looking for another church, one closer to home so that I can be more of a participant.
What makes a good church? I've had to learn this. I pretty much fell out of the sky and landed on Mosaic's doorstep. This time it's necessary to be more deliberate, so I've had to think about it.
What do I want? A place to belong, a place where I can do something to help. A place that honors God and where He is present all the time. A place where God is an active participant in the goings-on. One question I ask myself when I'm at a new church is whether what I experienced there would have brought me back to God: Can He be seen clearly enough in the church's activities that I'd have recognized Him?
As I was sitting at Metro Church yesterday I was thinking about this. Metro is quieter than Mosaic; not so much fizz and spark. I think I needed Mosaic-style fizz and spark to get through the thick layers of fog I'd wrapped around myself. Now my needs are different. Second contact has been made. I need to grow. I know God is there. I'm not sure Metro would have penetrated the fog, but they certainly feed the man under the fog.
This probably suits both churches. Mosaic is aggressively evangelistic by design and purpose. Seeking and saving that which is lost is their reason for being, and this is pursued every Sunday.
Metro is also evangelistic. Their approach, however, is different, their focus wider. Ultimately all mature Christians are good evangelists. Metro is interested in maturity, so they pursue this and know that God will take care of the details. He will provide the vision if the ground is well tilled, deep, watered and weeded.
I don't know if Metro would have hooked me as Mosaic did. I might have just sat there and watched the whole boatload of fishermen just pass on by. Mosaic demanded a response; God was presented in a way that I couldn't ignore. I'm sensitive, but still doubt that I'd have recognized God's power at Metro.
I'm a year older, and have some experience now with how God works. I recognize His handiwork in Metro's operations. God used Mosaic's people to change me, and those changes have made me more able to live with Jesus. I'm even beginning to trust Him that there will be no need for a third contact.
Anyway, Mosaic pulled out of Beverly Hills a while back and I've been dithering. I really detest driving, and the idea of going to downtown L.A. on Sundays, after spending the week down there working, was repellent. I like Mosaic a lot. Without their powerful presentation of a real God who wanted to participate in people's lives I wouldn't be writing this. They came to the West Side, introduced me to God, helped me get to know Him in addition to themselves, and then they departed. In the last month I've been feeling more of a need for a church to belong to.
I have never been very good at belonging. Mosaic gave me that, too. I want it back. I don't want to drive. So, I've been going to visit other churches with some friends. Heretofore they've chosen the church. This time I did it. As with any other project, this one benefited from some research.
First, I looked in the phone book. There are lots of churches, of many kinds. I knew the name of Metro Church, so I looked for their listing to find out where they met. Just a phone number. I called and found out their meeting place is in a school auditorium about a mile away from where I live. I called my friends and we decided to meet over there.
Then I did more research. Metro is affiliated with Calvary Chapel. I'm not sure what that means, but after reading some material on the Calvary Chapel Web site I decided it was a good sign. Calvary is a straightforward organization: teaching the Bible. That sounded very good after coming from churches that teach what they want to teach and use the Bible as a misapplied back-up.
As I approached the building I got cold feet. Typical. I'm not brave in social situations, and I'd forgotten to ask God to help me with this. I did then, as I walked across grass wet with the remnant dew. After walking into the foyer I found an information table; the man behind it greeted me, then resumed a conversation with someone else.
My friends actually showed up on time. We walked in and found a place just as the worship music was starting. The most interesting aspect of this was their re-use of old hymns, using the words and music but changing the rhythm to move the whole thing away from its lugubrious history. I liked this. One of the songs we used to sing at the church in Greeley, and Metro gave it a whole new experience.
Then two women who'd been involved in a mission project in Uganda spoke. Usually these mission things are thinly veiled plugs for the program, but these women had been there, and gave the real story. I liked their honest, straightforward talk.
The pastor continued this pattern. He's the most interesting preacher I've heard since meeting Erwin, although his style is very different. Erwin, of Mosaic, is very dynamic and uses a lot of homiletic fireworks He's very good at this, and always uses anything he can to reinforce the message. Steve, of Metro, is quieter and almost devoid of fancy effects. It's rather like comparing Shaker architecture to Baroque. Or a deep, smooth stream to a creek bouncing down a rocky mountain. I was fascinated all the way through, and he talked for nearly an hour.
He spoke the truth. This was extremely refreshing after the previous experiences. Only Erwin has affected me in this way: I knew God was speaking. Steve used Psalms 11, 12 and 13 as his text, and the theme was refuge. God is our refuge. When he read the text he'd have the audience read aloud with him. At times he would stop his exposition and pray, quite simply, for guidance or help in understanding, both for himself and for us. He moved back and forth between expository speech and praying so smoothly it was hard to tell the difference, and I found this enchanting and powerful. It was as if God were right there, watching and participating. Sometimes he would pause, silent, for 10 seconds or so. I liked this as it gave me time to think about what he'd said.
The short version of this is that I'll be going back One sample doesn't make a curve, but more data points will fill it in.
My friends and I discussed this over lunch. One liked the use of the old hymns, now that he's been removed from the old Catholic context. Another said she felt as if she'd been walking in a desert and had just received rain. I agreed.
This morning, coming to work on the bus, I thought about this. Steve spoke about refuge. This has a bad rap in many churches; they think that talk of refuge encourages people to stay holed up, so they're always exhorting people to go out and be active. I've heard plenty of that. Sometimes the hill is just too steep, the road too rough, and my sensibilities are scraped raw. I need a break, and what I need a break from is different from what others may need a break from. Transforming a life of death doesn't look like much from the outside.
But then a new thought hit me, at about Crenshaw. If God promises to be our refuge, then there's a reason for it. Most people develop their own strength. They don't need a refuge; difficulty breaks around them like water around a rock and they remain unmoved. I used to be like that.
No more. I need God as a refuge because he's remaking me. People were always telling me when I was a kid that I was too sensitive. God has gone the other direction, making me more sensitive. This makes sense: how can I love if I don't know what's going on outside of my insensitive hide? Oh, yes, I'm gonna need a refuge. I'd better learn how to do this.
Sunday, September 26, 2004
Confidence and Aftermath
its long flight by warming my back. In front of me is water, two or three
dolphins, and irregular flights of pelicans. I'm sitting on a small bluff
and it's not long before my hands are in the sand.
I dig and then push the sand over the edge. The bluff is about a foot tall;
the damp sand falls over and builds up in a heap. How much does it take to
get a pile as tall as the bluff? Roughly eight times as much as you'd
think. Normally I'd be packing the sand but here I'm just watching.
Pushing handful after handful of sand over the edge, eventually the top of
the heap reaches the edge. It doesn't stay because as I push more sand onto
it the pile settles. Cracks develop in the unpacked sand, portions of it
slide and it gets wider but no taller. Dry sand would be a nearly perfect
cone, but this damp sand looks more like a lava flow in that the surface
tucks in near the base. The damp sand doesn't flow, but slides until it
sticks against the beach and that stops the sand above it.
The pattern continues. Small subsidence until the pile can no longer adjust
itself that way, after which comes large-scale subsidence, with slides
going all the way to the bottom. There is no foundation, no stability; each
handful of sand causes disturbances to propagate through the pile.
Last week I got to thinking about confidence. This is a strange concept to
me; I've always lived as one on top of thin ice. Confidence was just
something that happened before the ice broke. There was no mistaking that
what I was noticing was a different kind of confidence. God makes promises
to do things, and he does them. That's simple enough that even I can
He promised to remake me so I could live his way. He's doing this, and I
have some confidence that his strength is not like mine. He won't just
abandon me when the ice starts to break up.
Cracks have to be tolerated, How else can I grow? If everything is the same
all the time there is no growth.
Life went on. I was acting a little different, more withdrawn, but didn't
think about it. The press of events was a good distraction. A day or two
passed. I started thinking about my role in the process of living as a
follower of Jesus. He's the author and finisher of my faith, his Holy
Spirit has to guide me. I can't do anything without him. So, what's the
point? A robot could do this.
I know God made me as I am, but I've run into the edge of
comprehensibility. Faith may be the step beyond that edge, and I thought
perhaps it was time for me to quit thinking about this and just do what I'm
told. After all, that's what I heard when I was growing up. That answer
didn't feel right; it failed my reality check process but I didn't know
what else to do. So I quit thinking about it. This is a good time to have a
But God has ways of getting through. Like rainwater percolating through
sandstone, he gradually permeates my soul and whatever he touches is
changed. He uses a variety of means, such as this message from a friend in
my "Email Oikos." She'd been telling me about how a member of her church
gave money to each member to invest so as to make money for a local helping
group. She wrote "It's kind of like 'You are free to do whatever your heart
tells you to do' to love someone else; there is no one quite like you, and
the dreams you have, and the desires you have and the goals you have to
please and love Jesus, are valid, given to you by God, and you are
Whatever your heart tells you to do. Like Jonathan and the Philistines,
like David, like Solomon. I've been reading the Old Testament; can you
tell? Anyway, these people were individuals and they even made mistakes.
God punished them for the mistakes, but forgave them, fixed the cracks and
went on. Each of them was an individual, even a strong-willed one.
Another member of the Email Oikos wrote "I like your response [in an
ongoing discussion of experience], but I will have to differ with you on
the experience. This is where you may think I'm weird, but hold on. I
really am somewhat sane...
Basically there are times when experiences assault the desired result of
God. That is when I actually will put the Word on a higher level of truth
than circumstances. What I call this is 'I am putting Truth on the facts'."
We've known each other for about 28 years; in that time she has always
spoken her mind. Definitely not a robot, and yet definitely in love with
Jesus and determined to follow him.
Last night I was at dinner with some friends. I was still withdrawn to the
point where I wasn't even thinking about it. Head full of cotton batting.
And then one of my friends asked "Do you trust us?" This wasn't a bolt from
the blue; they've received the Mosaic stories, and we've discussed what I
wrote. That woke me up, partly as I recognized the danger in any answer,
partly because it was an interesting question.
"I trust you as far as I'm able, which isn't very far. I've drawn my walls
very far out so that if anyone comes over I still have time to do something
before they lay waste the kingdom. But God is changing this; the walls are
becoming thinner and I'm becoming stronger. If someone does come over
they're less likely to destroy me. I've never trusted anyone. It's hard to
Freedom? Early this morning the thought hit me that if God really wanted me
to be identical to everyone, if he wanted to flatten me, pack me down and
make a really solid foundation, he could do it. Easily. One little motion
and I'm whatever he wants me to be. Anyone who can return a three-day-old
body to life can squash another without any effort at all. That doesn't
seem to be what he wants. Yes, he wants a strong foundation but he's
preserving the pieces of me, knitting them together rather than smashing
everything into a homogeneous monolith.
What is his goal? To make me like Jesus. I'll still be an identifiable
individual. Singularity. Step over, go on. I don't understand how this can
be, but God has demonstrated that he is trustworthy. He made the first
move, taking the risk that I'd say "No." He will do what he has said he
will do, and beauty increases in the world.
Friday, September 24, 2004
application anything could be understood, step by step, start at the
beginning and go on. If the task were worth the trouble. Most of the time I
didn't care enough to do more than understand the outline.
Psychoanalysis was comprehensible but the process was unlivable. It was
like falling through the floor, lodging for a time at a level and then
falling through again. I got so that I hung onto the walls when the
floorboards were kicked out.
I knew who God was, right? Knew what he wanted, right? Merely a matter of
applying myself to the principles and going on, step by step.
There are sticky questions. What is faith? What is worship? What is
service? What is love? I have a good mind. That's the way God made me. Step
by step, figure it out. Mainly to keep from falling through another floor
Well, psychoanalysts aren't the only ones who know how to kick out the
floorboards. God goes beyond that to pry my fingers away from the walls.
With the analyst, when the 50-minute period is up, you're out no matter how
high above that hard floor you are. The session with God never ends--a good
thing or a bad thing, depending on circumstances--but the big difference is
that when the floor disappears I didn't fall.
And that leads to the first singularity. A point beyond which I can't
figure out anything. Why does God bother to catch me?
Another of these singularities is why does God bother? He has demonstrated
his care, over and over, starting with giving up his Son. But what is my
role in this life? He is the author and finisher, the one who started it,
the One who motivates and reproves. Without him I can't do a thing. At
least anything worth doing.
It's quite a testament to God's handiwork that we can be so effective even
without Him in our lives. Human mind and human will go far. But they lead
to another singularity: what's it worth?
My guess is that faith is the step beyond the singularity. Walking into
God's incomprehensible, very deep process. I know what he did yesterday and
what he's doing now; he has promised never to leave, so it's within the
realm of reason to go ahead and take the step and not look too closely at
Thursday, September 23, 2004
Buying a car is no big deal. If you get the wrong one you can sell it and try another.
Research has to be balanced. There's a relationship between the quality of the research and the quality of the results.
Research also has to be honest. You have to be ready for surprises. You have to be ready to abandon a partial answer in favor of an answer that begins to look better. It takes skill and practice to learn this balance.
Some people research things to death. I had a couple of co-workers who spent years looking at camcorders, and toward the end they just got more confused. Comparing features, making a guess as to quality, endless discussions, round and round. Eventually they made choices, as much to end the cycle of confusion as to get the camcorder they needed. This decision didn't really matter. If it's wrong, it's a recoverable error.
Decisions about how to spend the rest of your life are different. These matter. Some people research this to death and never go anywhere. Others do no research and get burned. Truth is somewhere in between.
I decided to turn to Jesus in 1971 because I couldn't see much coming in my future that I liked. How do you research God? I bypassed most of the research I could have done, thought about what God offered, and made the decision.
I turned away from God in 1980 because I couldn't find the truth. This was another decision; I could see, at the time, no reality to God.
Some people spend a lot of time asking questions about God. They get answers, and then come up with more questions. The Pharisees in Jesus' time were always asking for one more miracle so they'd KNOW he was the Messiah, the One promised by God to save them from their sin. I've known people like this. No matter how good an answer I give them, they don't accept it.
God is hard to see. The world is full of bad examples. Bad examples are, however, only that.
If you want to find truth you have to work. Ask questions, look at the answers, think about them, relate them to your life and then keep building. Truth is shy and easy to drive away. It is very sturdy, however, so it'll still be there the next time you look after the noise has died down.
And there's push as well as pull. God is always pulling us toward him, but sometimes we need some push. In my case it was looking into the future and really not liking what I saw. That provided some push, but what would pull me into something new? First I had to see an alternative, and that happened at Mosaic.
Here was a group of people who enjoyed doing what they were doing. What kind of God made people want to come to church and work? What kind of God allowed them to be themselves and yet working on these teams? He was a God I hadn't seen before. When the time came to make another decision, asking for God's help or not, it really wasn't that hard.
I still didn't expect an answer. Yes, God cared about what these people were doing as a church, but would He care about a man just looking for a change in his life? The answer turned out to be a very strong Yes!
Since then I've done a lot of research I should have done in 1971 and following. God doesn't mind questions. He'll answer with the truth.
Following Jesus is a daily decision. Do I keep allowing Him to direct my life, or do I live my way? From my research, a combination of reading, talking to people and experience, the answer is to follow Jesus. He knows me better than I do.
I know people who have turned away. I know others to whom Jesus isn't that real. I expect events in my life that will present the same difficult decision to me: follow or turn away. Even strong people are overwhelmed. Even those who trust God for everything decide to do something wrong. We make mistakes. I hope my next one doesn't run 23 years because I know what living without God is like. The lights get turned off.
This is on my mind right now because I'm scared. God gives us freedom. I am free to turn away at any time. I hope I decide not to do that but even research and truth can be overcome by fear.
And I'm also discouraged by some of my co-workers. We've talked about Jesus and they just keep asking questions. The answers just seem to bounce off. I understand mistrust. I understand fear. Sometimes you just have to move anyway, make a decision on data that seem inadequate, and I wish that these people could see God's truth. There is a sort of research that hides the truth because it raises so much dust and noise.
Wednesday, September 22, 2004
One day at Mosaic we'd gotten the sound system up and running somewhat faster than usual, so Lu and I had some time to talk. We discussed how constrained worship seemed at times. Mosaic was never funereal, but we wondered if perhaps people wanted to be more expressive but felt constrained by the church culture. Some people did raise their hands, and a couple of little children would dance in the aisles, but that was about it. At the time I had no idea what worship was, but I was conveniently busy with technical things so didn't have to worry about it.
So, what is worship? Since last Saturday's sculpture, I've been thinking that worship is idolatry, the difference being in Who is being worshiped. Paying attention to, looking up to, devoting one's life to some bigger idea. Only the Living God of the Universe is worthy of this. How am I supposed to demonstrate this?
The only way I know of is by doing things. I'm defined by what I do. Sand sculpture, bicycling, being a Temple Slave. Might there be something better? Being defined by what I am? But how do you know what I am unless I do something? How do we know who God is unless we see him doing things? This is what made me stick to Mosaic like a cocklebur in the carpet: people demonstrating God's presence in their lives.
In the Bible are many examples of people worshipping God. Playing music, singing, dancing, making beautiful things. At what point do these acts turn into idolatry? I learned Saturday where sand sculpture turns into idolatry, and it had nothing to do with blatant production of art in a public place.
I was taught that having people notice me was a bad thing. This lesson was hammered in pretty well by events at home. That lesson conflicted, however, with what I learned outside of the house. That lesson was that if you live invisibly you might as well not exist. Besides that, it takes a lot of effort to be invisible.
You simply can't hide sand sculpture. I take over a large patch of the beach and put up the only tall object in the vicinity. The only way to get more attention would be to fly banners and have a carnival barker. But if you want to make sand sculpture you have to go where the sand is. Am I seeking attention? No. I had to learn how to deal with the attention I attracted. I was just doing what I wanted to do and the activity harmed no one. Many people even liked it. If I'd stayed with the old idea of being invisible I'd have missed out on a lot of "Thank you" statements from passersby.
Now, how does this work in church? I like bright colors. I like wearing a kilt. Both of these could be seen as more advertisement, like a neon light saying "LARRY IS HERE!" Many people interpret what I wear in that way, but I'm simply wearing clothes that I like. Bright colors and a male unbifurcated garment. People at Mosaic got used to this, so much so that if I showed up wearing shorts they'd ask "Where's the kilt?" Oh, did I mention the long hair? Yes, it's long, and rather curly, so it tends to spread. Even I'm surprised when I look in a mirror. One day the waitress in a restaurant came to me and said I had a phone call. "I was told to look for the guy with the hair." I don't need to show my I.D. at work.
All of this is mildly embarrassing, but I'm just trying to live. Society isn't guaranteed right, and even my mother has gotten used to the kilt.
A church really is a different kind of place. The focus should be on Jesus Christ. God's way of bringing us to Himself. But we're made as individuals, and God says he knew us before we were born. He made us the way we are, in all of our multifarious ways. He knows each of us individually. We do not fit into some bland whole. How is our diversity supposed to be expressed in church?
Lu would mix with one hand on the board and the other raised as far as she could reach. I'd keep an eye on the equipment and let my thoughts wander, floating on the music. In some areas I am easily embarrassed, so never moved much. A little, maybe.
This will probably change. God has plans. He fully intends to teach me how to love, and I'm no longer in the habit of telling Him He's nuts. If He says He's going to do something, He WILL do it. It's sort of like planting zucchini squash: just throw the seeds and run. It's growing. And love leads to joy, and other obvious signs of God's presence.
Jesus said you don't light a lamp and then put it under the bed. The only thing you see down there is dust kittens. No, you light a lamp and then put it someplace where the light fills the room. That's His intent. I don't really want to be a lamp... but being on the beach has at least taught me a little bit of what it's like.
Tuesday, September 21, 2004
Autumn low tides come early. The advantage of this for the one-day-beach sand sculptor is plenty of daylight for carving. If he can get out of bed and get moving early enough.
Other people are up. A languid offshore breeze brings the scent of frying bacon to make sure the people exercising know what they're missing. Fishermen use flashlights to see what they're doing.
I just use my feet. I know the shape of the beach. What's harder to determine is the location of yesterday's high tide, but I take a guess and go to work.
It's all very familiar. Dig up some sand to make a raised sokkel for the sculpture to sit on. Haul up a cartload of water to help pack the base. Add an inch or so for tidal uncertainty. Set the form on top of the sokkel and then go get a cartload of sand. Make that four cartloads, because the tide has turned and is filling my borrow pit; if I go with usual practice and haul sand when needed, I'll be closed out. So I get it all and dump it into a big heap on the tarp I brought for this purpose.
Then I settle into the routine of making a pile of sand. My mind wanders, as usual; the repetitive cycle of filter and tamp doesn't take much management. I watch flights of pelicans cruise north, wingtips just an inch from the water whose movement provides the energy these canny birds use for flight.
Something is bothering me. Usually this process goes peacefully, a time for gathering my wits for the intense work of designing a sculpture in real time. This time is different. I'm becoming increasingly agitated. I've learned to recognize the signs. God wants my attention. Out here on the beach there can be only one subject. I thought we had that settled!
I know where life comes from, however, so I start listening. The old testament is full of examples of what happens when people don't listen when God comes calling.
Idolatry. God brought Israel out of Egypt in a succession of miracles. The people experienced these but as soon as things got a little sticky they turned away and made their own gods. Down through the years in a long slide, one king after another led the nation farther away from their roots.
Sand sculpture saved my life. It was a delicate bridge of worthwhile creativity over a valley of glass shards, something to live for in a world largely devoid of reasons to go on.
This sculpture, September 18, 2004, is a little different from its immediate predecessors. Other post-Mosaic sculptures have been unplanned because I had other things on my mind. Such as a real Savior. I expected sand sculpture to fall by the wayside, given up in order to pursue important things. That didn't happen, and many Mosaic people asked me why I expected to lose something that was so obviously a gift from God. Still, there were many other things to think about in learning how to live this new way, and sand sculpture just got what was left over.
In the old days I'd start planning a sculpture immediately after making one. For two weeks I'd refine the mental model and make modifications. Many more ideas can be conceived than made. I'd make the sculpture, and the cycle would start again. It was a dandy way to cross the years in splendid isolation.
This sculpture is a partial return to the old way. I set a date for this one and started thinking about what to make. The central idea was something I've experimented with a few times, a narrow slot in the sculpture's side, with interesting turns and discontinuities. In spare time I work on this model, taking advantage of a new confidence that living with Jesus doesn't require my concentration on every second. I tend to micromanage, driving myself through life as a farmer drives his ox on its routine boustrophedon path.
I look at the form on its base, and all the equipment around it. None of it is gold-plated but my state approaches one of worship. I edge away from this thought, and try to keep it at a distance, but it won't go away. God is doing what I asked, all those months ago: whatever it takes to get my attention.
I don't want to lose this. Eventually he settles me down to the point where I can actually understand what he's saying. He hates routine. Get off that boustrophedon predictable path.
Early morning. Dark. Time to get up, if I want to make it to the beach. Get moving. The autopilot takes over.
Breakfast. Scrounge portable food from wherever it can found and load it into the pack. Fill a couple of water bottles and put them in there too. Get the camera, wrap it up and put it in. Add the new bottle of sunscreen, and check for the windbreaker. Run through the mental list. Oh, yes, the hat. It goes in, I run the list again and this time it checks out.
Out the door. Open the garage, pull the old bicycle out, and then the trailer. It's already loaded, nothing having changed since the last sculpture. The morning is dark and cool. Somehow this surprises me. Close the garage, make a quick check to make sure the critical items are aboard. They are.
Depart. Down the street in a gentle roll, Saturday quiet. Ride through Venice, streetlight after orange streetlight. There are some early joggers, and the usual people standing around watching each other.
Lock the bike to a post. Drag the trailer across the dry sand that sucks at its wheels.. Park it out of reach of the coming high tide. Waves foam white in the darkness. Set up the table, unload the trailer and go to work. I've made 250 sculptures here and know the place and my operations well. Routine.
The ox sets out to plow his familiar field, and all of a sudden the place looks new. Strange. Understanding the change takes time.
God's timing is interesting. I avoid conflict if at all possible. If he'd brought this up last night I would have aborted the mission. If he'd mentioned it while I was on my way I'd have aborted, turned around and gone home. No, he waited until I was well started so that there is nothing to do but thrash it out.
I don't really want to. Something about upsetting the God of the Universe makes me very nervous.
Yet he is very patient. The Israelites kept messing things up but God kept looking for the good men and remembering his promises. Hundreds of years later he tried to get Israel's attention by allowing the Babylonian king to take them all away. It worked for a time, but only a time.
It's an expression of freedom. Beating an ox along predictable rounds isn't love. It's my choice: do a sand sculpture, or not.
With the Holy Spirit helping to keep me from panicking, there is time to figure out the truth. As is typical of matters of God, it's more complex than it would seem from the surface.
I allowed the press of time-sensitive routine to keep me from even a minimal recognition of God's presence. Usually I wake up and greet him. That's a contributing factor here. More important is that I didn't invite him to participate in this sculpture.
No, the problem is that this whole process has slipped into the realm of plowing the field. My attitude has become very similar to what it was years ago: concentrating on the sculpture to the exclusion of all else. Sand sculpture as survival, not as worship of the Most High who gave me the ability and desire to make sculpture.
I wonder how other creative people handle this. Creativity requires concentration. Jamie the dancer has to practice and keep track of where he is on the stage and where he is in time, and relate this to the other dancers. Erwin has to keep his mind on what he's saying, relating each part of the message to the others. How do they keep God in this intense process?
Maybe the answer is easier than I'd been thinking. Maybe I should just quit excluding Him.
Rock or Bobber?
We all need defenses. Boundaries are part of being human. I've drawn mine pretty tight, having faced a difficult choice when I was a child. Do I let the adults around me dictate what kind of person I'm going to be, or do I do it myself? I didn't trust them. They told too many lies. I was good at figuring things out, so I did it myself.
Problems came up later. A child isn't subtle. There's either a stone wall for defense, or there's nothing, which isn't a good way for an adult. By the time I was an adult, however, I'd had lots of experience with stone walls. You get good at what you do, and any other way is frightening.
Another problem with walls is that they only defend against what you know. You can't build a wall to keep out a threat you don't know about, unless it's generally related to something else.
God used these characteristics to get my attention. His real love, as demonstrated by various people in Mosaic, found an undefended place and invaded. Truth wasn't far behind. Continued love dissolved the stone, which was frightening until I realized it was being replaced by something else that was both stronger and more permeable. In short, I'd run into the same abrasive life situations but these events no longer wiped me out. I'd bounce around a little bit, remain aware, and go on. It takes practice. I'm not very good at it yet, but the Holy Spirit is very good at teaching.
We got into the church about 15 minutes late. Ear-splittingly loud music, spotlights on the singer and instrumentalists. Vegas-style, indeed, and two thoughts came to me. Where is God? That was followed by remembering the passage in 1 Kings about Elijah and God's quiet whisper. It got worse when the preaching started. Very loud, little content, and that content based on bible verses taken out of context and misapplied.
I also thought about religious experience. Emotion was thick enough in that place to float on. Many people did, letting the current take them along. They abandoned themselves to it.
In the old days I would have turned into a rock, like a headland projecting into the ocean. The waves beat on it but it doesn't move. Just stands there in masterful immovability, unaffected. That sort of unconscious rigidity doesn't please God. He did something better for me: I was a bobber this time, one of those old-time round fishing floats. Anchored to God's solidity, I just floated over the turbulence, watched what was happening, and let it go.
I also prayed for them. I asked God to show them His reality behind all of the noise.
It's not a horrible church. There is some truth there, and they obviously minister to many people. They are missing out on God's best, however, by drowning His subtle strength in this human-made cacophony. It's most definitely not my church, but they did teach me something. God's kind of strength is a very special thing, and I'm very glad He shares it with us.
Monday, September 20, 2004
I've been reading the Old Testament. I've gotten as far as 2 Kings. Basically, the books of Kings are the record of Israel getting farther and farther away from God. They have the history of being God's people, but they still turned, aided by their kings, to the local gods of the countries they partially conquered. The real God of the Universe kept trying to get their attention, but most of the kings followed the practices of their predecessors. It's very depressing, especially when you compare this history to today.
So, there I am on the beach, and I begin to feel twitchy. Usually this process runs on autopilot: carry sand, carry water, filter and tamp the sand, repeat until the form is full. It doesn't require much supervision so I think about the sculpture I'm going to make, or other things.
In this case, the "other things" turned in the direction of idol worship. You see, sand sculpture saved my life. From the end of 1994 through August of 2003, my main purpose for living was creativity, and sand sculpture and its associated processes--designing and making tools, building sculpture models in my mind--were my main outlet for creativity. I looked at my equipment this time, with the form half full, and realized I was sort of stuck in the middle.
I expected sand sculpture to disappear from my life once God got ahold of me again. I did a few in the early Mosaic period, last fall, but felt as if I was sneaking each one past God. So many people at Mosaic supported my art that I had to reconsider this, and finally for the New Year Day sculpture I started asking God about this. He indicated that sand sculpture was a good thing; as many Mosaic folks had told me, He gave me the ability to do it.
Some friends of mine and I visited a church on Sunday. None of us had been there before and we won't be going back. To me it seemed as if the preacher was on autopilot; the message had a sort of practiced roughness. The whole outfit seemed to be going through the motions. Where was God? There was too much noise to hear him.
When I realized God was serious about wanting to change my life, I expected Him to turn me into a missionary or something. This is what Christians do, right? What actually happened has been a carefully planned program of reconstruction, as Erwin says, "from the inside out." The major direction this process has taken in recent months has been to get me off the autopilot. Consider what I'm doing and be aware.
I got to thinking. How does this sculpture differ from any of its pre-Mosaic predecessors? God wouldn't let me alone on this issue. Idolatry or art? With the Holy Spirit's help I began to understand.
The first part of the problem was the rush to get out the door. I usually wake up and do some informal praying. "Good morning, Lord." But I just beat feet to the beach.
Another problem was that, with a growing confidence that I'm not going to be thrown out of God's way if I quit thinking about it for a minute or two, I spent some time thinking about design. I've learned to write with God, and have invited Him to join me in sand sculptures before, but simply forgot this time.
It was strangely difficult for me to approach this subject. Part of this problem is that I have a hard time asking for anything important because that lets people know what can be taken away to cause hurt. And I don't like feeling like a beggar, especially with something I know so well.
I know sand sculpture. I invented the technology I use, the designs are mine. I make the tools, the forms and other equipment. I do the sand sampling and research, the failure analysis and improvement that are part of the engineering. I don't need God's help for this.
Idolatry. Autopilot. I need God to make my life worth living. Sand sculpture is much to weak to hold up a whole life, especially the kind of detailed, conscious life God has in mind. Eventually I was led to realizing that God isn't opposed to sand sculpture. He really did make me able to do all the various required processes. What He does oppose is the unconscious application of a bunch of rules, and my unconscious dependence upon using those rules.
God wants me to be aware, awake, and alive. Responsive.
It takes two hours to make a packed block of sand. By the time I was finished with that I was a lot more awake than I'd been at the start of the day, and the sculpture turned out to be very good. God doesn't get involved with the design directly, but He does make me a better thinker. Better able to keep track of the various elements of the design and fit them into the whole piece.
As we sat in that noisy church, mildly post-sculptural, I asked God to help these people see their way out of the automatic responses they were making on the preacher's cues. When many of them responded to the altar call I prayed that God would reveal His wonderfully detailed reality to them, that they'd see beyond the noise and flashy lights to God's idea of life.
Thursday, September 16, 2004
There are always choices. Vanilla Swiss Almond, or Hazelnut Supreme? Anchovies, or none? Live for God or live for self?
I never knew what to live for. So, I decided I was going to remake the world. My family and the people around us seemed to know nothing but a sort of automatic approach to relationships with other people. All these rules to observe. They seemed unnecessary to me, but it's hard to break the established habits of others. I tried to change myself so I could more flexibly make connections with people.
It didn't work. Oh, I had the right idea but also had limits. Growing up amid a group of highly rational people, I naturally tried to solve the problem of relationships through rational process. Figure out the problem, come up with a solution, test it and reiterate until success comes along. Simple, right? It worked for Edison, it worked for the Wright brothers, it'll work for me.
Wrong. The idea was flawed from the beginning. A further problem was that I had the wrong set of tools to use for solving this problem. In other words, to improve my own relationships I used what I learned from a group that didn't know much about it. I didn't give up until 1994.
Dreamcrash. What do you live for when your dream dies? I was lucky. I'd found a new outlet for passion in sand sculpture, which kept me distracted long enough to get over the death of that long-held dream.
Sand sculpture held me together just long enough. When that program was showing signs of wearing out I ran into Mosaic and quite suddenly was amid a whole new group of people. They had dreams, they had passion, they were interested in things. No cool distant ones among them. Involved, concerned, and I saw that, and WHAM! That old dream of relationship was suddenly resurrected. I thought it was dead. It was just sleeping, and God woke it up.
In short, I had the right idea but the wrong timing and the wrong technology. That's important. I believed in my dream until it was clearly unattainable, and then I quit believing. God, however, didn't quit believing in me. He waited... waited... and timed things exquisitely, moving precisely at the point where I'd listen to Him. "It's really my dream. You have to have Me in order to make it live." That's important.
I could have chosen to live for God years ago. I chose other things because of beliefs I held at that time, and God honored my choices. He even protected me from the worst effects of my mismanagement while I ran my choices into the ground. Sand sculpture just isn't enough of a foundation for a real life. The ability to choose between Swiss Almond Vanilla and Hazelnut Supreme is a small example of God's love. We have freedom. That's also important. It's interesting, however, that only after we choose to live for Him do we see these choices as they really are. The choices we make matter.
Wednesday, September 15, 2004
From the Start
No, the question now is just how I managed to survive until I made that decision. I'm especially interested in the period prior to 1971-October-18, which is the date I first let Jesus open the door.
There are many ways to fail, starting even before a person is born. The mother could be uninterested in health, resulting in a baby that never has a chance. After that many more possibilities come up, from family break-up to general disinterest.
Even more difficult is the survival of ideas and ideals. How many people survive childhood with any of their spark left? Most children grow up into adults, which, as defined by our culture, is a fate I regard as nearly worse than death; it's only better because of the possibility of recovery.
So, you're born, you grow up. You go through schools and parents and jobs, and hope that some of your corners are still intact when you go out on your own. How unpopular are you willing to be? Freedom comes with unpopularity, but also loneliness, so how do you survive that? Many people don't.
Now I know why: we're made to need God. Only His strength, as given to us in the Holy Spirit, enables us to be ourselves rather than a lousy copy of something we've seen on TV or modelled by our parents.
Thus, the question. I managed to make it into adulthood with some dreams intact. I was powerless but still had the idea. How? Was God looking after me even before I turned to him formally in 1971? This sounds heretical, but I've learned in the last year that God Himself is highly heretical. I wouldn't put anything past His love.
So, that time I jumped over what I thought was a manhole cover, and landed on the manhole cover. What I'd jumped over, purely on impulse, was the open manhole. The time we got T-boned by a pickup truck on the way to Crater Lake, and didn't get knocked off the road. And a whole lot of more subtle things, experiences in school and such.
Somehow through all of that I was able to hold myself intact. I had standards. Anything I learned had to fit with observable facts. Why did I have that conviction, and the intellectual ability to make it work? I refused to throw out parts of myself just on someone else's say-so.
"You can't do that."
"It's not dignified." Etc, etc. It took a better reason than that to dissuade me. Basically I learned how to learn, and nothing has ever shaken me off of that. Why? Where did the strength come from?
Then came that momentous day, when, after a few weeks of intense thought, I gave my life to Jesus. I have since learned that following Jesus is a process, not an arrival. It's not a once-for-all event. It must be, like anything else worth doing, learned.
Unfortunately I learned some bad things. Applying the principles I knew of learning, I tried to find God on my own, and wound up not only throwing out the baby with the bathwater, but flinging the bassinet and everything else. I became legendary among my co-workers for my anti-church stance. God was an opinion, a bad solution to real problems.
Now, if I'd have been God, I would have washed my hands of the whole deal. God's love is different from anything we know about, and He didn't quit. He guided events, as he seemed to have done since the day I was born, so that, in time, I'd be abject enough to look again to him for answers.
The Holy Spirit is badly misunderstood. Either He is made the be-all and end-all of Christian experience--Have you been filled with the spirit?--or else He is ignored. The truth is that every Christian is filled with the spirit as soon as they commit. Learning to live with Him is a different story. So, when I was abject enough and turned to God, this time I paid more attention to what was going on. One more chance. I let the Holy Spirit take my hand and guide me through all the clutter I'd picked up.
He is the Spirit of Truth. I look back over the years and see the evidence of the Holy Spirit in my life everywhere. His hand protecting me, giving me the right idea at the right time, and perhaps even shoring me up long enough to get to a better place. From the very beginning, loving one confused boy and helping him get to the point where he could start asking better questions.
Tuesday, September 14, 2004
The Call of the Shell
I'm not very good at maintenance. I see a problem, design a fix for it and then implement the fix, assuming that it will stay fixed. Works for sand sculpture tools and other constructions, so it'll work everywhere, right?
Hence, life within walls. Simple, low maintenance, effective. They're draconian in their inflexibility--everyone bounces off--but always there, always working whether needed or not. Automatic reliability.
So, this morning I woke up depressed. Again. What's going on?
One of my working assumptions in this new way of life is that most of the time I should feel OK. I'm not talking about rockets and bells, just that life is worth going on with. Sometimes there'll be rockets, sometimes there'll be pits, but most of the time will be in some middle ground.
But this seems to be working out like price controls did back in in the 1970s. Get rid of controls, and suddenly prices go all over the place. Freedom does odd things to one who has never been free. And, even more of a problem for us set-and-forget problem solvers: each morning seems to be different.
One morning I sort of figured out that the cause was an overnight separation from God. Some part of me got really scared. I'm not very trusting and I guess a few hours asleep allows me to forget God's promises, so I have to remind myself, and ask him to remind me.
Another morning I thought about work. It's mundane. I do it well and have a good role to play but I've been doing it for a long time and there's not much magic left in it. It'd be nice to have work with more sparkle. Changing jobs is about as frightening as ideas get and this case is more
difficult because I don't have the paper qualifications for anything else; I do engineering work but am a college drop-out so no one else is going to hire me for this kind of work. And what else is there? Writing? I'm the king of the unpublished essay. Sand sculpture? I love sculpture but don't much care for castles, cute animals and clients. I just turned some folks down yesterday because they wanted a Pepsi logo. Colored. The woman was really excited about this idea. Blech. I could have made $500 for the day's work, but I'm afraid that if I prostitute myself that way, the magic that is true sand sculpture for me will evaporate. I have a mundane job, but it leaves time for the magic and that compromise has worked for many years.
That darned land just won't stay conquered. You go through and clean it up, and before you know it Amalekites and Moabites are all over the place. Crabgrass in the lawn, or, in my case, dandelions in the crabgrass. It just doesn't stay clean.
I think Rick Warren missed a day in his "Purpose-Driven Life." Day 30 is devoted to "You were created to serve God." Somewhere in there, maybe around day 1, there should be one in between. Day 1.5 or something. "You were created to need God." And the need comes out in surprising ways. No analogy I've been able to think of correctly describes this. Maybe it's
different for each person. The correlate is that the need is ongoing, not set-and-forget as I tend to treat it.
So, this morning I woke up depressed. I didn't really know why. As usual. But I 'm a little softer these days, thanks to God for reminding me of a few things when he managed to get a word in edgewise amid all the noise of daily life. He reminded me of last September, when I took that
flying leap and landed in his arms.
Now, I'd like to point out that this is different from Kierkegaard's "Leap of faith." I just finished reading Anne Lamott's "traveling Mercies," and her faith seems to be of this sort. Never quite knowing what's out there but leaping anyway. You're supposed to jump off the bridge and hope that someone catches you before you hit the cold, deep water. I don't do that sort of thing. Blind leaps lead to bad landings. Overguided leaps lead to bad landings too, but there's a middle ground. I leaped, but I'd been shown enough of God's kindness by then that, while the chasm was deep, it wasn't all that wide and I knew Who was on the other side. His character had been demonstrated. The main aspect of my leap was departure from known and predictable responses, to move into God's world and let him take care of things that I'd botched. In other words, I had to jump outside my walls.
And perhaps I have to do that every day. Every minute. Deciding to do things his way. In the mornings I contemplate this and come to a quick conclusion: forget it. Go back inside the walls. I've never won a battle against Amalekites so all they have to do is wave their swords and I cower. Automatic. By now the swords are probably just little pieces of balsa wood and the men fat and lazy, but I see them through well-trained eyes. Giants.
I went with some friends to the send-off party for another friend. He's moving to Washington D.C. to work for a civil rights organization. I'm hazy on the details because we didn't get much time to talk. All I could think of was that this is a big need in a world where civil rights get less regard every day. I admire his courage for tying onto a big dream like that. At the same time I hope I'll be left alone with my tiny dreams. God probably has other ideas, and that scares me.
God has big dreams. I think he wants us to pick those up and implement them. He provides the power and the reason, we provide the ideas and the engineering.
Reason enough to be depressed in the mornings. Maybe this'll be the day that God lands some big dream in my lap and I'll realize I'm just a phony follower. Of course, that's another holdover from the old days: see the job, do the job NOW before the process gets buried in incomprehensible minutiae. God's way is different. His view of events includes all of time, and He is willing to spend the time it takes to build strong foundations.
Sometimes things sneak up on you and you realize there's a bigger structure on your foundation than you thought. Much to my surprise I see that I've written a book. This is the biggest project I've ever completed. It sometimes got stalled in minutiae, and parts of it are better than others because I rushed some of it to stay ahead of accumulating impediments, but it is unquestionably done. It's real. I put it into a package and shipped it, all 260 pages. Maybe big dreams are built on small dreams, as the dreamer gains experience. But I'm still more comfortable inside the walls. Each step is a small mystery, and I'm not comfortable with that.
Monday, September 13, 2004
I too am interested in beauty, but I'm also willing to leave more of the hair on my writing. This comes from my sand sculpture background.
The starting gun sounds when there's enough daylight to see the sand. You're done when you can't see your tools. That's it. One day, one man, one beach.
The process of making sand sculpture has a few recognizable milestones marking the path from flat beach to finished sculpture. You build a base for the sculpture, then set up and fill the form. Then you peel the form off leaving the packed sand. Carving is next, wherein the sculpture finally begins to move from the realm of imagination to the physical reality. After the carving is finished, there's the clean-up process, when rough edges are polished out and loose sand brushed away. And finally, landscaping. Presentation is important, and I like the area around the sculpture to look nice.
Every step takes time. Especially in winter I have to make hard choices. Time spent in clean-up is time taken from carving. Clean-up and polishing are important, but are they more important than the basic idea? This is a hard choice, because the photographs of the sculpture will forever show its finished state and excessive roughness interferes with the sculpture's form.
A simple sculpture can be polished to within a gnat's eyelash of perfection. Complex ones, forget it. I'm lucky if I'm still standing after making one of these, much less have the Watts to clean it up. Yes, it'll be in the photographs, but I've made a critical adjustment in my perception.
Instead of looking for flaws, I sort of blur my vision and look at the sculpture. Many passersby look only at the flaws. I've had to educate them.
Writing is similar. You can concentrate on flaws, or you can look beyond them to what the story says.
There's another similar aspect. Good tools, and lots of experience in using them, help a lot in sculpting anything. If I make each tool stroke right where it needs to be, then I won't need so much clean-up. Make the decision, choose the tool, and cut. In sand sculpture each cut is final; if it's wrong, you have to work it into the design.
Writing can be polished to death. Stories can hang around on my hard disk forever, being rearranged, edited, amended and reworked until all the life is gone from them. I had a ceramics class one time where the instructor demonstrated this. I have a strong fussiness tendency, which is why I appreciate sand sculpture so much. There is no time to be fussy! When the sun goes down you've shipped the product.
Eventually writing has to be shipped. Get it out there. Get the idea cleared so I can go on to something else. Life does not stand still. I'd rather ship a slightly rough product than an overpolished one, and my readers (all 13 of them) seem to agree. Or else they're being kind.
As for the balance of beauty and utility, well, this varies. If your readers are experienced you can get away with more. New readers have a harder time. Good, I say. Make 'em work. They remember better that way. Eventually they will join the ranks of the experienced. Or quit. Their choice, but I have to make a story interesting to write in order to stay with it. I refuse to write for the unmotivated.
On top of that I've been getting steamed in other ways. Went to work Tuesday, wearing walking shorts because my gimpy leg made it hard to do anything, such as laundry, so I wore what I had. Got many accusations of wearing boxer shorts, along with other criticisms, and I wasn't in the best of shape anyway.
It also seems I've become a good person to talk to on the bus. One woman gets on, sits beside me and starts talking about all the bad events of her day. I used to be able to talk with God on the way home but can't do that... and this woman doesn't want me to talk, either. And traffic was terrible so the ride lasted forever. Gargh.
Not that I really had that much to say to God anyway. It's amazing just how delicate a relationship can be; I get scared, quit talking, quit listening because of fear and then everything else starts to slide. Confidence, the sense of being loved (which is never very strong in me anyway) and a sense of familiar isolation. Solve the problem myself.
So I took today off from work and did the laundry. Finally got the time for some quiet. I had a book with me. I usually sit in my car at the laundromat rather than inside because of the radio they play in there. I picked up my book and then got the hint from the Holy Spirit. "Let's just talk." So we did.
One issue for a couple of months has been a statement in Rick Warren's "purpose Driven Life" that there will be times when we won't experience God. That scared me at the time and still does. If I lose that, what's the point of following Him? Now I think I overreacted. I've read more of the Bible. David, all the others who followed God, they had great confidence and God never left
them. Not that I'm David or anything, but God is the same.
And yet I'm still scared of where he leads. Love is his way. I know nothing of that. It's all I can do to keep from yelling as some particularly slow person is trying to figure out how to pay their fare on the bus.
Love brings great upset. I like an even-tenored life. Love brings dreams. I like the easy, non-dreamer life and have become well adapted to this.
I talked with the technical director for Mosaic last night, about his needs for technical heirodules. I'm rather unsettled on this; when I thought Mosaic would soon have a West Side presence I was willing to work downtown until the West Side start-up. Now I'm wondering. Should I look for a more local outfit? But I like Mosaic because I know God speaks to these people and they listen. But I hate driving to downtown L.A. when I have to be there five times a week as is. Where is the love? Others have dreams and overcome aversions to things. Sometimes it seems as if I've made great progress, other times as if I'm standing still. Life isn't nearly so easy as troubleshooting electronic equipment.
Wednesday, September 08, 2004
How Do We Know?
Anyway, one of the main characters in this story had an "indoctrinal" virus living in him. The purpose was to give him a religious experience. It gave him headaches when he did anything the virus considered blasphemous. Much SF is hostile to the very idea of God, being in line with the "opiate of the masses" idea. This book goes beyond hostile to cliched cynicism. You can pretty well guess what acts were considered blasphemous (swearing, doubting), and what images came up from the virus (stained glass windows, organ music).
Farther along we learn more about the religion on this planet: thoroughly commercial, corrupt, and requiring everyone who wants to join, or even those who get drafted into forced labor, to take on one of these indoctrinal viruses. The possibility that there is any God out there to worship is never even considered. The church is just a tool and its technologic base is preposterous; it's a whole planet of parasites. Who is the host?
Eventually I got sick of all this and gave it up. The book had other problems, but the main one was the complete lack of any character I could care about. It was late in the afternoon anyway and I had a little polishing to do on a writing project. But this thing had a surprising effect. I've been reading the Old Testament, and have been saddened by all those accounts of Israel being
saved, and then before you know it, turning away from God again. How could they turn away from such obvious miracles? And I found myself turning away from the obvious miracles in my life.
What if all of this is just the equivalent of a passing virus? How do we know that we know God? On the way home on the bus, traditional time for thinking about things like this, it occurred to me that only our real God would allow doubts. Every other "god" tries for complete mind control, like that indoctrinal virus. I am free to doubt, to walk away and continue my life, sans headaches but alone. I am also free to choose to believe the evidence before me.
It wasn't until I read this book--as much as I did--that I really began to understand what people mean by "religious experience." I have always wanted something real. Experience is real, but may not reflect outer reality. It needs to be checked. Many people want just the feeling. Yah, I'd love to feel good all the time. I've had my fill of depression... but one thing worse than depression is phony good feeling. My problem is that the way I determine if a feeling reflects something real is to throw rocks at it. If it breaks it's not real. It's not hard to figure out what the result of that is.
Basically, I'm deathly afraid this whole new life is going to turn into vapor and pass through my fingertips. I wonder how long it takes to get complete confidence. Confidence, as in believing that God really is in control of this mess of a world and can make life worth living.
A friend is always encouraging me to seek community. I know that's one of the ways to reinforce shaky things: put more legs on it. Communities, however, don't necessarily have the truth either... and what if it's just a bunch of people gathering to support the same dead belief? I've seen plenty of that. Numbers don't make truth.
I like the idea of community, but I'm not very trusting. I also have very little idea of how to participate, having been solitary all of my life. So I do what I can: meeting people in very small groups. Mountain bike rides and lunches, even helping friends move. I'd like to think that the other participants in these little meetings get something from them, but I don't know. It's an area I'm afraid to look at, because I don't know how we know this either.
I'd had a conversation with some friends a few days before I read the book. They described how they've been having some trouble in their marriage, and this has had some hair-raising results. The little crack of disagreement widened into non-communication, and after that things went downhill until it got bad enough to awaken them from their automatic responses. This book did the same to me: got in a small crack and made it wider. Doubts are easy. Surety may be impossible, but what it life is absolutely assured? We have Jesus' words printed, and the fact of His life, but we have to believe it. Confidence may be built by collecting enough evidence and then deciding to go with it. All of life requires faith. What do we choose to believe?
Tuesday, September 07, 2004
Years ago I wrote only under duress. The process was slow and clumsy, and I just didn't know how to get the images in my mind to fit into words. So they'd force me to write things for classes in school, but reality was in the images. I'd go home and build things, really three-dimensional objects that I could hold in my hands, rotate, and look at. Just like the images in my mind.
Years went by. I wrote a few things by hand because it was the only way to get the ideas out where I could see them. It took a lot of frustration to make me write, and then I never edited. I watched my mother write her dissertation and the process was so clumsy that I swore never to do it myself.
In 1982 I had to take an English class. I was what they called a "non-traditional" student. In other words, old. Sitting in an English class with people just over half my age was interesting. We had to write an essay every week. I bought a typewriter and went to work.
I took a recent experience that had burned itself into my memory, shining brightly, and tried to make it become real on the page. I typed it, went through and marked up the hard copy, and then retyped. Better than writing by hand, but still clumsy.... But something about this appealed to me. To hold this experience fixed, printed on paper that was real in my hand was fascinating in itself.
A couple of months later I discovered that the school had a rudimentary word processor running on its computer system. I tried using this for one of the essays but didn't like the result. It was too easy. I became verbose. I wrote the next essay with the typewriter and that's when the light came on. It was so much easier! I could learn to deal with the verbosity in order to have that wonderful write/re-write single-pass capability. I haven't used a typewriter since, and a couple of months later I owned a word processor.
So, I started writing. I'd get an idea at two in the morning, get up and write it. I called these "Midnight Missives." If you keep doing something you get better at it. Midnight Missives started out as a paragraph or two, grew to a page. That was a long story!
It was hard for me to hold the whole story in my mind, as it had to be for me to write. Again, practice made a difference. I don't really know why I stuck with it. Perhaps it was all those silent years. No one wanted to hear from me, so I wrote.
I had ideas, I had the tool. I wrote. Eventually I found the third factor: an audience. I wrote stories about motorcycle rides and then sent them to the people who rode with me. They usually said it was a good story and that I should get them published. I was, however, more interested in writing than in the fight to get into a magazine. The first ride write-ups were a few paragraphs. The last one was close to 80 pages, written in sections by day of an 11-day ride.
When my major activity switched from motorcycling to sand sculpture I wrote about that. Some of these reports became long and complex. I'd developed better writing muscles through the constant practice.
And then, last year, I went and visited a church. Now, if I'd been asked to predict what would be the outcome of this, I'd have said I'll just bounce off. I'm not much of a joiner. I was in pretty bad shape, though, and needed help of some sort. Didn't really know what kind of help was required, but something had to change. Well, not only did I not bounce off, but I was impressed and wanted to go back. This was such an odd turn of events that I wrote a story about it, and naturally sent the story by Email to the man who invited me to visit his church.
The second Sunday was also interesting, so I wrote a story about that one, and sent it to the same man. He'd written back to say that he liked the story a lot. A week later I got the same report from the church's head pastor, which caused problems. But that's another story. What happened was that I ended up staying with the church, discovered that God was real, and kept writing.
I just mailed off to the pastor the full collected version of those stories. Graphics and all. It's called "Anonymity was never an option," and it runs 250 typeset pages. Roughly 118,000 words, in 20 stories. Heavy enough that it couldn't go first class, but by priority. The concept came to me late last year and I mentioned it to a new friend. She said "Go for it." So I did. I was astounded. You keep writing, you get a book.
Thursday, September 02, 2004
Preparations, Theory and Lessons
In upward of 100 rides in the mountains I've only had four problems. Once the derailer got hung up in the spokes, but I was at the top of the hill and going home. When I got to the flat there was a strong wind behind me, so I spread the sides of my jacket and sailed home. The next problem was all the pawls in the freewheel breaking, so I ended up with a bidirectional freewheel. I walked up the hills, rolled down and repeat. I was with a friend. We had a lot of fun. You take more chances when you can't just power your way out of a hole. The next problem was when my hub broke in half, but it was held together by the axle and I rode home, grinding. And then my rear tire blew up, but it was very old and I was going downhill on a hot day. I rode home on the flat tire; it was already destroyed. So, with a decent bicycle, reasonably well maintained, the chance of walking home is so slight that I travel light. And leave early in the morning so I have time to walk.
So, there we are, climbing out of Trippet Ranch on our way around the loop. We're about as far from home as we can be, and my friend's tire blows up. Sidewall split, spontaneous. It's a very discouraging sound.
He got off, found the problem and started getting the repair items out of his pack. Tube, check. Dollar bill, to bridge the sidewall gap, check. Tire tools, check. Compressed CO2, check.
"I think I left the cartridge interface with my road kit."
We have no way to get the CO2 into the tire. We're stopped.
"There's a garage down at Trippet. Maybe they'll have a compressor."
We ride down the hill to the garage. The man who's there says all the maintenance people are out, working in other areas.
What do we do? I can't loan my friend my back wheel because his bike uses rim brakes and mine has disks, and therefore the rim sidewall isn't designed for braking. He can't ride my bike because I have platform pedals and he has cleated shoes. He didn't bring his cell phone and I don't have one.
I ended up riding home and driving his truck back to Trippet. This gave me time to think.
It's an unusual occurrence. His tires weren't that old, and seemed to be in good condition. What has happened is that he now has at least two hours with nothing to do. Normally he's very busy; the phone rings, all kinds of technical issues he has to solve for the church, family needs.
It takes me an hour and a half to ride home, and about two-thirds of the way I bonk. Run out of fuel. This usually doesn't happen because I start early, right after breakfast, and so run out just about at the time I get home. This time I was two and a half hours later starting the ride, and the tank just ran empty. Getting up the last hill was a problem, and then I ate everything I could find when I got home.
At least that gave me time to pray for God's help with the drive. I don't like driving and tend to just want to get it over with, so I become impatient.
The drive there was uneventful. We got stuck in some traffic coming home and bailed off PCH on a back street.
"Well, it used to go through." We have to enter the parking lot.
"It's an adventure, Larry! My wife has come to expect this kind of thing."
The light is beginning to dawn in my head. Two rides with him, two problems.
Somehow adventure rides this man's coattails. I promptly went out and bought a spare folding tire and I'm not going on another ride with him unless we have pump, tools, tire, tube and maybe even a tow truck.
Of course, there could be repercussions of my rash act. You never have problems you're prepared for. On our next ride, well, I don't want to think about it. If the simple stuff can't break..
Being Like Jesus
This contractor promised that all the cracks in the stucco would be covered, that everything would look good. They came and did the job. Not only are the cracks still visible through the new paint, but they damaged a window. So far, the contractor shows no sign of being interested in even fixing the window, much less making the stucco look good.
My friend is a pastor. He said he was concerned about his Christian witness, that he wanted to do the right thing. He asked me if he should roll over and accept the job for the sake of keeping peace with this man.
One day some months ago I was on my way home on the bus, and as usual I was praying. The subject we were discussing was slavery. Paul described himself as a slave of Christ, and Jesus himself is called a servant. Their idea of what a servant is differs from ours, however.
Look at the examples of Jesus' life that we're shown. He forcefully threw the moneylenders and vendors out of the temple. Other times he was very quiet, but still very sure, as with the woman at the well, and the woman whom the Pharisees accused of adultery. Paul said he was a slave, but he spoke forcefully even to kings and chief priests.
In other words, Jesus is no milquetoast. While he never got into people's faces for the sake of making a scene, he always spoke the truth.
Many contractors count on people to let things go. The homeowner doesn't want the hassle when they're already busy. So the contractor gets away with sloppy work and goes on to mess up someone else's house. I've heard many tales of such woe from my co-workers.
And I'm reading a book called "Boundaries," by Henry Cloud. This is very interesting, and is very clear. Boundaries are appropriate and necessary, and there's no good reason to let a person who has been hired to do a job get away with doing it badly. My friend had appropriate expectations, and the contractor is violating his boundaries by trying to skate.
I advised him not to roll over. Wait and see what the contractor offers. If he really fixes the problems, fine. They're done, and perhaps the contractor will learn something. If the contractor doesn't make good, then I told my friend to send a detailed letter to the Better Business Bureau. That's about all he can do.
The most important thing to do is learn from this. Ask around. Check the background of any worker, and keep track of what they're doing. People have this image of Christians being all soft and kind, which would be nice if the world weren't full of wolves. Jesus wasn't afraid to attack wolves. I think we can do the same, but this has to be balanced with love. I don't know how that works, but I'm sure I'll learn. God is a good teacher.
Wednesday, September 01, 2004
The Awful Truth
A mystic wants to walk through the curtain that Jesus tore apart and experience God directly.
Rephrased, you could say that a theologian studies God using written materials, and a mystic studies God through his senses. Brennan Manning, in "Ruthless Trust," mentions many people he describes as theologian and mystic.
The first time I read that I thought he was nuts. Aren't they opposed? They have been in my experience, and mystics have always been looked down upon. But do they really oppose each other? They both study God, and just as an engineer can be an artist, can't a mystic be a theologian?
This wouldn't matter except that I Have a sneaking suspicion that I'm a mystic. And a theologian. I love my experience, but I also use a concordance.
Could it be that the "first love" everyone talks about (except at Mosaic) is really a phenomenon of trust? A person gets saved and they have to trust God. Everything is new, naturally, so trust is the only thing they can do. As time goes on they learn about God and church and the bible and, as is natural in our culture, knowledge takes the place of trust. Why trust God when I now know enough to solve my problems? But this is a lie. The only way to solve my own problems is to keep them so simple that anyone could solve them.
At first the problems seem huge, so of course I turn to God. Then they become more known. Our culture teaches that we're not to need anyone. But God wants us to need him. We're supposed to need him. We're made to need him, for everything that's important. He wants us to make decisions, but he is the source of our reasons to make those decisions. In other words, why do anything if I don't have a relationship with him? Theology supports this, mysticism understands it. Christians need "feel-how" just as backpackers do, and airplane pilots, and sand sculptors.
My name is Larry, and I'm a mystic. There. I feel better now. Manning says that Jesus may be more pleased when we trust him than when we say we love him. The theologian in me questions this eisegesis, but the mystic says "Of course. How else is love demonstrated?"