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 I'm the king of the unpublished essay.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.