Tuesday, November 30, 2004
Why I Need God
So, the question is, why hasn't the revolution come? Jesus came 2000 years ago and the world is in worse shape now than it was then, mainly because of people's increased power. Why is it that Christians are the butt of television jokes, rather than respected? Where's Martin Luther when you need him?
The church got suborned somehow. In Spain around 1500 the church was for sale. You could buy your way into the papacy, or you could buy the pope's comments on something. The rulers of Spain bought the pope's acquiescence to their forays into the Caribbean, and subsequently to approval of slavery. Some churchmen tried to convince the others that the natives were people, but they were shouted down by the others, who wanted gold and influence.
The church continues to be suborned. When was the last time you were in a casual gathering of Christians, and heard them talking about Christ?
If you read enough history you see a lot of similarities from one period to the next. It's like mathematical fractals: the design repeats at any level of detail. People are corrupt. Revolutions fail because the participants can't agree on where they're going, or they get bought off. So we try the stock phrases to gloss over the problems... and we all get along, more or less.
Jesus gave us what we need for a real revolution. You can't legislate it, or dictate it. Look at Russian history to illustrate that. You can't get people to do good by rewarding them. In short, anything applied from the outside fails.
God has the answer. He lives in us and changes our hearts. If we let him.
This brings me face-to-face with a big problem: I need God in order to live the life I want. I need him, like I need to breathe, or drink water, or eat. Oh, I can live without Him, but the life won't be very good. It'll be that same kind of automatic, rote-based junk that is so stinking familiar.
But I've trained myself not to need anything. Be prepared to abandon anything that causes a problem, be it a non-functional car, old clothes, awkward people or anything else. Walk away from the trap. Never need anything because whatever I need puts a handle on me. A chain. Make sure that, while you can take away anything I own, you never get ahold of a piece of my soul. This is why I do sand sculpture: no one will ever possess it, or the part of me that the sculpture represents.
Now I have a relationship I can't abandon. If I abandon God, if I turn away from Him, I die. I'll keep walking around, but my heart will be unsupported and, like a tree pulled out of the ground, it will wither. I now know where life comes from. God owns my heart.
This drives me nuts! I'm not supposed to need anything! How did this happen? Why didn't someone tell me this would happen so that I could have bailed before I got in so deep? Nobody made me walk this path. No one grabbed me and forced me to take the exit. I just keep being surprised by God's reality.
I think this is the Holy Spirit's role in the revolution. He keeps making God real to me and that reality makes changes. They just happen. And I no longer can live without His presence. Can you imagine how this scares me? What if He pulls out? Yeah, I know, He promises not to leave, but what about all the people who say God left them? Besides that, our world has a very poor record on promises. Made in the moment, forgotten in the next.
Everyone talks of needing God. It seems to me that most of the time they're talking in a warm, fuzzy "His Eye is on the Sparrow" kind of way. Distant. Makes you feel good.
I'm trying to describe something more than that. Yes, God does have His eye on the sparrow, but He has more than that on me. He wants me to live. God is a person, and He is personally interested in what I'm doing. Last night I was thinking, trying to sort some of this out, and wondering why I need God. Why bother? Why does He need me? Then He said to me "I want you to live because I cherish every day with you."
I didn't believe it. Self-hypnosis, self-delusion, what I want to hear. And then the Holy Spirit gave me an image of the cross. Jesus died so that God could cherish me. Jesus died so that the Holy Spirit could live in me... and transform me into a needy person. I rationalize this by thinking that it's the way humans were designed to be; God always intended to be in our lives, but sin has sunk that idea so He had to do it the hard way. That He did so, to the point of giving His Son, is proof that He does truly cherish His moments with us. I need someone to cherish me, to want me around.
There. I've said it. Shameful, but as close to reality as I can come. It's true for me, and it's a revolution. I don't know where it leads but I know where the road behind me goes. I don't want that. Needing God is better than dying alone. God has promised that His revolution will live in me, and it's nothing like the platitudes and rote learning most churches pass off as Christianity. You can't buy the Holy Spirit. He is entirely free, and to touch Him is to be changed.
Monday, November 29, 2004
Slanting light brings out the texture of the conglomerate that forms the ridge's top section. I finally have a digital camera that can do this justice and I happily look for compositions in the elegant wall.
"What are you photographing?"
"Rocks." Two women had walked past, then turned back. "I've always liked this wall."
"I'd never noticed it. It has interesting texture," one of the women says, and then they walk on down.
I keep shooting. The goal is to produce an image that is true to the original, while simplifying it enough to be comprehensible in the limited amount of data available in a photograph. Here, I have the benefit of touch, smell, movement, sound, to make the situation real. A photograph must abstract all of that and present it on a flat surface. A good picture transcends its limitations.
"What are you shooting?"
Two more women, same thing. Walked past, then turned around. "This beautiful conglomerate wall. I've always liked it, and I finally have the camera for it."
"That is quite a camera."
"I like it a lot. Just got it."
"I like what you're doing. Photographs are everywhere. I have a student who I hope will learn that. I should bring her up here."
"It's a good place. Especially at sunset."
She looks at her companion. "Photography is a good way to meet men. I'm hoping."
"It beats watching TV. And it has been good to me. People have told me many ways to meet women, but none of them ever worked. Now I know the secret: take pictures of rocks on a busy trail. You're the second group of women who has stopped to ask." I smile at them,and we all laugh.
This is very unlike me. It usually doesn't happen; I've done photography in lots of places without eliciting many questions, and if there were questions the conversation didn't go far. Today has been strange. I passed a mountain biker who was unusual for starting at the bottom of Paseo Miramar, and it turns out that she's like me in that she rides from home. Marina del Rey, about three miles farther away than my start. We rode and talked until I made my first stop for photography.
The women walk on, down. Then two men approach, climbing, and I hurriedly put my stuff away and grab a drink so as to be gone ahead of them. I don't like coming up behind hikers, with all my mountain bike noise. They catch me anyway and one of them asks me about Cougar. He mentions that he also owns a Turner. We talk for a bit, about mountain bikes and the steep hill, as I roll slowly along with them, and then I go ahead.
The big oak in the swale is in too much shade for a decent photo, but there's just enough light on the new season's hummingbird sage. I stop and get out the camera. The two men catch up with me.
"What are you shooting here?"
"Hummingbird sage. See the new fuzzy leaves?" I point.
"Yes." One of them reaches to a plant's base and pulls off a small fragrant leaf.
"See over here? Last year's flower spike. The flowers are a spectacular magenta-purple. I wanted to get a picture of the new plants, and then come back for the flowers. Later in the spring. Farther along this trail there's chaparral flowering currant, but I don't think I'll make it today. It's blooming a month early. Just a little ways up is gooseberry, but it doesn't have any flowers yet."
"That's great that you know so many of the plants. We walk right past."
"You can always tell when I've been up a trail by all the turn-around tracks and loops."
We stand there and talk for a few minutes, getting around to introductions. Roger and Gabriel. Roger is a sculptor in bronze and stone. They walk on but I stay to get more images of the sage, and the fuchsia flowering gooseberry. Thin clouds soften the light. Then I ride on, up the last grade, tempted to go all the way around to Trailer Canyon but there's no time. I turn around at the local maximum, where the woolly blue curls will come up in a couple of months.
Back near the hummingbird sage is a nice curving growth of tall new grass. I park the bike, get the camera out of my pack and sit on the trail and start experimenting. Naturally, the wind that had caused so much trouble as I photographed pearly everlasting has now calmed so the grass won't move. I still try various angles, and then Roger and Gabriel come by on their way down.
"That is a nice shot," Gabriel says.
The conversation goes on: sculpture, sand, technique, craft and the work required to become good at something, inspiration, where ideas come from, the fascination of creativity, what happens when people read. Gabriel turns out to be a writer.
He's also something of an engineer. "I was talking with a paleontologist one time. He told me how they have to be very delicate to uncover the bones."
"They're like powder," Roger says.
"Right. They paint on cyanoacrylate glue. It's very thin, and penetrates the bone to hold it together. They expose an area, paint it, then move on after it hardens. I've been wondering if you could use that on your sand sculptures.
"That's an idea I've not heard about. People have mentioned sodium silicate, water glass, which they use in sand casting. I've never tried it. Or Elmer's glue."
"That wouldn't work. It would never dry."
"Yah. But whatever adhesive I use has to work with wet material, because the sand is damp."
"The cyanoacrylate should work with that."
"The truth is, I don't really care. If I start making permanent sculpture, I'll have to be a salesman."
"No, you have someone else do that. You stay with the creative side."
I look at them. "The truth is that what I really like is the process. I make sand sculpture because I like making it. When it's finished, the fun is over."
Gabriel says "There's a lot of similarity between what you do and the Buddhist sand paintings. Temporary, done for the process. Are you a Buddhist?"
I smile. "No. I'm a Christian." I can imagine what comes to his mind, but this is all of a piece. The situation and the people combine to make me very eloquent, and my words slide out as if greased. "I find that God is very supportive of creativity." Buddhism is as more acceptable subject, but following Jesus is where the life is.
We talk for a few minutes more and then they go on. I finish up, look at the sun and realize I'm out of time if I want to be at Phil's for Thanksgiving. I pass Gabriel and Roger one more time on the steep climb out of the little valley and then stop for a last photograph at the top. Then it's the long ride home and a shower; salt crystals don't do much for my appearance.
The drive to Whittier is uneventful. A real wonder. The first time I've been on the 60 freeway without being parked. Phil's directions were good. The problem comes in when I reach the door.
My spine, so recently upright and strong, turns to rubber. This man is a real Christian. Active in the church, family, hard worker, rebuilding their house in his spare time. Working to raise Godly kids. I can barely get myself through the day, much less anyone else, and here I just fold up. I'm not fit to be in his house.
Needless to say this attitude doesn't help the conversation. I just follow everyone else's lead, except for an hour spent in the back yard drawing extravagant chalk designs on his sidewalk. The kids have fun walking through the design and then leaving polychrome footprints on the concrete I haven't colored.
Failure. My tiny victories are meaningless. I know my foot is slipping. Why bother trying to stop it? Just let go. Slide. It's a long way down and I'm tired of trying. God won't let me lie to myself: If I'm depressed, then I'm depressed. Don't bother trying to cover it up. I just run away from everything. For two days.
It could have been worse. This used to go on for months. Self-judgment. Phil certainly never said anything, and he will be mortified if he reads this. Phil, it ain't your fault. It's all mine. You did nothing. All my self-judgment. A very bad habit. I'm trying to tell God what's good and bad about me, and beat Him to the punch. I learned long ago that judging myself hurts less than having others do it and naturally the same idea applies in extremis to God. Habit. He refuses to swallow the bait. He doesn't judge me.
All God asks of me is that I follow what He wants for me. Not what He asks of others. Why is this so hard for me to stick to when I'm around other followers of Jesus? We're not all alike.
My life is simple. Simple is all I can handle. I feel like a loser. God keeps telling me to follow Him and forget about everything else. What I have is a special kind of arrogant self-defense: see me whipping myself? You don't need to do it.
But God never whips His children. He chastises me, and constantly reminds me I'm not in His will while I'm trying to tell Him how screwed up I am. He won't let me ignore it, won't let me run away and hide. Intensive distraction is the only thing that works, and as soon as that's over, He's right back at it.
I'm easy to get at. I have no emotional calluses. About as tough as tissue paper. Except that somehow I'm still here, living in a hostile world. The contrast between feeling and reality. In any event, God has a very easy time getting my attention: all He has to do is let me turn away from Him, and I immediately feel the frost and stone growing back into my soul.
Maybe someday I'll learn this lesson and stop beating myself. I'm glad God is patient. He's the only one who can teach me. Saturday night I finally quit playing "Uru," turn off the computer and start listening to God. He is, as usual, very kind.
It doesn't last long. Sunday I'm even more crabby. Another day of "Uru," and all other plans thrown away. Distraction. Again, at night, I'm worn out and start listening.
The issue is neediness. Writing the first version of this story reminded me of just how much I need God, and I started running again. God waited. Needing anything is a problem for me, but an expansion of that idea will have to wait. This story is far too long already.
2004 November 27 (sent to WEML, forgot to send to Blog)
rewritten November 29
Wednesday, November 24, 2004
Get A Life
always gave me an impression of quiet competence as we worked together at
Mosaic in Beverly Hills. Hints of passion came out when she got hold of a
camera, but this didn't happen often. Read her Blog and you'll find another
person, one much different from the diffident-seeming Temple Slave.
If you make the Most High your dwelling--
even the Lord, who is my refuge--
then no harm will befall you,
no disaster will come near your tent.
For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways
they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
You will tread upon the lion and the cobra;
you will trample the great lion and the serpent. (Psalm 91:9-13, NIV)
Lu yesterday posted a quick message about "her number," based on a little
quiz on a Web site. I went there and took the quiz, coming up a 5, just as
Lu is. The most interesting question asked me to choose what, on a list of
8 or 9 items, I was most afraid of. It was hard to choose because I was
afraid of all of them.
The righteous will flourish like a palm tree,
they will grow like the cedars of Lebanon;
planted in the house of the Lord,
they will flourish in the courts of our God.
They will still bear fruit in old age,
they will stay fresh and green,
proclaiming, "The Lord is upright;
he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him. (Psalm 92:12-15, NIV)
I am righteous. Not by anything I've done, but because God made me so.
Instead of having confidence in that righteousness, confidence based on
God's character, I'm very timid. I'm always afraid of making mistakes and
being shown the door.
Who will rise up for me against the wicked?
Who will take a stand for me against evildoers?
Unless the Lord had given me help,
I would soon have dwelt in the silence of death.
When I said "My foot is slipping,"
your love, O Lord, supported me.
When anxiety was great within me,
your consolation brought joy to my soul. (Psalm 94:16-19, NIV)
It's just too good to be true. Someday the ugly truth will come out from
behind this beautiful facade.
But, has not God demonstrated over and over how He will support my feet
when they slip? How about the time I decided to do a little trick on a
snowy street, putting my old Volkswagen into a slide and then, not acting
quickly enough to recover, watching as we slid toward two parked cars. My
car stopped with its left front corner neatly placed between the two cars,
almost touching both. I had no money then.
Does not God dare me to live a much larger life than I'm used to? Does He
not offer me His resources freely? I'm like the mouse stealing crumbs from
God's banquet table and sneaking away so as not to be caught. How long will
it be before I believe that what He has put on the table is for me?
I wonder what a rich life is like. I know such a life has nothing to do
with big houses, trips to Las Vegas, or even very good cameras. Real
richness is something else, a real wonder of which the popular
interpretations are pale imitations, a gift from God's big heart. He
doesn't seem to be bothered by the fact that He will have to teach me to
God wants us. It's simple.
2004 November 24 (morning, to Blog and WEML)
Tuesday, November 23, 2004
God Dares Us To Live
He really offers. The first dare I got was to read the first chapter of
Ephesians and figure out what Paul's theme was. This took me a few days
because the main idea of this chapter was simply unbelievable: God cares
That fit the theme of the first messages I heard Erwin speak at Mosaic:
"One Un-Believable Life." The theme there was that God knew me, had
designed me from the get-go, knew what I needed, and wanted me to live the
life He intended. The bait was irresistible. No matter what the hook was
like it had to be better than what I had.
An outside watcher would have thought my life was perfect. A good job, time
to be creative, some good friends. I still wanted to quit. What I had
wasn't enough to make me want to get up in the morning. So, I grabbed onto
the bait Erwin offered on some sort of hope that I'd find something to make
getting up worthwhile.
I haven't found that yet, but the scent is getting stronger. I believe I'm
on the right track. This is God's doing; He has guided me with an
interesting series of hints and nudges provided at just the right time. I'm
hard to teach because I've been burned so many times. I don't just buy any
answer right off the truck. I test it, look at it, use it and make small
steps before really trusting it.
God dares me to let Him support me when things go wrong. He dares me to
lean back on Him and trust that He cares enough not to let me fall. He
dares me to look into the future and think about what I might do there,
rather than just drift along one aimless day at a time. He dares me to quit
worrying about the future; if I miss one exit, He'll provide another. He
dares me to let Him be a friend.
Why is this a dare? Because you can't spend time with the God of the
Universe without being changed. His is an expansive universe, rather than
the narrow, tight little thing I've lived in all these years while limited
to my own resources. God dares me to let Him give me all kinds of resources
to live in a way I've never conceived, a way of richness and detail, beauty
It's a dare because it's difficult. I will fail at times, mainly because I
get scared and run away. It's a dare because God's world is huge and full
of things I've never seen before. It's full of love, which I don't
understand at all. It's full of generosity, things given to me that are
more valuable than anything else, given just because that's who God is. He
loves to give me what I need. He wants me to take more.
When I got home from work today there was a leaflet stuck in the doorjamb.
"Comfort for the Depressed." Depression is something I know in detail. The
pamphlet offered the usual platitudes: "Go for a walk. Talk to a friend who
is understanding." And it suggested that others talk consolingly to the
depressed one. It wound up by saying that God promises to wipe away every
tear. There is no mention in the whole thing of how Jesus sacrificed
Himself to bring us back to God.
God dares me to let go of depression. This starts from the basic fact that
God knows my every foible and weakness. He knows I'm easily dissuaded, hard
to direct, that I avoid confrontation like the plague and have no love for
anyone. Still, He values me enough to remind me of why Jesus had to give
His life. The Sinless One died for me, and that shows just how much God
values me. That's a big-time dare: how can I believe I'm useless when God
wants a relationship with me that much?
Life starts there. Restoration to status as God's child. The rest is a
wild-ass dare. "Do you believe Me enough to follow Me? You don't have to be
strong. You don't have to be completely convinced. You don't have to
believe everything I say, and you can test every piece of it, everything I
show you, until you're convinced."
But we know God. We know He's easily angered, impatient with us,
approachable only with great ritual. It's even better if someone else does
the approaching so that if lightning strikes it misses me. We're sure of
this. We say we believe, and then we just live in the same platitude-laden
way that the Jehovah's Witness tract suggests. Human-based solutions.
It starts with salvation, and then it gets better. We fail because of a
lack of resources. We're just not strong enough. So, God gives us the Holy
Spirit. He brings power, boldness, truth and a witness to God's love. He
lives in me and guides my thoughts, if I ask Him to. I know you're thinking
that I've gone off the deep end, that I'm a weakling who has to lean on God
as a crutch. You're entitled to your opinion, but you can't see the truth
until you've seen it from the inside.
Saying that God is a crutch is like saying a jet airplane is a crutch when
you're flying to Hong Kong. You can't get there on your own resources. One
way or another the trip requires help. Where God wants us to go requires
His help every second of the day. Where we're made to go is with Him, and
He has made it possible.
It's a dare. How weird do I want to be? Every time I think I'm out on the
edge, God beckons me onward from someplace beyond, farther along. My life
is growing bigger. Depression really can be cured, and the God of the
Universe is the only person who cares enough and has the subtle strength to
All those verses we gloss over about casting our cares upon Him? They're
true. That's what God really wants. How's that for weird? Whatever you
dream, God is out there way ahead of you, ready to give more.
2004 November 23 (for Blog and WEM)
Monday, November 22, 2004
I've known this for a long time. In longer stories I can get around the problem by introducing other peripheral stories, and the whole suite combines to put across the complex of ideas that I want. Blog entries, being short, don't have that option for multiple tracks to meaning. The limitations of words have become clearer.
Some time back I read Chuck Smith's "Charisma Or Charismania?" on the Calvary Chapel Web site. The story is about the Holy Spirit and His gifts, with some emphasis on speaking in tongues. The most surprising part for me was his description of a private prayer language. Apparently people are given this language because ordinary language can't carry the meaning that the Holy Spirit knows the person wants to speak to God.
At the time I couldn't understand. What's the point? I want to know what I'm saying! If only to make sure I'm not being taken for a ride. Now I'm more trusting and this idea makes more sense. Experience has an effect. There have been times I've wanted to say something to God and just haven't had the words.
Usually I say things like this in sand. Images are my native language but they can't be communicated to other people, unless I make a sculpture. The sand sculpture speaks very clearly but many people don't understand. This isn't surprising, as we're taught that only words are language. But what of all the stars that speak of God's glory, the flowers that speak of His desire for beauty? One flower beats thousands of words, but few will take the time to try to understand.
So, I'm stuck with words. Fitting what I feel about discipline, God's caring, and His interest in me into one Blog message is like making fine sculpture with a spade. It's a good tool, but too coarse. Life is made in subtle components, although our noisy and busy culture would deny this. Subtlety is what allows us to discriminate between fine flavors and scents, or the changes in the light as the sun approaches the horizon. If you've watched many sunsets and looked at the light, you know exactly what I mean. If you haven't, no amount of video or photographs or words will convey the distinction that makes each sunset unique. You'll get an idea, and you'll get my word on it, but you won't have the reality.
People who have been browbeaten into submitting to the kind of God most churches worship are going to have a very hard time trusting Him with any of the subtle parts of their lives. Why express those parts when they aren't respected? Self-expression is reduced to the minimum, and prayer becomes a mechanical act.
God made subtlety. He made us to be subtle, with senses that can make such fine discrimination that we can pick up subconscious hints about our surroundings. We're taught to ignore these, taught that these are sensor aberrations. Why? Because only the Holy Spirit gives us the strength to experience these subtle events and keep from going crazy in our noisy world. Believe me, it does take strength to believe in subtlety these days. Just ask Nate, who is fighting tooth and nail to keep his Christmas story from being taken over by the Hollywood detail-smashers.
Discipline is frequently used as a tool to remove diversity and level out sensory overload. God made diversity and He made our senses. He will give us the ability to handle what those senses give us.
We need to start over. I need to learn His languages so that I can understand His world. We see only the surface. I want to go deeper. Maybe this is why my sculptures are always hollow, with structures hidden inside.
Maybe this is why God gives us a spirit of courage. Self-expression requires experimentation, with the probability of making mistakes. And a spirit of discipline so we stick with it and don't just give up. And self-expression is important! How else can I get any idea of anyone else's world? I don't have a monopoly on truth, and knowing what the world looks like to someone else enriches mine. Presumably I enrich other people's. Every time I make a sculpture, some random person will look at it for a time and then say "Thank you" to me.
Discipline will never do that. Although the sculpture would never work without discipline, the beauty that people see is its own delicate entity whose foundation includes discipline. Trying to toe the line that God refuses to put before us will never get us there. We need to know God in His truth, not as men portray Him. I need to walk with Him, let Him hold my hand, and quit being so afraid that He will judge me for my mistakes.
What Happened To My Heart?
You see, in October of 2003 I made a few decisions. I was going to follow Jesus, because He was leading in directions that looked better than where I'd ended up. I wasn't, however, going to just follow the crowd. I had nothing to lose so I simply asked God to explain everything He was doing. I wasn't daring Him, or challenging His right to do with me whatever He wanted, but I'd been so badly burned by churches and Christians who were supposed to know all about God that I decided I was going to use my own judgment as best I could.
This could have been a disaster. After all, my own judgment had led me to reject God and try to figure out life on my own, and I'd failed. I had, however, started asking God for help in finding truth, and He honored my request. With His help I was able to find, or cut, a way through the thicket of competing ideas. The Bible is very good at cutting baloney. The truth that He helped me find turned out to be shocking. I still remember the day I got the idea that it was normal to have two-way conversations with God. I got brave one day and mentioned that to Eric, of Mosaic, while we were having lunch, and he looked at me and smiled. So much for my weird ideas.
I had another weird idea at around the same time. This one I mentioned to no one. It came out in various subtle ways: in the stories I wrote, in Emailed messages, in my continued assumptions about living as a follower of Jesus. I kept it a secret because it was too radical, especially in a church whose pastor is constantly talking about giving our lives away. I couldn't see any alternative, however, to my belief that God cared about me. That was radical enough, but as months went by His care became even more radical. He cared for me during that long period when I denied Him, and He cares about me now when I really don't care much about the rest of the world.
Honesty goes a long way with God. As Erwin said, "The safest place for a sinner to be is at the feet of Jesus." Jesus doesn't judge me.
A gardener doesn't complain when she plants a seed and there's nothing growing the next day. An acorn that falls from a tree here in southern California has to wait for the conditions to be right. If it gets fooled by an early rain, it could germinate and then get hung out to dry in November. More patient seeds will start growing when rain is more reliable, and get a good root down before summer comes. Christians are great at exhortation but not so good at nurturing, so we have a lot of dying seeds lying around. It takes a certain amount of strength to resist popular teaching and listen to God's sure guidance.
Exhortation is easy. Throw your words out and be done. Nurturing is work, and you have to get your hands dirty. Every day, or at least often enough to be a real presence in someone's life. Having experienced this many times, I've very careful with what I show to others. I don't like conflict.
Conflict is, however, one thing warriors do. If something is right they go on believing it even when everyone else disagrees. I'm not afraid to tell others that I'm a follower of Jesus, but I am afraid what might happen if I tell Christians that I don't buy the "It's not about you" idea. At best, that is partial truth. At worst it's a tourniquet that squeezes the life out of people's walk with the Lord; all acts become dutiful, and how is that going to attract anyone? Would anyone shout from the rooftops about duty?
There's no point in seeking conflict, but when the subject comes up I should speak my mind. If an idea doesn't fly it's not my fault, and yet I feel as if I've done something wrong. The other person is always right. I've sold out my warrior heart for a smooth road because that's all I can handle. I have an idea that God may be changing that.
It's His choice. I still have no dream of what I want to do. I wonder if God will give me one, or perhaps after He gets my candle lit and burning, that will illuminate a new dream. Perhaps as He keeps pouring His love into my desert, things will grow that will produce fruit, but I don't think that's His major aim.
What He wants is for me to be whole, for no other reason than I'm beautiful in His eyes. Right now the beauty is buried under years of junk, but He sees me through Jesus and therefore as He made me.
Thank you, Lu, for reminding me. I hope everyone reads what you've written.
Sunday, November 21, 2004
Post-Sculptural Syndrome (04F-14)
chair and stand up straight. I feel as if I've been dragged behind a sled
team for a mile or two, without benefit of a sled. Someone threw me out of
a truck going about 40 miles per hour. Or just call it simple: I got hit by
a truck and left by the side of the road. At least this time it was a small
"This time?" you ask. "How often is this man run over by a truck? Is this a
"No," I'd say. "It's an old hobby. I used to be able to make a sculpture
and then do something else the next day. That was twenty years ago. Tess is
the one who coined the name for the problem. "Are you post-sculptural
"Yes." No doubt about it. Small things that I try to pick up get dropped,
big things that I try to walk around get run into. I'm likely to stand in
the middle of the room for several seconds trying to remember why I started
moving. And, when I finally do remember, getting my recalcitrant body in
motion takes some time.
Making a sand sculpture involves all of me. It's a lot of physical work:
carrying sand and water, setting up the form and packing the sand in there
in a carefully controlled manner. This is after getting the whole kit to
the beach by bicycle. After the pile is made I spend the rest of the day
moving around, twisting myself into odd postures as I carve it. Carving is
very demanding mentally. It's design done on the fly, minimal plan,
responding to what I see in the sand. And then I have to load everything
back onto the trailer, drag it across the sand (reminding me of those
'49ers in the Forty MIle Desert), hook it up and then get the whole outfit
home without causing a traffic accident.
Yesterday was a good day. I got to the beach at around 0700 and started the
project by carrying several buckets of fine sand about 150 feet from the
low-tide area to my selected construction site. The rest of the sand I'd
get from the site itself, and mix it with the finer and darker low-tide
sand both to make the pile stronger and to emphasize the layers that form
as I pack it.
I had an idea for the sculpture and actually stayed with part of it, a long
spiral from base to top. It developed a kink in the middle for some reason.
I guess I just didn't want to hew to any plan, even mine. Then I was going
to carve some decorative fine work in the thin sections between major
supports. This sort of thing lights up nicely in the sunset.
Various friends came down to visit. Patrick and Vanessa came first, Mosaic
people from a life group I've attended. Then Sigrid and Ed, who walk the
beach every day and stop when I'm there to chat. They wandered on north and
then Sandra came along. She's another Mosaic member. We talked of blogs and
photography and God while I carved. She wanted to try my new camera so I
showed her the basics and turned her loose. Digital cameras are very
freeing as there is no ongoing expense. The cost of entry is steep, but
after that you can coast; my Powershot cost about $700 two years ago and
the photography I've done with it would have cost about $1000 in film.
It'll take me longer than that to pay for the new one.
In the early afternoon, Rich in his trademark blue jacket came ambling
across the sand. I met him in 1995 and he has since been here for almost
all my sculpture attempts. He does photography while I work, feeds me
cookies and minds the store while I use the restroom, and we tell each
other puns and discuss science fiction.
And then I realized the day was getting away from me. The sun might wait
for Elijah, but it won't wait for me to finish a sculpture. I moved fast,
got it done and prepared for photography. Then I discovered I had no
camera. George and Sandra were trading my EOS 1D back and forth. George is
a serious photographer and was put out that I hadn't brought my tripod.
Sand sculpture suits his photography style because it doesn't move. Anyway,
I needed to get something for my records, so I was glad I had the Powershot
along. I shot a walkaround series with that and then was lucky enough to
get my hands on the big camera for a minute.
The sun came out between a sheet of cloud and the horizon and we got some
nice light, and then it was gone. A red circle, then half circle, then a
spark and then gone. The day was over and we were cold. George and Rich
helped me pull the trailer to my bike, and then we parted. My ride home was
slow but I made it.
I managed to get out of bed this morning. No more than the usual aches and
pains. I had enough brain power to make a bowl of cereal, and then I
decided to fire up the loaner computer and play "Myst Uru." This is a Cyan
product, for which I'm glad Myst 3 and Myst 4 were disappointments, with
the latter being, by my standards, unplayable. Ugly. "Uru" is nice but in
my PSS I missed several obvious cues. Fortunately there's help available
and that got me back in the game.
I did some reading, and also braved the streets to go get my commuter bike
from the shop. I stopped at Mani's first, for a turnover, and then rode the
bus to the bike shop. Riding home was, um, interesting. My brain was
running about half a block behind the bike. Fortunately traffic was light.
The bike, Raven Cloudfinder, runs better with the new bottom bracket but
they forgot to adjust the front derailer so I don't have low gears.
After that I just sort of faded away. I'll be better tomorrow. I promise.
Maybe I'll be able to write then. Something substantive, with decent
spelling and sentences that make sense.
2004 November 21 (evening, to Blog)
Saturday, November 20, 2004
evening of sudden overlapping changes. It actually started Thursday night.
"Hi, Debbie. This is Larry"
"Hi, Larry. How are you?"
"Thrashed. Work was just nuts today. And I have to go in tomorrow, so I'm
not going to make the life group tonight."
"I was hoping you were calling to say you'd be here."
"Not this time. But how about tomorrow? Are we still on for Killer Shrimp?"
"That's our only open evening to go and hear Billy Graham."
"Rats. I was looking forward to some conversation."
"So was I, but I've never heard Billy and this will be his last Crusade.
But if you get home early from work and want to talk, we'll have some
Work actually went smoothly enough that I could bail early, mainly so I
could take my commuter bicycle in for an adjustment. I don't have the tools
to work on the bottom bracket. I ended up leaving the bike there so they
could install a new, more reliable, part. Over the years this bike has
picked up an odd selection of replacement parts, some of which are of
rather dodgy quality.
That left me on foot. I rode a bus to Main street, picked up a burrito at
Holy Guacamole, and walked home under the westering sun, with a slow damp
wind at my back. When I got there I found a message from Steve, saying that
Curtis had delivered the loaner computer (so that I can play Myst Uru) so I
could come and get it. Fine. Eat the burrito, get the computer, call
Debbie, wait for George to bring my car back. Simple. Nothing going on.
So, I enhanced the burrito by opening a bottle of Chimay ale. It's strong,
but I wouldn't be needing my brain for a time. Everything went according to
plan until I walked back up the hill, rather tipsy, with a computer cradled
in my arms, and noticed my car parked at the curb. George was early. He'd
borrowed my car because his blew up and took a week to fix. He wasn't
around, so I stayed on plan and called Debbie. But there was a message from
Nate. Did I want to go to Killer Shrimp early?
Why didn't this occur to us before? I called them back and said "Of
course," burrito and beer notwithstanding.
"Great. We're leaving now."
That would give me time to connect the computer, a PC in a Mac household,
and install the game. Curtis told me that everything was working well, and
he was right. It fired right up and I left it to finish the installation
when Nate drove into the driveway.
"We need to use back streets because traffic is horrendous."
"Fine. Go west."
We detoured via a condominium they were thinking about buying and then
wandered through various side streets to get to Killer Shrimp. Traffic was
heavy but I've lived here long enough to know all the side streets. Until
"At the end there, turn right. Killer Shrimp will be there."
"Left? Don't you mean right?"
"I thought that's what I said."
"No. It's OK, Larry. The Holy Spirit gave us the right interpretation, and
you did fine right up until the last." Nate pats me on the back and guides
me to the steps. I really didn't intend to be out in public in this
We talk of Nate's "Little Christmas Tree" story and alternative endings.
Conversation is somewhat damped because both of them are sick. Debbie and I
share a bowl of shrimp, and then the sweet potato-pecan pie. Nate watches
us, and remains deep in thought on his ideas. I know the state well.
After Debbie just sort of sinks into the corner, we realize it's time to
go. They drop me off at home. A few minutes later, George showed up.
Talking with him is somewhat frustrating. He's an imaginative sort, but
uses his imagination mostly to figure out what's wrong. He feels trapped:
by his job, by his lack of money, by his lack of various things. He made
some comments about all the gadgets I have.
"Comes from having a stable job for 20 years."
"What's your savings account like, after this camera?"
"Well, let's just find out. I just happen to be clear-headed enough to
remember where the last bank statement is, and just tipsy and ornery enough
to rub his face in it.
Later on, after he left, I got a twinge about this. Something wasn't right.
I didn't want to know so I avoided talking with God about it. As usual, He
didn't quit (thank you) and got ahold of me this morning. It turns out that
money was a side issue; the main thing that upset the Holy Spirit was my
habit of taking on the characteristics of whoever I'm with. Depression such
as George exhibits no longer fits me very well. I'm more afraid of
offending George, and attracting unwanted criticism, than anything else.
Life is a gift. I didn't earn it. Frankly, I don't want to earn it;
anything earned can be taken away but God doesn't take His gifts away. Why
not show these gifts to the world and stand tall? Not in pride, but in
something else I don't understand. An honest expression of God's delight in
me, and my growing (slowly) desire for life. I don't know why God delights
in me, but He does. The same is true for everyone. Why not live in this
knowledge, instead of hiding it under a basket?
2004 November 20 (Midnight Missive to Blog and WEM)
Friday, November 19, 2004
A Life for Discipline
Lu's Of Roots & Dreams message continues to resonate in me. I know that I have a strong tendency to take what God is doing in me so seriously that I overlook the possibility of humor and lightness. God has played jokes on me. I almost missed them because I'm so zoomed in on staying on the track. I don't ever want to fall off. Excess discipline creeps in and, like strangler fig on a tropical tree, wraps around and chokes the life out of what I'm doing. Oh, I have life but it's a panic-driven and fraidy-cat kind of life. I'd like to be more expansive.
My thinking here is that I don't want to make a mistake that will drive God away. That's popular teaching at work. Sin once and God never forgets; it's outer darkness for you, buddy, and you'll never see light again. Well, telling a human not to sin is sort of like telling a fish not to be wet.
Last night I was praying and thinking about God taking care of me. Is it completely absurd to expect God to meet all of my needs? It seems like cheating. People who don't know Jesus don't have the resources I have for living, and they just can't see them. Words won't carry the message. Life, I think, will, and an expansive life is probably the best way to do it. But to live that way means abandoning my ideas of security and trusting that God will not only accept my mistakes, but encourage me when I do. To try experiments and fail, and expect Him to pick me up when everything goes on the ground. The only way to find out what things God will take care of is to try something. If He doesn't help, then He expected me to do it.
One step pretty much demands the next. I'm just following my nose; there is no map except in the Bible's general terms.
People in churches talk about fellowship, and give the Bible's example of iron sharpening iron. We're supposed to exhort each other to ever higher levels of commitment, bang on each other so that we become better instruments. I wonder about this. I think it's one of those cases wherein the words are so memorable that this idea has shone brighter than some other ideas that are equally important.
Lu wrote, about my comment on another message: "His comment brought such hope to me! And a spark of life. This is what I miss from LA. I miss my Life Group." I'm a little different. God has been my life group; I don't have regular enough contact with people here to make the sort of friends that Lu is talking about. Maybe it's like language: unless you learn how to relate at a young age, the basic principles forever escape you. God may have to be my life group for the rest of my life. Is this unnatural? Is it unhealthy? I don't know. I do know that He is supporting me beautifully and gracefully.
Should I try to be more disciplined and get into a life group of people? Am I making a mistake here that's going to really upset God if I don't get going on changes? Or is my current use of a combination of factors: an occasional meeting with friends, Email, Blogging, and prayer and thinking a good enough technique for now? Maybe this is an example of God's flexibility, introducing me to the resources that I can use, rather than forcing me to use resources that scare me or don't work.
One thing is sure. I'm through making apologies for who I am. If God wants me to change, He'll have to show me the way. I can be disciplined, but I am not going to pull it out of thin air and manufacture a way of life to suit someone else. I told myself that when I went to that first Mosaic meeting, and I'm holding to it now. I'd rather have honest mistakes that dishonest perfection.
I know the importance of discipline. If I don't pack the sculpture's foundation properly it will fail. If I don't spend time with God, I will come apart. The nature of that time, however, is very flexible. Sometimes it's a mountain bike ride. Back in the days when I could walk, it could be a walk on the beach. At night it's usually some time reading the Bible, but some nights God lets me know that what He wants is for me to be quiet, calm down, don't read, and just be together. Sometimes I'll be doing something routine, and God will get my attention to get me off that usual track. Wake up. Look around you. I'm not going to go away if you quit looking at Me for a second. Remember those years when you told everyone I didn't exist?
Yes, I do remember. He let me slip, to prove His point, but I never crashed hard. He protected me and guided my steps even then. Why do I think that I have to force so much discipline now? I'm trying to keep God with me by performing, but He doesn't want a trained animal. He wants a living human being, with all my odd angles and attitudes.
Father God, I ask you today that all who read this, and I, will learn to be confident in what You're doing for us. We believe. Help our unbelief, please, so that we will live lives of such richness that we overflow with your kindness. Thank you for knowing us and loving us anyway.
Thursday, November 18, 2004
Lu wrote about a dream she had in Of Roots & Dreams, and said "God interpreted the dream over a day later ... the key word this piece of armor was 'discipline.' God said, as long as I continued the way I was, I would still be okay, but I wouldn't get where I wanted to go very fast..."
Discipline is a lot like salt. Salt made of deadly ingredients, sodium and chlorine, and used in excess the compound is also deadly. Just ask the westbound pioneers in Nevada's Forty Mile Desert, who had to go the whole distance while forgoing the alkali springs along the route. Their oxen would smell this deadly salted water and try to run for it and only the fact that the animals were so weak allowed the people to keep them on course.
Everyone told me, as I grew up, that what I needed was more discipline. They were probably right, but the people telling me this were leading lifestyles that held no attraction for me. If that's the result of discipline then I'm not interested. There were no corners, all the smiles were pasted on, duty ruled everything and creativity was hard to find.
At one time I bought this idea and was thinking of joining the Army. I figured the discipline enforced by that would be just the ticket. Fortunately I never did it, and when draft time came along I failed the physical due to eye problems.
Making a sand sculpture takes anywhere from 6 to 12 hours, from site prep to the end of photography. People have told me, many times, that I have great discipline because I can stay with the task for this long. The implication is that they could never do it. I try to tell them the secret but they don't get it. The secret is simple: to me, the time feels like about twenty minutes. The people who ask are so disciplined in their use of time that they can't conceive of this, so the truth just passes by.
I really wonder if this could be the way real life should work. Externally applied discipline could be a sign of failure in the normal process of life. I include in that "external" appellation anytime we tell ourselves what we should do, instead of just going out and doing it as part of life.
We all have ideas of what we "should" be. Discipline is used to bring experience and idea into conformity, and the process is exhausting. If it has to be maintained for a lifetime you get burnout.
There have been times when I've had a complete plan for a sculpture and have been disciplined enough to stick with the plan. The results have ranged from terrible to pretty good. The spectacular sculptures, the ones that ring me like a bell and make me want to come down the next day and try again, are the result of a combination of enough discipline to keep the structure sound with freedom to explore design accidents, with a sort of mental model of how all the parts are fitting with each other.
I fully expected my free-wheeling approach to life to end once God collected me. I was dead meat. Whatever He offered would be an improvement. I looked at the disciplined and busy people around me and saw the future. So far, however, God has used a very light hand. My guess is that He knows what kind of seed I am, and is guiding my growth with various natural factors, things I encounter in daily life. I'm growing into something. I don't know what. Given my long history of destructively misguided growth attempts, I'm just going to let God have His way. Maybe He will teach me how to use discipline properly.
Lu also wrote "Worked at being disciplined in time in the Word, time with Him, in living a godly life. But I lack consistency, so I don't think I've ever achieved it..."
Look at the results, Lu. You're still alive, you're still following Jesus, you're still seeking His heart and hanging onto His coattail. I'd say you've achieved quite a bit. The future beckons, we see its shining heart out there and want it so bad we can taste it, but all we have is today. Please don't ruin your todays for the sake of tomorrow. That, to me, is the essence of bad discipline. I've known many, many people whose "time in the Word" approximates the ideal, but they have no idea of what God's heart is really like. I'll take your example, thank you.
Please note that I'm very aware of how important it is for us to spend time with God and reading His written words to us. These are essential, very much like eating. Go too long without and you start starving. I think this is what sensitivity is for. I can be disciplined--such as learning how to cook--when the subject is important enough. God is life. I need to know Him. Only God Himself can balance all these factors in our lives, and He will give us the hunger we need. Knowing God is like knowing other people: we need to work together, play together, read together, learn together, kick up our heels and have some fun together.
Lord Jesus, please help us to learn your kind of discipline. We need more than rules and law. You came to remove the law and replace it with love but that's a strange language to me, anyway. Help us to learn balance, and thank you for what you've taught us so far. Hold us, please, and help us keep going. Thank you.
Wednesday, November 17, 2004
Genius is supposed to be 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. I'm not sure about the specific proportion but I know that work makes up the lion's share, as demonstrated by Aslan's efforts in our lives. I can tell people of all the lovely sand sculptures I could build, or that I'm going to
build, but until I actually set a salt-stained tool to the warm, gritty sand it's all idle chatter.
Don't tell me about what you're going to do, unless you're already really doing it. Don't tell me about all these lovely ideas you have unless you're actually taking steps to turn them into something real. I'm tired of people telling me about things they could do if only they had this or that. Until you really do it, you're a wannabe. I want to see action.
That's why I respect Wendy and Lu. They're both out there on the edge, uncomfortable, working to follow Jesus in a world that's hostile to His every principle. That inspires me to perspire. Lu is living in a strange city working to make new friends and a church that will welcome lost souls such as I was last year. Wendy works to bring people closer to God through singing and worship. Their reach may exceed their grasp, but they're TRYING! They're DOING IT!
Their stories are the kind I like to read. Real actions in real life, with real consequences. I think this is a very powerful way to introduce people to Jesus. Telling real stories, not some made-up thing about what we should be, or a story that, like white rice, has had all the bran and rough
material polished out of it. All that's left is a pasty mess. Gargh. Leave the hair on and let me sort it out.
I'd like a double helping of perspiration, please, just like Elisha. I find it inspirational.
Inspiration is essential. I never would have made my first sand sculpture unless I'd gotten this wild idea for making an arch out of something that flows in a way that approximates water. One idea and 25 years of outworking, perspiration and inspiration dancing together in ways I never
would have predicted.
We all just follow our noses, one little step at a time, and look where we end up. Talking across the country, touching and instilling a new breath of life into people. Don't bother trying to predict what God will do. You'd never believe it. He gives us His reality, with bells and tassels.
2004 November 17 (written for Blog, CC to weird Email list)
edited November 18
Peace Be Understanding
I'm pretty well burnt out. Not with work, but with life. I've been under stress for my whole life, but I didn't connect that with the fact that I usually don't get very good sleep. I wake up frequently, thrash around, but have compensated by going to bed early and just expecting it. Most of the time I collect enough sleep in bits and pieces to keep on going.
The process of God-change I've been living through the last year has been even more stressful. Facing the end of life as I know it and having to depend upon Someone I don't know very well just give me conniptions. I want to run and hide but I can't because that would put me back where I was last year.
Confidence is for strong people. Weak people, such as I am, hide or find other ways to be unnoticed so that they can survive. Bottom-feeding, coming out only after dark, stealing through the shadows silently. I always fear detection so the sensors are turned up to max, and I jump at the slightest sound or sign of impending trouble. It's best to avoid it altogether, but if trouble comes, it's best to deal with it before it gets big. I've lived all of my life being safe by practicing prediction and triage.
I'm disgusted with myself. On the other hand, I'm still here, and I have another chance. Many people lose, by working to fit in with society, even more than I threw away.
What would happen if I had a very strong protector? What would life be like if I didn't have to worry every second about what might happen if I make a mistake? What expansion of capability might happen, what enrichment of life might come from being able to associate with people in confidence instead of fear? How would my life change if someone cared enough about me to teach me better ways, and would help me learn, and would hold me when it gets to be too much?
A dream, you say. Impossible, you say. Not even self-respecting, because such a situation would make me even weaker than I am now.
Well, how do you know? Have you tried? Have I tried?
Yes, I have. I am. It took the approaching end of my life to make me look for a living alternative. First, God introduced me to Himself and His most wonderful Son. Then He introduced me to the Holy Spirit, and that's when the fireworks started. How could I be confident in my life when the Holy Spirit was doing His best to take it apart? Then I realized that I could have confidence in what He was doing, except that was still frightening; yes, He would do what He promised, but is that what I wanted?
It had to be. I'd tried everything else and found only dead ends. I either lived God's way or died.
Changes have continued. God is touching areas of my life that have been a part of the background for so long that I just thought they were normal. Such as bad sleep patterns and constant fear.
God does what He promises to do. Prophets told of the Cross and then He sent His Son to fulfill that prophecy. After that He sent the Holy Spirit to us to fulfill more promises. The big question then is whether I trust that what God promises to do in my life is better than what I can do. I can always tell when I'm not trusting Him because I become even more irritable than normal. When I trust Him life may be smooth, or it may not, but I face the whole thing with something I'm not very familiar with: confidence.
I can't do it. Not at all. That's the most wonderful news I've heard. Well, not the most wonderful, because the most wonderful news is that God will help me. Aslan's strong legs on each side, as Paula so memorably wrote. Holding Jesus' hand, and walking forward, scared, but knowing Him. This is finally beginning to sink in, with the result that I feel something very strange. A lack of the tension that has been constant in me for as long as I can remember, and a sort of head-up, face-forward approach to the future. The submarine surfaces, the mole pokes his head up out of the ground and, with new vision, sees that while the world is no less dangerous, he is no longer required to do everything all by himself. He might just be able to live on the surface.
Last year, sometime in the late fall, I was walking on the beach and was suddenly wondered what life would be like if I could relax and quit having to devote so much energy to self-defense. Then I got embroiled in various arguments with God and became even more antsy, but now we've reached an accommodation. He's right, I'm wrong, I'll do it His way.
Lord Jesus, thank you for teaching me about Yourself. Thank you for your patience and kindness. Your way of life is very strange and it takes a lot for me to be able to trust you, but You have very tenderly guided me to your truth. Please help me to remain sensitive to your guiding, and thank you for giving me your strength so that I am able to be sensitive. And thank you for holding onto me so that I could be alive to learn to live with confidence in you. I'm no tiger, but you are.
Tuesday, November 16, 2004
Lessons from the Interregnum
I mentioned in my previous post how I turned from God in about 1980. Sometimes I think of that interregnum--1980 to September 2003--as dead time, but the truth is that God was looking at me even if I wasn't looking to Him, and He taught me some valuable things.
The most valuable are centered on creativity. A friend of mine told me when I was in high school that talent doesn't count for much in the art world. You have to work at it. I didn't really understand what he meant. At the time I built gliders of my own design, but in art class I just hid and did stupid things. I discovered a fascination with ceramics and made some interesting things in that class, but it requires infrastructure that I didn't have at home. I pretty much work with what I have and don't dream beyond that.
A few years went by. I gave up building the airplanes because I moved around a lot and lost the simple infrastructure for that. There were other reasons I didn't understand at the time. Eventually I ended up in Los Angeles, in debt, looking for work. While looking I did more experiments in sand sculpture.
This was perfect for me. The tools and equipment required were simple, portable and cheap. The most important aspect of this was that the sculpture was effectively invisible. Not many people were on the beach in October and November, and the sculpture dissolved overnight so I wouldn't leave tracks.
Invisibility is important for one who believes he lives only on sufferance. No one wants me around so I'd better be quick, efficient and get out cleanly. Sand sculpture leaves nothing behind. I didn't know what I was doing but it resonated at a time that awareness of myself was the prelude to destruction. Secrets.
Selective awareness got me through. I was surprised at people's positive responses to my sculptures but managed to ignore this. It's just sand. I stayed focused on not making waves internally.
I enjoyed it, so I kept doing it. It was hidden, so I could keep doing it. Over the years sand sculpture affected me in ways I didn't notice until about 1996, when I realized that through constant practice I'd developed a design sense.
Well, the design sense had always been there. It came out in photography, it came out in drawing, and it came out in writing. I just ignored it until I realized that my favorite activity had gone far beyond its original engineering purpose. Now the block of packed sand could become anything, and I started thinking about it in different ways.
It became an intellectual design exercise. Until then there'd been a strong emotional component, hidden, but there. Now I sought design, and the sculptures became more dramatic but less feeling. They became very technical in nature, with tools that I'd made myself enabling more complex designs. After a few years I realized I missed the emotional part of the process, but it was no great loss. I'd failed everywhere else but could still execute the sculptures.
I didn't know where the ideas came from. They'd come to me in the middle of the night, or while reading, or while looking at something else. I'd make a model in my mind, turn it around, change it, and then finally get a chance to go make it in sand.
Those ideas changed me as they flowed through. They left parts of themselves behind, and making them left new skills behind.
Creativity is God-stuff. If it flows through you, it changes you. Your mind expands; each idea suggests several more and the process is unstoppable unless you are truly draconian in your controls. Because I was so unaware of what I was doing I never saw that.
It's learning, and beyond learning. I made sand sculpture, driven by a desire I didn't understand. I wanted to touch something that didn't exist in our world, so I'd go to the beach and make it! I wanted pure beauty. I wanted something so badly my soul ached, and on the rare times that I pulled a really good sculpture out of the idea hat, I'd ring like a bell and want to live in the place I'd just made.
Paula wrote "I love to watch my loved ones live from their passion. I love it when they are alive." My friend Rich has been coming to the beach for years, watching and helping, and now, with some new understanding, I think that he, and others, are fascinated by this open creative process. Sand sculpture is quick, a very rare opportunity to watch something being created and if you want you can see the whole process in a day.
Lately I've begun to realize that God also loves to watch His loved ones being creative. He's there while I'm pounding sand, He's watching as I make the first cut, and He reminds me to eat so that I have energy to make the last cut.
I'm more aware of what I'm doing now, and I thank God for this. He has brought me back to life. I wouldn't have been here without sand sculpture during the interregnum, during which He was generous enough to keep me well supplied with ideas and an income.
Paula also quoted Will Rogers as saying "Even if you're on the right track you'll get run over if you just sit there." This is very true. Creativity requires movement, and that requires work. The same principle applies to following Jesus. Everything I needed to know about being a Christian I learned from doing sand sculpture.
Wants, Needs and Generosity
It is a radical idea. For me, being still alive right now is a radical idea.
The idea about God giving me wants wafted through my mind one afternoon as I was doing something else. I know people who have a very firm idea of what God wants them to do, God's plan for their lives. There are books about it, seminars, surveys, all kinds of things. It's all too complicated for me. I might have had dreams for my life at one time, but they've all died or been discarded as too heavy to carry around.
God, however, guided me to things I didn't recognize either as answers to needs or as gifts. The first big one was sand sculpture. This is a way to be creative without having to set up a lot of infrastructure, or having a lot of history hanging around. Each day is new, each sculpture is new. They have roots in the past, and they have outworkings in the future, but I didn't pay much attention to that. I enjoyed the act of creating a sculpture and that was good enough; that I became good at it was almost a side effect and certainly not something I planned on.
God also guided me to my job, which has been good enough that I've stayed with it. Between the two of these I had enough stability that I just stayed put while my internal life ran down. A few months before the end He stepped in and, basically, asked if I'd had enough.
What do I really want from this new life? A sense of being worth something, which is a feeling I've never had. I wouldn't trust it if God gave it to me! I'm not sure I'd trust it at all, but I do trust God, and He has promised to cure my depression. It seems that feeling like I'm worth something is important.
All of these internal attitudes, beliefs and assumptions are connected. God takes this tangled ball of colored string and teases out the strands and brings some order to it. Do I want this? Not really. It's an, um, uncomfortable process. A human being is very complex, much more so than our mechanistic culture appreciates, and only God understands us well enough to know what to do, and only He has the strength to do it, the patience to stay with it, and only He has the passion to keep Him interested even when I balk.
The ideas aren't new. Read any novel and you'll find characters in similar situations. What's different is the proposed solution that makes everyone happy by the end of the book. The book's solution won't work in the real world but it's a nice fantasy. God's solutions work in the real world, but we think they're fantasy so we don't trust Him. Psychology has pretty well mapped the human psyche and developed tools to work on our problems, but they're crude and misapplied, as Lu hints in her story.
Only God understands the subtlety of life. Only God cares about the details in our souls, the delicate little parts that get discarded in our efforts to make life possible without the Holy Spirit.
It is absolutely no fucking wonder that we're all depressed! We're trying to live with most of what makes us human unavailable, and Satan has managed to teach us that this is normal! We don't know what to want. The church lacks power because they've replaced trust in God with programs. You know churches are in trouble when Lu can write what she did above, and think she's weird because of it! The church should have taught her this, and taught her that seeing Jesus' face is her new birthright!
I think God has to give me wants because I'm so dead. It could be that what He's doing is uncovering and restoring wants that He put in when He made me. I'm afraid to want anything, and the deeper the want is the more I resist it. Too many times I've reached for things and gotten my hand slapped.
Well, Jesus has never slapped my hand when I've been reduced to just wanting to feel his presence in the middle of a long, cold, sleepless night. Very delicate parts of my soul are beginning to come back to life. I'm terrified. What happens if God abandons me? It will all get hammered back into shards and dust. I don't want Him to abandon me.
He never did. I abandoned him in about 1980, but He never turned away from me. He gave me gifts, He kept me going, He didn't quit, and when the time came that I would listen to him--not easy because I'm so full of mistrust--He showed Himself. A point of light in a dark ocean, one life preserver left on the sinking ship, last exit before oblivion.
What do I need? I'm no longer sure. What do I want? Mainly to be left alone, but I think God has better ideas. Will God give me what I want? I'm not sure I want him to do that! He knows what I need, and He's very generous. I trust that.
Monday, November 15, 2004
A Generosity of Dreams
observe on Blog entries. The ideas I wanted to write hadn't quite come
together, either, so I let it go. My friend Kim wrote back with some
observations and questions, and her words acted to pull mine into some
May the peoples praise you, O God;
may all the peoples praise you.
Then the land will yield its harvest,
and God, our God, will bless us.
God will bless us,
and all the ends of the earth will fear him. (Psalm 67:5-7 NIV)
I got a radical idea the other day: God gives me wants, so that I want to
do His will. Can it really be that simple? Not necessarily easy, but rather
than spend my energy in stewing over God's will, I just go on doing what
I'm good at, what brings me fulfillment, and that ends up being God's will?
I've always thought that His will would be something imposed from the
outside, a forced fit of person and niche. The person is shaped to the
niche. Maybe God already has the niche planned and designed to fit me.
What's interesting about this camera purchase is that, yes, I wanted it,
but easily could have lived without it. If you look at pure function, the
point-and-shoot does a good enough job. The EOS camera is something I
thought would be a good solution to my needs but not essential and far more
expensive than I could justify.
Could it be that I've been so dead that I wouldn't recognize a heart's
desire if it rose up and bit me? I always thought those verses applied to
God's general life, such as my heart wanting to be free from the tight
self-control I've always used. It's hard to have real life inside a
I thought my heart's desire was restoration. I'd never thought beyond that.
What does a restored heart want? My assumption is that anything it wants
will be bad, but God is steadily teaching me otherwise. I don't really know
how He does this, but He guides, or suggests, things that are congruent
with who I am.
I keep expecting God to turn me into one of the several standard model
Christians. Re-mold me, re-make me, into an instrument. Could it be that my
wants are ideas that He has given me, and if I stay in conversation with
Him that these wants will improve the quality of my life? I've always been
afraid of wants, because so many people exemplify the pursuit of gadgets
for happiness. Could it be that God cares about the quality of my life?
Evidence and experience say yes. History says it's impossible. God is
helping me to believe experience, and the verses in the Bible that talk
about God's generosity. There are a lot of these, once you start looking
The people praise God... He blesses them... and the whole earth will
notice. Sounds too simple to be true, doesn't it? How many churches would
buy this idea, that all they really need to do is praise God? My experience
indicates that God really does operate this way: I don't deserve a thing He
has given me, but I know where the gifts come from and I know that I
wouldn't last long without Him. I appreciate what He's doing and give
thanks. He blesses me. It's His choice. I'm glad.
Kim asked, "Is God is your Dream Maker?"
He has to be. I have no dream, really. Daily survival has been as far as
I've gone for years. Don't think beyond today. This has worked out much
better than I deserve. I think God was holding His hands around me even
when I was ignoring Him. That sentence is interesting. I was writing along
and came to "...ignoring" and was thinking "Him" but actually typed "me."
Why shouldn't I ignore any but the most basic needs? I can't do anything
about them. I've burned a lot of dreams. I don't try to burn other
people's, but I purposely keep mine very, very small.
I don't know what kind of dream God has in store. I used to think He was
just going to download a dream into me. Now I suspect that He is
rebuilding, fertilizing, nurturing, and waiting to see what kind of dream
erupts from the restored life. I should probably be scared... but could it
be that the dream He's guiding me to will be such a perfect fit that I
won't even notice that it's impossible? In other words, the dream that
comes to life will grow from who I really am, not what a church or some
other teaching has imposed. I have no idea, Kim. This is all blue-sky, way
out there stuff for me.
But I'm seeing that we truly are in spiritual warfare. Kindness is a tough
sell in our world. What's the first thing that comes to mind when someone
says "God?" "Judgment Day." All the wrong ideas get reinforced, and all the
right ones disappear into the noise. God has to exert a lot of effort to
keep us with Him because there's so much countervailing noise, and He must
teach us to recognize His voice, but why learn when all we can expect is
judgment? Our enemy would love for us to keep that idea.
One aspect of this deal that I'd like to be very clear is that God makes
His own choices. I in no way have earned any of His kindness; the camera
wasn't a reward for anything I've done. It is a gift. Even the way it
happened was a gift of His timing: I just decided to go to the store
Saturday afternoon, which is a very busy time. I walked in and within
seconds was talking with the counter man. Right after I got there it got
God's best gift to me is His Son, Jesus. Jesus' sacrifice enabled the next
great gift, the Holy Spirit. Generosity is His nature, and I experience
this in many ways more important than a piece of hardware, nice as that is.
The camera will be enjoyable, but it won't bring life to a self-made
desert. Maybe the camera is an outward marker of those internal changes.
I think we were always supposed to be united with God by the Holy Spirit.
It was supposed to be easy, but we dug a deep hole and God had to reach
down to pull us out. I'm glad He is generous with His dreams.
2004 November 14, 15 (originated as Email to Kim)
She's right. There's no reason at all, and when I'm walking with God I am living to the hilt. It may not look like it, but all of us have different things to do.
What I find discouraging is how easy it is to be knocked out of walking with God. I have problems with fear. I'm especially afraid of people: what they might say to me, possible criticism, unbelief (you can't be a Christian because you don't believe what I do) or they might just laugh at my small victories.
I know how to deal with this. I have a well-fitted shell, and I know how to use it. It's actually pretty simple. I walk into the church and just close down. It's automatic and reliable.
I went to Metro on Sunday with Debbie and Nate. We met, with hugs, out on the lawn and then walked in. I got there first and waited in the warm sunlight, reminding myself that this wasn't such a bad place, but as soon as we walked in the shell snapped into place so quickly I didn't even realize it.
Something about this place just scares me. Mosaic ran with less obvious emotion. Metro is a more demonstrative, more effusive outfit. To me, such relatively showy practices are hallmarks of lies. If something is real you don't need to talk it up. How much of what I see is genuine, and how much is just pumped-up like the foam on beer? It just gives me the heebie-jeebies.
What if it's real? We've all been given new lives by God. Free gift. Think about what you want out of life, get right to the hidden core that you never share with anyone else, and that's what God wants to give you outright. He does it, too. Celebration is a good response! Ecstatic praise is fully justified!
But, oh, no. Can't be that demonstrative. That wouldn't be cool, and it might upset someone else. "Brother, I think you need to calm down." Beware of anything that comes after being addressed as "Brother" or "Sister." Being demonstrative just seems to me like a way to call attention to myself.
Why not celebrate? I tend to be a quiet celebrator. Partly because I'm quiet by nature, partly because I don't trust celebrations of any kind. Right after the celebration comes the realization that it was mainly whistling past the cemetery. But how much does God have to give me before I believe that I can celebrate with some reality?
It's probably habit by now, more than anything else. I don't see myself as a demonstrative celebrator, so I'm not one. What if I would like to kick up my heels sometime?
So there I am all wrapped up with what really is a tempest in a teacup. All I really have to do is keep following Jesus. If celebration starts to effuse from my life, if I become effervescent, then you'll know it's a miracle. I'm certainly not going to produce it myself; there are too many controls in the way for that to happen.
Pastor Steve's message was taken from Psalms 22 and 23. He started by reading 23: "The Lord is my shepherd..." and then contrasted that with David's despairing voice in 22. "We all want the shepherd part, right?" he said. "But we get the other, too. How much do you trust God? Can you go on trusting Him when He seems to be anywhere but where you are?"
Can I trust God to guide me in this difficult issue? Can I trust Him to show me the truth? No one at Metro is demanding that I join in with the hand-raising and such. My desire to do so probably comes as much from wanting to have protective coloration as from any desire to praise God: When in Rome, shoot Roman candles because you'll be too visible if you don't.
How can I honestly demonstrate that kind of devotion when, if I were truly devoted, I would be doing His commandments? Do you see all the traps here? Anyone who believes that we are not in spiritual warfare needs to wake up and smell the corruption. I run myself around in circles trying to find something that I think is truth.
The real truth is that only God can untangle this kind of thing. My task remains as it has: keep following Jesus. His yoke is easy and His burden is light, and He leads into life even when it doesn't look like the life I want. I'll be OK as long as He continues to remind me of that. Thank you, Lord Jesus, for what you've done already.
Saturday, November 13, 2004
The Gift-Giving God
"People have never seen it before, Sendi."
This isn't the first time God has spoken to me through the words in a science fiction book. The two people whose dialog is quoted above have just come through a near-war required when the world's controlling powers didn't like the freedom expressed by the characters' country. The parallels with following Jesus were obvious to me, having just written about judgment and freedom.
I've been researching digital cameras for years because I wanted a simpler way to photograph sand sculptures and prepare images for the Web. In the fall of 2002 I bought a digital point-and-shoot as an interim step; what I really wanted was a single-lens reflex camera but these were too expensive for the available performance.
The problem with most of what we know about God is that it comes from words instead of experience, and words, no matter how carefully chosen and assembled, never tell the complete story. We read the words and think we know reality.
My digital point-and-shoot worked well for almost all purposes, turning out thousands of good images. It wasn't particularly good for flower photography because I could never tell where in the frame it automatically focused, and manual focus wasn't usable. I like shooting flowers and
sharing the beauty.
Jacob had the right idea. Wrestle with God for a night and you have a much better idea of what He's like. In the process you learn a reality that's far beyond what can be presented in words, and the knowledge is precious.
A single-lens reflex camera has a mirror that shows in the viewfinder exactly what the lens sees. When you trip the shutter the mirror flips up out of the way so the light will fall on the film. The advantage is that now you know what's in focus and what isn't.
People have different reasons, as many as there are people, for turning to God. For me, He was the last resort, the option that was slightly less scary than the singularity looming a few months ahead of me. Since then, He has had to work very hard to keep me going because I was so sure I knew what He was like.
Finally, Canon brought out what seemed like the perfect digital SLR camera, the EOS-20D. I read about it, looked at sample images, read more reviews. It seemed just right, yielding good image quality, reliable operation and a good selection of lenses. It's time to quit thinking about this and go do it.
Why do so few Christians spend much time talking about God? I'd think He would be the major topic. People should share what's going on, what they're learning. But perhaps we all feel too guilty about the simple little things He does for us; in a world that demands spectacle, God's gentle guidance doesn't get much attention. And yet, what kind of revolution would you like to have? A personal one, transforming your life, or one that simply exhausts your energy with no reward? Churches are always trying to drive people onward, with some reason. We do tend to get stuck and become lazy.
The day before I planned to go to Samy's and buy the camera--they were having a sale--my friend Steve, who runs the photo lab on the corner, stopped by on his way home. My door was open so he stopped and yelled "Good night!" I went out to chat, and told him what I was going to do.
"Oh, don't do that," he said. "The consumer cameras are no good. Buy the big one. It's more robust, more capable."
"It's also a lot more expensive."
"Do it. You won't regret it. See you later; I have to get home."
"Good night." He drove away and my plans crashed to the pavement and shattered.
Good news is usually bad. If someone tells me something nice it's either a lie or the set-up to a request. If I hear something good from God I assume it's my own wishful thinking. Only criticism is honest.
I did more camera research and discovered that Steve was right. Everything I read about the EOS-20D's big brother was good. It seemed the perfect camera for high-quality shooting on the beach: reliable, quick, weather-sealed, and capable of very high quality images. The problem was the price, roughly three times that of the 20D. Oh, I had the money, but how could I justify the expense when the 20D would do the job?
The inner voice kept saying to buy the expensive one. I couldn't believe it. I thought the camera couldn't be justified, so that meant God couldn't possibly be indicating I should buy it. A week went by, and another. The voice wouldn't be quiet. It became louder during two mountain bike rides that offered not only beautiful landscape photographs--hard to imagine in Los Angeles, I know--but spectacular flower close-ups. Sunset light on a chaparral flowering currant is just out-of-my-mind beautiful, and I knew that Mirjam would love to have an image of it. I stood on the last hill of the day and imagined how I'd take photographs of this lovely announcement of spring's true, wet arrival.
Frame the pink-and white flower clusters against the dark green chamise in the background. Bias the exposure downward to make up for that dark background, and use a large aperture so the background is soft. I tried flower photography with the point-and-shoot and was always disappointed, no matter how hard I worked.
How do I tell the difference between God's voice and mine? One way is to check it against various moral standards. Anything bad clearly isn't God. Morally neutral issues take more time, and that's the key element for me. If the idea hangs around long enough I pay it more attention. There's an element of need, too, and a resistance to buying gadgets just for the sake of having them.
The voice didn't nag, but it was always there. Logic was on its side because I have a proven record of using cameras for most of my life. Just as Mirjam, whose hard drive holds hundreds of my images Emailed over the years. God is, however, supposed to be parsimonious. Buy nothing more than what you need, and make sure it's the cheapest one available.
I'd rather have one good tool than a bunch of cheap ones, having spent far too much time fighting cheap tools while just trying to get a job done. Finally I decided to follow the indications.
"Do you have an EOS-1D mark 2?"
"Could I see it, please?"
Joe walks to the display case, picks up a camera, puts a lens on it, comes back and hands it to me. It settles right into my hands as if made for them.
The main thesis in Lee Correy's "Manna," quoted above, is that there is plenty of everything in the world and fights over resources make no sense. The characters are wondering why no one has realized this. Well, no one got it because it's not true. The book is a fantasy.
From one point of view. From another, we do live in a world of God's unlimited resources. There's no reason to be stuck inside our little self-made worlds. God has much better ideas, and He is quite willing to demonstrate over and over to me that He believes in generosity. How much rain is He willing to pour onto a dead desert in order to bring about some flowers?
I walk out to my bicycle with the large bag of camera stuff. "Thank you," I say, with a smile similar to the one brought on by yesterday's flowers.
She doesn't like herself. Whenever she makes a small mistake, she lands on herself like a ton of bricks. She has been a follower of Jesus for several years and yet was surprised one night when I said God doesn't judge us because Jesus makes us righteous in God's sight. Clearly, she knew this. At least the surface: saved and will one day live with God. The implications for daily life, however, had gotten past her.
Our society worships machines. The bigger and more brutal they are, the better. Muscular, massive locomotives, huge construction trucks, cars with more horsepower than they'll ever need. Even fine art has gone this way, with noisy loud works that contain no delicacy, no subtlety, no potential for graceful dialog. Everything is designed to get in your face and make a
statement. It's becoming more strident, too, as the general noise level rises and each particular sales job tries harder to be noticed.
Thursday I took advantage of the Veteran's Day holiday and went for a ride in the mountains. Near the end of the ride I passed two women who were hiking up from Will Rogers, and just beyond them I saw a chaparral flowering currant bush just off the trail. I called to the women to come and take a look. They'd walked right past this most unlikely of chaparral plants. Hot pink, a brief and beautiful show amid all the dun and dark green. This flower is the first to announce the coming of spring, which in southern California starts a week or so after the first rainstorm.
Beauty is delicate and easy to miss, easy to overlook in the noisy process of life. Internal judgment is supposed to make us tough enough to survive, but it only deadened me to beauty.
God promises to each person who trusts Him a new life. Because everything else God made is beautiful, I assume the life He designs for me will also be beautiful. Our world being fallen, there will be lots of noise and ugliness around us but the reality is beauty. The world will tell us that ugliness is the reality, that beauty is a temporary state. Look around you, man! See what God has made! To say that the world is only ugly because of what men have done is the oversimplified view of the machine-worshiper.
Making sand sculpture is an interesting mix of techniques. The first part of the process is very physical and forceful, with a sledgehammer's subtlety. It becomes more delicate when the carving begins. As the sculpture nears completion my touch must be ever softer, with the final
clean-up being a sort of feathered caress to remove the last rough spots. That soft touch allows the idea embodied in the sand to shine without distractions of misdirected cuts or lines.
If you have a house to knock over, a sledgehammer is a good tool. If you want to sculpt a soul you need something different. Our society provides nothing but hammers; if you don't survive, you weren't tough enough. We learn judgment early.
We deserve judgment. We sin by nature, and God abhors sin in a way I can't understand. Sometimes I get a hint of the pain sin causes in Him when I see its results in people's lives. God made us, and would have been within His rights to toss in the dynamite and wash His hands of the whole sordid deal but instead He made a provision for us. He gave us his Son. All of the judgment that was rightfully ours landed on Jesus. When God looks at us He sees only His perfectly righteous Son, and now we are free from judgment.
Free. Free to partake of the Holy Spirit, Who will work in us to remove the effects of years of judgment. Free to grow in ways delicate and impossible to people who don't have God holding them.
It's no wonder most people believe you can't build an arch out of sand. They're used to throwing bricks. If you put the bricks aside and try a gentle touch, it's quite surprising what can be made, from art to friendship.
You'd think that such a glorious truth would spread throughout the world. That it hasn't is attributable to people such as I used to be. My sister reminded me of this, of how I used my newly learned absolute truth of Christianity to judge others after I came to the Lord. Judgment first and let love pick up the pieces, if there are any.
God's way is entirely different. He started with that one definitive historic act, giving us the Gift of a doorway leading to life. If we choose to enter, He then starts teaching us what His love is and how it works. As His love touches me I learn to recognize its truth, and I learn also what love is not. Bringing a person to the feast is an act of love. Yelling at her when she chooses the wrong fork or doesn't eat what I approve is not an act of love. Let her use her fingers to eat the greasy stuff. Just make sure she remains interested in the food because eventually that will lead to real life, and then look out. God's food is like rocket fuel.
I have years of habit resisting the advances of the Holy Spirit, and His attempts to love me. It's hard to learn trust. That I am learning to live beyond judgment is due entirely to God's patience and active love. He made the first move.
I hope we all learn it before we die under the enemy's bricks. Please take some time to discuss this with God.
2004 November 13 (revised)