Friday, December 31, 2004
Walking North From Berea
Need. Need in my life could be characterized by someone holding the rope until I'm at a critical place, and then letting go. Then they laugh when I crash. God has had to work very hard to get me to trust him.
At first I checked every step, using the best tools available to me. The way to reach me is through my mind, and I rationally analyze everything to make sure I won't get hurt. Is it safe? If it fails, will it fail into a safe mode or will I be left with a big mess? The process is cumbersome but what else could I do? Trust is easy to break, hard to make. I was the only person I could trust.
If you fly, you give your life to the pilot and the system behind him. You might as well get on the airplane and relax; there's nothing you can do to affect the future. If you're a rock climber, you have to trust the rope and the person belaying you. Otherwise you stay on the flat ground. You make the decision and go. There's no point in hesitation; either the system will hold you up or it won't, and taking tiny mincing steps down the cliff won't do you any good if the failure you fear but can't control happens, so you might as well smile and stride.
My friend Rick and I were intending to climb Notchtop, a crag on the Continental Divide in Rocky Mountain National Park. We walked the heavily used Flattop trail and then went cross-country over the tundra to the deep canyon between Flattop and Notchtop. From there the ascent is steep, on a permanent snowfield, into a couloir bounded by vertical rock. We got to the top of that and then it started to snow. Hard. Rick tied a rope around me and said "Go." I went. Slowly, checking my footing. "Trust the rope," he said, trying to get me to move faster. He didn't want to freeze up there. I didn't. "Go ahead and fall. I have you." I did a test fall, and sure enough the rope dug into my ribs and I stopped, lying there on the steep snowfield. Rick had perfect control.
In that case, even if Rick had failed I wouldn't have fallen far. The snowfield was summer-soft and damp. It was fairly easy for me to trust.
It's different when I feel as if I'm on the edge of a bottomless chasm, no footing at all, and God asks me to trust him. It's worse than that. I have to trust him in order to take the next step away from oblivion. It's God or nothing. I've tried the nothing, but God is very strange. Is he really who he says he is?
There is only one way to find out. Take the step.
A Berean can only go so far. Much of God is incomprehensible because he's bigger and more complex than anything else in our world. I don't have the faculties to understand everything he does. I can look back and understand what he has done, but the next step forward doesn't become clear until I've climbed it. The Berean process of searching the scriptures and asking questions comes to a limit, but the next step awaits. There's another beyond that, an endless spiraling climb into who knows where.
God says the climb is toward perfection, toward becoming like his Son. He says that he will provide all the resources necessary to make the journey. He says that he won't force the pace, that the gradient will never be steeper than my wobbly legs can handle, and that he will hold my feet steady.
God holds the other end of the rope. If he'd wanted to let go he could have years ago. He holds on not because I've done anything to earn his care, nor for any return on the investment he's making. He holds on because he promised to, and because he is unflinchingly committed to seeing that I become the person he had in mind when he guided the components that came together to start my life.
Six months ago I was on the verge of quitting. Only the realization that I'd end up back where I started enabled me to stick that foot out there into the dark and feel for the next step.
Since then I've changed a little bit. I'm being drawn northward, out of Berea, by God's character and less driven by the desolation behind me. There will always be the Berean in me--God put that there--but there is mystery and unknowingness, where only trust enables the next step.
It's interesting to look at how God has accomplished this. He let me get desperate, then he led me to the people who would demonstrate for me an alternative and teach me how to have a living relationship with the Living God. Step by little step he got me to let go my death grip on rationality and trust his rope. Well, he's getting me to do that. There are still arguments, and I still get scared, but I'm still here, and you have to be here to get somewhere. That's no small deal.
Happy new year, folks. May the coming year be one in which we come closer to the Living God of the Universe than we've ever been before.
2004 December 31
slightly edited and posted 2005 January 3
Thursday, December 30, 2004
Words Running Like Treacle
It isn't easy being transformed into the image of Jesus. Well, really, it is easy. God Himself did the hardest part. All I have to do is follow him.
An insensitive person might not notice. Nor might a strong one. I'm meither, and find myself stretched about as far as I can be without becoming really ugly.
So, God has given me some time off. Look at the flowers, wander around, play "Myst:Uru," read and let my mind wander. I've been too serious in a lot of ways, but then, it's justified.
Survival. I won't make it much farther unless I stay with God, so I've been taking our relationship very seriously. People who know me know that I tend to do this. God had tried to get through to me many times with the message that I don't need to be quite so narrowly focused. He will take care of survival. I don't have to guard every aspect of my life as I'm used to.
It's a habit hard to break. Little things happen, I get scared and start to defend myself. This takes work. Constant starts and alarums. Yes, I'm tired.
I'm still here, though, and still learning. Maybe someday I'll be able to "be still and know that I am God."
I actually do pretty well when I'm alone. Learning to be confident when with others is a whole different subject, but God has accomplished miracles in my life, so I have little doubt that he can do this also. If I keep paying attention. All I have to do is keep following him. That's all he asks. Sometimes even that is too much and he just sort of turns off the discipline switch and wraps me up in his arms. This embarrasses me, and I feel as if I must have disppointed him because I should be stronger.
But, should I? He knew me before we started all of this. He took on the job anyway. The only surprise for God is what the New Year Day sculpture will look like. If the weather permits.
Monday, December 27, 2004
Guaco Brand Brain Soap LL
"Pretty good, Canny. Did a mountain bike ride. Some climbing around on rocks the day before. And the Mosaic Christmas Eve celebration, which was nice."
"I suppose I should have done that. Go to church so I can be brainwashed."
A few weeks ago I was at the life group meeting. Debbie and I were talking when a friend of theirs dropped in on the conversation and started telling us about himself. He talked about finding his purpose and all of his art. I'm normally quiet in such circumstances but for some reason I spoke up and told him about my sand sculpture and about how the Holy Spirit helps me carve. The conversation went on with other subjects, but I kept telling him about how God participated in my life.
I don't need to be embarrassed about any of what God does with me. He is an honorable God, and is working to get me to live the way he'd always intended. When I got home I felt this kind of glow, as if God were very pleased with the evening. If God gives high-fives, that's what they feel like.
Ever since then I've had problems. Cranky, out of sorts, short-fused, irritable and working hard to hide it. When Canny mentioned brainwashing I just jumped right in. "God doesn't brainwash anyone. Churches might, but God doesn't. He helps us find truth." No matter what that looks like from the outside.
The tide was rising, and waves were working on the foundation of that word-sculpture. What is brainwashing? The connotation is that it's an unwilling conversion of one's thoughts to what someone else considers more suitable, using various invasive psychologic techniques.
What is it called when the victim walks in through the door and asks for it? Brainwashing still, if the results are a narrowing of life's experiences. Churches and cults both do this and I've always resisted, most strenuously, attempts by others to change my mind. Surrender your mind, you surrender your soul. I may not have any grand plans, but I don't want to board your train just because of that. Leave me alone or I'll wall you out. Or I'll run. I'm well trained.
Things started to fall over as I waited for the bus home. Then the big one hit, leaving me in shock similar to what happens when you experience a pain so great you just can't cope. What I really want is to please God. Oh, shit. Now what?
How could this happen? Pleasing someone else? Forget it! Life can't be lived under those conditions; once you start trying to please others the list of necessary tasks becomes endless. Just one more miracle, one more act to prove you love me.
I remember that evening at the life group. Was God just petting me as he would a faithful dog leaning against his leg? Am I just a dog-in-training? "Run, boy! Fetch! That's a good boy!" And another pat on the head. Dogs get off on this, but I'm a man!
What choice do I have? Once the Holy Spirit invades, life changes and it pretty much goes the direction he wants. I can resist, yes, but the results of that are even worse than what he does. Better a live dog than a dead Berean. I guess. And it's not as if I'd placed limits on him. "Do whatever it takes," I told God while looking oblivion in the eye.
I've managed to accept his changes, one by one, and many times with ill grace. I guess I'll be able to accept this one. Wanting to please God. Who'd have thought it.
It's not quite like the dog situation. God does leave me alone to think for myself and the results have become fairly dismal. I have no reason to care about much of anything. Larry qua Larry seems to be evaporating in favor of some sort of holy automaton. But the problem is that I asked for it, I need it. I just don't understand it. I don't know where we're going. What it looks like from my current point of view is another kind of death. Losing my mind that I've worked so hard to protect. I just give it up to God.
I may have to go back to Canny. "You know, you were right. I am being brainwashed. What the ultimate outcome will be I don't know, but I do know that I was pretty dirty at the outset. Maybe I needed brainwashing."
Accept no substitutes! Others say they're as good as Guaco Brand Brain Soap LL, and they might even be Guaco Brand! But unless it says LL (Long Lasting) on the package you're being sold a poor rigid imitation of the real thing. Guaco Brand LL. Powered by the Holy Spirit. If you decide to get your brain washed, trust it to someone who knows you better than you do. Then open the door and kiss yourself good-bye.
2004 December 27
People of the Exit
I had to comment on this one... because 1) I liked your ability to be thankful to other people for something you learned from them (Greg & Norm)... people don't do that you know!
And that was enough to push me over the edge into a project I'd thought about for a long time: writing about those critical teachings and who taught them to me. The result was an aborted message called "People of the Exit."
Those of you who know me only from this Blog are missing most of the story. While I've worked to provide background, many of the details aren't here. A lot happened in the year before I started Blogging, and I wrote many stories about it. I'm not going to try to fill all that in, but I did want to mention a few of the people who helped me take the Last Exit.
I aborted the story because it fell flat. Then I got another idea early in the morning, a title and the first few sentences, which became "God's Coloring Book Has No Lines" and the first of several stories about these people. As more ideas come to me I'll write the others.
So far there are two more in this Real World Evangel series:
"Fishing for Pugs" and
"The Shape of the Lamp."
Initiated 2004 December 15
rewritten December 27
The Shape of the Lamp
Organizations take the same approach. People come in whole but have to trim off various parts in order to fit the ordained niches. You'd think churches would be different, but they're made of people who impatiently tell God what the people should be doing.
When a man took the stage at Highlander in 2003 and was introduced as "Coach," I knew I was in trouble. His job was to get the crowd fired up for the day's events and many of the men responded. I'd seen it all too many times before. Besides that, I had other things on my mind. I pretty much tuned him out.
A month later I got a strong hint that I'd sold this man short. He and his wife gave that Sunday's sermon on aspects of marriage and i could hear the voice of authentic experience in both of them. What really got my attention was the passion quietly contained in what Dave Mushegan said. Coaches aren't supposed to be quietly anything. Subtlety isn't in their vocabulary.
I didn't run into Dave again until he sent me an Email message in mid-June.
Anyway, I wanted to say how sad we were that you could not join us at highlander. Since I collect the money for the event, I am aware that in your kindness and generosity, you blessed the lives of many other men, by contributing above and beyond what was necessary. On their behalf, my I say a big thank you. Someone mentioned that the reason you did not attend was because you were going through a difficult time. I was sorry to hear that. I am praying for you, whatever the issue might be. I would be happy to encourage you in person, if I had your correct phone number. You can e mail me back if you like. But bottom line, YOU WERE VERY MUCH MISSED, and what ever the men at Mosaic can do to encourage you, please let me know. Your Friend In Christ, Coach Dave Mushegan
I was then in the middle of a very intense fight with God. The clouds over the future had parted for a time and I could see where the track of following Jesus led. I'd always known that his intent was my complete transformation and that was fine until I realized how deep he was going. Any further life with him would make me completely dependent upon his participation in my life. Naturally I, who had learned that only I could be trusted, started running as hard as I could.
What I wrote back to Dave wasn't all that nice. Self-censorship doesn't work very well when the writer doesn't care. I told him some details of why I didn't go to Highlander, and put in a few digs at the idea of coaching.
That he wrote back at all was a surprise, and the content was astounding.
Larry, thank you for trusting me enough to share your very deep feelings and thoughts. I am honored that you would take the time to write such a detailed response to me. Thank You so much.
Dave went on from there with some carefully chosen scripture and examples from his own life. What coach ever talked about his thoughts?
Over the next two months we corresponded and his quiet encouragement helped me settle down and understand that God's interest in my life wasn't to destroy me but to make me able to live his way. At the end of one message Dave signed off as "Ex-Coach Dave." No coach I'd ever run into before would do anything like that just to make someone he's talking to more comfortable.
God made all of us. Each of us is made in a particular way, and while the flame we produce comes from God's oil it is colored and shaped by the lamp itself. Those lamps that are close to the human ideal have no problem finding a place where they can burn brightly and call out to the world. Many are, however, of an unusual shape. A sensitive coach? Naturally, even in a church Dave has a hard time finding a place to shine. He has a strong passion for teaching but belongs to a church for which teaching comes last on the list of things a church should be.
Mosaic is, institutionally, much like my first Sunday as a Temple Slave. I got introduced to a couple of people and then they all left. I received no instructions, no hints of what to do. Being a Temple Slave is very simple compared to being a follower of Jesus. I just looked around the auditorium for the group that seemed busiest, walked over to them and introduced myself. A new Christian is overwhelmed with new things and has no idea where to turn for advice.
Well, that's not quite right. The new follower crosses the Jordan and immediately has tons of advice heaped up around him, and hears a hundred voices telling him what to do next. He needs someone to take his hand and lead him through the cacaphony, teach him what's important and what can be left for later. Very few of the advisors seem to understand that the key idea at the start is to build a relationship with the Living God rather than following a list of rules. Rules are easy to present in a step-by-step process but they don't lead to life. If you don't believe me, read the old testament.
Starting a relationship with God is a tall order for a newcomer from the east bank where the only time you hear God's name is in curses. The best advisor is one whose life shows God's handprint.
I'm very fortunate that Dave took the time to respond to my strange and intense Emailed messages. His gentle hand on the furiously bucking horse helped calm him down long enough for God's real message to get through: the objective of breaking is not destruction, but new life through stability that can be achieved only through the Holy Spirit's life inside. Depending on God is like leaning on a granite wall. I thank God that this Dave-shaped lamp lit up with some of God's truth I couldn't have seen any other way.
Merry Christmas, Dave! May God bless you so much that your flame runs Technicolor!
2004 December 25
Real World Evangel #3
Email to Blog failed
edited, rewritten and posted December 27
Friday, December 24, 2004
The Spirit of Christmas Presence
"Yes, I do."
The three look at each other. There is nothing else.
"And you also know."
"Yes, my father."
"Then go ahead, my son, and know always, even at that dark moment, that I
Jesus raised his arms. He became radiant, and he sang the light into being.
He sang stars, water, worlds, land. The song became plants, and then
animals. Then he reached even deeper into himself and sang people into the
new world. Finally, at the right moment, the one appointed, he sang
Immanuel and he, son of the Most High God, maker of everything around him,
became a human baby.
"The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned.
You have enlarged the nation
and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you
as people rejoice at the harvest,
as men rejoice
when dividing the plunder.
For as in the day of Midian's defeat,
you have shattered
the yoke that burdens them,
the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor.
Every warrior's boot used in battle
and every garment rolled in blood
will be destined for burning
will be fuel for the fire.
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David's throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
will accomplish this. (Isaiah 9::2-7 NIV)
For the one who did this, one more tattered and tired human being running
through the split veil to wrap his arms around the Living God is no more
burden. He knew who would come, he knew the problems, the tears, the
fantastic tail-chasing thrash as human mind tries to figure out Godly
He knew also the star-dislodging joy of a human heart fully engaged in the
process of living, and he was willing to donate his lionish heart to anyone
willing to give it a try. He knew what it would take to bring a fallen
human being back into life, he knew he would be at the sharp end when
things went south. He spoke the word and became God with us.
We don't even celebrate his birth on the right day. The institutional
church, in the first of many attempts to prove its uniqueness by co-opting
extant holidays, moved the day so that it would be more convenient for
It doesn't matter. God made time as a convenience for us. His son is
eternally Immanuel and gave his live up once for all. Christmas and Easter,
abstract concepts, take place every day in the real world because we need
his grace every day. Every second. Come close, feel the gentle lion heart
beating with strength to transform one person, one world, and take courage
to face another day in a dark dangerous place.
They, all three of them, know what they're about. Never tame, but good.
2004 December 24
Wednesday, December 22, 2004
live with a foot in the real world and the other in Neverland. She wondered
what Neverland was like apart from the movie interpretations, if it could
be more wonderful than the pirates and man-boy of Disney popularization.
it's a common theme. Men who won't grow up are said to have a "Peter Pan
complex." I have been told many times that eventually I'd have to quit
imagining things and enter the real world. People who said such things were
the best argument for never giving up my imagination, so I stayed with C.S.
Lewis, Tolkien, Andre Norton and others.
The best way to keep imagination intact is to make sure no one knows you
have one. Imagine things but keep them in your mind. Write them down but be
very careful about who reads them. Do sand sculpture which is completely
revelatory but couched in a language opaque to most people and temporary
Another way is to let God give you the heart of a warrior and then quit
worrying what anyone thinks. Some of my co-workers mentioned this yesterday
after reading some of my Blog entries. "You put yourself out there for
everyone to see. The woman who said you have the heart of a warrior is
Life without imagination is intolerable. I've lived in the uneasy middle
ground between being practical and letting my imagination make life worth
living. Now I find myself more strongly convinced that imagination is one
very special aspect of human beings. God is immensely and fascinatingly
imaginative, and he said that we are made in his image. Whatever we have is
there because God put it there. For me to say I shouldn't be imaginative is
for me to become self-righteous and tell God what his creation should be
Any new thing starts with an idea in someone's mind. If I want a tool to
reach inside a sculpture and carve a particular kind of cut, I have to see
the need and imagine how to execute it. Then I have to design the tool so
that it can be made with the tools and equipment I possess, and then the
design has to inform my hands as I make it. If the new tool doesn't work I
have to figure out where I've failed and think about why I failed. Is the
failure due to not making the tool as it should have been, or is the job
That we live in places more comfortable than caves and have hot water
running in pipes means that someone had these ideas and brought them to
reality. God doesn't give instructions about the minutiae of daily life.
We're free to improve things, and therein lies a problem. Do we really
need more cheap plastic toys? More highways? Do we need 4000 square foot
houses to replace 2500 square foot ones? It's like the problem engendered
by the Macintosh and its desktop publishing tools: just because you now
have access to 1001 typefaces doesn't mean you have to use them all in one
Imagination gets me into trouble by suggesting new ways, that might be
better than the old, to do things. When the new way messes things up,
imagination rescues me by helping me find a way to fix the problem.
Eventually the new way become established, and then is taught by rote as
the only way. Imagination is buried in the detritus that exfoliates from
its success until some truly creative person comes along and manages to
introduce another new way. At one time it was believed that to go faster
than 60 miles per hour would be to die.
Our world has never seen a whole lot of people get together to find out
what kind of creative trouble the Holy Spirit can cause. What kind of world
could we make if we quit following the world's rules and started following
It's easy to say. I, however, tremble in fear whenever God gets close
enough to me to whisper hints of what he wants to do in my life. I settle
into my comfortable rut, near enough to God to stay alive, but at enough
distance that I can cruise along in comfortable semi-isolation. No great
joy, but no tears either. This probably makes God very sad.
The inside is much, much bigger than the outside. Wonderland is inside, and
it is huge. I'm sort of making short forays away from the bank of the
Jordan instead of bounding into the high country beyond. Farther up,
farther in. Let the imagination loose. God Himself will take care of the
real world! But the implications of that are so enormous that I quail. My
warrior heart needs enlargement, from pea-size to perhaps grape-size.
We should be encouraging each other to have big ideas. Go exploring. Find
new territory, new wonders, find out who God really is and what his land is
really like. But I never talk about this because I've faced so much
criticism. "You can't do that," They say. Well, God, I believe, says
And yet we need rest also. When does rest turn into complacency? Another
experiment. I figure God is big enough to tell me when to move on. And,
friends, I am tired. As I drove home from work today I could barely keep my
eyes open. Haven't been sleeping well, caught on the sharp point of this
dilemma. One part of me trusts God to keep me moving in the right
direction, part of me drives me on with a whip so that God won't be upset
with my sloth, and part of me just cowers in fear when he looks forward to
coming lessons. I'd rather sleep through it, which feeling usually means
I'm doing something wrong. God wants my eyes open, but only he can give me
the courage to do that... and frankly, I'd rather not care.
That's what keeps us out of Wonderland. Not caring. I have much to learn.
2004 December 22
Tuesday, December 21, 2004
Fishing for Pugs
He didn't have to do it. He could have sat in his ivory tower and let other beneath him handle the dirty-hands task of meeting strangers. He was, after all, the assistant pastor in function if not in name. Or something important like that. And yet, there he was, listed on the Web site. With his Email address.
Nate calls it "fishing for pugs." They had a plastic stick with a rope tied onto one end. Dangle the rope somewhere, or twitch it across the floor, and no matter where their pug puppy Winston is, he'll come running with his black flews flapping in the wind of his excited passage. In this case the outcome is certain: dangle a rope and you catch a pug. Dangle other things, such as an Email contact at a church known for creativity, and you might catch something truly weird. Like a tired sand sculptor.
Eric could have dismissed my stilted message. He might not even have opened it because my address is somewhat daunting. This has happened before. Instead, he sent me a breezy response, saying they'd welcome me and that I should look him up after the meeting.
His first look at the pug he'd attracted came when he found me sitting in a seat by the aisle, ready to bolt if things got too weird. He could have bolted then. Well, I tried to be civil. Must have succeeded because he didn't call in the bouncer to throw me back. "Sorry, buddy, your kind ain't allowed in here. You'll have to leave."
Actually, the whole outfit was surprisingly non-uniform. Eric himself was a one-man exercise in contrast: tough-guy bald head and goatee, but a face about as intimidating as a sated baby's, complete with beatific smile.
And then, having caught his pug, he could have turned me over to a closer or some such. Instead, he invited further contact. We had lunch together, and I continued the Email contact with the strange ideas I'd get. He served as my mentor in some interesting times, by not only not laughing at my outrageous ideas (by old standards) but by raising my bet and challenging me to take another step.
The importance of this is hard to state because you'd have to know a lot more about me in order to understand the contrast. I'd never had a mentor, never been treated as an equal by any high-powered spiritual types.
I rather doubt that even he had any idea of how he was affecting me. I tried not to show it. Old habit. Acknowledging things like this is their death knell, and I knew that if I lost the line I'd spin away into the dark and never come back.
It's easy to lose new followers of Jesus. They don't know anything, and if they get into the wrong hands they can easily be led astray. Why not? They don't know enough to correct for their teachers' deficiencies. Now, I had a bit more determination than the average newcomer, having already been through the production line, but Eric was a very helpful touchstone. Navigating alone is as hazardous as getting the wrong guide. Eric was mindful that God's land is wide, with much room for different kinds of people using the same truth, and he allowed me my style while helping me learn, through demonstration, how Jesus actually uses His rod and reel.
It's easy for a new follower of Jesus to become choked in rules and other weeds springing up around him. Well-meaning helpers tell them everything they need to be doing. Eric trusted the Holy Spirit to tell me what I needed to be doing, and he just accompanied me on the way and invited me to tell stories.
It's easy for a new follower to lose interest and quit growing as their roots run into the concrete underlying our secular society. Eric made living with Jesus seem so logical and fascinating that I couldn't help but keep walking even when I was thoroughly confused.
As you start, you shall go. The fact that I'm still here, and more or less growing, has a lot to do with Eric's real-world evangelic example. May every new follower of Jesus find someone like him to encourage and accompany them into the new land. Thank you, Eric.
2004 December 20
initiated (response to Wendy's blog comment) December 16 in another form
#2 in "Real World Evangelism"
Monday, December 20, 2004
A Failure... Of Love?
The main idea was to work with the cracked pot idea. Debbie had told me of the pastor's description of all of us as cracked pots, with God's Spirit shining out through the cracks. I wanted to make a sculpture that looked like this, using the sun to provide the light.
West along Rose, then I turn south along the Boardwalk. I can get away with this because of the early hour, and it's easier than cutting through the parking lot whose entrance is now plugged with someone trying to park. To get onto the bike path I have to cut through one of the little seating areas, which is frequently occupied by homeless but today is empty.
There is an obstacle, however. An old man on a bike, pulling a ratty trailer, is very slowly moving toward the bike path. I slow, pass behind him and then turn left to get to the path.
For some reason, the old man watches wide-eyed, tracking me as I pass. There's plenty of room; he's on my left, entering the bike path in the wrong lane. I lean into the pedals and complete the turn just as I hear a crash. I quickly glance back as someone says "You OK, buddy?" and see a jumble of equipment. A very low speed crash of someone I just don't care about, and I keep on going, mind on my coming project.
Cold? Cavalier? Perhaps. I thought so, at the time, in a sort of guilt-driven way. Honesty led me to keep going, guilt suggested I go back to see if I could help, and over all that was a small worry about who I was trying to please. Naturally, the story about the beaten man lying beside the road until a despised Samaritan picked him up and took him home, came to mind. Years ago perhaps I would have stopped. As it is, I'm generally tired of crowds, tired of all the people who get in the way around here.
I expected to get yelled at by God for this. So I started yelling at myself. Caught with my hand in the cookie jar, I'll help Him cut it off to assuage my own guilt.
Now, how much of what motivates me is guilt, and how much is love? Am I just trying to keep God happy by what I'm doing, so that He'll leave me more or less alone? Make jolly all the time so that I don't get into trouble?
The day wasn't the best. The sculpture's design didn't work; sunset light isn't bright enough for the effect I wanted. It fell over anyway due to engineering problems. Cracks showed when I was about 85% complete so I cleaned it up as best I could and took some pictures. I hoped it would last until after the sun set, but it failed about 15 minutes early.
It never occurred to me to ask God to help it stay together. He's done that for me, so why not sand? And... only 15 minutes, right after I took a photo. Suzi caught the failure on tape.
When I got back to my bike, my rack trunk was gone. Stolen by some scumbag. What's this about? I thought we had a deal? I do what You want, You look after the equipment I can't watch.
What's this? God as utility-minder? Dealing with God? Trading in sin? Karma and transactional analysis combining with a sort of horse-trader's grace? If I hadn't been post-sculptural I'd have been really hurting. Well, I was hurting anyway, but in too much pain to notice the heart problems.
Am I a monster? Yeah, but not any worse a monster than when God picked me up. The truth is I have a hard time loving people who are easy to love, much less the more difficult kinds. I've learned to deal with difficult situations by leaving, and there wasn't much I could have done anyway.
What really upset God was my casual attitude, of being comfortable in a certain place and not wanting to upset that. I've become very conservative in some ways. Happiness has been so rare in my life that when it comes I try to hold on, and I just don't want challenges. This pretty much goes against the Holy Spirit, whose direction is always in toward increasing life in all of its dimensions.
If I don't love now, am I prepared to learn to love sometime?
If I'm taking a utilitarian approach to life right now, am I willing to change?
Am I willing to turn loose of good things in order to grow?
What's more important? Growth, or feeling good?
And... am I willing to accept God's grace? With the lid off, and knowing more about what stinks in there? I'm no wonder-Christian of the age, just another bum lucky enough to fall onto God's bus.
God knows I have about three ounces of love in a ten-pound can. He's always known my heart is more stone than anything else. Survival without God is a real bitch and requires some tough decisions. Do I have the courage to let God unmake those decisions? Can I let God be my toughness? Ultimately, who do I trust? God, or myself?
Where should I draw the boundary line? God's heart is big and includes everyone. Mine is small and excludes just about everyone. I'm fortunate God isn't made in my image.
If I were a Buddhist, or a Muslim, or a Catholic or any other belief, I'd be in big trouble right now. A clear failure, with no clear way of dealing with the problem. God is different. He accepts me through Jesus, and gives me his Holy Spirit so that I can try again. If I want to. And the Holy Spirit changes me so that I want him to change me. Otherwise I'd be dead meat.
Friday, December 17, 2004
God's Coloring Book Has No Lines
He could have come to the beach determined to win one more for Jesus, motivated more by guilt or production quotas than anything else. He could have skipped the beach completely, instead hanging out with his pastor friends at the Mosaic conference. He might have gone to a soup kitchen on Skid Row, telling God that Jack himself knew what was best.
Instead of all that, he humbly followed Jesus' urging. Jack might not have known why he was going to the beach, or he might have thought it was just to take a break from midwestern flat cornfields. The Holy Spirit hinted and Jack responded, not at all clear on what would happen, but in expectation of at least a few hours at the edge of God's creation watching the waves come and go, wash and recede.
"Nate is kind of bummed about his 'Little Christmas Tree.' He had some investors interested but they wanted a new ending. It changed the story completely and made it preachy. Nate finally went to them and told them he appreciated their interest but what they were proposing was not his story. We haven't heard from them since." Deb is very animated as she tells us this.
"Good for him," I say. I didn't like any of their proposed endings. "This is exactly why I do only projects I can do myself. You run it through the financing mill and it comes out looking just like everything else from Hollywood."
"Oh, this isn't Hollywood. It's a church organization."
"That has been affected by Hollywood."
Jack could have stepped onto the beach already knowing all the answers. He could have approached someone and pressed "Play" on his evangelical speech circuit. I've seen it, and heard it, before. This kind of behavior is encouraged by churches, even those that know better. It seems there is no other way to get the idea across.
I came to the life group meeting expecting a discussion on another aspect of the Holy Spirit. Instead, the topic is how we need to go out and drum up more interest. Bring in new people. The implication is that we're all supposed to be the same, knowing the ending before we start.
"I had an interesting day at work," Joe says. He's normally quiet.
"Go ahead, bro." Carl invites.
"One of my co-workers, who knows I'm a Christian, asked me some questions. Now the day had been quiet up until then, no phone calls for two hours. As soon as she asked her questions about God the phone started ringing."
I know that, remembering many events. The timing is uncanny.
"I started to answer, and another co-worker started laughing. 'How can you believe that drivel?' he said. But when I finished the phone calls I was able to answer her questions and also talk to the other guy. I stood up to him and gave him the gospel."
Carl, naturally, is ecstatic. "Way to go, bro!"
It is a remarkable event, but not exactly in the way Carl thinks.
"We have an honorable God," I say. "We don't need to be embarrassed at all when talking about Him." Evidence of the Holy Spirit. We grow stronger backbones. "Why is it Buddhists and Muslims are free to talk about their religion and it turns into a discussion, but Christians who present their ideas are preaching?"
Maybe it has something to do with common experience: the unfeeling presentation of set words without any regard for circumstances. It's the verbal equivalent of handing out rocks when bread is truly called for. No wonder Christianity has a bad rap.
Where I make sculptures is as far from the easy access points as possible, but that, while being a bonus, isn't why I'm way out there. My mother gave me a sense of presentation and the flat sand behind the breakwater is a good stage for my performance. People have to work to get out here, walking across a long stretch of dry, loose sand. Jack walked the beach on that sunny day in May and ended up out on the flat.
Later, Deb is sprawled across the big armchair with Winston lying in her lap. I'm stretched out on the couch as midnight approaches. Nate's working late, redoing the work of an editor who screwed things up so royally that he got canned.
"That's why Christian creativity should be better than the world's! We have the Holy Spirit!"
"Yes. I don't know why, but He is just delighted when I'm making something. He loves watching. And helping! The sculptures I've made recently with His hand on mine have been the best I've ever done."
Jack was walking with the Holy Spirit. Several purposes were served. Jack was worshipping the Living God, whose lively ocean was scenting the damp spring air. He was enjoying the day with the sun on his face, letting his mind unwind from the intensity of the conference. And the Holy Spirit was along for the ride, like an old-time whaler ready with a harpoon of love.
God knew exactly what He was doing. He had guided events for years to reach just this confluence. A man from Kansas, a man from Indiana, an idea from Heaven out there in the real world. If any of us had tried to plan this, or force it to happen, the spirit would have died and a few months later I'd have followed. Instead, sensitivity ruled the day. Jack moved and I was struck.
What man could write a script like this? What class in evangelism could have prepared anyone for this kind of encounter? Only the Holy Spirit could have pulled this off, in His years of remaking Jack's soul and letting mine deteriorate under His protection. Each person is unique already, and God intends that we become more so. Throw away the instructions. Listen to the Holy Spirit, who is Life itself.
2004 December 17
#1 in "Real World Evangelism"
Thursday, December 16, 2004
A New Kind of Future
Christian." Its theme was that following Jesus is a lifetime process, which
was a new idea to me because I'd never looked farther ahead that my own
In his response, Dave referred to me as "Long Haul Larry" and he has
continued to do so. The man must be a prophet.
Number one in my pantheon of fears is the future. I never know what's
around the next corner. Each day brings new problems and new opportunities
for failure. The future has always loomed over me like a big hammer.
So I ignore it. There's nothing I can do about it anyway, so why think
about it. Today has enough problems; I don't need to go looking for more.
I'll solve today's problem, but it seems that solving problems is just an
invitation to more difficult problems. Ignore it. The future won't go away
but my blood pressure won't get too high.
And there's a more sinister aspect. I always figured if things got too bad
I could just pull the switch. Quit. Call exit. Life never quite got that
bad. I had a little bitty candle flame that kept burning, and kept hoping
that maybe sometime things would get better. Hoping in hope, pretty much.
Hope has a powerful friend in Jesus. A year ago I still didn't think much
about the future because each day kept me very busy. Now I have time to
The view ahead is very misty. Dragons lurk there, life-enders,
sculpture-breakers, the Unsolvable Problem, that One Grain Too Many whose
removal brings the whole complex structure down around my feet. Wham. Out
there too stands God, who says all will be well. Whom do I believe? My own
overactive imagination, or God? After all, the dragons haven't gotten me
yet and I've been a pretty big target for many years.
Is it really proper to have confidence that God will help me through the
coming years? Can I count on this? Will He really stand up to my attempts
to depart and forget, to my fears and tendency to run away? Will He
continue to paint a future that's better than anything I can imagine? My
own growing confidence says "Yes," but I wonder. Better not to think about
it. Just let each day unfold on its own.
I still can't do anything about the future except make today as good as
possible. But I don't need to believe that the future is just a hammer
waiting to crush me in an unguarded moment. I have a big guard now, who
even when I denied Him guarded my days.
Confidence. What a radical concept. Is it proper for a follower of Jesus to
feel confident? It's part of that New Larry I don't understand.
2004 December 15
Wednesday, December 15, 2004
Asking if I have thoughts is redundant. I have lots of thoughts. Making sense is something else entirely.
I think Wendy is on to something here. We're all running around looking for the Big Event that will Transform Our Lives Forever, but that doesn't happen often. Rescue jobs like the one God pulled with me last year are not the norm. I believe the Holy Spirit goes about His transformation work while we're about other things, the events of ordinary life. Washing the dishes, going to work, talking with friends, batting ideas around on a Blog.
One reason for this is that we are very limited. We don't have much energy, we don't have much stamina and we really can't handle a whole lot of change at once. If I lived the way many Christians expect, I'd be burned out. Change is stressful, even when it's for the good.
God has to match his pace to my capabilities. If I were a big strong man like Carl or Neil, I could do more. I'm still more like a loose collection of parts travelling in the same vicinity, and it doesn't take much to shake up the whole works. I really need a mountain bike ride right now. Some alone time to let my mind wind down. I'm just not very strong.
God doesn't expect me to be like Carl. He wants me to be Larry, which will be an interesting process of discovery because, in many ways, I have no idea who I am. The only way to discover who I am is to keep doing ordinary things and see what happens. Make mistakes and let God correct me, instead of doing it myself with deadly results.
God's way of correction brings life, not death. He's delicate, He's sensitive, and He is very precise. He also tells only the truth, and has no axe to grind. He's the Lord of the Universe, and yet isn't at all interested in forcing me to knuckle under just to prove He's stronger than I am. His only desire is to make me a perfect person.
I was thinking about this last night, how people correct each other, and was thinking that if God treated me the way most supervisors treat their workers I'd be dead. Immediately the Holy Spirit corrected me: God simply CAN NOT treat me that way! He is required, by the terms of the agreement we reached when I gave my life to Jesus, to treat me with ultimate respect. If God quits respecting me the universe will quit working.
God is honorable, completely clean and unswayed by human opinion. He has His eyes set on the future and knows what needs to be done. He will use us to the extent possible to complete His plans, and those plans work within our great limitations.
Actually, saying that God uses us is a mis-statement. I know what it's like to be used by people. They take what they want and then leave me poorer for it. When God chooses me to execute a task that He wants done, He does so because the act will be good both for me and anyone else who's involved. Now, this is a truly radical concept, but God is the master of making deals that improve the lives of everyone.
This is so odd I still have a hard time with it. I realize God is using me, and I get upset. I want to be myself, not somebody's tool. Well, with God I'm not a tool. I'm a co-worker, helped and empowered to live His way, and that life will shine forth. That's guaranteed. It will happen Shining lights draw other people in, but they also get shot at.
So, that's where we're headed in our ordinary living. As the Holy Spirit works to transform me into what God wants--and what I want--I will shine. Look out, world. I don't know what will happen, but it will be something I--the future I--will like. Wash a dish, change the world. Let the Holy Spirit do His work. He is beautiful in all His actions.
If I Forget You, O God
thrashing around, and waiting for dawn. Depression, confusion, nothing
settled. Finally, around 0200, I sort of figured out what was wrong and
turned back to God.
This started on the weekend, when I went to Lancaster. For some reason I
got scared up there with my friends and closed the door to my soul. This
door is special. It closes very quickly, but opens only very slowly.
It had started to open yesterday and then I went to UCLA to be evaluated
for LASIK surgery. I'm tired of the complex prescription required for my
glasses, which makes good vision very difficult to achieve. LASIK might be
a way fix this, but between the sales pitch, the mechanized processing and
my inner turmoil about this process I came out of there feeling like a
junkyard dog. Just wanting to dare someone to touch me so I could snarl and
tear them apart.
It really wasn't that bad. The sales pitch was, in true terms, muted. The
mechanized processing is necessary so that they know where they're starting
with my eyes. The turmoil, however, is real. How can I justify spending
$5000 on an elective surgery whose sole purpose is my convenience? The
procedure also entails some hassle: more meetings, having to use artificial
tears for the rest of my life because the surgery reduces natural tear
production--freeway weepers take note--and the potential for further
problems. I like vision. I don't want to be blind. Here I'm putting my eyes
into the pot in a big gamble, with a 1-in-5000 chance of going bust. Very
good odds, yes, but... the stakes are very, very high. If I hadn't already
been unsettled none of this would have affected me.
The real question is why did I run away and hide while I was with friends
I've known for years? I guess the problem here is that they don't know the
new Larry. Well, Mauricio does, but the rest of the family doesn't and I
just chickened out.
Once the soul-door gets closed, everyone is on the outside. God, too. I
just close up like a snail or a box turtle and go through the actions
necessary. This used to work pretty well; I couldn't tell very much
difference between the box-turtle state and my normal state at that time.
Those days are gone. Bye-bye. When I close the door God is on the outside,
and I start to wither within. Life comes from God. All the delicate
structures in me that exist only because of His participation and
maintenance start to crumble. All I can maintain is the coarse basic
structure. What God does is rebuild the delicate traceries of beauty, the
minarets and corbels, the gardens, fountains and rounded things that make
life truly life. Grace notes in life's song, arches in the architecture,
hollow delicate buildings, beauty and elegance. Without Him it all turns
back to slag and a memory.
There was one final impetus for this departure. "Time" Magazine took up the
subject of the Nativity. A very balanced, scientific approach, they went to
many sources, compared them, analyzed them and came to conclusions which
left no one the wiser, but cast lots of doubt. If we can't believe the
Bible when it says that Jesus was born in Bethlehem--apparently many modern
scholars think this is a myth--then what can we believe? To someone in my
shaky state this was another sledgehammer blow against the foundation. What
can I believe? What is true, and worth standing on? Am I just a cripple
believing in a phony god?
No. I have the Holy Spirit to help me with things like this, and what He
did while I was reading the article was to remind me of the late 1970s,
when I was trying to figure out of God is real. I'd been saved for a few
years but hadn't really become convinced that God was in me, or even cared,
so I went to work to separate fact from fiction in Christianity. Of course,
it all turned out to be fiction. There was no baby in the bathwater.
It turns out that only with God's help can I understand God. This sounds
like self-referential nonsense and the beginnings of a cult dependency, but
that is another concept that just doesn't translate well into daily
What God does in me is indescribable in any accurate terms. I guess this is
why "by your love you will be known" and "the wisdom of God is the
foolishness of men." If it were easy to figure out the world would be a lot
better place, but it's much different from anything we know.
Thus, the New Larry. Living on things I don't understand, and can't explain
very well, so I have become very shy. I can't afford to have God taken away
from me, and showing Him to people is one way to invite destruction. I make
no distinction here between friends and anyone else because this idea is so
far out there. Yet God's threads run all through my being now, and to close
the door cuts off the contact. Left to my own devices I simply stop living.
I can't do it any more. Sleepless nights are too long, and life is too
short to just give up whole days because I'm scared.
And it could just be that I brought this on myself. I was poking around in
my archive of old "Weird Email" the other day and was struck by the
immediacy of those messages. Man, I really needed God back then. A year
ago. I was looking to Him for the simplest of answers, knowing that if He
didn't respond I was going over the cliff. Now, in increasing confidence, I
don't have to hold onto Him quite that hard. Life is more stable. Does this
mean I'm losing the battle? Or is this real maturity, a quiet confidence
that God will correct me if He needs to? I think I've just been reminded
that He will correct me. Growing a backbone isn't an overnight operation.
2004 December 15 (Midnight Missive, Blog and WEML)
Tuesday, December 14, 2004
Life in Christ
Now, well, where am I? I belong to God. What are we doing? Life looks pretty ordinary right now.
There have been many upsets in the last year, as God's fingers worked their way more deeply into my shattered soul. He'd touch a piece and it would HURT! Everything in there was arranged just so, in the only pattern I could live with, and to change anything was to bring on all kinds of problems that, if I'd wanted them, I'd have asked for them.
Now I'm more used to it, but I still fail. Notably, I fail with people. When I visited Mauricio and his family I basically turned off my own direction and followed what they did. I simply don't know how to behave in these conditions, so I suggested no games, no activities, but just sort of followed along like a big dumb lunk.
Part of the problem was unfamiliarity. I hadn't been there in a year because Mauricio has been busy. His children have changed a lot in that year, becoming more independent, and I've changed, becoming more shy as my enforced overlay of bravery has come apart. That's one of the pieces that God touched, and it doesn't work any more.
When I'm really connected with God, bravery isn't a problem. I can put myself forward and be sensitive to the situation I'm in. I still tend to abandon Him when a situation presents more stress, and I fall back into old protective habits.
But, you know what? God just showered me with His blessing when I got home from Lancaster. I thought I didn't do well, and was already sinking my claws into the new flesh, but God wouldn't let me. He rained His love on me, and thanked me for being His emissary.
A lot of life is ordinary. Visiting, helping get the bikes ready for a ride, watching movies. I don't understand most of this; I still have a lot of the old ideas that if one isn't acting directly for God then it doesn't count. But God, in His kindness, counts everything. How do I know what's effective?
What is being a friend all about? Certainly not to take every opportunity to pound the Bible into someone else. Friends enjoy each other and if there's light to be shared, it goes both ways. Mauricio and his family have most certainly been a source of light in my life, and I hope that I've given them some also. God is generous enough to me. There is light to share.
Ordinary life. Imbued with light, like those glowing grasses on the loping hillsides above Lancaster. I don't need to squeeze God any more. His generosity takes care of that. I just need to keep following and let Him take care of where we are. And I still use, every day, things I learned from Greg and Norman in the Life in Christ class. Thank you, both.
I love winter light. In Leona Valley, the hillsides are furred with tawny grass that has all been bent over by the steady wind, and it all shines like a new creation as if each dry stalk is burning. The color is indescribable, a delicate tawny with silver highlights. You have to see it to believe it.
Water sparked below grey-barked alder trees. New grass, bright green, poked up through the old sticks and leaves. A few leaves still hung onto the sycamores.
You don't see this light in a city. And you certainly can't smell it. The mountains have a particular scent at this time of year, another indescribable sensation. Only out here is there space and time, and I wonder how many even notice shades of silver on the hillsides. I didn't when I got here. Desert is desert.
Now I know the truth. God's light shines and the world echoes.
Women with Claws
Of all the women I know, his wife Jennifer is the hardest on herself. As soon as she makes a mistake the claws come out and she rakes herself. Men do this in other ways. They become like each other in stereotyped behaviors. Women strive to tear themselves apart, and I don't know why.
I wish I could tell Jennifer that she doesn't need to be so hard on herself. If she'd loosen up her life would go just as well, but she'd have more energy and be more creative. I know from experience that this habit is very hard to break; the only reason I recognized it is that the Holy Spirit kept showing me, kept forcing me to look at it, until I finally decided that His was is better. I wish I could pour out God's blessing onto her, and Kim, and Lu, and Carol, and Suzie, and Sandra.
Stop the judgment, please. You don't need it. It doesn't help. Only God can judge, and He is very kind in how He does it. He never just hands down open-ended judgment. He always points out what is wrong, why it's wrong, and what He will do about it if given a chance.
Sheathe your claws, please. You can't grow while tearing yourself apart.
Looking at the Archive
So, Carl and Cassie signed up. I sent them some recent messages and then figured maybe I should dig up an old one and send that as an example.
I'm not one for being stuck in the past. I figure it's to learn from and then move on. Just because things happened a certain way last year doesn't mean I have to keep doing it that way. We all learn and grow, assuming we're alive.
Still, as I read the messages I found in my Email archive I was taken by their directness. I was really searching then, trying to figure things out a year ago, and every step I took was into new land.
Now, life is quieter. I'm much more confident. A year ago I was convinced that if I made any kind of mistake either God or Mosaic would throw me out, so I was most assiduous in working out how to follow Jesus as fast as I could. Get it done before I get tossed. Now I know that God will never throw me out, and that matters more than what any church does.
Back then I was hanging onto God, squeezing hard as if He were an orange, and a stingy one at that. If I didn't squeeze, the answers wouldn't come out. Now I know different. He loves to provide me with answers. I don't have to drive myself forward with a stick. I can relax. I don't have to tell myself what to do as if I were running my life by remote control. I can simply live, myself in the moment, and the Holy Spirit will help me deal with what happens. A mistake no longer threatens the entirety of my life.
Now I know that God was giving me of Himself even when I denied Him. He was biding His time, waiting until just the right moment. He blesses me with His presence in every moment. He likes being with me. A year ago I wouldn't have believed that if someone had told me.
Sunday, December 12, 2004
Natural Evangel, Individual Love
"No problem, brother. We'll be talking."
"Good night." He backs out of the driveway and heads down the street.
I wheel my bike into the garage. I was very glad of Nate's offer of a ride. Midnight, dark, quiet. I'm tired. The day has been very long.
Cassie is leaving Los Angeles for Peoria. The Life Group gave her a good send-off, with munchies, games and late-running conversation. Very late. I'm all in.
I unlock the door and walk into the dimly lit living room. By the multiple colors of the permanent Christmas lights I find the main switch and get some real light in the place. Gradually I realize I have my own glow.
God is pleased. More than pleased, He's just brimming with joy and I'm the reason for it.
"Were you and Deb talking about God stuff?" The soft glow of instrument lights followed the profile of Nate's face as he drove the silent midnight streets and talked in his usual animated way. We're both tired but he doesn't look it so much. "It sounded like you were."
"Yah,. we were." I was slouched down in the seat, spine dissolved by fatigue. "We were having a good conversation until your friend came in like a conversational Scud. I was upset because I don't get many chances to talk with Debbie and he just sort of blew that time up."
"He's an interesting man, don't you think? Existential philosophy and art."
"Yes, but I wonder if it's all surface. Something there isn't quite right." I've run into plenty of people whose intellectual act hides an unwillingness to do anything. "I take it he's not saved."
"No. I think he's lonely. We've tried to befriend him."
"That would be easier if he were a better listener."
"Was he telling you about his art?"
"Yes." And I wondered how much of that was real. "Guitar playing and such. I told him about sand sculpture and the Holy Spirit holding me."
What is a reward? You pat the dog's head when he fetches your slippers. You give your child a gold star when he cleans his room. I go to work to get a paycheck. "Well done, good and faithful servant."
I want neither to be a good dog nor a faithful automaton. I don't want to be a plane in the hands of even a master craftsman. I was made for more than that; if the real goal is "not I, but Christ," then why was I made with a will?
The real problem comes from trying to fit God's concepts into our words. God was very pleased with how I showed Him to Nate's friend Peter. Only I, with my unique mix of experiences and attitudes, could have shown God in this way, and maybe it's the way Peter needs. I would have resisted almost any presentation of God but the way Jack Fox did this was so disarming that I left the door open. He walked where he did because he wanted some time on the beach before returning to Terre Haute.
A mix of rewards. Jack got what he wanted, and God got what He wanted: putting the finger on one wayward sheep. We're used to a world in which I get what I want, or you get what you want. God's world is different. He makes me into a new person, which is what I need in order to stay alive, and then God in a very elegant and complex way invites me to use what I have to show other people what He's like. He could do it Himself, with angels and fireworks if necessary, but He'd rather give me the opportunity to use my new spine to become eloquent in showing another man God's real personality.
It doesn't even have to be direct. The next day I drove up to Lancaster to visit my friend Mauricio and his family. Almost a year had gone by since my last visit. He has been busy with construction in friend's houses. On my way I stopped at Samy's camera and bought the lens I should have had last week on the beach. Winter light flashed from the old season's grasses, and
from the white trunks of streamside sycamores. A few brown leaves still hung on in a fitful breeze that smelled of damp earth and mulefat shrubs. Antelope Valley was a broad, flat-floored region of blue air and tawny grass.
We drew with chalk on the sidewalk, watched movies, and they tried to teach me to play video games. We ran one race of five laps and when everyone else had finished I still had two and a half laps to go. Then they helped me. Landen, youngest of them all, knows it best. We did a short bike ride after Mauricio blew up a tire. As in "Bang!" Amelia and I threw a football back and forth. The children have changed a lot in the last year, becoming more independent.
I left Saturday afternoon, and stopped for more photography on the way home. Traffic stopped on Brakelight Hill and every lane I chose became thereafter the slowest. I'd about had it by the time I got home. And yet there was that glow.
It's not praise. It's not a reward. It's more like God sharing His delight in how His people work, the things they can do. It's not a bribe. I've never experienced anything like it before. Far beyond "Well done," it's more "I'm glad you're here and willing to do these things. Thank you. Only you can do it, because of who you are and what you've learned."
Life is mostly ordinary. Jennifer and Mauricio spend a lot of time just taking care of the house and family. That's what life is. We join each other in ordinariness and share our power. Jack couldn't have known the power of his comments on the beach, and I don't know what the effect of my actions will be. That's not my responsibility. I need only, and simply, to live with God and leave the big issues to Him.
2004 December 12 (idea December 9)
Editing, reformatting and corrections 2006 January 5
Thursday, December 09, 2004
Simply Without God
The author, who was brought up a Protestant, can recall a conversation over five decades ago with some Catholic friends from the neighborhood. He was taught in Sunday School that Catholics automatically go to Hell; his friends were taught in separate (parochial) school that all Protestants end up in Hell.
These beliefs have since changed on both sides of the divide, as Christian faith groups have become more accepting of other denominations. Even beliefs about Hell itself have moderated; it is now seen by many religious groups to be simply a place of isolation from God.What really flummoxed me was that last comment: "Hell... is simply a place of isolation from God." Isn't that sufficient torment? Given that the only reason the human race hasn't wiped itself out is the moderating influence of God's spirit, I don't want to be in a place isolated from God.
I was here for the L. A. riots in 1992. I smelled the smoke of burning buildings, watched people like a stream of ants going into stores and coming out with televisions and anything else they could carry. I watched a few years later as "fans" of the Lakers looted and tried to tip over a catering truck. I have seen what happens when the normal societal brakes are off. And people believe that the only thing wrong with Hell is that God won't be there? That's like saying real estate on the Moon is great but for one small problem of air.
I know God's moderating influence in my own life, and wouldn't want to be without that. He helps me keep perspective, and be a little more patient, and this gets better as our relationship becomes stronger.
People who don't believe in God believe in something else. Life runs on beliefs. Right now our world is running partially on God's principles, but somewhere along the line God will withdraw Himself and then things will get really ugly. It will be a foretaste of hell, the major difference being that the period on Earth will end, but Hell won't.
I'm not going to get into big discussions of who's going to Hell and who isn't. That's God's business, not mine. "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved." That's all we need to know. Other than the fact that wherever God isn't, you don't want to go there.
Stuffing the Void
The Echthroi tell everyone to give up and become nothing, as they are. Void. Meg wonders how to attack them, and then comes up with the answer. How do you fight void? You do what Jesus did: you fill it. The Echthroi were driven away by Meg filling them with names and substance.
God names each one of us. He knows us in every unique detail. This is the opposite of Satan's attempts to standardize everything. Every subset of humanity thinks it's the only true one, and goes about trying to eliminate the others so that all will look alike. Sameness. Boring. Bureaucracy. Hypocrisy. Why is God's diversity so reviled? Because it's the opposite of emptiness. Life explodes. Life fills any space it enters. Bureaucrats want the grass to stay inside the lines, but the grass wants to go everywhere. God's spirit imbues the world and it tries to grow, but humans have become strong enough to choke it off. Victory for the nihilists.
God celebrates diversity, to the individual level. Each of us is unique, under the whitewash we've applied in order to make ourselves blend in. The more I talk with other followers of Jesus, the more I learn about personal uniqueness. Everyone has a different way of seeing and seeking God. Same God, different people, same ideas, different presentations suited to each follower. God celebrates who we are when we're unable to.
Meeting God brings in a problem. Once you start rubbing up against God, something of Him comes off. It affects us. He changes the way we look.
I've been putting a good bit of energy into damping this. Putting a basket over the lamp, so to speak. For all my non-conformist ideas, I'm really a non-conformist internally, and when alone. When with people I just want to be left alone, so I fade into the background. If Jesus had had this attitude, we'd be doomed right now.
God can fill my void because He is limitless. He can just keep dropping His holy rain into my desert because the supply is truly endless. Now, if you water a desert, sooner or later something will grow. Even if I put bricks on top of the new plants, they won't quit growing. The Holy Spirit just keeps pushing. He's very, very patient, but He never quits. I can either let Him go, or get run over.
Well, there is another option. If I keep fighting, I can keep Him at bay. He, by His own rules, can't obviate my will. If I'm determined to keep Him out of my life, He will stay out.
For what purpose? So I can be comfortable? The problem is that I can't bear the thought of living without God. This caused me a problem yesterday, my usual reaction against radical ideas. I don't want anyone else in control of my well-being, even if God has proven that He does it better than I do. It's still frightening. The truth is, though, that if God leaves me I'll just fall apart. Life won't be worth living. I'm not proud of myself in this but it's the truth.
Given that God will always be part of my life, then I just have to accept the consequences. His light will shine. If you put a piece of wood on the fire, eventually it will catch fire and people will notice. No matter how wet it was, green, or unsuitable for burning. It will burn. And God will keep adding fuel, so the fire won't ever go out.
God keeps pouring Himself into the void of our lives. I don't really want to think about where this leads. Jesus is the example.
I look not too far ahead. Otherwise I become discouraged with how long the hill is.
God Himself helps to keep my fear at bay. People cause judgment and judgment drives out confidence. God's rain fills me and my confidence increases. As He changes me, turns my stone heart with its phony rigid courage-analog into flesh, He imbues that new flesh with His courage. It's a flexible kind of courage that doesn't have to prove itself to anyone. It just is. God really is good at this kind of thing. He understands gardens.
Wednesday, December 08, 2004
Brother Sun, Sister Moon
I wanted the simplicity. I wanted Francis' connection with the natural world, but there I was, stuck in traffic, with all this modern machinery around me. I wanted the beauty. I could see it, smell it, almost taste it, but it was out of reach. What was I doing wrong? I didn't figure it out, and the magic receded into the fog of years.
The magic is now back. His name is Jesus.
Amazon offered the DVD of "Brother Sun, Sister Moon" cheap, so I bought a copy. I watched part of it last night and the tears came back, especially in the last scene. I don't know how much of this movie is true, but it has great images.
The Pope comes down from his throne to bless Francis and his ragamuffin rabble, which scandalizes all the well-dressed grandees in the sumptuous room. When the Pope kisses Francis' foot, the muttering becomes loud. Innocent 3 remains kneeling until his attendants pull him up, and then back to the foot of the throne, and then they wrap him up in his heavy vestments. He becomes smaller, entrapped in this church machine. Francis' friends pull him to his feet and they straggle out.
Whence came all the entanglements of the established church? How was it transformed from the living immediacy of Acts into this deadly worship of ritual?
Did I really have to spend 31 years wandering around in order to learn how to recognize, and appreciate, the Holy Spirit when I was again introduced to Him? He was there in 1971, 1972, 1973, but I wasn't paying attention. He was knocking on the door, and I could hear Him, but it seemed impossible so I didn't open the door far enough. I was too concerned with making mistakes, with angering the God I knew with my petty stupidities. I was more concerned with looking like a Christian than with actually being one.
The problem with looking like a Christian is that the necessary rituals are dictated by whatever group is in power. I live by their assumptions. Maybe it took me 31 years to get shed of that habit, to learn that no one has it together, that I can learn from their mistakes but responsibility for my life is mine. I didn't learn sand sculpture by reading books and watching other sculptors. I went out, made mistakes, watched sculptures hit the ground, got rained out and all the rest.
Being a Christian by experience was against the rules. I was supposed to read the Bible and follow the rules. There are lots of rules in there. Impossible. Rather than ask God for clarification, I just decided the whole thing was impossible and went on to live life my way.
I wish I'd asked, back then. I wish there would have been someone I could trust. Where was Eric Bryant when I needed him? Not born yet, for one thing. When I did meet him, the first person I contacted at Mosaic, I looked at his life and saw something different from anything else I'd seen. My memory of "Brother Sun, Sister Moon" was too deeply buried for it to come back then, but the way I expressed it after having breakfast with him one day was to pray at the bus stop "If this is what people who follow You look like, I think I can do this."
A year later this is still true. I can follow Jesus into a life that resembles in its purity and charm the scenes in the movie. Following Jesus is very simple. All you have to do is ask Him for help.
Tuesday, December 07, 2004
nuzzled the King's cheek with his soft nose. They did not try to comfort
one another with words. It wasn't very easy to think of anything to say
that would be comforting. Tirian had never dreamed that one of the results
of an Ape's setting up a false Aslan would be to stop people from believing
in the real one."
That's from "The Last Battle," by C.S. Lewis. The thought holds true for
today. We have so many false representations of God that no one believes
the real one when He speaks. I still have trouble with hearing Him, being
I did a sculpture yesterday. The day started clear and breezy, then the
wind picked up and clouds covered the sun. Cold. Near shivering. Then the
clouds broke up, the wind went down and God's glorious sun washed the beach
with warm yellow light. Clouds built up around us, over the mountains,
masses of grey and white that took fire near sunset.
"I wish I had wide-angle lens," I said to my friend Rich. If I'd obeyed
God's voice, I'd have had one for this beautiful evening, but I just
couldn't believe it. That old model of God still rules at times. I was
forgiven, the evening was still glorious, and the sculpture was a standout.
Still, you can't take pictures with a lens that's sitting on a store shelf,
and the high clouds would have been a spectacular and beautiful backdrop.
We don't get many days like this.
How do we learn of God? By example. Most of the available examples are bad,
giving a repeated idea of a God who can barely get out of bed in the
morning, much less minister to us. I'm fortunate in that I have run into
some good examples who show forth a living and active God.
I went to a church one time--only the once--that named its men's ministry
the "Iron Mill." Another calls its men's ministry "Forge." Naturally I have
nothing to do with these. I guess they have their place but not for this
man. I have had my fill of male cruelty and expectations; I don't want to
be forged into a rigid tool, nor have my corners chopped off and milled
flat and straight.
What I want is all that God offers. Being a man had better include a lot
more than the usual driven roles. Where is there room within these tightly
defined "ministries" for a man made sensitive by God? What I want is the
strength of women.
Carol. Kim. Lu. They never give up, but they don't narrow their worlds as I
did and as it seems men have to do. Men see everything as nails, and use
the biggest hammer they can find. Women look for the right tool, or they
wait. They don't quit. A lucky man knows some women who will let him know
Carol was upset that I interpreted her comments as "the Riot Act," as that
wasn't her intent. She went on to explain her devotion to truth, which is
very similar to mine. Truth is the rock amid the changing ground and
crashing waves. Truth is the light that picks out the one path between
gnashing teeth and freezing. Truth is the way out of depression, the way
into life, the first stepping stone into the land of joy.
And Carol had the courage to tell me that, to tell me that she'd been hurt
by my words. She said "Ouch!" instead of talking about sports. That takes
courage. It's just the most recent in a life of similar acts: raising
children, sharing life, showing the truth in her actions.
Kim had the courage to hang on in a life that showed no sign of promise
until it suddenly started to change. Now she's using what she learned in
those dry years to get 14-year-olds excited about the Bible! Can you
imagine a tougher group?
And Lu, mixing sound at Mosaic Beverly Hills while hoping she didn't just
fall apart in front of us. Going off to a strange city to help start a
church so that others can learn Who holds her in His hand.
All three of them go far beyond any ideas of "Women Aglow" and studies of
Ruth. They're out there in the real world, holding their lives together
with elements of grace men have no concept of. Men of iron stand unaffected
by the world. Women can't afford to do that; they have to engage the world,
and this takes courage far beyond what can be forged.
This is a rather odd story. It has brought to the surface more passion than
I expected. I have been victimized by men and their rigidity, their crude
There are a few who go beyond that. They listen, they think, they speak
what is true to them instead of what other men expect them to say.
Craig, for example. Taking the time to expose his heart to me, making him
the first man to do that. Astounded, I did the only thing I could: respect
his heart enough to respect his Savior too. He led by example. If Jesus
liked Craig, then maybe He'd like me, and make me into a real person like
And there's Rich, who defies all categories. Resolutely his own man, but
willing to join with others and share himself.
Jesus Himself never bought anyone's stereotype. He dealt gracefully and
accurately with all kinds of people, and never purely on the basis of
gender. Each person He met was a person, unique and the center of His
When you walk into a Christian church it's as if you're expected to very
neatly divide into classical women and classical men. So many activities
there are based on gender differences, which encourage the stereotypes I've
had to fight all my life.
I had dinner with Debbie and Nate on Friday night. On the way home Debbie
asked "What is your experience of the Holy Spirit? How do you know He's
"He's always in the back of my mind, kind of like a cord connecting me to
God is the way I visualize it. A constant presence."
"Sometimes He just blows me away. His presence is so strong that I feel I'm
turning red. That happened last night at the Life Group. That's why I was
"He sometimes just rains blessing onto me, a gentle shower," I say. "This
seems to be different for every person. God is unique for everyone, giving
them what they need." it's an idea that has grown over the last few months
as I hear more stories like this. Most of the time it's the women who will
talk about and explore issues like this.
The world desperately need examples of people living whole lives. Women
have the courage to become whole and let God live in them. And they don't
2004 December 5
Questions of Belief
exchanges were just words, but then late one afternoon I saw a tall man
standing in a phone booth, wearing a riding suit, with a motorcycle parked
nearby. This was in Chama, New Mexico, autumn of 1993.
We stayed in contact after that epic ride, sharing riding stories and
various other ideas. He's an interesting man. Flexible of mind and yet
steady. In 1996 he acted as my sponsor at the World Championship sand
sculpture contest in Harrison Hot Springs, British Columbia. He lived on a
farm not too far away and invited me to stay with him. It was a great time.
At the end of the contest he just loaded my stuff and me into his truck and
hauled me away. I was, hot spring pool notwithstanding, toast.
In 1998 he came to L.A. for some riding. It was an outstanding year for
wildflowers. At the end of the ride he left his motorcycle in my garage,
and the Navy recruiter drove up and took him away. He ended up aboard a
submarine, which rather restricted Email contact. Still, I got the
occasional message and some images of what he was doing.
Through all of this my respect for him remained. Good mind, good heart. He
and I had discussed religion in years past and agreed that it was better to
do things ourselves. So, he was a little surprised when he visited my Blog.
"The blog thing. Hmm, interesting is a good word. Surprised too. I kinda
had the feeling that you were a die hard aethiest (sp?). Question: Does
this make you happy?"
I told him that while happiness still seemed some distance off, I was able
to see the possibility of it happening. Some day. I said that God had taken
hold of me when my resources were gone, and was helping me to rebuild my
life from the ground up.
I wrote: "The more I talk with others about their experiences, the more I
learn that God gives each just what they need when they ask for it."
Earl responded with "I agree, although I believe that it comes from within,
as opposed to without. There's a quote I like from Richard Bach: "You are
never given a wish without also being given the power to make it true. You
may have to work for it, however."
I have a curious component in my make-up. Questions force a re-evaluation
of things. How do I know that I know God? How do I know that He has redone
my life, rather than the idea of God being my excuse to make the changes I
needed to? I respect Earl. How can I explain to him that I'm simply
destitute? I'm not proud of myself, but I'm still alive by God's grace.
From the outside it probably does look as if I've done all the changing by
myself. What's visible from the outside isn't all that dramatic: still at
work, still sculpting, still getting through the day.
There are differences. Saturday, as I worked on the sculpture (image
available on the photo page, link on the left), I noticed I was smiling a
lot. The day was lovely, with fast-changing clouds. My friend Rich was
there feeding me cookies. Various passersby stopped to comment, and were
very supportive. And God was behind it all, holding my shaky mind together
so that I could concentrate on the sculpture. It was a standout, and the
sunset God painted on the sky was the perfect capstone. I rode home tired,
I mistrust smiles and feeling good. They usually are just the precursors of
trouble, so it's better not to be happy. It was a gift. I tried to put it
back on the shelf, and in my usual way did a pretty good job of it. Sunday
was confused. Monday was muddled. Today I was downright crabby and bailed
out of work early on the pretext of having to run errands. On the way home
I asked God for help in figuring out what was going on, and we got it
pretty well cleared up.
I have nothing to be proud of. I'm a failure; I couldn't take the stresses
of life and was coming apart. I freely admit this. God stepped in and glued
my bits together with his Holy Spirit, and I'm still here. Earl has much to
be proud of, but I can no longer live that way. I am no more independent.
The world is a cold, cold place. I can't stand facing it alone any more.
Only God's presence in my life warms things up enough for me to be able to
continue. I stand on that, with the new backbone He has given me.
I mentioned to Earl that "I learned a long time ago how to be invisible."
He wrote back "I used to believe that too, but my thoughts on it are
changing. I'm finding that sometimes you have to be visible and stand up.
When you're invisible you get trampled by the masses. One of my favorite
chiefs in the Navy had this saying: "You have to pick your battles". Once
you pick that battle you can't be invisible."
He's right. Pick your battles. I can pick bigger ones now, and not back
down when those internal dragons start breathing fire. Who'd have imagined
that turning a stone heart to flesh would have resulted in growing a
God makes me smile. This is a miracle. I didn't do it, and I don't want the
credit. I don't want my life to depend upon my so limited resources. What's
a smile worth? Honestly, a lot. Jesus paid for it. Thank you, Earl, for
keeping me honest.
I wonder if it's possible to communicate the reality of God, the Universe's
God who is also a Person, to others. Words alone probably aren't enough.
Examples and life probably have to go along with the words. That will come
in God's own time. Right now it's enough that I can smile occasionally,
that the future no longer looms over me like a hard-driven steamroller.
2004 December 7
Sand Sculpture Images
Monday, December 06, 2004
I am the utter contempt of my neighbors;
I am a dread to my friends--
those who see me on the street flee from me.
I am forgotten by them as if I were dead;
I have become like broken pottery.
For I hear the slander of many;
there is terror on every side;
they conspire against me
and plot to take my life.
But I trust in you, O Lord;
I say "You are my God." (Psalm 31:11-14 NIV)
Debbie wrote "Pastor [Steve, of Metro] mentioned that this is exactly what
we are, and when we are with Christ we are still a broken pot, yet filled
with the Spirit. Because we are broken, we leak. When we are without
Christ what is noticed about the pot are all the big ugly cracks, but with
Christ the Spirit is what leaks through and thus HE gets the attention.
The cracks are forgotten. HIS strength is our weakness. He is glorified!
Larry, spirit is busting out of you all over the place!!! Liquid light.
Beautiful. His work in you is inspiring."
Snow is weightless, fluffy stuff. It comes down so softly you hardly even
notice. Men at a research station in Antarctica noticed when, after years
of storms, the snow was heavy enough to crush the steel drums they used for
pillars to hold up the roof. They had to abandon the station. The photos I
saw impressed me. Done by snow, each flake insignificant but powerful in
their unnumbered aggregation like the hassles we face in life. Even a steel
spine couldn't resist them. The steel broke.
I wanted to believe I was complete in myself. Of course, I had to be, but
life offers irresistible crushing forces. The only way I could survive was
to keep moving out one step ahead of the accumulating snow. Once you reach
the west coast, however, there's no place else to go. I'm not a good
I'm a good drifter, however, rolling along with the current and thus
avoiding the forces that result from resisting. That way, the cracks and
weak places never get stressed. I'd seen other people get in too deep and
fall apart. That was not to be my end; once you have to have help to get
out of hole, just to hold yourself together, your soul is gone. The
"helpers" will help, all right, but the person who comes out of that
process will be only a small shadow of what was there at the start. Better
to live with my weaknesses and face the permanent threat of dissolution
than to get help, become solid and thereby rigid like the people around me.
All of that would have to change, I thought, when I gave my life (again) to
God. He'd remove the problematic parts of myself, which was just about
everything, and replace it all. "Go ahead," I said. "i'm dead meat anyway.
I can't go through any more of life as I am."
Note that this was no great heroic act. There was no blare of trumpets, or
a decision on my part to serve God no matter what. It was purely a cry for
help, and I was willing to accept help on God's terms because of what I was
seeing Him do in the people I knew (for all of two weeks) at Mosaic. That
God reached down to help me is due entirely to His generous and kind
nature. That was a surprise, but even more surprising was His respect for
me as I was. There was to be no wholesale replacement. He made me as I was,
and wanted to restore me to what He'd designed from the beginning.
People have called me many things through the years. "Crazy Larry" is a
common one. "Intransigent." "Iconoclastic." "Stubborn." Others I can't put
in a public document. Never had anyone, however, called me a "Warrior"
until Lu did it. If this had come from anyone else I'd have said it was
"lying for effect," but Lu doesn't lie. Given the source I couldn't just
reject the idea out of hand. By such subtle hints does the Holy Spirit
transform a life, one bit at a time. Once you start thinking of yourself as
a warrior, aided by encouragement from the Holy Spirit, well, you just
naturally start acting like one.
I had to reconsider my idea of what a warrior is. No Conan-style bash first
and then think type. No mindless automatic fighter. No, more like Gideon,
who just sort of found himself in the right place at the right time, and
God said "Go." He went. Jonathan went out to look around, saying "Maybe God
will do something and hand us the enemy." Go try it. Well, I do know how to
There are problems. A warrior has to have a spine, or else he folds up when
all those little pressures add up. Where does a spine come from? How does a
career jellyfish grow this marvelously strong and flexible structure?
The cracks between my parts run deep. I have held them together by pure
will until I ran out of will. It doesn't matter any more. As the Holy
Spirit grows into me, all those shards of shattered humanness become knit
together by Him. The tender human pieces are left as they are, human, but
they are all bound to each other by His own unbreakable bonds. Those bonds
shine with their own light and they take most of the load. The structure is
flexible and strong. A real warrior. Like Jesus, who acted perfectly in
each of His encounters with people, giving them just what they needed.
Here's a secret. We were made in pieces. We were made to have God in us all
the time, living and flexible. We chose knowledge of good and evil over
God's participation in our lives, and the load imposed by making those
decisions is just too much for us. Like any other machine pushed beyond its
design, we have lots of trouble. We all try to be rigid and strong, and end
up growing up twisted and buckled, like those old oil drums. Too much.
God very kindly offers us an alternative. A return to that living and
flexible relationship. I'm a fortunate man. If men had been running the
universe I'd have been rejected a long time ago. Insufficiently rigid, most
unlike the classic fighter. I prefer God's ideas.
2004 December 5 (from an older idea that jelled around Debbie's comments)
Completed December 6