Monday, January 31, 2005
Singer Of Our Names
He knows our names. Unlike the names we attract in life, his name is the true one, the ineffable one, the one that describes every aspect of us, spirit, mind and body. He speaks my identity.
Craig calls me "Armstrong," because of my interest in the space program. I hope it's not because I'm a space case.
Tony, when I worked at the sewage treatment plant, called me "Lord Chaos" because of my occasional run-ins with an overly-controlling management.
Rablo calls me "Aurans," after T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia fame). I'm not sure of the connection.
Sometimes I'm called "Longs Peak Flyer," from a joke a friend and I played while on our way to deliver a washing machine in Colorado.
And sometimes I'm called "Sand Man," for obvious reasons, although that name is probably copyrighted. "Sandragon" is not, and I take that on at times, especially when I make tools.
Names. I was christened "Laurence Strong Nelson III" which seems a bit much so I've shortened it to Larry Nelson. My friend Roman suggested I change it to "Larry Just," so that in the phone book it would show up as Just Larry. I liked that but it was too much hassle.
Names. None of us really knows. Names are said to make the person: you can grow into a name, or it can drag you down. "There once was a boy named Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it."
None are worse than the ones we give ourselves. "Loser." "Incompetent" "Stupid." "Underacheiver." Depressed, Drunk, Obsessive-compulsive, et infinite cetera. We use them as shields against a hostile world; if I call myself stupid before someone else gets around to it, I've saved us both some hassle and time, and the ultimate end is the same.
Then Jesus comes along and gives me the Holy Spirit, who starts singing softly in my ear a new name. A new kind of name, one that I can only get hints of understanding right now. What kind of human being will unfold under this song? If Jesus sang stars into the sky from nothing, what kind of human soul can he sing from the wreckage if he is given a chance?
First I have to un-name myself. Put away all those other deleterious references in favor of a truth that seems, at first glance, to be even more dangerous. What might the God of the Universe think of me? It can't possibly be good!
Wrong-O, Buzzard-Breath! For one thing, part of the song came out as me, and Jesus is a very good singer. He wouldn't sing anything bad. For another, he wouldn't have given up his own life for a piece of junk. His opinion of me is demonstrated as being very high. He treasures each of his creatures, and isn't one of us worth more than any number of sparrows?
But if I let Jesus name me, what happens to me? Do I just disappear into the world, one drop of water dissolved in the ocean? Is that what I'm supposed to be? I don't really want dissolution like one of my sand sculptures gently sagging into the borrow pit it came from, to be indistinguishable from the original beach within a few minutes. But could my desire for uniqueness be a siren song leading me to drowning of another kind? I've fought to hold an identity, but it's not really my name. Only Jesus knows that name, and he whispers to me.
"Trust me. You'll like it. It's what you're made for."
It's hard for me to trust, and the more deeply the Holy Spirit delves into my being the more afraid I become. What is he doing? What will be left when he's done? I keep telling myself that the name he's singing is the true one and that it can't involve dissolution because he wouldn't have made me as I am if the goal were to be like everyone else.
"No one can live unless he dies to himself." Maybe in order to get the new name all of the old names must die. I have to quit thinking of myself as I always have, and think of myself as something even beyond "We," a person whose song is being re-written by Jesus in words formed on my heart.
I don't really know where I'm going, but I know where I've been and almost anything is better. I just way underestimated--again--how far the reconstruction would go.
Ah, Lord Jesus, Soul-singer
Help me to stay with you
to keep listening
to let your song wash my heart
wash away old names
and leave what you put in there
from the get-go.
Thank you for seeing me
not as I have remade myself
but as you made me
and as I can be again.
Sunday, January 30, 2005
Thief of Identity
I've fought for most of my life to retain some sort of identity. People everywhere pick away at all of us, trying to redefine us into some standard idea. Mention something you've done and it will be immediately compared to something that happened in a movie or a TV show. Hundreds of politicians and sports stars, thousands of actors and for every one of them ten million wannabees trying to elbow their way into the limelight.
I fought, not to stand out, but to keep from being dissolved into the soup of modern society. And it all seems to have been for nought, just another way of singing the boring song Satan pounds into everyone from birth.
What is identity? What am I protecting? Self-image? It's a good question and I have no clear answers, just a strong feeling of danger whenever I'm with other people. What price acceptance by others? Dance to their tune, with perhaps a few safe grace notes added to the mix but be sure not to stand out too much or you'll be the one soldier who sticks his head out of the foxhole. Can you spell "target?" Everyone else unloads their insecurities on the one who took the risk. I chose to be alone so I wouldn't have to make that choice.
Community is a nice theory. Like a rope the group is supposed to be stronger than the individuals who make it up, but in my experience this is rare. What really happens is that the lowest person in the group pulls everyone else down to his level. Once the slide starts there seems to be no way to correct it.
Maybe one brave person can arrest the slide. Or perhaps it takes desperation. Lu gave an example of this in one of her recent Blog entries. Desperate, she took the first step. A very brave act, and it would up pulling everyone else in the Mosaic Nashville team up to a new level. Will they stay there? Depends on how hard they want to work, and if they can resist the nearly automatic tendency to pull back from such naked situations.
God encourages life on the edge. He says he'll catch me if I get knocked over or shot at. I trust him, yes, but I really don' t like even to think about pain. I tend to prefer numbness. God makes suggestions and I try to ignore him.
An unsaved person can ignore God for all of his life because love won't push beyond boundaries of free will. A follower of Jesus, however, once having made the commitment, is under different rules. God will push, prod, suggest, find any door available to bring new ideas to the fallen soul who's supposedly trying to find a higher plane. Guilt adds to the burden. I know what God has promised and don't like myself for being so resistant, like a child refusing to obey just because of, well, whatever reason children have for not doing what the parents know is best.
I guess I'm still looking for rules. God is far more accepting of me than I am. I keep trying to reduce my relationship with him to a list of events and actions: do these and you'll stay out of trouble. I think God might prefer that I get into trouble so that he can correct me. He can't teach me the real rules because I'm so taken up with observing my own so that he won't be upset with me. Another parent to keep out of my hair.
It's like mounting a guard on the vault of a bank. The guard fights and fights and after years is overrun. Looters gleefully get into the vault and then are disgusted to find it full of cheap furniture, cobwebs, dust and broken junk, the whole assemblage no different from what's in billions of other vaults. What's the real treasure?
Something nearly hidden. Something shy and fragile because it has learned how our culture treats delicate and subtle characters. They're expected to join the crash of barbarians, a herd of sturdy people running hell bent for election on a path one or two of them have chosen. What of the fragile ones? They have no home. I've seen them drop off the map repeatedly, some of them permanently. The strong look back and shrug their shoulders, then dash onward.
I really wonder if there's another way. God seems to think so, and he whispers to me in quiet moments. "Keep following me," he says. "I have your life in my hand." I trust him because he has demonstrated, many times, just how effectively he protects me. Trying to explain this to others is, however, another matter entirely.
This is written for you fragile ones, the people who always feel as if the world is rubbing their fur the wrong way. God loves us, too. If he wanted us to be like everyone else he'd have made everyone like that. Identity comes from God Himself, the same one who made every star in the sky. There are 100 billion of them in our galaxy, and each of them is unique. Made by God's hand.
Dear Lord of all of us,
please make me and anyone else you wanted this message to get to,
more able to follow you into whatever you have planned.
Help us not to be discouraged with the abrasive world we live in.
Please help us, especially me, to get to the point where we can thank you
for making us the way we are.
Is it even possible, Lord?
Pipe dream, I think,
but ideas are the forerunners of reality.
If you, Lord, can conceive it, you can do it.
All we have to do is keep following you, not people.
Thank you for giving us the chance to be whole,
and working to cure me of willful blindness.
2005 January 30
Friday, January 28, 2005
One Step Ahead
It may be clearer to me than it is to her, because I'm on the outside. Outsiders frequently have a better view than the people involved because the emotional clouds are gone. I know why this event happened, and why it was holy.
She took a step. Desperation was the boot to the behind, but instead of just wallowing around wishing she could do something, she listened to that little voice--OK, screaming voice of pain--and instead of sitting on it, she put herself out there. The other members of the team could have castigated her for disrupting the meeting, but instead they did the right thing: ranged themselves around her and supported her.
Her step took a kind of courage I simply don't have. I wouldn't even have been at the meeting if I'd been feeling the way she did, preferring to hide when I'm hurting.
If a church wants to attract outsiders it needs to meet real human needs. If an individual follower of Jesus wants power in her or his witness, the outsiders are going to have to see something different. Something that respects who people are. Most churches demand that humanity be checked at the door; only the holy are admitted. So, humanity is lost and with it any kind of real holiness. Jesus is our example: human, and holy. He's our model.
The truth is that we are neither human nor holy. We're so depraved, so fallen in our lives, that only scraps of humanity hold the dust together. Then we have the gall to say that this kind of churchly denial is holiness. We don't recognize real life when it comes, until it's almost too late. Only when we're desperate do we try to reach out from the self-built prison, waving hands from steel-barred windows in hope that there will be some sort of fleeting contact with someone. The result is bad: people dying of alcoholism, drugs, et cetera.
First love, John said in Revelation. Return to it. Could this be a return to desperation? When I, for example, simply threw myself at Jesus' feet hoping I wouldn't be tossed out with the rest of the trash? Now life isn't so desperate, which is kind of nice. But I also don't feel the push to make contact with other people.
I've always been quite comfortable doing things alone. Trying to get something going with others is always difficult. I came to Mosaic knowing I needed something, but unsure of what it was. God found me, and he answered most of the questions. Now it's occurring to me that perhaps I'm made for relationships with people, too, that I'm going to have to make a move like Lu's. Step forward and hope that, if I express the pain I feel, I won't be dropped.
I can't do it. I don't trust anyone, except God. I stay home on Sundays because I've not found a church that can reach over the divide between us. I'd need to reach over myself, and I can't do it. Too much risk, too little invitation. It's simpler to do it myself, but that way has limitations. One person doesn't have much in the way of resources, which is why tables have more than one leg.
Everyone, however, is waiting for someone else to make the first move. Someone visible. I prefer to be unseen, but that's habit. And experience. It's what I know. I'm very strongly center-seeking, resisting God's nudges off my usual track.
I was having dinner with Debbie and Nate last week. Debbie, as she frequently does, asked me about relationships with women. I always say nothing doing: lack of experience, lack of attractiveness, and I don't speak the language and don't know how to learn it. One way or another, God is teaching the group in Nashville how to speak relationship to each other. Lu wants to know if it's a permanent change, or just an EST-like one-shot.
I say it's up to them. If they choose to continue to tell the truth instead of candy-coated baby talk, then the change will be permanent. If they try to go back to the way of elegant words and prayers designed to be heard by people, the spirit will go back into hiding and await another time when everyone's desperate enough for contact that they'll break the rules again.
Rules are for non-believers. We have the Holy Spirit, who is a most wonderful counsellor. He'll patch us up when things go wrong. One day maybe I'll be able to practice that with at least one other person. In the meantime I applaud Lu and her group for taking this step. May the rest of their meetings be even better.
Only one thing is certain. A group's leader has to take the first step, knowing God is out there breaking the trail and inviting everyone to follow. Everyone hopes that the whole outfit gets pulled up to something beyond what is humanly possible.
Tag, Lu! You're it!
Dear God of honesty, please help the Nashville Mosaic team continue to grow in truth.
Full truth, not the thinned out stuff that most churches use,
but the real, sparkly, full-dimensioned and frequently painful kind You use.
Help them to be real people, after your own heart.
You know what they need
you know their dreams
and you have your own dreams.
Remake Nashville in your image, please, with your music.
Wednesday, January 26, 2005
Fig Trees Aren't Good Enough
"How do you know me?" Nathanael asked.
Jesus answered, "I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before
Philip called you." (John 1:48 NIV)
It's the real question. How am I known? There's one behind that, too. Do I
want to be known?
He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world
did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did
not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his
name, he gave the right to become children of God-- children born not of
natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of
God. (John 1:10-13 NIV)
How does God know all of us? Each one, completely and truly, to the depths
of the individual soul. How much of what he sees in there would I rather
God's eyesight ranges the timelines from beginning to end. A billion
billion fig trees aren't enough to hide us from him; my vaunted
invisibility is an illusion. It works among people more because of willful
blindness than anything else.
How does he know me? And why would he bother? The sight can't possibly be
Maybe he sees things differently. Some people look at my sand sculptures
and see only the flaws, of which there are plenty. Perfection is impossible
and under the time pressure of one day, one man and one sculpture I have to
choose how to balance time against precision. I could make a simple
sculpture perfect, spend 10 hours polishing the shape so that there are no
bumps nor disruptions of the curves. The result wouldn't be worth looking
at. I prefer to make a complex sculpture that has some rough spots and then
defocus my vision a bit so the flaws aren't so obvious.
Maybe God does the same thing. Maybe Jesus hides our known flaws. He knows
they're there, but he chooses not to look at them but at the complex
growing beauty behind them.
How much of my self-esteem comes from imaginary fig trees? I live in a
thick forest. God's esteem of me comes from his truth. He knows! There are
no secrets from the Maker of the Universe. His knowledge leads not to
self-hatred but to something else I barely begin to understand.
Depression comes from not being able to feel anything. Truth leads to
feeling everything, which makes for more truth. Feeling bad isn't the same
as depression; that can lead to depression but the phenomenon is different.
Feeling bad means I'm alive. Depression means I'm dying, although our world
prefers to think of depression as an invitation to take drugs. Anything to
There's something about being known by God that crowds out depression. Life
is at least lively. Painful, yes, but at least I know I'm alive. It's far
from the old-style never really knowing when one day ends and the next
begins, year after year with nothing really mattering.
Jesus knows what's under every rock, inside every bulging closet. He knows
me. And he still cares.
2005 January 26
Tuesday, January 25, 2005
Learning to Live With A Heart
It seems that most of the members of our informal "Weblog Fellowship" are
depressed. Down in the dumps, wondering if there's any good to be done,
fearing the future, wondering if they're any good at all. It being that
I've always considered the other members of this group to be much stronger
than myself, this has come as a surprise.
I also thought depression, at least for a follower of Jesus, was a passing
phase. Once it's cured, it's gone for good. But here are some long-standing
followers slogging through the slough of despond.
I guess I should have known. John Bunyan wouldn't have written about that
famous slough if he hadn't observed it.
One point in this is that I'm not alone. I sort of figured that I'd be
worth presenting to the world once God had patched up the worst of the
damage I inflicted on myself. Then I find all these others whom I've
learned to respect still working it out.
Being the troubleshooter that I am, naturally I got to thinking about why
this should be. Christians are all the time saying how broken we all are,
but there's little thought given to practical consequences of being broken.
One consequence is that we learn to live with being broken. That's the
norm. A heart that's barely working, and covered up with necessary
defenses. A mind burdened with all kinds of daily fears and problems, and
anticipating a solitary life that can't be assuaged with the usual human
relationships. We just accept all of this as part of the landscape.
And then by some miracle God gets our attention and we jump the track to
his way. New track, old heart. Mostly dead heart. God pours his life into
it and it feels very strange. That old heart starts to come to life under
the Holy Spirit's ministrations. A living heart feels much more than a dead
one, which is, in my mind, a very good reason for being depressed. How am I
supposed to live with this? If I could have done it I wouldn't have heaped
up the walls and concrete.
We see problems and they hurt. We see the world's agony and we hurt. We
become victims of our fallen world and we hurt. We learn doubt and fear
from the day we're born and the changes God wreaks in us just plain hurt.
Psychologic pins and needles as what was dead returns to life.
There's depression... and there's depression. One kind comes, I think, from
hopelessness. Why bother living when no choice I make has any effect on how
I feel or what I can do? No matter how I try the same limits apply. Learn
to live with it. Until the Holy Spirit moves in, and then the old limits no
longer apply. Hope flames high.
Then the pain comes in. Creaky psyche meets God's new world and runs,
quailing before the perceived challenge. It's too much!
Of course it's too much. God spreads his strong hands and promises to hold
me steady. It still hurts as circulation returns to the stone. Without the
Holy Spirit it would be unthinkable, but his kindness brings on pain, a
pain of learning. This pain is different from the old hopelessness, but it
may not seem to in the midst of the chaos. After all, who cares if one
tiger's claws are half an inch shorter than the other's? Perception is all.
In this case it's a lie. What's perceived is different from what is.
Instead of the grinding monotony of no future, somewhere beyond the pain
there really is a place for us. God promised. He says he will make us
whole. He will awaken me. Waking up hurts.
When all is quiet I can feel the difference. Maybe it's the Holy Spirit
whispering to me and holding me in his arms. The future really does look
just about as bleak; I'm not used to invisible friends who promise comfort.
It's easy for me to dismiss his ministry as an illusion. Memory is short,
especially when faced with another cliff-edge path that I must walk.
"He took care of me the last time, but maybe today he's had enough."
God promised never to leave us nor forsake us. Jesus said that his burden
is light and his yoke easy. It seems an odd path to go on, working on
depression, but it's the way I'm being led. I believe there is power in an
unburdened soul and the only way to find out is to try it. Life as an
experiment. And it seems to be less strange than I thought, although it's
rarely discussed in churches.
God is working on this great tapestry (thank you, Craig, for this idea) and
each of us needs to shine with our own color. Woe to the church that tries
to make everyone the same color and shape. If there is power in united
followers of Jesus it will come from a whole lot of strong individuals.
O Father God, who knows what's best for us,
thank you for your example. Jesus is whole, and
shows us fractured humans what a human being can be.
Whole love, whole heart.
Thank you for sending him to show us the way,
and thank you for working to make us whole,
pain and all.
Although I'd just as soon quit the pain
it seems to be the only way to grow out of the shell
Thank you for your life that you pour into us.
Help us, please, to take it up
and let it shine
in all your lovely planned crystalline colors.
Help us keep taking the next step, following you
into your colorful kingdom.
And help me look at you
instead of my own bleak future.
Thank you for your wonderful Teacher and Word,
without whom life would be truly bleak,
not just the appearance.
2005 January 25
Yes, i love larry nelson. You will to if you let him touch your life.
Larry is like that fresh breeze that touches your face in a stuffy crowded room, that shiny stone on the river bed among all the other pretty but common stones, that insight in the day that says to you "Whoa, god is big."
I remember when God brought this color into His masterpiece and set him close to my place in the picture-I was over joyed because I knew that he belonged in this work of love and i knew that he would enhance this little corner of the great overall picture. Well this piece of color had experience the rejection of the "grey" shades most of his life. See color makes grey uneasy it makes some question their value-their position and threatens safe grey community. So the "grey" isolates and if possible destroys the color in their world. They fail to see that the color actually makes them stand out more and shine in their uniqueness more also.
Well , as this color enter into the fellow believers world it found that :"greyness" existed there too. So after a few years the hurt and struggle reentered and the color went in to hiding and even thought that the Artist had been a fake also. But the Artist is faithful and really does
want this color in the masterpiece.
So as the color questioned the value of the artist, himself and even life the artist gently protected his shade and touched him in a fresh way to renew is hue's and bring him back into the picture as planned. See this picture is a long term project and the colors and shades are living and in relationship with the artist so he is patient and tender.
HE is not finished yet -so enjoy the wonder and the many colors and shades you find around you and relax in HIS love for you.
Sunday, January 23, 2005
The Three of Us
He could have been worse. Drunken much of the time, yes, but out of the room for most of it. Besides that I'd discovered long-distance bicycling and wasn't there all that much myself. Solace on two wheels amid the mountains that had always felt more like home than anywhere else.
One day he introduced me to a friend of his. I shook hands with Craig Rouch as I'd done with many others but this interaction was far from common. I didn't know it at the time, but the God of the Universe was pleased. He put a kink in my life, just as he'd done with human history 2000 years back.
How beautiful on the mountains
are the feet of those who bring good news
who proclaim peace,
who bring good tidings,
who proclaim salvation,
who say to Zion,
"Your God reigns!"
Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices;
together they shout for joy.
When the Lord returns to Zion,
they will see it with their own eyes.
Burst into songs of joy together,
you ruins of Jerusalem,
for the Lord has comforted his people,
he has redeemed Jerusalem.
The Lord will lay bare his holy arm
in the sight of all the nations,
and all the ends of the earth will see
the salvation of our God. (Isaiah 52:7-10 NIV)
I'd been to church. I knew what God was all about. Some sort of spirit out there with a rule book, take him or leave him. He made some people, those too weak to think for themselves, happy.
Craig upset this idea. He didn't fit the framework. Here was someone who knew how to think, as demonstrated in many late-night conversations. He also knew how to be a human being instead of a one-man Christian army. I was already, at age eighteen, very sensitive to salesmen and snake-oil purveyors. I knew when people's only consideration was to notch up their self-esteem. Most amazing of all, Craig wasn't at all embarrassed to talk about God; he didn't push, but he also didn't try to hide.
Unlike the people I'd seen in various churches, Craig talked as if God knew him by name. Craig strongly attracted me. He was a good listener. He could play and he could be serious. He was willing to try things, experiment and learn. These characteristics were rare in the people I knew, who tended to try things once and quit if it didn't work. I wondered, silently where no one could notice, if Craig's character came from his relationship with Jesus.
Which is why I know God was pleased back then. Craig and his brother Mark were saved while watching a Billy Graham crusade on television. They were both young. They learned and then, when the time was right, God's nudges led Craig and me together. We stuck. As insular as I've always been, this was a miracle.
I got kicked out of school at the end of the spring semester. I've always been a bad student and my slapdash study habit just didn't work at a college pace. Craig changed course and went to a school in Greeley while I ended up working in Kansas. We kept the postman busy with letters and cassette-letters going back and forth.
I grew up in Salina, but it wasn't home any longer. No place, really, was home. My attachment to the job was loose, although it could have become a career. Craig's spoken messages to me became more impassioned, culminating in a plea to join him in God's life.
Could I do this? I, who was entirely intellectually governed? What had I to do with God? Yet, why was Craig the kind of person he was? Could it be his relationship with God? Craig certainly lived better than I did. But could I, fiercely determined to think things through for myself, with any honesty commit my life to Jesus? I had a four-law booklet and read through the principles. Being young and energetic I devoted much time and effort to figuring this out, concluding that I'd never know unless I tried. The only sure thing was that I didn't like the look of the years ahead. On October 18, 1971, I made the decision and gave my life to Jesus. Two weeks later I quit my job, packed what would fit into my Volkswagen and headed for
I could have stayed in Salina. The place has churches, and God is everywhere. But I just don't like Kansas. It's flat and the thick air a disappointment after the knife-sharp sunlight of Colorado. It was easy for me to believe God wanted me to join Craig in the church in Greeley.
I arrived in the strange town sometime after the early winter sunset. Eventually I found the college, and then Craig's dorm. He was on his way to talk with a friend, so we went over and that night Kathy gave her life to Jesus after asking a bunch of questions. It was somewhere around 0200. Early, anyway, in the cramped dorm room.
Every Sunday we'd meet for teaching and the Lord's Supper. Afterward we'd have a potluck meal and then a touch football game. Many of us in the church became friends. At the time it seemed easy, but that would change.
Craig stayed in Colorado, married and raised a family and now hosts students from overseas, through their church. Kathy moved back to Minnesota and raised her own family. I ended up in Los Angeles and in the fullness of time encountered God again after having drifted away. Some of us are more hard-headed than others, but God is patient.
A Billy Graham crusade. I wouldn't have watched.
Thank you, O God who made us, that you're such a good guide and bringer-together.
2005 January 21
Real World Evangel #4
rewritten January 23
edited January 25 (Blog only)
Friday, January 21, 2005
Payment In Kind
slides the basket onto the back seat and then opens the driver's door and
gets in. The onerous task is complete in this brightening morning.
He starts to put the key in the ignition switch. Then there's a pause, a
last review of the steps he took. Is anything left behind? No, all the
machines were checked and clear. Still, something prompts him to
A little boy stands in the wilderness. He yells, screams as loudly as he
can. "I don't need anything! I'll do it my own damned self! I'll walk alone
rather than on your terms." He has learned well in reiterated years: acts
of kindness always have a cost.
The man gets out of the car and walks back through the shadow of the
building and into the laundromat. What's he looking for? He doesn't know.
Just following a prompting, until he comes around a line of washers and
sees the library book on the sorting table. Right where he'd left it when
it was time to take clothes from the dryer.
"Thank you for that," he whispers as he picks up the book. In other times
he would have ignored the little prompting, remembering all of his steps
and thinking only of clothes. Two hours later, on his way home from grocery
shopping, latent rage breaks the surface as the driver in front signals for
a left turn after sitting there at the red light.
Irritation. Always a problem, much more so after God is kind to me. I'm
reminded of helplessness, childishness and bills coming due. It's better
not to let anyone do nice things. Somehow there's always a debt incurred.
It's a high-pressure world. Actions of others impinge on me. People just
become obstacles to getting things done. I set my face to the direction I
want to go and proceed. If I stop for distractions it's all over. Keep
moving. Go on. Oblivion is right behind and I either outrun it or get
Could the world be different from this? Is there a way to make it
different? Is there a way that I can be different? Is kindness something
other than a bribe?
I wonder about feelings. We're supposed to feel good when we do the right
thing. Isn't this just another bribe? Isn't this how cults get started?
Give all your money to the preacher so that God will reward you? Give
another Rolls-Royce to the guru in appreciation of the way he makes you
feel? The only protection against this kind of thing is intellect. What
feelings are proper and justifiable? Is it reasonable that I feel good
doing a particular act that's supposed to be good? Is that all life is,
chasing feelings through doing things that other people will reward?
So I rail against God and his all-sensing generosity. Kindness means
obligation I can never repay. One is supposed to be grateful to parents,
but I never asked to be brought into this mess. Work and then you die. If
there's some pleasure along the way it's an accident, and there will be a
cost. It's worse than love.
God and his Spirit have, however, passed through me and left something of
himself behind. Once awakened there is no going back to sleep, back to the
unaware fog that I trust in. I have one foot in Eden and the other in
today's world. I have some idea of what God wants, and a very strong idea
of what life is like in the real world. The two are opposed. Sensitivity
versus fog, kindness versus bureaucracy, grace against rules, debt against
Since September of 2003 God has led me on a particular path, step by step.
Each one made the next possible and each one remains as part of the
foundation. A year ago I was very worried about eating the Lord's Supper
for the first time in 30 years or so. I looked back at those years and knew
that I was not in any way worthy. How could I partake of this sacrament?
God said to me "Of course you're worthy. My son Jesus makes you worthy."
New steps loom ahead, taller than I can climb. From one point of view this
is intolerable. I shout into the wilderness that I don't need help. From
another point of view, however, it's what I'm designed for. I was never
made to live alone, apart from God. I was made for a constant relationship
with him. This is hard to believe. I ask myself all sorts of questions that
really have nothing to do with the reality.
One of those early lessons was to look to Jesus only as the source of
truth. Reliable truth that doesn't change with presidents or fashions.
Jesus has said the same thing from the moment he sang our world into being.
God and man living together. I'm just so fallen that to me kindness looks
like a problem.
Thank you, Lord Jesus, for being patient.
Thank you for repeating your lessons in truth until they finally wet my
hydrophobic desert and sink in, to become part of me.
Thank you for responding to my craggy churlishness with constant kindness.
Thank you for being unlike anyone else I've ever met.
Please help me, and anyone else who reads this, to let your kindness flow
through us and wash away the choking dust of modern deadly life. The world
is in desperate need of your kind of kindness.
2005 January 21
Wednesday, January 19, 2005
"'Pilgrim?' I thought the horse's name was 'Whisperer'."
Everyone in the room laughs. Even the children. Well, they've seen the
movie and I haven't. Eventually I learn that "whisperer" is a job title,
not a name.
It's an interesting role. I've often said that truth is like a cat: you
just have to sit quietly and let it approach you. Thrashing around just
drives it away. Although our high-pressure society tries to deny it, the
movie presents no radical truth. The best way to make friends is to sit
quietly like the horse whisperer and learn what's inside the other person
by watching and being open.
For as long as I can remember I've referred to myself in my thoughts as
"we." In later years I've tried to break this habit. I am, after all,
neither a multiple personality--at least no more so than anyone else--nor a
king. It didn't work. I still think "We need to head on down this hill
now," or "we'll just try this and see what happens." Why? I have no idea.
And then I ran into the soul whisperer. The Holy Spirit sits quietly in the
field, waiting for the skittish horse to calm down enough, get rid of
enough murderous urge, to listen to someone else and learn thereby to
trust. Trust, once lost, is very hard to regain. So the horse comes and
goes, hair-trigger, waiting to explode away into the wild at the first sign
of the inevitable betrayal.
He lets me go. Run it out. What brings the horse back? I have no idea. Some
nearly insensible attraction, the magnetic field of truth, or perhaps an
attraction of something with no name.
We. What's that about? Have I always known there was someone else involved
in my life, someone invisible, as real as the meat people around me but far
more kind? Kindness isn't usually associated with God so I doubt my
Evidence piles up as the soul whisperer waits. He presents his truth,
holding it in an outstretched hand that I sniff, every muscle tensed to
bolt. Is this a relationship or just being broken to the saddle?
Donald Miller, in "Searching for God Knows What," writes about Adam and Eve
walking with God in Eden. Relationship. Friends. Adam named the animals and
then God made a person for him to relate to, saying that it wasn't good for
man to be alone. Miller implies that the relationship was two-way, that God
enjoyed this also.
God enjoys people? I've barely been able to understand the idea that God
cares. Enjoyment seems to go beyond even that.
"Love is patient, love is kind.
It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered,
it keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails." (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a NIV)
God is love. QED.
Usually those verses about love are used as a list of our failures. A few
days ago, however, I got to thinking about God and relationships. The list
of failures is a list of God's character. I timidly turned around and saw
the Holy Spirit waiting for me. There was no whip in his hand.
God could have done anything. He made us. He has his reasons and I just
don't know them. I run first, rather that staying still to learn.
I carry the burden of every trauma. My back is bent to fit. LIke the horse
Pilgrim I have to learn that not every interaction with people is like
being run over by a truck. My friends in Lancaster don't seem to mind being
used for this ongoing experiment. I was there for three days this time and
got drunk in their kitchen, and was still part of the family. I was even
fairly relaxed. Because I'm a good actor no one knows how big a deal this
2005 January 19 (idea January 16)
Saturday, January 15, 2005
Refinding the Way
We're told not to seek our own happiness. What are we supposed to do if it
drops into our laps? Hmm? Tell me that, please. Is it a temptation from the
devil? A flash in the pan, brief rain in the long desert, evaporating even
as it's noticed? What if it stays? A gift from God, or just treacherous
emotion inviting trust just so that it can disappear at just the right
moment so that I'll drop onto the spikes of daily life?
People in love are supposed to be happy to the exclusion of all else. How
does this happen?
All I see is responsibility. I might be allowed to be happy when all the
work is done, all the loose threads knitted up into something strong.
OK then, I become happy, and that makes me a target. Everyone who's unhappy
promptly goes to work ridiculing how I feel and how I act. "It'll never
last. Not real. Think of ... (fill in the blank, there are lots of reasons
not to be happy) How can he be happy when I'm not?"
I've had lots of practice at getting lost. One natural response is panic.
I'll never get anywhere from out here. Gone for good. Can't go forward
because I had no real goal in mind and just sort of got here by following
my nose, can't go back because if that place were any good I'd have stayed.
This is made more complicated by following Jesus. He beckons, I follow, he
finds the way and makes it possible for me to go on. Gives me the strength
and the heart. Then I find myself out in some very strange place and panic.
I can't just go back to where I was because much of what supported that
life has been dismantled. It's either God or nothing.
So we have to make this work. I run around and chase my tail for a time,
burning a hole in the ground. Downward spiral, circling the drain. Trying
to figure things out on my own because historically my mind is all I've
had. What happened to the Holy Spirit, that wonderful gift? He's still
there, having promised never to leave me, but I'm making so much noise I
can't hear him.
Somewhere I fell off the path. When truly lost it does no good to retrace
the route backward to find the point of departure; one spot in an unknown
forest looks much like another, especially when there's no sunlight for
shadows nor slope for physiographic differentiation of location. I cling to
the rock, trembling. Afraid to ask God for help because I've screwed things
up again, and then Satan moves in with all kinds of distractions. Signal to
noise ratio goes to hell and I'm left there, lost sheep on a cliff in the
Internally it's possible to go backward, step by step, and find the point
of departure. The Holy Spirit has a most excellent memory. Back and back,
three days of work, a mountain bike ride, four days of rain and depression,
a week of work (more or less), a weekend devoted to sand sculpture, back
and back some more. Life group. December 9, and a story called "Natural
Evangel." God patting my head. "Good boy." Growl. And departure.
Happiness is a bribe. Look out; they just want something. If something
makes me happy it's a problem. Intellect rules: I'll allow the feeling if
there's a reason for it. I'd rather not feel it at all because I don't
understand it and it tends to rock the tender boat. Wouldn't take much to
sink it so I rule the emotions. Smooth and steady, that's the way.
God tried to get me to allow happiness, but he violated a strong survival
rule. No uncontrolled emotion. I closed the door in his face.
Because I don't know much about emotions in general, and happiness
especially, God has to put more effort into teaching me these things. He
probably overdid it that Thursday night, wanting to make an important
point. It's OK to feel good. There doesn't even have to be a reason for it;
emotions come and go with their own rhythm. I didn't want to be bribed,
didn't want to be God's little helper getting rewarded by a pat on the
head. What I really didn't want was the life changes that would come with
having a happier outlook on life. That kind of lamp can't be hidden. It'd
be like putting a searchlight on top of the submarine. "Here I am! Here I
am! Go ahead and shoot."
So, I slipped. I didn't want God's hand to hold my foot so I looked the
other way and kept slipping.
God really doesn't ask that much of me. It's very easy for me to fall into
judging myself for all the big things I don't do.
It's just absurd to think that the God of the Universe was simply and
purely delighted, with no ulterior motive, when I honestly told the man at
the life group how the Holy Spirit works in my life. I had just the right
experience to speak to that specific person, and God was not only delighted
with the way I shared, but also with his own graceful guidance at getting
the two of us to meet. Thirty-odd years of my life were behind what I said,
and God has worked in every moment of that time to keep me alive.
God is also pleased when I write these little stories. I do better when i
write, and perhaps others get some good from them. God expresses his
pleasure with a sort of glow I feel. I've responded to his Spirit. God,
happy with what I'm doing? These little things? History's heavy-hitter
Christians would look upon me as a child happy when he gets three blocks to
stand on top of each other. Well, we have to start somewhere. Deserts don't
grow forests overnight.
Maybe one of these days I'll allow this to make me happy. "I can do all
things through Christ, who strengthens me." Eventually. Happiness makes of
one a very shiny lamp, and I'm much more comfortable with being dingy,
unnoticed off in a corner someplace.
And my panic at not being the kind of person God wants me to be? Whose idea
is that? All God has asked me to do is be honest and write stories. I'm the
one who looks ahead and tries to become the world-changer. Maybe it'll
happen anyway, one story at a time.
It's still a mystery. God's love. His way of rebuilding, infusing me with
his Spirit so that he does all of the work. Why? And why is he happy with
2005 January 14
Oddly enough, I understand grace pretty well. Grace is God reaching over to where I'm loudly declaiming to the Universe that he doesn't exist, and proving to me that he does. Grace is God knowing from the time he sang the first matter into our world that we would fall, and that he would have to do something about it. Grace is God giving us the Holy Spirit so that we'd have a chance of living the kind of life he made us for.
That life is, unfortunately, relational. Quick. What's the first word that comes to your mind when you read the word "relationship?" Lots of words come to my mind: guilt, obligation, failure, demands, doormat, et cetera. "What happened to love?" you ask.
"I don't know," I answser. "Is that supposed to be on the list?"
I have some understanding of grace. God making the first move. When I'm told that God is relational in his nature, however, I get worried. All those other synonyms come to my mind and I try to duck.
"Isn't there some way to do this other than relationally? Just tell me what to do. I understand obligation."
He won't do it. Other people will gladly fill in for him here, but I'm used to their burdens and just don't pick them up. No, thanks. I have enough of my own.
Donald Miller, in "Looking for God Knows What," talks about how Adam and Eve started out with a perfect relationship with God. They walked with him. God was part of them; his love filled their days. Then they decided to try something else; they assumed God was lying to them, and decided they could live better if they understood good and evil. Miller mentions that they'd been naked until then, but immediately after eating the fruit they saw they were naked, and tried to make clothes. Eventually God made clothes for them, and Miller says that God did so with great sadness. The time of the perfectly open relationship was over.
In my world that would have been it. "I told you not to eat that. We had a perfect life. You did something you didn't need to do, I told you you'd die. You made the bed, you lie in it. You're out of here and don't come back begging me for help when your stupid little lives become insupportable."
God instead made clothes, and also stayed with his own plan to solve the problem. He became a servant to those who turned their backs on him.
Is this a relationship? Is this what love is? I see it as the beginnings of guilt. I see it as an obligation. It's going to take a lot more than LASIK to make me see this truthfully. Will I ever be able to let God truly love me?
He has given me hints. By looking at what he has done in my life, and the lives of other who are willing to speak honestly about what God has taught them, and how he did it, some light is shed on the subject. I have hints of what God's love is like, and of course that makes me feel even more guilty.
The only sure thing is that unless I let God love me I won't last long. I wonder how bleak life looked to Eve and Adam after they';d sampled that fruit.
Friday, January 14, 2005
Between Salt and Fire
As bad as Sodom was, I'm still attracted. I cast many long looks over my shoulder.
My back is bent already, well fitted to resuming the burden of boredom I bore for years. Slavery is easy. Let others name me, identify me, put me in a niche. That way I'll be ignored, left alone. What goes on under the surface they don't know about, and what they don't know won't hurt me. I learned early. Let others do the directing. My basic choice is to stay out of it.
Head for the mountains. Flowers, sky, quiet, away. Let me go, O God, I can't do what you want.
Love? That's what you want? It's not what I want. It's inconvenient, painful, dirty. The pillar of fire leads into dark and dingy places too similar to my own heart and I just don't need the reminder. I'd rather fly. In the clear, bright air, far from human problems and complexity.
Nothing really has changed. God knew me when he picked me up. He knew it would come to this, when the exit from oblivion looks worse than the highway over the edge.
Is it all a lie? I've been fooling myself? Or am I one of those fair-weather followers who bail at the first sign of trouble? Can't be that; I've already been through some difficulty. And I know I've been touched by God. It's just that right now I'm trying to dodge his touch, but no submarine goes deep enough to evade his sonar.
He knows where I am. He knows what I'm doing. Why doesn't he just off me on the spot? I'm no good to him or anyone else. I see the path he has marked out and want nothing to do with it. Far to difficult.
I can no longer trick myself by just looking at my toes as I shuffle along behind Jesus. I am a very good extrapolator, it being an essential survival tool. I ignored the signs for a time but now it's too clear to ignore.
Loving people? Ye gods, it's all I can do just to be in the same room with them. It's an act of will, folks, and I live for the time when I'm out and free.
Except in certain rare instances. Being with Nathan and Debbie is always fun. They're delightful people and we share lots of ideas. I guess you'd say that they're easy for me to love, if this is indeed love. I like being with them. Is that love? Lu is also wonderful to be with. Good listener and tells good stories. A few others. They're worth spending time with.
The rest... range from null to torture. Endless monologue, or chatter about sports, blah, blah, blah. Tedious. And many worse than that. Jesus had no trouble with them; he could talk to anyone. I can't. They fail the return-on-investment principle. Which means I'm a real scumbag; if God looked at people from the profit and loss standpoint the whole planet would have been offed years ago. God loves me, I like a few and can't tolerate the rest. Makes for some tension, oh yes.
God pours his life into me, for some reason, and it just stops there. Soaks into the dusty dead ground and goes nowhere. Eventually I think it would saturate me and overflow, but I don't really want that to happen. I'd rather shut off the waterfall of his love, that being the kind of simple and direct solution I'm so good at doing.
Where do we go from here? Distraction, naturally. I'm good at that, too. I'd rather not think about it, but I've said it myself. A Christian who voluntarily cuts himself off from God is a real desert: salt, fire and no potential for change.
Wednesday, January 12, 2005
Pure moral turpitude. I called in sick. Well, I am sick. Was. Sick of work, sick of arguing with God over things I can't identify. All I know is that to confront him is to be dragged into things I don't want.
Well, at least I care about that. I care about not hurting. I care about not having problems. I don't really care about anything positive, just about things to stay away from because they hurt. Beyond that, I just drift.
Lu talks about dreams in some of her recent Blog entries. "A goal," she quotes, "is a dream with a deadline." I have no deadlines, and avoid them if at all possible. If it gets done, fine. If it doesn't, I'll do it tomorrow, or the next day, or never. Put things off long enough and they don't need to be done. As my friend Rich says, "Never do tomorrow what you can put off until the next day."
Historically, all I've wanted is to be left alone. I've arranged my life around this concept. Interacting with people generally leads only to pain: corporate loneliness, misunderstandings, anger, problems. Simpler to do only those things I can do alone.
Not caring is a great adjunct to that idea. If I can't do it alone, I just don't care. I learned to do this as a child; anything I cared about would, quite likely, be taken away by someone who noticed I cared, and do so just to get to me.
Not caring, however, turns out to be like waves hitting the bottom of a sand sculpture. No matter what you build on top it's subject to sudden collapse. No big deal. If I cared I'd do something else. It's easy to care about sand sculpture because it doesn't hang around to anchor the past. How many creative people have you met who had one good idea and then keep putting it out there, saving every example? Far too many. Sand sculpture is forced to be new every time out because a photograph isn't the sculpture.
So I amble along on my comfortable, familiar route. Downhill. And then encounter God.
It turns out that God isn't just a fairy tale. Nor a belief. He is a person. And he cares. If he didn't care I wouldn't be here, and there are many others who could say the same. The proof of his caring is given in one word: Grace. Go visit gracereign.blogspot.com for Paula's thoughts on this, and an ongoing discussion.
Naturally, one can't go through life not caring about everything. It does make a difference which side of the road I drive on, and it's important sometimes to say the right things to other people. It'd be like approaching the stove while having no heat sensitivity. I put together a sort of simulated caring, intellectually generated and very labor-intensive.
Equally naturally, God has an opinion on this subject. At first I let him do the caring for me. Maybe that's not such a bad idea, especially because I don't have the filters other people developed. I can't care about everything. Perhaps God can teach me.
I don't really want to learn. I'm far more comfortable just letting events take their course while I keep my head down.
Yet there are things I care about. I do know which side has the butter, and I know from experience that God cares about me, which is a good thing. And so, I've ended up caring about God, to the point where I'll speak up for him at work when people start spouting the same old tired ideas that hold no truth. This isn't like me.
That seems to be a far cry from the kind of caring God wants of me. I look at my current track and extrapolate that into the future, and don't much care for where it leads. Love. Servanthood. Sticking my neck out. Maybe even taking on a dream or two, or a goal. How the hell does a lifetime drifter get ahold of that?
So, there was the eminently natural result: I ran. It's too bad I don't know anyone named Aaron, because I'd have asked God to go find him. He cares. Much easier for you to work with. I don't talk well. But no, God wants me. Rain fell for days and was matched by clouds and rain in my heart. Bleak. No scenery, no spirit, no contact with the Spirit.
An absurd place, yes. A Christian separated from God is about the bleakest thing out there, making the Bonneville salt flats look like Eden. I'm never far from the belief that my life is worthless and without God in my life the long slide backward starts. I couldn't find the way out.
Jack Fox again listened to God and did what I needed: sent me two books. Unannounced. A man named Donald Miller, whose story bears resemblance to mine. The kindness of this gesture made a difference.
So I called in sick and the sun came out. Sunlight! I awoke to just occasional drips of water from the trees. As the sky lightened outside I couldn't believe it, but I've lived here long enough to understand a lightening sky at 0630. No clouds. No rain. I called in and 15 minutes later was on Cougar, my bright yellow mountain bike, heading north into a stiff wind that kicked up whitecaps on the ocean.
it's not an instant cure. Not even a cure, but mountain biking does get me out and make me active amid beauty. I saw a covey of quail, a roadrunner and three coyotes. There was purple nightshade, bright yellow bush poppies and lovely white-and-pink flowering currant. No bunny rabbits. I saw rainbows in the grass, water drops held against the wind sparking in the rising sun. Clouds blew in tatters across the sky as I rode around a big loop through Topanga. There's still beauty. I can still ride.
God and I finally got back onto speaking terms. He mentioned some problems, like my tendency to look for rules or make them up so I don't have to think. I also have a tendency to think my answers are better than anyone else's. Well, they are, but only for me. Everyone else has to find their own. At best, I can an example of how God helps the helpless and three-quarters dead. Age gives me a different viewpoint that causes too much awe in younger people, but it's really just experience. Half my age? You'll get there. Keep your eyes open, and learn to care. That way you won't have to fight for it when you're old and inflexible.
One problem is that I got the idea for this story two weeks ago. I procrastinated. Shouldn't have done that. Lu also mentions something about writer's block being a lack of respect for one's own ideas. That was my problem: asking who'd care about me writing about not caring? But when the Holy Spirit says "Write!" it's not really my job to ask why. I enjoy writing. It's God's job to figure out what it''s good for.
I don't know how this will all fall out. Grace covers the problems. God still cares about me. Maybe that will rub off. Eventually.
God gave me a final treat on that ride. I was tired and out of fuel when I reached the top of Amalfi Drive, so I made the turn in there. I'd gotten hints that I should go farther, and as I made the turn the hint became stronger yet. So, I turned around, went back out and east to the Nike site, and down Westridge. As I was slogging up one of the last hills, I saw a fuchsia-flowering gooseberry, in bloom. These are just beautiful, finely made red and white flowers depending from the spiny branch. I'd seen lots of plants but only this one and its neighbors in bloom. An entirely undeserved gift from a very patient God. I would have missed it if left to myself. I'd have done the efficient thing.
2005 January 11
This one's really weird. Apologies for the roughness, but I'm trying to catch up.
Email failed. Posted and edited January 12
"My thought is this: It seems to me that as I give Him more control and let Him garden me however He wants that I find more of who I really am, not less. The me that falls away with the cuts of His gardeners shears are the pieces that were grafted in my hurt, lies, and the world. The stuff He's nurturing is the real me--the inside person He created me to be."
I think she has come squarely onto a thought that has been trying to get through to me. I was born with certain capabilities but in response to the world in which I grew up I made major changes. Sort of like starting with a BMW and putting on all kinds of other pieces to make it work and look like a Yugo.
God has taken it as his job to clear away all of my reconstructions and make me back into the person he made. What happens, though, if in the process of being turned back into a BMW all I want to do is park it, chock the wheels and go look for another used Yugo? Stop this thing. I want to get out.
Friday, January 07, 2005
really know what it was, but I wanted it." Nate is animated, reaching for
words with his quick-moving hands. "Then I put it away. That's for kids.
"Lately, though, it's coming back. I'm trying to pull back from it."
Dreams are hard to come by. Our culture is very hard on them.
"My dad was a preacher," Carl says. "I grew up in the church, then went
away, and then came back. Surprisingly recently. But I've always wanted to
be a preacher. I like their cool robes and vestibules, all the rest of it.
I know it's crazy."
I'd have been OK if I hadn't looked at Debbie, but she looked at me at the
same time. Nate made me an honorary woman for the evening because Deb was
alone, and we have, as he said with a particularly vigorous demonstration
of hands waving and pointing, "a deep connection." We both break up
laughing. We shouldn't have; it's not good to laugh at people's mistakes.
"You mean 'vestments'," Debbie says.
"A vestibule is a small room," I add.
Carl looks at us and shakes his head. "A small room. That fits. I fill a
"It's crazy, yeah, but now what I really want is more than preaching the
gospel. I want to bring all the denominations of churches together. Under
one umbrella, in Christ."
I can see the dream in his face. I wonder, however, if it's the right
dream. There wouldn't be denominations if fusion were as easy as fission.
"I'm just amazed that God can use us. I've been in situations where I've
been able to help, and even if I'm just a dull sword I can do something."
Dull sword? Too many people believe things like that. The statement almost
makes me angry, perhaps because it's too close to the very sensitive area
of where God is leading my life.
We've been talking about the God who, with a word, put the stars in the
sky, each one in just the right place. He designed every feature of our
earth, whose every aspect works with all others in profligate beauty. From
the microorganisms that live in our intestines and make our lives
physically possible to the planet-wide weather systems that distribute the
sun's heat and make our Earth inhabitable, each part is planned and made
just as he wanted it to be. He has never made a dull sword.
For much too long Christians have felt as if they're fortunate if God
notices them for a second and then tosses them a crumb. "I won't demand
much, God. Just use me, dull edge and all."
Dream big. Jesus paid once. His act was perfect. Walk over the threshold
and keep on going. Each of us is designed in beautiful completeness to be
just right for a need the world has. Beyond the threshold the land is very
large and there's a place for each individual.
A dull sword is a lousy tool. It can't cut, but you can't use it as a
hammer or anything else. I don't know what I want to be, but a dull sword
ain't on the list. If all I am to be for God is a tool then I want to be a
good tool, the kind that, like the best of my sand sculpture tools, invites
a kindly hand and inspires good work.
Besides that, I'm tired of the whole warfare model. In some ways it's a
useful idea; presenting the gospel to our world invites conflict and
requires some strength. What kind of strength do you want? The kind
depending on a hard military shell that, once breached, crumbles? Or the
more resilient strength of a zucchini plant that just keeps growing until
it fills the whole garden with greenery and blimps? The military model
meets force with force like two rams hammering on each other. Everyone gets
God's model is, I believe, more like the sharpest sword ever made. You make
a cut without even knowing what you've done, and the person you've so
affected doesn't know it either until perhaps years later when some part of
his soul falls off and he remembers. God invites us to partake of his
richness. Not to be satisfied with a dull edge.
"What happened, Carl? Why don't you become a preacher?"
He looks straight at me, eyes open, face somewhat crestfallen. "Fear, man."
The formal meeting is over and people are milling around, drinking coffee
I know about fear. I don't even want the dream. At least Carl is courageous
enough to dream something. It may be the wrong dream, but it's a lot easier
to correct the wrong dream than it is to instill a new dream in a man so
afraid of where God leads that all he can do is walk along looking at the
ground. Don't look ahead. Never look beyond the moment.
Carl, with his force. Nate, with his mind so active he has to try to net
thoughts in mid-flight in order to speak them. Debbie, pausing to think and
then ringing like crystal. Joe, grounded in now and forcing through like an
ice-breaker. I with my wallflower habits. We're more alike than different,
all standing on the edge of the large land God has given us, wondering what
to do. All we've been given for understanding is a collection of lousy
tools, God's ideas as filtered through various teachers.
God knew this would happen. His ideas are much too big for us. He knows
that we shrink everything to make things comprehensible. So, he gave us the
Holy Spirit to make us bigger inside than we are on the outside. He knows
exactly and precisely what each of us needs, as individuals and in
community, and he basically says to us "Quit worrying. I have you. I know
you. Follow me. Please don't step on the plants I'm nurturing in you. You
are beautiful and I want to make you perfect."
"I've learned that the best thing I can do is stay out of his way. I like
the zucchini model. Throw the seeds and run. It just grows. But I tend the
garden with boots, not trusting the transformation that takes place with
growth. I want everything comprehensible, but there's a gap between what
God does and what I can understand. I keep trying to tell God what's good.
"Why do we keep doing that?" Joe asks.
My friend Norm wrote to me after receiving this story.
"Some significant part of me believes this, another doesn't. I do feel like
a dull sword, maybe it's because I've been doing sword work with something
that isn't a sword. Like my son, who uses the nearest tool to hand, using a
pocket knife as a screwdriver."
It's a perfect illustration of many Christians. They live today's life with
tools hatched in 1611 and unchanged since. It really is time to do things
just right instead of just as they've been.
2005 January 7
Rewritten to include Carl's corrections and Norm's comment, January 8
Wednesday, January 05, 2005
Tending the Garden
One of these things was done in images. Heavy boots walking through a garden, new plants being mashed and shredded underfoot.
God's plants are pretty tough; once you turn the Holy Spirit loose, he's much like zucchini squash. Just throw the seeds and run. In a few days the plants start growing, and given just basic care of sunlight and water you can't help harvesting more squash than you can eat. And somewhere in there among the big spiny leaves is the Graf Zeppelin, the one dark green monster that hides until the end of the season. It just grows.
If you stomp around in the garden, though, the tender plants don't get much of a chance. God showed me that he's much more gentle. He knows how to tend a garden.
I thought this was great. The plants grow, God takes care of them, and life changes.
Then I realized what those plants do. They are the ones whose growing roots pry apart my foundation, the ones whose expanding leaves crowd out everything else, and the ones whose strong stems get a grip on my soul and pull down the old dry walls. They may be dry but they're familiar and comfortable. Naturally, I got upset and pretty much closed down.
The outcome really isn't in much doubt; God has proven over and over that he knows far more about growing things than I do. I figure if a plant can't hold up under bricks and boots then it has no business trying to grow. It's not tough enough to make it in the real world.
God's view seems to be different. He protects the new plants, the new growth, in ways that keep me from being destroyed but still leave me open to influence from outside. This is very odd. I'm used to making all the decisions as to what gets in through the few small doors, for my own protection. The results have been disastrous, but still it's the familiar way to me.
Right now I'm still unsettled. If God does all of this, then what will be left of me at the end? Maybe I just don't know. It seems as if nothing will be left, all of me pulled down.
It doesn't really matter. Either God saves me or I'm dead meat. What will be left after his work? Good question. I have no idea, and I don't really want to know. That's why I just hold onto his hand as we walk the precipice, and I don't look ahead.
Tuesday, January 04, 2005
Falling Through the Floors
How could I bother God with my stupid weaknesses? This couldn't possibly be real.
Of course, that idea is largely self-serving because it gives me an excuse to go on not trusting. God himself has given me more than enough indication that he does care about my life.
The problem is that this learning takes time. There's no magic wand. I can't just sleep through the transformation process. I guess it's like sand sculpture in that the only way to learn how to follow Jesus is to live each day.
And get the floor removed. Some of these hurts have roots far back in the past. I built floors over the pits--depression, meaninglessness, not being wanted--and over the years reinforced the floors. What I see as essential to living, God sees as an impediment to the kind of life he wants me to live.
So I was lying in bed, unable to sleep. I hurt all over. The day's sculpture, the first of the year, had turned out very well and the day had been a delight but my knees hurt, my back hurt, my head ached and I just couldn't sleep. This is common, especially after good sculptures. Something in me gets fired up and won't calm down.
But the truth is that the floor is very thin. Under me is life-long depression and I know only to stay the hell away from it. The edge is slippery and I don't want to fall in for fear that I'll never get out again. Better to fake life than to fall in. I was too tired that night to keep these thoughts at bay and I could feel the floor crumbling underneath my tired feet.
I'd done the equivalent of a drug: simply reduced my awareness. Reduced awareness is another of my living techniques God doesn't care much for because I am also less aware of him.
So what do you do when all exits are impossible? Can't go back, can't go forward because it can't be true, and I don't want to fall. It can't be true that the God of the Universe is interested in my stupid little problems because no one ever talks about this stuff. They talk about big things, big dreams, but I'm just trying to get through the day.
Well, what if it is true? What if God does care? That question leads my untrusting mind to an assumption: it's a lie. A set-up, something to get me to trust so that when the floor disappears anyone watching can laugh. It has happened.
It hasn't happened with God. Never has he done anything like that to me; he has been utterly steadfast and unswerving in taking care of me. How long does it take to learn trust? A long time. There's a lot of desert out there to replant.
So... that night, after the sculpture... I just let go. Let the floor disappear. I'm just plain tired. Why fight to maintain it? Doing so takes too much energy that I could use for something else. Either God would catch me or he'd laugh and that would be the end. Do something. Don't just burn up endless processor cycles dithering.
I let go and I didn't even drop. God's hand was there. The abyss was underneath, black as ever, but I didn't fall in.
What does it really take to make life worth living? I never have really looked forward to the beginning of a day; to me it's pretty much a job to do. Some days are more enjoyable than others, those being the ones whose distractions are better. I've never been able to look life square in the face and say "I want to be here."
I was thinking about this today, and fell through another floor. Softly. There are good reasons why I don't care about life; I was forced to overcome shyness and various other things. No one wanted to hear my point of view. They just wanted my behavior to fit in with their worldview. God has peeled off the old props and principles and left me pretty much naked. Well, as naked as I can handle right now, with more to come.
How does a shy man survive in today's in-your-face world? Lots of mountain bike time. And relying on other people's blindness. And various other kludged-up ways of life that historically I've trusted more than God.
I don't like walking along the edge of that abyss but it seems that only by doing so can I fill it in with something better. Or something. I don't really know. This is right on the growing edge of what I can do, and I don't know how it will turn out. I just hope I don't lose my nerve and run for the hills.
David had the right of it, it seems. Go crying to God when the world is too much. He has never thrown me out, nor said that I was being silly. He has held me, he has explained things to me, and he'd be quite willing to slow down if I weren't so scared that doing so would really mean going backward. God won't let me feet slip, he won't let me fall. All he really wants me to do is hold onto his hand and follow.
Our culture reveres the self-directed man who follows no one. I've done my share of that, thinking that trails and marked paths were for the incompetent. God uses no trails. Every person he takes in hand is an individual. He does ask me to follow rather than walk on my own, but what is walking on my own other than following the principles and pain I was taught? Only by following God can I find something truly different, and that's what I need very much. Something different. The same old stuff never has worked very well.
So, we go back to the root and this time let it grow as intended. I wonder what will come up.
The First Blogger
I write for several reasons. The first one was that no one would listen to me if I tried to tell them my ideas. I learned to keep quiet. Then, years later, I learned about writing as a way to put down ideas that had no other place to go.
In the process of doing that I learned that writing helped me understand what I was thinking. The act of writing an idea made it clearer, similar to the principle that the best way to learn something is to teach it.
Blogging is different. It's more immediate. More like a sand sculpture, done in one quick burst of idea. Something's on my mind or heart and I write it.
It turns out that this sort of thing isn't at all new. David was the first blogger, pouring out his heart to God because no one else would listen. The stories in the book of Psalms are about as wrenching as they come, and have given me much more confidence when I come to God with all my stuffing coming out.
Monday, January 03, 2005
Ready to Bolt
People hide these signs. Daily interactions go on and you never know who's on the edge and who's confidently expecting the best. God knows.
I was hiking with some friends. Years ago, in Rocky Mountain National Park. Every summer my family spent the whole summer out there in a cabin on the park's eastern boundary. Every day I'd get up and watch the weather change on the peaks along the Continental Divide: Pagoda, Thatchtop, Taylor, Hallett, Flattop, Notchtop. We'd go hiking over there, staying on the trails to the named sites. This time some friends from the church had come with me to Emerald Lake, which lies in a cup amid huge boulders and slabs of rock that have fallen from the cliffs.
Above, on the left, was the long cliff of Hallett Peak. It's a spectacular mountain, notable from anywhere in the Estes Park area. On the right is Flattop, whose slope is more craggy and broken. The canyon between runs up steeply to a deep cut-out in the edge of the flat peneplain at about 11,700 feet. A permanent snowfield is held in the cirque just below the precipice. About halfway down the canyon toward the lake is a slanting ridge of rock, and right on the edge of that ridge was a big boulder. Below it is a slope of broken rock that looked as if I could climb it.
This was about 1972 or '73. I had never done any real off-trail hiking, although I'd read about it. I said "I'm going up to that boulder," and one of the men in the group said he'd join me. We set out up and over the rough slabs of lichen-covered gneiss, mostly grey with stripes of dark grey, white, black with the glitter of mica over all.
We made it. It was a simple walk, choosing a route based more on the gradient we were able to climb than any technical issues. I got up behind the boulder, over the lip of the ridge, and then stepped out around it so I could look up the canyon.
The wind was a living force. It pushed at me, palpable as a river in flood. The day was overcast, at least this close to the Divide, and around me was only grey. Shattered rock, cliffs, an alien world that I didn't know at all. It was a far cry from the warm and inviting forests not far below. If I'd had hackles on my back as a dog has, they'd have risen. It was too much. I bailed back over the edge and got my frightened little mind back into a place more familiar.
Strangeness has a force to it. From the stray cat's perspective an approaching human looks like a monster, threatening. From one little man's point of view that canyon had nothing to do with humanity and I didn't belong at all. I ran, bolted with my tail between my legs.
God leads to country even stranger than that world of stone and sky between the peaks. I try to stand but even when just looking at my feet and holding onto God's hand, it's hard to go forward. It's just plain strange. No one has ever cared about me before. I'm supposed to believe that the God of the Universe does? This is the stuff of fiction. Nutcases and crackpots believe they speak with God. Normal people get on with life and limp along as best they can.
They also, very wisely, stay the hell out of the high rough country. My problem is that I either learn to live there, or I die. Somehow I hang onto life even when most of it is meaningless. Life hasn't meant much for about as long as I can remember, and now God wants me to believe in him? Believe that he can make my life meaningful? More stuff of fairy tales and imagination, lives built of tissue paper that tears at the first brush of life's winds.
I remembered that encounter in the rocks. The place wouldn't leave my mind, rock burning in my mind. Later on it was the trees, glowing with fall colors on the side of a ridge far away. I decided to walk to it, although no trail ran there. I didn't have enough daylight to finish the trip, but not until I came to California where chaparral precludes off-trail hiking did I, from that moment on, spend much time hiking on trails again. I'd take off from our cabin and be about the business of the mountains all day, coming back at sunset. Ultimately I made round trips from the cabin to the Divide, and even led some people down Chaos Canyon past that boulder on the ledge. This is called learning.
I just wonder if God has any patience for it. I'm slow, I'm clumsy, I'm weak and sometimes I become downright obstreperous. I just don't want any more. The strangeness gets to me, I look over the edge back at where I used to be and it's awfully attractive. My ears go back, my legs tremble, and I'm right on the edge of bolting. Let me out! I can't do this!
If I actually get around to asking God about this, he just isn't bothered. He apparently sees me in one way only: perfect, in Jesus Christ. He started this, he'll finish it.
I got a lecture on self-righteousness years ago. At the time I thought the word applied to those people who were proud of their ability to live within the rules. God has taught me what the reality is: me telling him what's good. Me looking for something familiar in the midst of the shattered pieces that have fallen off of my soul, which I have to see in order for them to be put back where they belong.
I have to know I'm depressed before God can do anything. I have to know that what I'm doing isn't helpful before I can look for a better way, and I'm a lot more comfortable with the old way than I am with looking at the things God wants to show me. I like my life simple and uncluttered, no upsets, no alarums.
There must be a strangeness limit. I'm near it, I think. I also have a feeling that God knows my limits, and is waiting for me to relax and let him handle the directions. That is also strange.
Somebody call me when it's all done. I've about had it. It's a well-known fact that God loves cracked pots. I think I need some glue.