Friday, January 07, 2005


Just Right

"I used to have a dream, when I was a kid. It wasn't well formed, I didn't
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
small room."

"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
a headache.

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
and talking..

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

You've got so much good stuff here that I don't even know where to begin to comment. This was a wonderful story, wonderfully told.

Carl's dream reminds me of a poem by Langston Hughes called a dream deferred. I won't post the poem. I can't find it! :), but I will say, sometimes dreams aren't so much the wrong dreams, but the one God placed there like a flame, and guards against the strong winds of the world. Maybe he will have that dream one day.

Who knows? Only God.

Thanks for the gentle reminder that I am not a dull sword.

Much love,
Wow, Larry. Lots of thoughts swirl in my head as I read this. I suppose you know Lu posted on dreams, too.

I like the stuff you said about grace. I'm interested in your perspective over at gracereign. I'm asking for comments on grace this week.

Keep sharing, Larry. You don't seem like a wallflower when you post!!
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