Monday, February 28, 2005
Another delightful flower. Later in the season there will be gooseberries hanging where these flowers are, covered with prickles. This is one of two beautiful members of the currant group that live in Santa Monica mountains. The other is chaparral flowering currant, but I'm too late to get photographs. I tried anyway but messed up the exposure on all of them.
Woolly Blue Curls
I should have a sign on my mountain bike that says "I STOP FOR FLOWERS." I set out on the ride yesterday purely to find flowers and practice photographing them. A few years ago I'd learned that hand-held macro photography was possible, if not easy.
Woolly blue curls isn't all that common. They seem to tolerate many conditions, but perhaps are easily crowded out by others. This one is in a good-sized patch of them on the west side of a ridge in Topanga State Park. They're perennial.
I like the extravagance of this flower. Usually chaparral flowers are small and sturdy.
2005 February 27
We've caught up with God in the dressing rom at the Club Melancholia . He's between sets.
"Hi. My name is Larry, and I'm here to interview you for the Blog audience."
"How would you describe yourself?"
"I am that I am."
"How would you describe your relationship with the world?"
"My Son, Jesus, was born into your world to save it, not to condemn it."
"What about everyone's belief that you don't tolerate sin or error?"
"I don't. That's why my Son had to live for you and die for you in your world."
"Well, yes, we all know that. But what about after we're born again?"
"From before the beginning of the world, I knew you all. The moment you turn to me, I give you the resources to live the way I made you to. Your sins after that moment are also forgiven to the degree that you allow me to forgive you."
"What about backsliding?"
"That is between the individual involved and me. All of you are the same in that each of you is unique."
"You make it sound so simple."
"Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. 'Pick up your cross daily and follow Me.' Each day you decide whom you will serve. My burden is light, my yoke easy."
Friday, February 25, 2005
The idea I had was that God could handle some of my overhead. Much of it is worry, of the kind that leads people to hold up the roofs of their cars as they drive through tunnels. I look at what's happening and extrapolate from that into the future, in order to predict what will happen and what I'll need to defend against. I thought that if God were for me, it wouldn't really matter what came against me.
Well, I was right. God took good care of me... until I started getting scared of what he was doing. I could predict that as well as I could predict anything else, and the path led in a direction I wasn't sure I wanted.
Now, I was ready for oblivion because of my guidance. Self-protective to a real fault, life so limited it was barely living, and it was getting worse. That's why I turned back to God; I knew something needed to change.
I wonder why these things happen. Why didn't I just give up and pull the plug on life? I felt as if my grip on life were tenuous. It wouldn't have taken much to simply let go and drop into whatever happened. At the time I figured the chance that God would actually do something was slight, and I also had very little to lose, so why not try an experiment?
I'm good at experimentation. The cheaper the experiment the more likely I am to try it, and any experiment involving myself is usually cheap. I'm a good test subject, and I'm available. So, I asked God for help and told him to do whatever it took.
That was a year and a half ago. I know God a lot better now. I'm not sure if, knowing then what I know now, I'd have tried that nutty experiment. Yeow. Not only is God real, but he cares, and he does what he says he will do. Ask for something, and then look out. God answers prayer the way Jesus answers questions: He looks deeply and provides what is needed, not necessarily what is requested.
A dead man has few options. Now that God has put some of his life into me, I have more life with which to argue and disagree. I ask for anything, get it, and then, very like the Israelites start complaining about the direction.
"Yah, I need a new life, but I want it to be like the old one. Like that, but different."
This is sort of like buying a new car and then chaining it to a big rock so that it'll act like your old clunker.
But, I tell you, God is radical! When he talks about being born again, he means it! The Holy Spirit moves in, and a new broom sweeps clean. Out with the old, in with the new. I know God knows best, but oh, my, is it confusing to try to keep up with the changes.
I don't really need to keep up with the changes. Some days this actually works pretty well. I just realize I'm a child crossing a very busy street, and I reach up to hold onto my Father's hand as we cross. I just look straight ahead. If I look around and see all the cars and trucks heading toward us I get scared. Problems aplenty, out there in the real world, and my prediction software just goes crazy tracking everything. No wonder I'm exhausted at the end of the day.
There's too damned much overhead. I'm trying to do things I was never designed to do, but the burden has the benefit of being familiar. Very familiar. I feel naked without it.
Yet that's what a new birth is. We come into this world clothed only in skin, new, raw and tender. God's rain of love keeps the new spiritual skin from cracking and falling away... if I allow that rain to touch me.
The Tao of Salvation
Ragamuffin Diva writes in "I Am Yours, Save Me" about the idea of working out your salvation. She asks what this means.
Nicodemus, the man who came to Jesus one night (John chapter 3) was basically asking the same thing. He came to Jesus at night; being a Pharisee, he'd get into trouble if he were seen fraternizing with this revolutionary.
Nicodemus wanted answers. He was a Pharisee. He was supposed to already have the answers; he knew the history of the Israelites. They'd been led out of Egypt, crossed the desert, and then God spread the waters of the Jordan so they could all walk into the new land. What answers could Nicodemus possibly need?
Looking at Jesus' answers to people's questions is fascinating. He always looks at the real question, not its surface manifestation. Nicodemus said "We know you're a teacher..." and Jesus responded by telling him about being born again. This section of the Gospel of John is an economical, succinct description of how to be saved.
Born again. How can this happen, and what's it like? Starting from scratch. You're born in Egypt, and most of us have to cross a desert before we'll listen to God. Then he, God himself, the One who made the Universe, has to take us by the hand, hold back the waters that would overwhelm us, and lead us to a new land.
Nicodemus was raised by the Jewish system of laws. He was used to performing for his living. Somehow, he was drawn to Jesus. He'd seen Jesus walking around Jerusalem, doing things. Nicodemus knew something was different. My entry to following Jesus came about because of people I met; I could see miraculous signs in their lives, and I was attracted. The Holy Spirit was working in my heart to make me receptive.
Born again, not of water this time but of the Spirit. We all start out as babies. Lots of potential, no ability at all. It all has to be learned; we learn from our parents and from other experiences over the years how to get on in the world. Unfortunately, it's not really our world. It is, for all its apparent beauty, Satan's place. We grow up learning laws and a lot of other things that go against God's way.
Jesus said he didn't come into the world to judge it, but to save it. You have to be born again because you can't see and don't understand any of God's reality.
And then, as Rags observed, you have to go on. You're born again, you're across the Jordan and can't go back. God has made promises, and he always keeps his promises.
If you want his life, however, you have to keep going. You have to work. You don't get to be good at sand sculpture unless you go out and do it, and keep doing it. You don't get good at following Jesus unless you let him take you by the hand and lead your reborn, new self in new ways. You don't know anything about his world, you don't know anything about how his life works. The only way to learn it is to, day after day, only with his help, keep following him. And keep reading John chapter 3, wherein Jesus says time after time that judgment isn't our lot.
It's easy to turn this into ritual, as the Jews did. If you do all the right steps you'll inherit the land. But God looks at the heart. He's not interested in rules, judgment and laws. Jesus has given us a new covenant. He asks of us something harder than laws: following him with open hearts and renewed spirit. Daily reconstruction, daily letting the Holy Spirit work his salvation in us.
Rags has done it again. Go and read "You Are Here" for a continuation of this story.
I, at the moment, am living what's shown in a friend's painting. The man is standing with his back to an open window in this marvellous watercolor. He's scowling. Outside is a graceful hill. Wind blows the delicate curtain. The man ignores it, just as I'm currently ignoring God's rain of love.
It falls on my hardened back. Why? I'm afraid to turn around and really see what he's doing. I'm afraid of getting soaked by his love, sopping wet and irrevocably changed.
But it's too late. I'm already changed. I've walked the path that leads away from the Jordan, the path God designed just for me, and by walking it I have been changed. I know what I'm missing.
Robert's watercolor is titled "Lies." That's what I'm believing right now: lies. I believe that I know better than God how to go about the business of life. And the love falls, ignored.
Wednesday, February 23, 2005
Six months later there are over 130 entries here, and over 112,000 words. It took me a year to write the 118,000 words of "Anonymity was never an option," so blogging has obviously been quite an encouragement. There's nothing like having a guaranteed outlet for writing.
Blogging is different. Rather than spending weeks agonizing over the details of a complexly interwoven story, a Blog entry is usually on one topic and done quickly. Get the idea out there so I can move on. It's a more fluid situation.
Then there are the connections. Other stories go out and I never hear anything about them. Blog entries sometimes attract comments, which turns it into a sort of written fellowship. I like this.
So, thank you, Lu, for getting me into this. Thanks also to the various others who, by writing their own Blogs, encourage me to keep going. And thanks to all of you for reading because that encourages me to write, and that helps me understand where I am and what God is doing. After all, if you can't describe it you don't really know it.
And, of course, major thanks go to the Holy Spirit for giving me ideas, titles and words... and the real reason to write any of them down.
Tuesday, February 22, 2005
I know God loves me. This fact is demonstrated in current events. He started it too, with an audacious plan formed before the world was made. So, yes, I know God loves, and that he loves me. Knowing is, however, different from feeling.
I figured feeling didn't matter. I knew a fact and that would be good enough. If I forgot, all I had to do was remember Jesus dying on the cross, or God leading the Israelites across the desert. I've always suspected feeling. Squishy, unreliable things they are, changing on a whim or a change of wind, running away when examined, blindsiding the unprepared at just the wrong time. I figured out a better way, an intellectual way. Thought and learning, knowledge informing the process of living such that I wasn't led astray by those untameable feelings. Urk. Not for me. I know
If I wanted reminders of how frail a guide emotions were all I had to was look around. People all over the place were being driven down the wrong road by unrestrained emotion. Examples were uncounted. I had a better way. It was easy. Just think about it and then make the move.
That, at least, was the ideal. There was a deep and dirty secret at the core of my decision-making process: somewhere along the line I'd learned that a decision made without considering emotions attaching to it was hollow. Useless. Pure intellect seemed to lead to a different kind of death but the end result was the same: dead is dead. It seemed that there was a kind of emotional knowledge without which the world couldn't be known accurately.
Of course I didn't talk about this. Dirty secrets don't like the light of day and this was about as dirty as they came. Yet there was power in it. I made good decisions, guiding myself by a combination of thought, intuition and feeling, and thereby stayed more or less intact. Others agreed and, so long as they didn't know the reason for it were happy to go along with what I learned.
Perhaps it's a sort of check-and-balance process. Intellect pulls one way, extreme, and emotions pull the other. Let either alone and you get disaster. Together, they make the process moderately center-seeking. Truth is rarely found out in the extreme tails of the curve. Although there needs to be some excursion around the center in order to find alternatives to paths that don't work, the better path usually isn't way out there.
Perhaps it takes emotion to truly comprehend the truth of anything. Emotion without intellect is a kite without a string, fluttering and going nowhere but down. Intellect without emotion is a body without blood, everything looking right but having no life.
All that said, I still don't trust emotion any more than I'd trust the rattlesnake I just stepped on. I might as well go shake a bottle of nitroglycerine. Which is why when God said he wanted my emotions as well as my intellect the idea caused some distress but it didn't take too long for me to acquiesce. "Fine. Take them. I don't really want them." There followed a time of peace.
That happy state of affairs didn't last very long. Far from just taking over, God sort of polished things up and put them back in place so they worked better. Now I felt things more strongly than ever. Thanks a lot. Ever since then I've been in an ongoing struggle, part of me wanting the freedom that God offered and part of me wanting to find a hole, crawl inside and pull the opening in after me. That mountain is much too big to climb.
Well, I could go at it one step at a time. Don't look at the mountain. Just hold God''s hand and look at our feet. Let the future take care of itself. When he told me that he fully intended to make me capable of loving other people I didn't think he was serious. Then I thought about it some more and realized he was completely serious, and he WOULD do it. Eventually I accepted that.
"Hi, Larry," Debbie says. "How are you?"
I get in the front seat. Nate puts the car in gear and we head for Killer Shrimp. "I'm... frazzled. Tired, Up too late last night. And I think God has a hold on some major piece of me. I'm not sure what it is yet and I'm not sure I want to know. How are you?"
The dinner conversation takes its usual wandering, wide-ranging track. Angels, churches, video production, preaching, forgiveness. Two glasses of pinot grigio make me a little bit more animated than usual. What could I do? The place has no good beer, so I have to drink wine.
The rest of the weekend passes in a blur. I'm badly out of sorts. God keeps tugging on something. I don't want to know what it is. At least the superbiscuits I made for Jenny, Joe, Nate and Debbie turned out well. Surprising. I hadn't made these in at least 25 years and was winging it from memory.
Pieces of the answer gradually accumulate. God does this with me. He knows I'm too easily blown to pieces, so he quietly and calmly brings ideas in and lets them cozy up to the others. Sneaky, he is. And he knows me well.
As frequently happens the Weblog Fellowship provides some big clues. I'd been looking at them for a long time but the deep truth didn't sink in. What do these folks have that I don't? An ability to let God love them. Far stronger than my intellectual love-perception analog is their demonstrated, if sometimes wavering, direct emotion of God's love for them. Lu, Rags, Breezze, Paula. Interesting that this man's group is mostly women. Maybe they're the only ones brave enough to talk about this kind of relationship.
Letting God love me. No justification for it, no reason at all other than it is his character. Love is what he does. Even to old pieces of stone.
Lord Jesus, please let me never take your love for granite. Help me to walk beyond intellect, into your land of freedom.
2005 February 22
Minor editing Feb 23
Friday, February 18, 2005
Asking if there's sin in me is a lot like asking if there's water inside a fish. Which one am I supposed to confess? Which ones am I supposed to know about? Separating sin from the fabric of a human's life is like trying to take the dye out of a piece of cloth, or so it seems to me and I just gave it up.
My solution to this problem in the past has been to leave it in God's hands. I learned that I'm not strong enough to hold up under the search for good and evil. Larry alone can't figure this out, but the Holy Spirit and Larry are more than a match for it. As long as I hold his hand truth is clear. So why would one man's reminder so quickly overwhelm my way of doing things, the way God has taught me?
Call it the power of the moment, and being able to see the man. There's also history, all those many church meetings I've attended that hammered in the same idea. God has uphill battle teaching me a way that leads to life instead of judgment.
A day or so after I went to church with Jennifer and Maurice, I got an Email message from a friend. He's been struggling with forgiveness, and I'd reminded him that God forgave him completely when he believed that Jesus died in his place. Somehow, my friend just didn't get this. I wrote back and suggested that he's heard too many stories from other people, and has
lost track of God's Name for him. At the same time I asked God to remind my friend of forgiveness.
Now, praying is a lot like shining a bright light out through a window. The glass reflects some of the light. In other words, if you ask God to give someone else a hotfoot your own toes heat up. Here I was, having abandoned the way of grace and asking God to show that way to my friend.
Sin is a wall. The reminder of sin reinforces the wall when it's open-ended. Human beings have been taught well the technology of self-judgment. Ever since Adam and Eve ate the wrong fruit we've been trying to do the wrong thing: figure out good and evil on our own. Forgiveness is a foreign language and we try to do God's work for him. To save him the effort I guess.
But he already did it. History is in his hands, a new history that starts with his forgiveness.
Jesus straightened up and asked her,
"Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?"
"No one, sir," she said.
"Then neither do I condemn you," Jesus said.
"Go now and leave your life of sin." (John 8:10,11 NIV)
I thought about this through the week. On the bus, at home, and decided distraction was better. God was trying to get my attention but I didn't want his judgment added to my own. No matter how many times he demonstrates his acceptance I still get scared when I don't follow what I perceive the church's rules to be. Forgiveness from God is one thing, but how do I explain that to anyone else?
Two ideas war. To be invisible or to shine brightly. By life and adaptation I'm very good at the former, but God's Spirit moves in and torches the place. The human soul becomes incandescent just because of its connection with God. Hold his hand for very long and the flames run high. That hand is where life comes from. Am I to let go of him just so that I'll fit in with a church?
Maybe this is what all the barbarian talk is about. For all their destructive tendencies, barbarians have also taken apart moribund empires and replaced them with something more dynamic if less coherent. It's too bad we can't find a better balance between chaos and order.
Friday morning, grey light leaks slowly into a sky that's pouring down rain. It finally arrived. After days of warning and people on the bus laughing at me because I was going to get soaked on my way home, I lie in bed listening to magic water falling from the sky. Pour water onto a desert for long enough and something will start to grow, and even a professional hard case can learn forgiveness. With enough reminders.
2005 February 18
Wednesday, February 16, 2005
I sit there looking at him, speechless, thoughts flying like frightened birds looking for shelter. Lynn looks at me and an awkward silence runs for a few seconds through a conversation that had been lively. Later I can't even remember the details. It's as if a small bomb had exploded in my mind, blowing the memory away.
One day in about 1975 I was working with a friend of mine who was in the cleaning business. We were in what passed for a fancy clothing store in Greeley, washing windows or something. We were there for a couple of hours and toward the end the manager said to me "I like your personality." Out of the blue, just like that. It had the same effect: speechlessness. No one had ever said anything like that to me before.
When I started doing sand sculpture regularly I was often complimented on them. At first I just ignored the comments but my usual defense--they're just doing it because they want something, which had been my experience until then--didn't hold up when I examined these events. These were random beach-goers; they couldn't want anything from me. This was the first time in my life I was consistently praised for doing anything. I didn't want it to matter.
All that mattered was the sculpture. I did them for themselves, not for praise. The praise kept coming and no matter how much I told myself I was a frog in a very small pond, or that it's just sand, I had to accept what these people said as honest opinions. They didn't have to speak up but they went to the effort to tell me they liked what I'd done. Keep hearing that often enough, for long enough, and some of it is going to rub off. Even on someone with stainless steel skin.
How much does an opinion matter? I told myself that what others said shouldn't matter at all, one way or the other. What I was looking for in sand was something far beyond praise. I wanted pure sculpture, something so resoundingly beautiful that it would shiver me from one end to the other. My skills improved but my desires increased even faster, so that I began to measure sculptures by how much they disappointed me. Better sculptures disappointed less.
No matter what happened, praise of sculpture was manageable. It was only sand.
Praise for what I did after God brought me back to himself was a little different. I was fortunate to be alive. If I managed to do something right it was because of God's work in me.
I don't want the credit. Jesus said his burden would be light, and credit is too heavy to bear. I told people that what I did was the result of the Holy Spirit's work.
That work is, however, shaped by who I am. I ultimately have the say on what happens. I can stop God's work. I can't start it, but I can stop it by the decisions I make. Is it worth praise that I make the decisions God wants me to make? He helps me make them. When my feet tremble, he holds me steady. When I'm cowering in fear of the future, he breathes his lion-breath on me and I manage to stand up almost straight, for a little while.
Yes, I did something right. I gave good advice to a friend, advice that came from my unique experience. No one else would have done it the way I did it, and perhaps it was just the word the other person needed. There is some evidence that this is true. But there are other times when I've failed, when none of my words have made a difference. God loves me anyway, and continues to call me by the only name that matters: Forgiven.
I am the visible interface of the invisible Holy Spirit. He could do everything directly. He doesn't need me at all. He is the water in my sand sculpture, holding all my fragile bits together. He is the task given to a Queensland Blue Heeler so that the poor dog will feel useful instead of running around chasing his tail in someone's suburban back yard. He has plans and ideas better than mine for what my life should be. All I've really done is follow him, let him break trail through the broken land so that I can keep walking.
God made me to do things, and I enjoy doing well what I am able to do. God certainly does his work well. Carefully, with great attention to detail, he makes beauty bloom in wasted human hearts so that they come back to life. Duty has little to do with it. He pours his love into me, hoping that I'll get it. Hoping that I'll demonstrate that love, naturally as breathing, and
visibly in a world so badly fallen that it no longer recognizes true love but just believes in an imitation cooked up by a consortium of Hollywood and Hallmark. Even if I don't get it, he'll keep doing what he things is best. What he does best is make possible the impossible in my life.
There are a few Christians whom I respect. Greg Soo Hoo is one, for reasons too complex to explore here. This is why his comment silenced me. A man I respect, respects me? How could this happen? I don't know. Ask the Holy Spirit. And don't tell me what he tells you. Keep it a secret. I'd just get scared.
2005 February 15
Tuesday, February 15, 2005
What I Look Like
This is what I look like when I'm working on a sculpture. The photographs were taken by my friend Rich Johnson, using my Canon Powershot G2 digital camera.
The sculpture was done last summer, with various friends from Mosaic. My co-worker Carlos brought his two children down for the day; I showed them how to sculpt in a simpler way than I use. That's their umbrella in the background.
New Year Day sculpture
Image assembly for 05F-1, my Tenth Annual New Year Day sand sculpture. I do these to celebrate the fact that I don't live in Kansas any more. This is an experiment, using Flickr (as suggested by Sandra) to illuminate my Blog pages.
Monday, February 14, 2005
A Choice of Ministries
"I think Jen's mother is coming up to look at places to live. Would the following weekend work for you?"
"Yes. I want to get a sculpture off, but either weekend will work."
An hour later he calls me. "I was talking with Jen. She says her mom is coming up the weekend after this one. Are you available this weekend?"
There's a clashing of gears. I'd gotten myself set for a sculpture, but that can put off. "Yes." We're on. He's busy so it's hard to make dates.
My life tends to be quiet. Events can be scheduled at short notice with little worry about collisions. Most of the time. Thursday night I got an Email from Chad, the more or less monthly Mosaic Tech Trumpet.
"Larry, I thought you might be interested in this good news!!! You are (as always) more than welcome to join us as we plan to go west. Let me know.
"EXTRA! EXTRA! READ ALL ABOUT IT...Hot off the Press: Mosaic West-side begins meeting March 6th! The contract was signed this afternoon and we will begin meeting in Culver City on March 6th at 9:30 AM!"
He went on to mention a meeting on Saturday for all interested people. I prefer decisions that make themselves. Now I have a problem. Maurice and family, or Chad and the Mosaic tech family?
If this news had come a few months back the direction would have been obvious. I was unstable enough that rejoining the Mosaic fold would have been a necessary blessing. The plans came to fruition in February, however, my situation is different. The Holy Spirit has wrought deeply within me a new kind of foundation that didn't become apparent until I started thinking about it, and asking God what he wanted me to do.
My general take on things like this is that unless there's a clear direction from God I should just do what comes to hand. The idea is that we can walk closely enough with God that anything we do is good. It's an experiment, suited to my peculiar temperament and capabilities. Theologically sound? Beats me. I just know that I can't live any other way because I'm tired of duty-based guilt. Maybe this is a temporary state. I'm going one day at a time.
God gave me clear pictures of both options. He didn't put his finger on the scales. I drove north to Lancaster partly through the logic of Maurice not being available all the time and partly because springtime in the desert in a lovely thing, and partly because I can pick up the technical business when necessary.
If I choose to go at all.
What is a ministry? Our minds are full of the formal kind. I believe there are many others. I've noticed my life touching others and changing those, as I've been changed by them. Mauricio teaches me generosity and to meet challenges with what is available at the time. Don't worry about it beforehand. He's a good balance to my NASA-style approach to art and its production: i have to have just the right equipment. He does it with what he has; his first granite sculpture was banged out by hand hammer and chisel.
He and his family have become friends. We participate in each other's lives, and look forward to doing so. God honors this and helps by keeping my scattered psyche together well enough to make the drive up there. It's as if we're gifts to each other.
Some gifts I can do without. Jen says she'll give me the "Gilmore Girls" third season for my birthday.
There's another issue involved in the Mosaic West Side deal. If I go to work with them every Sunday as I did at Beverly Hills I'll no longer be able to do sand sculpture because I need Sundays to recover physically from the exertions of the sculpture. Sculpture is a gift from God, to me and to the beach community. Many people tell me that they look forward to seeing them standing there after I'm long gone.
What is a church? I've given this much thought ever since Mosaic pulled out of Beverly Hills. Even while working there it seemed needlessly complex and dependent upon expensive technical tricks. Lu and I were talking about this one night. Churches and choices. She said "You may not need the church, but it needs you." I could see some truth to that; every organization needs a Christian troubleshooter, designed and remade by God for some particular purpose. Yet I long for simplicity.
Sunday morning I made French toast for the whole family. A four-burner stove and I had three of them in use, parallel processing the toast and fruit topping. It was a hit; I've never seen Amelia eat anything so fast and she went back for seconds. Neither of the children gets all that
excited about food. Usually.
Afterward we went to Valley Bible Church. Maurice and Jennifer have been looking for a church for some time and this is the first that seems to be a good fit. An understated and well-practiced band sings a few songs and then the pastor preaches. After a closing song, that's it. No announcements, no extortion, and teaching from the bible.
The day's theme was mercy and grace. The pastor used John 7:53-8:11 as his text, starting with the admission that the story didn't become part of the bible until the fifth century.
"It has always been a part of the oral tradition, handed down and not written. It belongs here."
He went on to describe the situation and how the religious leaders were trying to trap Jesus. If he said to stone the woman, he'd be in trouble with the law of the land, the Romans. If he said to let her go, he'd cause problems with the Jews for setting aside the Law of Moses. As usual, Jesus
used the truth. Mosaic law says that both man and woman must be stoned to death. None accused the woman after that.
"The woman was guilty. By law, she deserved death. Jesus chose to give her mercy and let her have another chance. Mercy is giving people what they need, not what they deserve. May we be conscious of this at all times, and give those around us mercy."
At about 1230 I drove away, headed for home. At 60th, I had a choice: straight to the freeway, or go the long way to Gorman and then south. On a whim I turned north and then west, toward Gorman. Early poppies glowed on the southward-facing slope above the wandering road, orange faces tossed by a brisk wind from the southwest under clouds that seemed to presage a storm. A treat for my city-battered eyes, a gift from God.
2005 February 13, 14
Email failed. Posted February 15
Friday, February 11, 2005
The Pigeon and the Junkyard Dog
"No, man," Carl says. His mind is far away from food. Over an hour ago he'd been at the door, saying he needed to take off. Somehow he ended up on the Girlcouch, next to where I'm engulfed in the cuddling chair. We barely notice the other conversations and the scent of pizza wafting in from the dining area.
Carl is the poster boy for the set of Men I've Always Avoided. Big, strong, loud, dynamic. These guys have always given me trouble. The only thing that saved me in school was being tall so they didn't really want to provoke me. I'm willing to live and let live, but these big guys tend to believe that smaller people are their natural playthings. In natural conditions I'd have avoided Carl.
He is, however, the leader of the life group. If I wanted to see Nate and Debbie, I had to put up with Carl. Repeated contact with the jerks in high school only reinforced that opinion. Carl is different. The pigeonhole to which he's assigned keeps throwing him out.
I'm not sure exactly how I discovered this. It might have been the night he referred to the Holy Spirit as "It," and I came out swinging. Until then I'd been quiet in the life group meetings, being no heavy-duty theologian nor teacher, and a part-time attender anyway, but this was too much. My life continues by God's grace and the presence of the Holy Spirit, and he is most emphatically a person.
There aren't many things I'll fight for, but if the button gets pushed I become a junkyard dog, hackles raised, back to the wall, ready to defend that last scrap of territory because it's all I have.
"He is not an 'it'," I said. With some heat, but fairly quietly. I followed that with some other comments that evening. At the end Carl came over to me.
"Your insight is great. Thanks for adding to the discussion."
At the time I thought he was just doing the leader thing, trying to encourage the quieter one so he wouldn't simply drop out. My back was still up but the Holy Spirit helps me see what's real instead of what I believe.
In ensuing weeks, Carl continued to surprise me. There are many things we don't see eye-to-eye on but we agree on the basics. He even signed up for "Weird Email" and sends me the occasional response.
Last night was a continuation of our discussion of the Holy Spirit, part twelve of four. We had two new people and spent some time getting introduced and then the discussion became very animated. I'm a little hazy on the details. i was tired before the day began due to weird dreams and little sleep.
Therefore hear this, you afflicted one,
made drunk, but not with wine.
This is what your Sovereign Lord says,
your God, who defends his people.
"See, I have taken out of your hand
the cup that made you stagger;
from that cup, the goblet of my wrath,
you will never drink again.
I will put it into the hands of your tormentors,
who said to you,
'Fall prostrate that we may walk over you.'
And you made your back like the ground,
like a street to be walked over." (Isaiah 51:21-23 NIV)
I'd called Lu the night before, concerned about the upheaval in her life. "Yeah, I've about had it," she said. "I'm tired of God playing by his rules and not telling me anything about them. I'm sick of rules. And if you try to tell me to stop it and live with God's decrees, I'm going to scream."
"Who, me? I think you're doing fine! Rebellion is good for the soul. Jacob wrestled with God, I've wrestled with God, now you're doing it. You may get a dislocated hip but you'll know what's what."
Where'd we get the idea that God is a crystal chandelier, hanging up there in untouchable fragile distance? Wrestling with God changes both participants. He is with us, a person interested in our welfare for his own reasons. He has proven his interest and invites us to get dirty with him.
"For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways," declares the Lord.
"As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
As the rain and snow
come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:8-11 NIV)
Anyone with any experience in Mosaic Life Groups knows how uncommon it is to have five minutes uninterrupted conversation. Even Winston leaves Carl and me alone in this corner of the living room defined only by the angled proximity of the seating as a gradual role reversal takes place. A scent of rain comes in the window as the fig tree's leaves rattle.
It turns out that Carl and I share one important motivator: desperation. Mine is quiet, his is loud but we're both running to stay ahead of an old world that seeks to suck us back in. His world becomes clearer as he tells me stories: preaching the gospel with a needle stuck in his arm. How could God honor that? How could he not?
If we could know how God worked the whole story would have ended a long time ago. One question that came up toward the end of the evening's general discussion was "Why does God care?"
Carl said "We're toys."
Debbie and I spoke together: "I'm not a toy!" and the others laughed.
Tools, toys, slaves. All quick descriptions, all partially correct but mostly wrong. The truth is much more subtle and detailed.
Carl and I still differ in this regard. He gets a problem by the tail, reduces it to its simplest factors and won't let go until it simply gives up from sheer fatigue. One or the other of them is going down. Straight ahead, bashing on through. My approach is more subtle and slower. A problem
comes up, I wait and see what it does and then design a solution that will not only take care of that problem but all of its friends and relatives for as long as I can foresee. I don't like overrunning the floor and finding myself in midair over an abyss. Carl doesn't care. He'll charge on, go over the edge and come down running. Both of us just try to stay one step ahead of oblivion.
God works with us because he wants to. He needs nothing, being complete in himself, but he'd rather share his space with us. He has demonstrated his preference for living with people over and over. It's his plan.
The land is wide enough for everyone to be who God made them to be. We can range where we will and always find something God wants us to do, something that fits who we are. He can build confidence into a junkyard dog so that he can trust and live again. He has put more love into Carl's heart than will fit so it comes out in all kinds of ways that don't fit standard Christian methodology. God shows both of us the way.
2005 February 11
Email failed. Posted February 15
Thursday, February 10, 2005
God Rules For Us
This morning I was on my bicycle riding to the bus stop. I ride to the bus because connecting buses don't run early enough; I have to catch the first SMMBL #10 in order to get to work on time. There are two good places for me to catch it. Quickest is at 14th and Santa Monica. Farther away, but a nicer ride, is Bundy and Pico. I used to go to the latter regularly, but ever since the MTA strike there have been many people getting on at that stop and my chance of getting a seat with decent legroom is slight. So, I've been using the 14th street stop.
I'm on my way today and a little voice says "Go to Bundy today." It wouldn't be a problem because the time is about the same, but momentum just keeps me going north on 11th, to Santa Monica and then I jog over three blocks. Pat and I get on the bus there. It's even on time. We roll along until 22nd, and then the driver pulls over and shoots the brakes. This isn't a good sign.
"The bus quit. I won't want to get you guys out on the freeway."
We sit there for a time. Then we get out to wait for the next #10. It never shows. The driver of our bus calls in and finds out that it has blown up back at 4th and Broadway. Finally, we catch the one after that.
"This one's going to be full. There'll be a whole herd of people at Bundy."
There isn't. Apparently they ran a special bus to pick up the people there; we're only picking up the normal people for the run we're on. If I'd have listened to God, I'd have been on the earlier bus. It wasn't a crisis, but I'm a little upset because I heard God's voice but dismissed it. A quiet rebellion fueled by momentum, predictability, and not wanting to be troubled. Just do things the same way.
Now, what does this say about bigger issues? It's not good. Neil Nakamoto (of Mosaic) told me one time that he practices hearing God in small things so that when the big ones come along he'll be sure to get the message. Well, I heard the small message but couldn't be pried away from my usual track.
God does play by his own set of rules. They're our rules too because of how God made us and the world we live in. They aren't arbitrary.
Lu wrote "Yeah, I'm mad. I'm so storming mad I can't hardly see my fist in front of my face. I've been begging God for years, Larry, YEARS, for purpose. I just wanna know what the heck He created me for."
This is another area in which I'm cheating. Many people are very concerned for what their purpose is. I don't care very much. The only name I really want is "Forgiven" and everything beyond that is gravy. But then I'm pretty well burnt. To me, starting a day with a tiny bit of hope is so different from what I used to have that what would be a morsel to anyone else is a seven-course meal. Different points of view.
There are lots of people out there burning with passion for a particular idea. I wonder, though, how many of those ideas really need to be done. God has his own way of doing things. We can ride his bus, which never breaks down, or we can make our own and hope they just keep going.
One way to get really frustrated in life is to live it according to other people's rules. You take on their names and try to do what they want, and your own Name gets buried in the actions and reactions
Lu, I don't know why God isn't giving you clear direction on where you should go. I do know that the rules against which you're rebelling probably aren't from him. I get very crabby--you don't want to be around me when I'm like that--when I feel entrapped by rules. The Holy Spirit cuts through those rules and gives me his Rule instead.
Any burden that's not easy isn't from God. Not because everything we do will be truly easy, but because when we're moving in the direction he wants it will be as if we're paddling downstream. We have the current of the Holy Spirit behind us. With God all things are possible, without him nothing worth doing is anywhere near possible.
From what you told me last night, Nashville Mosaic is far from a failure. You're all learning, and you have attracted some people from outside your own group. Remember the God we're dealing with and what he went through to collect just one man. He's probably quite happy with the several for whom you've made a place.
Go ahead and rebel. I think rebellion, if not carried to extremes, is good for the soul. God listens when you're honest, and it's one way to cut through all the crappy rules that we all pick up. Rebellion blows those away... so that you can start collecting a new set. It's inevitable for a human being. God is determined to help us live by his rules, by his name, and by his name for us. This really is what is best, but not because he made the game and therefore all the rules. He made his rules with us in mind.
Monday, February 07, 2005
God and the Art of Being Human
We talked of many things. Much of the conversation centered on her experience in Nashville. It's an interesting set of contradictions: one minute she'll say that she's at her wits' end and about to bail, and then she says that she belongs there. Not in the sense that it's home as Los Angeles would be if she came back, but that Nashville, difficulties and all, is where she's supposed to be.
The main idea that built in me through this conversation was more subtle. It runs through her writings, too. What has struck me in listening to her is that here's a woman who has walked with Jesus for years doing a variety of things, yet she still frequently condemns herself. Her sensitivity makes her see what has gone wrong and then she blames herself for the problem. I
got the impression in talking with her that she had a sneaking suspicion that many of the problems in Nashville were her fault. Or at least she was willing to take the blame. She has been trained well.
It could be that I've cheated. I threw my life away years ago but God chose to pick me up again. His own reasons. I remember many things from those years, including telling people there was no real difference between Santa Claus, Jesus and the Easter Bunny. Choose your belief. None of them matters. God brought that to my mind shortly after he collected me the second time.
"I was wrong," I said, looking back at a long series of events that I could not ascribe to coincidence.
Although I didn't believe in God then I still thought about what God would be like if he were real. Or she. If the world had been made by a god, what does it say about that God? The first thing that came to mind is that he (I used the masculine pronoun because that's the way I was raised) liked beauty. A lot. Even the places that people have thoroughly screwed up have beauty, and other places were so beautiful that I just about jumped out of my skin. Moonlight sparkling on icy cornices, the glint of water over dark granite, the wind in my face accompanied by the unique sound of it in pine needles, the motion of the tree I was in, the scent of its bark or the larger scents of a forest. Of course it could be said that we humans have evolved in this world so naturally we see what's around us as beautiful. Do you believe in coincidence?
Beyond beauty, God loved complexity and detail. Look at how I'm made. Look at ecosystems. Human researchers are constantly surprised by how poorly their simulacrum systems work as they try to simplify them. The world is complex so that everything becomes center-seeking. Knock out one element for a time and the rest will take over until a new balance is restored.
Single-leg systems don't last long, and that's what people try to make. I regularly read accounts of research that can be summarized as "We didn't know that could happen."
And then I looked at people. Life seems generally to be a process of taking a child and trimming off everything that makes her or him awkward to handle. No matter how complex the brain is, how sensitive to the world around, parents and school offer no help for retaining these. There isn't even the idea that such things are valuable. No, the answer is always to reduce the child so that by the time he's an adult he will function without trouble in society.
So, any putative God would have to explain all of this. I kept the "god files" open even while assuming there was no such god, because while there was no real evidence I'd trust in favor of God, there was also no acceptable evidence against. By such small signs can the work of the Holy
Spirit be seen, keeping me from going over the edge into complete hopelessness.
If God is real, I told myself, he will accept all of me. Because he made me that way, if he's around. So, when he collected me that night in September of 2003, we knew where we stood. I wanted truth, he wanted, well, something. I didn't know why he bothered but I wasn't about to refuse the offer because the alternative to it was really bad.
One day I'd been bad-mouthing God. The next his hand reached down to me and gently calmed my tail-chasing thoughts. The logical consequence of that kind of thing is to begin thinking about forgiveness. That process came to a point a few months later when I ate the bread and drank the wine. Jesus saying I was forgiven. I accepted that. God looks at me and sees not the black stain I carry from history, but Jesus' burning purity.
I'm reading a fascinating book called "Animals in Translation," by Temple Grandin. This is a real eye-opener. Instead of describing a bunch of theory about how people and animals should behave, she writes from her experience as an autistic adult. Autism is a strange state, with heightened sensitivity and various other aspects. Her overall thesis is that in her autism her mind works more like that of an animal than do the minds of "normal" people. What's most interesting about this is how what she writes backs up everything I've always believed about animals and people. We're all more complex and sensitive than we've let on, and we've learned to hide it well.
So you get a group of people into a strange city. They look for jobs, places to live, places to belong. While they're doing that they expect to start a church that will turn the city upside-down. Temple Grandin would have taken one look at that and said "It's not going to happen because it's counter to the nature of the people involved." People need a certain amount
of security, some friends, a place to belong. Christians seem to believe in instant transformation: go anywhere, do anything. Sometimes it works. Sometimes that's what the Holy Spirit wants. Many other times the project explodes and injures everyone involved. That's just what Satan wants.
How can we show God's love when we're barely people? We all have learned our people skills from the devil-led world around us, a popular culture that has uncritically bought the ideas of behaviorists hook, line and sinker. We're mechanisms, black boxes whose insides we can't figure out but if you provide the right stimulus the correct behavior will result. We don't need role models because we can figure it all out for ourselves. Life is simple and easy to learn.
Christians have two ideas about being broken. One is that we are broken, and this one is fully correct. We're so broken we don't know how bad shape we're in. God presents us with a moment of grace and we take it and run, afraid that the moment will never be repeated, that we'll overtax God's patience. Ask for no more than you really, really need or else you'll be accused of whining and pestering. We learn well. So we never ask God for what we really need: gut-level forgiveness.
The other idea about brokenness is that each of us has to be broken, like horses to the saddle. Temple Grandin writes:
"You have to be gentle when you're working with prey animals. I've seen so many animals ruined by owners who traumatized them through rough or ignorant handling. The whole idea of BREAKING a horse is a perfect example. If you break a horse, he's BROKEN. He's traumatized for life and usually no use to anyone after that, including himself a lot of times."
I could be wrong. I could be deluding myself. Evidence indicates that I'm doing reasonably well. I'm a year and a half into this experiment and still living, and still making progress. God leads me along and I find little things that I can do to help others. I know life comes from God; my life
continues by his grace.
God's plans for me seem to be quite particular. My experience, my way of seeing have been used by the Holy Spirit to bring healing to other people damaged by their deadly ideas of God, ideas that my desperation led me to discard. I'm aware that from the outside there is little sign in my life that I know God; I'll never be out at the front of the march of Christian soldiers, leading and pulling them on. No, I'll be in the back somewhere helping the poor broken ones who just can't keep up with the crash of barbarians.
Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the idea that we are people. Further, I suggest that God wants us to be people and that he knows full well that he has to teach us how. God knows the cost and has proven that he will do anything to get us back. He most certainly doesn't want machines, as demonstrated daily as he changes my heart of stone to flesh despite my grumbling and fear.
Forgiveness is a rare phenomenon. We have no real experience of it. We know the usual kind, when people say they forgive you but three months later they remind you of it. Temple Grandin demonstrates in her book that new memories don't displace old ones, especially if they have some pain in them. The new is just an overlay.
Outgrowing the machine mindset really starts with forgiveness. If you've given your life to Jesus, he doesn't remember anything from your past. All those crude comments and jokes I made about the God who saved my life? He has forgotten them. Every one, expunged. They're all gone. And then the Holy Spirit goes to work. He erases the pain in the old memories. There is an essential emotional component to rationality but this doesn't work right when you have layers of new junk on top of old pain.
"Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death." (Romans 8:1 NIV)
No condemnation. None at all, ever. I have been given many names but the first one that counted, the one that began my real life, is the name of "Forgiven." What kind of life can be built upon that foundation? I have no idea. I wonder myself. The only way to find out is to go try it. The Holy Spirit goes to the root and gently transforms it by changing the soil in which it grows. He holds our hearts if we let him.
2005 February 6
Lu gave me permission to use her as an example in this story. Thanks, Lu.
Rewritten February 7
The Leader Spirit
"But controversy aside, the principle I get from both these movies is that before there is action, there must be awareness, an awakening to the problem that you were born to solve.
"Melodramatic? Okay, try this version: Before you act, assess the situation, assess the resources already in place to help that situation, and assess your own ability to help."
I've been thinking a lot about leadership for a long time. It started one day when I was in a pool of prospective jurors. Twelve were called and then examined. One of the questions in the standard suite was "Do you consider yourself a leader or a follower?" Every one of the jurors empaneled said he or she was a leader. This is an interesting look at statistics. How did the State of Colorado manage to call so many leaders? You figure leaders are a fairly small number in the general population, and here they all were.
Naturally, I got to thinking how I'd answer. It's too bad I never got called because the dialogue with the lawyer would have been interesting.
"Do you consider yourself a leader or a follower?"
The lawyer does a double take, pen poised over the checkbox. "Could you clarify that? You have to be one or the other."
"Well, in order to be a leader, you have to have people behind you, following. I don't have any of those. There's also no one in front of me. I'm making my own path, alone."
"Thank you, Mr. Nelson. Your Honor, the defense excuses this juror."
We are in a society whose every member thinks they can lead. Most of them can't do it. Partly because of the competition from people second-guessing their leadership, and partly because the leaders themselves have no idea how to lead. They come up with a plan, figure out how to implement it, then try to drag everyone else along. Fairly soon the whole thing blows up because..
Well, I never really knew why. I just knew that most ventures fail, and I could trace the failure back to the way the thing was organized and operated, but what makes one venture succeed and others fail? Why do some leaders get people to work together, while others just cause friction and heat?
Over the 30 years since that jury event I've learned quite a bit. One is the idea of overlays. If you want people to change, you can force them to but the new practice will be an overlay on top of the old, sort of like thin asphalt over an old road. The weeds soon start poking through again. You can't pave a human heart.
Today's response is balkanization. Everyone is a leader of one, and woe betide anyone who steps over the boundary. Community is a dream.
So, how do you do it? You do what's implied in the quotes above: groundwork. Instead of presenting everyone in the group with a plan accomplished. You go and talk to them and get their ideas. You also talk with others who've tried similar ventures. You find out what worked and what didn't, and then you think long and hard about why those things worked the way they did. Did the earlier venture fail because of outside circumstances, or because of a leader committed to the wrong idea? Did it succeed because of good construction, or because the leader is so charismatic that anyone who dropped out because of intolerable strain was instantly replaced by another groupie eager to rub up against the Master?
This gets into questions of what success really is. You can't know a leader until you know success.
If you look at Jesus' life you see someone who'd have flunked out of modern management courses. He was broke when he came on the scene, he worked for three years and then got killed. In all that time he rounded up a few guys who stuck around, but they all bailed when the going got rough. Jesus came, and then he was gone. If you'd have been standing there, watching the disciples carry away the mutilated body, you could quite logically have asked yourself what Jesus had accomplished in his time on earth.
He knew exactly what he was doing. He was an exemplary leader because he planted a seed that's still growing. He worked with his people to build them up so they could carry his message all over the world after his own death.
Today we expect people to become instant Christians. They get saved and immediately are told all the things they need to be doing, but are not told anything about how to do it Classic bad leadership, this is, being lots of responsibility with no authority.
Authority comes from the Holy Spirit. Only with him participating in a person's life can that person become a good leader, and it's still easy for the leader to sort of take the bit in his teeth and forget the Spirit. Good ideas inflame others, a group forms and then the whole bunch runs screaming over a cliff.
Human factors. People are people and God made us as such. There are ways to lead that work with the way people are, but there are many other ways that go against those ideas. It's much like petting a cat the wrong way: all you get is irritation and sparks.
Christians, we're told, are supposed to be able to do anything. Denying basic human nature isn't on the list; what the Holy Spirit does is transform human nature, returning it to what God intended when he made us. Dying to ourselves is never easy, but this is the point. To become flexible in God's hands so that our natures enhance what he's doing. A leader that ignores what people are like has only failure to look forward to.
Friday, February 04, 2005
Nothing Tastes Like Chicken
Sunlight pours down from a sky that can't even entertain the thought of a
cloud. Mountains, green with early spring, wrap around to the north and
visible all the way out to Point Dume, 20 miles away. A sea-scented breeze
balances the sunlight. It's a perfect day for a walk. Ahead of me the sand
drops away to the ocean, two terraces and then a long evolute curve
reaching to the very low tide. The tail area has pools and ripples and
saturation streams flowing across it. Little clams make tiny humps in the
sand amid dark mussel shell fragments. The water has cleared up since the
last storm and runs in small sparkling ripples back and forth. Avocets
prospect for bugs in places between the people.
"It's just another beach," a woman says as I walk past.
We were talking about this at work one day. Canny was laughing because I'd
just tweaked Ray about misusing a word on the John study Blog page.
"You want 'reprove,' not 'reproof'."
"There's nothing wrong with that word, man."
"No, but it's the wrong one. You're using the noun form, and you need the
"Oh, man," Canny says. "The professor got you."
In a way this is rather odd. While I've always been reasonably facile with
words my native language was images. Nine years of psychotherapy
accomplished, if nothing else, turning me into a verbal thinker. Truth was
in the mental image but the therapist couldn't see that so I had to do a
running translation into words, and those seemed awfully clumsy and limited
bricks with which to build reality.
There are ways to approximate reality. I was finished with therapy in 1994
but the words remained. I learned that while you can't use 0.125 of a word
to achieve fine discrimination of meaning, you can write 3.75 and then
modify it by roughly 3.50 and get close. Combine enough tracks like that
and you fill in enough mental picture-building elements that any reader who
wants to do a bit of work can receive a surprisingly richly detailed
version of the image in my mind.
"A picture is worth a thousand words," Canny says.
"A picture is only worth a thousand words," I correct him.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean that a picture only shows you what something looks like, flat. A
story can include smell, taste, temperature, many other things. For
example, I could take a picture of you and people would know you face, but
they wouldn't know you."
"Now, a movie," Ray says, "shows 30 frames. At a thousand...."
I just step on him. "If I write a 1000-word story about you, I could not
only tell people what you look like but how you act, what you do, how you
think. What you're like."
"I see," he says.
"Some things, of course, don't fit in words. I could try all day to
describe one of my sculptures and not come close to the reality. If I show
you one picture, however, you instantly know. You have to use the medium
that works. I'd like to do an illustrated story, but it's difficult. I can
do one or the other well."
"Our job is to simplify things so that others can understand." Ray has
given up trying to figure out how many words his movies are worth.
"No. My job is to tell the whole story. There are ways include everything
important and still make it readable."
"It's easy, man. 'Tastes like chicken.' No matter what it is."
Does he mean baked chicken, chicken stew, Chicken Nelsonique, Crockachicken
Deluxe, fried or rotisserie? Free range chicken or factory raised? Old or
young, chicken or rooster? Discrimination isn't a bad word. Knowing
differences adds richness to life and makes memory possible.
Our shared culture has reduced the available avenues of expression to the
most basic. Everything is defined in terms of what television can present
in 15 seconds and the rich aspects of life, the special bouquet of God's
wine available to anyone who will pause and open the senses, fall on the
cutting room floor. Arguments become uninformed polemics, us versus them,
all of it based on knee-jerk reaction to programmed buzzwords. The details
are gone and without them no one can do anything but repeat the same
Do Christians want to be culturally relevant? I'm not sure. Our culture is
so sick that by working within it we, I believe, perpetuate sickness. Only
by letting the Holy Spirit teach us detailed discrimination and an
enjoyment of the world's details will we show a lively alternative to
people who are seeking something more. If we dumb down the gospel to
cultural standards it comes out tasting like chicken.
Somehow we've come to expect this. McDonald's makes billions of hamburgers
because people want the same thing every time, preferring repeatability to
My friend Norm told me about "Animals in Translation," by Temple Grandin.
The author, by observation, learned that her autistic perceptions are
similar to those of animals and has parlayed that into a business
redesigning environments intended for animals, such as feedlots and
abattoirs. The book is a fascinating look inside perception.
I've always wondered if I weren't at least partly autistic. What Grandin
writes about animals and autistic people noticing details supports this
idea; I can't stand having TV on in the Control Center where I work because
the rapid flickering of modern editing keeps drawing my attention from the
screens I'm trying to see. I tune the TV to a station that has more
old-fashioned editing and it's less distracting. Noise, too. Ray hardly
notices his radio and he's in the same room with it. I can hear it in my
office 50 feet away, and it's irritating.
It could be worse. I could work in a place with Musak, or in a video
editing place surrounded by jumping screens.
I wonder how much of modern culture's dependence on fast-moving pictures is
adaptation, sort of like the way a junkie needs a bigger hit each time.
People are designed to tune out details by abstracting them so the war
calls for endless escalation. I hate to think about what television will be
like 20 years.
God could, very easily, have made every human being the same size, color,
weight. He could have made everything else taste like chicken. Instead, he
made a world wherein whose very snowflakes are unique. Each one has its own
name, never to be repeated. If the God of the Universe cares that much
about snowflakes, can't we do better than reduce everything to boiled
2005 February 4 (idea February 3)
"You've been very quiet tonight, man." Carl looks at me from his seat at
the end of the couch.
"You folks haven't been talking about things I know anything about." The
conversation has been wide-ranging and rapid for the last hour and a half.
This life group is usually lively but tonight has been unusually so.
"That's not true. You know a lot about life, and the Spirit."
Yes, but for some reason tonight I just haven't felt any strong push to
compete in this rapid marketplace of ideas. Partly I've been thinking about
other things, and partly I'm just a little too slow. I'm like the cat "Old
Possum's Book of Practical Cats," thinking about Names. Once named by God,
what else matters?
It's an odd feeling. Products usually shout from the shelf: loud colors,
huge type, swirls and slants in the designs. If they could I'm sure the
package designers would put flashing lights on their boxes. "NO TICE ME!"
I'm just struck dumb by the fact that God knows my Name. I don't need to
elbow out a place, nor try to pack another word into an already busy
We're studying the Gospel of John at work, having finally finished Rick
Warren's "The Purpose Driven Life." The Gospel is proving to be more
interesting, and we've set up a Blog to use for exchanging notes. Don was
the leader for Thursday's session, and the wedding at Cana was his topic.
He assigned homework. I read the section several times and then wrote a
little story to answer Don's questions. It got pretty well taken apart
during the study session, with truth if a little too much glee, and I could
see the validity of what Don taught. I'm good at putting stories together
from minimal information but there's no substitute for real study.
This could have spiralled into a real dive. Being wrong is usually a great
threat to my stability; who can I trust if not myself? Not everyone is a
My Name comes from God, not myself. Nor Don. The Holy Spirit helped me to
see the truth of this event as I rode the bus home, and I sat in the
dentist's chair distracting myself from the jackhammering with thoughts of
I woke from my reverie near the end of the meeting.
"Does anyone have prayer requests?"
"Yes. Work and school have me very busy," Jenny says. "Please pray for me
this week as I take tests."
And I finally speak up. "The Nashville Mosaic folks are having some
trouble. I've been praying that they'd learn through what's happening. Ask
God to help them."
Then the group breaks up into smaller subsets: two in the kitchen, three in
the living room looking at pictures, Carl and me on the couch.
"Are you OK? Those last few Emails, I've been wondering."
"Yes. I write to sort things out. Helps me to understand, in a process."
Later on I'm by the dining table.
"Hey, man, tell me what you think of this idea," Nate says. He and Peter
had been talking in the kitchen. "Think of this moment of your life as a
bead on a string. The past is below, like this table." His hands move to
show the concept, drawing the table, the bead and then stretching a string.
"As the ends move apart, the bead rises from the past until the whole
string becomes a ray. What do you think?"
"I, umm..." I think it's twaddle. Who's pulling the ends of the string? why
does it have ends? What are the other beads? And a string pulled never
becomes straight, but hangs in a catenary curve. "That's interesting, but
what does it mean?"
"There is no past," Peter says. "There is only memory, and it's left behind
so it has no power."
Only a man who's completely oblivious could say something like that. It's
actually a popular New Age concept: remove all of your problems by stepping
away from your past. It doesn't exist anyway.
"Tell that to an alcoholic who's trying to change his life. Tell it to
someone who's struggling to remember, in the fog of Alzheimer's Disease,
how to tie her shoes. We need memory. The past may be gone, but the memory
is there and it has power." And I put some of that power into my words; I'm
really tired of pseudointellectuals treating life as theory. Theologians
have the same problem.
Midnight. We wait for the light at Centinela.
"Do think a true intellectual would naturally end up believing in Jesus?"
Nate is giving me a ride home. The car's headlights are dim. I hope the
battery holds out.
"There's a strong intellectual component to my belief. I know enough about
science that I can't buy the idea that what happened in my life to bring me
back to God is purely coincidence. Besides that, why would God give me a
good mind if he didn't expect me to use it? The problem is that it's easy
for intellect to chase its tail in pretty theories and logical circles.
Only the Holy Spirit can keep this straight. I know I need him to keep me
from getting lost again."
"Thank you for the ride."
"No problem, man. Go on about the past?"
"Names. This Name idea really has a hold of me. We forget our names and
then God gives them back, yet we still have to fight to remember them. So
many people want to take them away and give us their own names of
convenience. But there's a confidence that comes from knowing that God
knows me! He knows my Name completely. I've been more relaxed lately. I'm
not sure where this leads."
"Good stuff, man. Like a penny dropping into a lake. Our conversations keep
2005 February 4
Thursday, February 03, 2005
The Way Of Community
And then I thought some more about it. The reason I'm so blase is that I've always been left out, from little things such as not being taken on neighborhood trips when I was a kid to the day Mosaic pulled out of Beverly Hills and left me sitting on the curb.
I've learned to expect it. Leave me out? Fine. I'll do it myself. The real key to living effectively, I've learned, is to be ready to abandon the others before they abandon you. Mosaic Beverly Hills just caught me by surprise; churches aren't supposed to disappear overnight. The circus pulled out of town and I just had to wave good-bye.
I'm used to it. Anything that stays put is an ongoing miracle. I keep expecting to wake up one morning and find that God has pulled out, has lost patience and left me there, bereft of any hope. Which is the way I used to feel, when I was a kid and got left out.
A real community wouldn't leave anyone out. It just plain hurts, which is why I'm so well defended. It's also why I've not worked very hard to join another church: once bitten, twice shy. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. I'm not the kind to come around for a second helping of abandonment.
I admire the folks in Nashville. They're working at something very difficult: forming a new church in a highly commercial place that already thinks it knows everything about God. It's easy to say from my seat 3000 miles away that all they need to do is improve their intraorganizational communication processes, but that glib phrase leaves out the personal histories of all the people involved. Mistakes have multiple sources, and very deep roots. Living in a community is a very quick way to make problems come to the surface because of all the pressure the people are under.
They have to conform, they have to work together, they have to support each other even when they'd rather do something else. There's a strong feeling that the church won't happen unless all of the people involved get their acts together.
Well, what is the desired end product? To the human participants, that would be a functioning church that, one hopes, lasts longer than Beverly Hills. From God's point of view it could be considerably different. God moved Mosaic to Beverly Hills for his own purposes (one of which was to get my attention), and when the time was right he directed its departure. God brought a group of people to Nashville to teach them all something. If a church grows from that, fine. If not, another group will do it, and the current group will go on to other things and take what they've learned with them. Others will benefit from those lessons and God's living word will spread.
Look at history. Groups come together and then split up. The United States exists as it is because of religious dissenters and malcontents, and the various subsets of the U.S. exist for the same reason. Humans, left to themselves, will Balkanize into nations of one. Community is a counter-entropic enterprise that only the Holy Spirit can direct.
A soloist can make music anywhere, any time. If you want a symphony, you have to assemble a bunch of people who are willing to pay attention to the director. I'm a soloist, sotto voce. If you want to make a big beautiful noise you have a whole 'nother kettle of fish, and it takes time to learn. No one is born into an orchestra.
Father God, please help your people in Nashville
to relax and hear your voice.
Help them see what you're doing
from your perspective.
Touch the ones who have been hurt
bring them healing
through this experience
pulling out the roots of pain
so they can go on to learn new lessons.
Thank you for inspiring them to come
from all over the place
to Nashville to start
what we all hope
will be something beautiful and irresistibly attractive.
Wednesday, February 02, 2005
So, within the set of Cat, you have subsets of "Fluffy" and all the rest. Now, cats have a second name, and this name is applied to only one cat at a time. Within the set Cat, one and only one living cat may have this more dignified name. I'm told that this is so the cat may hold her tail up straight, and keep her whiskers from drooping. After all, how can you be a Cat when you have the same name as thousands of others? No cat wants to be just another run-of-the-mill moggy.
You might have "Boanerges." Or perhaps "Artaxerxes." A name to grow into, a name to direct the actions. "Achilles," or maybe even "Zeus." These names are more than common handles; they are a connection to who the cat is and although incomplete they hold more truth, and show more care on the part of the cat's namer, than the superficial ones.
And then you have the Cat's True Name, that none but the cat himself ever knows. Unique forever, through the timewise dimension of the set Cat. This is the Name that Holds All, the One Word that, if spoken, would cause irreparable harm to the universe because two of these words can't share the same place. Forever unique. I'm not sure dogs have deep names like this; they never stand still long enough to find it out, but cats will. You think they're dozing in the sun, but they're actually partaking of their singular, ineffable, unrepeatable Name.
Now, human beings have many names. The problem is that we grow up thinking the superficial ones are all we have. No one ever speaks the deep Name, no one takes the time to learn even a part of the dignified second name. All on the surface. Muscles, wrinkles, tan, clothes, car, house. Inside is hollow, waiting to be filled.
God knows the Name. He speaks it, and the common water of the heart is transmuted to his glowing wine, and we hear his call. The shepherd knows his sheep, and calls them by Name, and we ring like bells to his song. I feel the truth. What I do after that is up to me.
(Inspired by T.S. Eliot's "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats")
Tuesday, February 01, 2005
The Gift of a Name
I think it's odd the way famous evangelists emblazon their names all over their organization. Jesus' name is in small print at the bottom of the page, and the real power in anything, the Holy Spirit, is never mentioned. Maybe that's because he's very far away, working among the unnamed, rebuilding lives quietly. If you ever see something named "Larry Nelson Ministries," I really hope you'll pick me up and throw me into a cold lake to wake me up. Gargh.
The subject of names has turned into something much richer than I expected. Debbie loaned me her copy of "A Wrinkle in Time," by Madeleine L'Engle. In it the girl protagonist has to give a name to the school principal she dislikes. She's the only one who can do it, and it takes her a long time to see past her assumptions to the real man under all the myths she'd heard about him and then see his true name. She had to do this because other creatures were stealing his name bit by bit.
I've always wondered if there were any power in a name. Do people grow into big names? Name your child Alexander, will he conquer? It seems a bit too much like associative magic to me, almost as bad as eating your enemy's heart to take on his strength. What would happen if I started asking everyone to call me Laurence, instead of Larry? I've always though Larry was just a name, assigned so they wouldn't confuse me with the others as I do with sand sculptures. Most of them get a build number, such as 05F-1. They could have called me NSU-3M and had the same effect.
Then I read Doug Miller's "Searching for God Knows What," wherein he talks about Adam in the garden giving each animal a name. Miller thinks that this took some deep thought: seeing each animal as it was, knowing it whole with the senses that hadn't been affected by the fall, and then giving it a Name by which it would be known forever. C.S. Lewis visited this idea in one of the Narnia books, where Aslan sings the world into being and each animal comes out only partly formed. When they get their names, they become complete. I wonder how true that is. Where does a real name come from? What would I be called by someone who knew my soul?
Names are usually taken from doings. My name is in sand sculpture, toolmaking, bike riding, writing, iconoclasm, stubbornness. Things that I do. What about who I am? Who cares? All that matters is what I do; that's how I'm measured.
Dave responded to my story on names :
"Your comment: 'Identity comes from God Himself...' made me think of something I just read today, so I will share it with you. In Genesis 11:4 the peoples of planet Earth had come together to build a tower that would reach to heaven. Their motive for doing this is explained in verse 4: 'Let's build this tower to make for ourselves a name, lest we be scattered abroad.' They were thinking that through their own efforts they could create their own identity (make a name for themselves - something to be recognized or remembered for). As you know their self centered attempts at creating an identity ended in even greater confusion (vs 6-9). On the other hand in Genesis 12:2, God is making a promise to Abraham which in essence was that if Abraham was willing to follow the Lord, He would bless Abraham, give him many descendants, make him a blessing to all the families of the Earth, and make his NAME (identity) great. When we allow our identity to be shaped as we are in relationship with God and obedient to Him, God gives a great name (identity) and our lives end up being a blessing to the nations."
I don't really know about being a blessing to the nations. That seems like an advanced degree to someone whose idea of a good day revolves around peace and quiet in isolation. Perhaps being an active blessing would be easier if I were to lay down the burden of trying to make my own name, and let God continue to sing a new identity into me. Well, not a new one, but the one he put there when he guided the gametes that would meet to make me.
I'd read those passages in Genesis, but never seen in them this idea about how we try to name ourselves. Dave is very sharp, with a unique way of seeing the heart of a concept. Don't tell him I said that because he'll be very embarrassed. That's not a name, by the way, but a description. The man himself is complex beyond what my words can show. You need to meet him. Learn his name from him.
2005 February 1
edited February 2
The truth is that even God doesn't play god. Anyone who's determined that they know the way is free to walk their path without help. There's no way for anyone to walk for them because attempts to do so, while they keep the other out of trouble, also undermine their ability to make future decisions. Shepherding people so they don't make mistakes is a very reliable way to make them dependent.
I'm not sure how this is supposed to work. God is revealing it to me as I walk, and there's no walkthrough for me to read on this particular game.
I've been playing "Uru: Ages Beyond Myst" for the last couple of months. I was determined when I started that I wouldn't stoop to using a walkthrough to cheat my way through the puzzles.
Walkthroughs are written by others who have played the game, and they write up a log. All the puzzle solutions are in there, what steps to take and when. No thinking necessary. Just follow directions.
Games, like life, have a certain kind of logic. It varies from game to game. I never got into computer games until a friend gave me "Myst" several years ago. The game had been popular for years, but I, with my usual assumption that anything popular can't be good, ignored it. Now it dropped into my lap so I gave it a whirl. The first time it didn't take.
Then I remembered "The Manhole" and "Cosmic Osmo," two gamelike worlds Cyan made for children. Adults, particularly this one, liked the fact that they didn't have to shoot or twitch their way through. Cyan made the world and hid secrets in it, and the player simply explored by looking around and figuring out how to go on. You couldn't go to the next section until you put the clues together and opened the door, or turned on the power, or played the tune.
I liked them because they were like books, except that now I was inside the book. I tried "Myst" again and this time it connected. I happily spent several afternoons wandering around, being driven crazy and then having the "Aha!" experience of finally figuring out the puzzle. I was sad when it was over, but then I discovered the next part of the story.
This was called "Riven," and it came on five CDs. I really got lost in there. It was beautiful, interesting, fascinating, and the puzzles were something else. Subtle clues, little things. It took time to figure out. Again, I was sad when it ended.
So I went looking for more on the Web. I discovered something called a "walkthrough," and I read the ones for "Myst" and "Riven" just out of curiosity. I missed a few details, I learned.
Then there was a long dry spell. Games like "Riven" just don't hatch like eggs. They take time. Finally, "Myst 3" came out and I bought a package that included a walkthrough book. That was a good thing because one of the devices in the game didn't work right and I finally had to use the book to figure out what to do.
Then a friend gave me "Zork Nemesis," which was a different kind of game. I got lost and had to use a walkthrough.
The choice is between staying stuck, or moving on. A walkthrough will get me unstuck, but at a cost. It makes the decisions, it rules the logic, and the game's own logic is lost in that process. Playing these games is a learning process: you have to learn how the game's writer works, what's behind the puzzles. "Myst" and "Riven" had one kind of logic that fitted well with how I think, but the "Zork" games have always had an irrational streak that threw me off the track.
When "Alida" came out last year, I picked up a copy. It was more like "Riven" than the others, but its logic was slippery. These puzzles were designed not to be solved easily. The writer did things that would be logical if you were trying to fool people, but not logical in a game that people are supposed to figure out. Yes, I had to use a walkthrough to break through one of the puzzles because its solution never occurred to me.
"Uru" has really kicked me around. Most of that was due to the way I played: go here and there, look at things, move on in a hurry to the next wonderful thing. After a while I was so confused there was no getting back into step, and once again I had to resort to a walkthrough.
Life doesn't come with a walkthrough book, but we do have someone better. The Holy Spirit will help me find answers and interpret them. The decision about what to do with what he teaches me is mine to make. To do anything else would be to make me less than what he wants.
So Wendy sees her friend doing something she knows is stupid. She might have been there before, or she just sees much more clearly because she's watching from outside. She can see the cliff coming up as her friend drives forward and her love makes her want to grab the wheel, take away the decision and force him back onto the "right" road. That abrogates our rights and derails life's logic, making the next decision even harder to figure out. Once you are on the walkthrough path it's hard to get off.
I'm learning it first-hand. Not so much from walkthrough as simply avoiding decisions I don't like and deliberately simplifying life until there isn't much left of it. I'm having to learn to make my own decisions instead of letting time make up my mind for me. The outworking is the same: I get lost, confused and angry. And it's hard to turn to God for help when he's the one causing the problem.