Friday, February 11, 2005


The Pigeon and the Junkyard Dog

"Hey! You guys want some pizza?"
"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

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