Monday, March 28, 2005



The phone rings, interrupting the day's even temper. Morning rain followed by strong wind wiped out the plan to ride down to REI in Manhattan. I'm sitting, feet up on the desk, reading a biography of Robert Scott, the Antarctic explorer. While the author of this book is clearly biased toward Scott, it would seem that I started reading Antarctic history just in time to catch the revisions that displaced Scott as the hero and replaced him with Amundsen. After all, Amundsen got to the South Pole first, and he lived, and our culture believes in "Devil take the hindmost." Despite the bias the book makes clear that Scott wasn't anything like the bumbler he has been made out to be. The real events happened 100 years ago and my view comes only from writers and my own judgment. Discernment is accurate only when the starting information is correct; work from faulty premises and you quickly get lost and there's usually little hope of finding the truth unless there's a chance to go back to first principles. It's a reinforcement of a lesson I learned long ago: check facts and maintain some skepticism. In recent years I've not done so well with this. Giving up leads to sloppy work because, well, why would it matter? No one cares.

I pick up the phone. "Larry."
"Garble garble garble Carl garble garble."
I don't recognize the voice. I replay the statement in my mind, trying to assemble phonemes into recognizable patterns with a brain that is still half asleep. "What?"
Understanding telephone conversations is built on more than the words. A lot of interpolation has to happen. Finally speech processing catches up, just about the time Carl speaks again. "Carl."
"Yeah, I just want to say I love you, man."
The dreaded conversation has dropped into my unprepared lap.

Shortly after I visited Mosaic for the first time, Eric said he wanted to come by for a visit. We made the plans and I started worrying. What's he want? It can't be good. It'd have been better if he'd simply shown up on my doorstep and said "Let's go for a walk." That way I wouldn't have worried. It turned out to be a good conversation, but I still get that tight feeling in my gut when people in management say they want to talk to me. History is on the side of getting the riot act read to me. That the history was written 40 years ago doesn't matter. When safety depends upon making no mistakes at all only the most conservative approach is reliable.

"Thank you for the apology. I think the whole thing just got blown out of proportion."
"I think so too. I hope you didn't get lectured too hard."

God made his move a few months ago. I'd been over at the life group, talking with Nate's friend Peter who styles himself as an intellectual. I'm all for intellect but only as a way to get somewhere; entertaining wannabe ideas and blue-sky speculation just doesn't do much for me. Peter went on with his airborne theories and I kept telling him about the Holy Spirit. It was pretty funny. Something got into me; I'm not normally the kind to stand up and be visible. Live and let live. Don't poke the sleeping dog with a stick. After I got home I could feel God's pleasure, as if he weren't so much laughing as just delighted with the outcome. Two unique people following their natures.

Now any normal person would have taken God's appreciation and treasured it. These things are inverted in me and I got upset. What am I? A trained dog, to jump at my master's command and then get a pat on the head? I could see, very clearly, that my gut reaction was wrong but as in all other battles of this sort through my life, I lost, sliding backward. I refuse to be a device programmed by operant conditioning or affection. No sheep, no sir, not me.

Is a sheep only a sheep when it follows an external shepherd? What do you call a creature who is so easily herded by a suicidal junkyard dog? I called it hopeless. God called it an opportunity. Believe what you will. I've had discussions with pagans, believers in druidry, Buddhists and others. None of them offers what Jesus offers: real, second-by-second help with real problems. Belief isn't reality. Junkyard Dog was stronger than any of them, but he wasn't stronger than God.

Memory, however, is a problem.
"Hey, man, can we get together sometime this week? I have some time."
"Well, I've taken the week off from work. I'm beat. So I'm taking a break."
"Good plan. We all need that, right?"
"Yah. Anyway, name your day." Note the voice of confidence. A few days into the new world and I act like a new man.
"Let's see... Tuesday, no. Wednesday... Thursday I don't have anything. Or Friday. No, Friday I can't."
"Thursday's good for me."
"OK. Is 1330 too late?"
"I'm not on a schedule. Do you like Fatburger?"
"Sounds like a plan."
"Right. I'll see you then."

I put the phone down and my feet back on the desk. A while later, having finished the Scott book, I pick up another, a biography of Gus Grissom, the astronaut. This one is irritating. Some factual errors, some typos, some editing mistakes, and I'm more irritated than is really justified. This is
usually a hint that something's wrong.

Ground that seemed solid yesterday, that enabled me to wander around the courtyard after the Mosaic Easter celebration and actually talk to people instead of hiding in a corner, is now tilting. I thought that was over with. For a time I try to ignore it but as usual in these cases it doesn't work. Solve it today or solve it tomorrow. Next year no longer works.

OK. What's wrong? What am I afraid of? Usually irritation like this comes from some fear or another, and is usually connected with the Junkyard Dog. But he's either gone or muzzled.

Ah, habit. I have paced the boundary set by the Junkyard Dog's sharp teeth for so long that I just don't think very much about it but automatically alter my course to stay away. Carl is a person from the other side of the boundary. Habit says to placate, to leave him alone, to dread the meeting unless some way comes up to get out of it.

To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."

They answered him, "We are Abraham's descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?"

Jesus replied, "I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. I know you are Abraham's descendants. Yet you are ready to kill me, because you have no room for my word. I am telling you what I have seen in the Father's presence, and you do what you have heard from your father." (John 8:31-38 NIV)

What is freedom? The ability to move to another city? Buying a new car? Being so adamantly free from other people's rules that I get wrapped up tightly inside my own? Jesus didn't die so that one set of rules could be replaced by another.

Might freedom be something so different from what we normally experience that we don't recognize it as such? Many "1984" style societies have been set up on this premise. "Trust me," the leaders say. "I know what's good for you. You're too confused to know." Many make the offer. One makes it happen: Jesus.

I stand at the sink, working on making dinner. Why do I act as if the Junkyard Dog is still around? God can declare me free, but I have to walk. The only way to prove that the boundary no longer carries a killing charge is to step over it. God will hold my feet steady, but he won't move them forward.

All right, Carl. Come on out. I'll try to listen. I'll also try to keep my claws sheathed.

2005 March 28
Posted to Blog, after indecisiveness, April 5

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