Friday, April 22, 2005


Easily Impossible

I've had a few people tell me, in the last year, that they envy the nature of my relationship with God. This is rather distressing to me because it has never been my intent to be in competition with anyone. I'm just trying to survive, and holding onto God is the only way that will happen for me. I was through with life when God picked me back up.

Living with God is easy, difficult and impossible all at the same time.

It's easy because, really, what other choice is there? Meaning in life doesn't come from gadgets, skills, popularity, roles or daydreaming about what you could do if you had a chance. I never found meaning in any of that, although the people around me seemed to have some success with it. Or at least said they did. So, when God decided to reclaim me, I just told him to do whatever it took to keep me with him. I knew what was a few inches away from my feet.

It's easy because of God's gifts. He gave us this world and he gave us his Son when we messed things up. He holds it all in his hand. The concept is clear and simple enough for me to follow: hold his hand and keep walking. Don't hold the door closed against him.

It's difficult because what God wants is everything I have. Everything changes. I don't know who I am any more. I'm certainly not the person I thought I was. Dying to self turns out to be something different from what I expected: I thought I'd just be polished off and then replaced. No, I have to live through the whole thing, watch my world crumble so that God can rebuild it. There is no other way, and each day I have to face the aftereffects.

It's hard to get up in the morning and know I'm going to be faced with situations I can't handle alone. I'll have to cry to God for help, and in our world crying for help is a quick way to get kicked even harder. God isn't like that and part of what he's doing is dealing with old habits like that. The only way to learn new habits is to do them. Repeatedly.

God scourges those whom he loves. The scourging has a lot more to do with heart than with skin. He has to take apart working systems in me and replace them with something better.

That something better is why the whole thing is impossible. By human nature I just want to run away and hide, but the Holy Spirit gives me courage. The Holy Spirit can't live in a dirty house, which is why Jesus has to wash the place first. Then God can live with me in the ultimate better way: a relationship. Impossible to conceive, impossible to do except that God makes it possible. God himself reaches down to take my hand and lead me.

It's purely a gift. God loves to give things to those who need him; the more need, the more gift. He cares much more about my heart than about my doings, which means I'd be in real trouble except that he has it all planned. He knows what he's doing, and the plan is to make me a better person. A perfect person, really.

What's perfect? I don't know. I'll just keep walking. Thank you very much, Lord.

Monday, April 18, 2005


Postage-stamp World

I haven't written a whole lot here lately because events in my life have been nearly incomprehensible even to me. The foundation for this revolution comes from the radical idea that God really does care, and goes on from there.

What would a caring God do for one who calls his name? Pretty much anything the person needs, starting at the bottom and working up.

I have always lived in a small world. Beyond my borders was great danger. I've assiduously defended myself from everyone and anything that seemed a threat, because I could see all around me the effects in other people's lives of being undefended. The people around them, not content to live in hell, had to drag their children or friends down there with them; I decided, if I were going to live in hell anyway, it would be a hell of my own making.

And, well, I pretty much succeeded. Hell isn't really that bad, once you get used to it. Days turn into months, and pretty soon most of a lifetime is gone. All you have to do is wait. Eventually any problems solve themselves.

After a while, God decided it was time for a change. Self-defense is good for one thing, at least: making my own decisions after making mistakes. With a good understanding of my mistakes, and those of others, I knew from the start that I'd have to find a wholly new path. Forget the standard solutions, the book answers, throw myself into God's arms and see where we end up. The experimental approach. If I'd been born in about 1550 I'd have been arrested and executed by the Inquisition for daring to believe that God would deal with me directly. I live in a more open time so could get away with it.

So God's radical ideas infiltrated the life of a man who was more used to living invisibly. He had, equally invisibly, prepared me well. I'd learned to write. Naturally I wrote stories about what God was doing and, because I'd learned that good writing always has an audience, I found people who liked to read the stories.

This was really a safety violation, but it had happened so slowly, and the results had been so uniformly positive, that the Junkyard Dog Defense System never sounded off. After God collected me it seemed quite natural to go on writing. Maybe the trail I walked could be followed by others, or at least the process could encourage them to find their own. God is in control. He finds the route. I just have to walk. Simple.

If you walk long enough, even if you go slowly you cross a continent. California immigrants crossed the United States in about six months, a journey that now takes four hours. We're used to speed and have forgotten the petty pace of change. Even a fearful man can get somewhere, one small step at a time.

A good part of the reason I could make that fearful, one-step-at-a-time walk was that I didn't really believe it was true. God can't be doing this. He is, if anything, a judgmental process out there. I deserve punishment, not blessing, so these good things can't be happening. And then the natural question came up: Just how good are these good things?

Depends on your point of view. From behind the eyes of the fearful man it's all pretty terrifying, and I'd trade places with just about anyone. From my old, August of 2003 ready for death viewpoint, any day that sees me walking out of it is a good one.

It's a terrifying world. All of the defenses that used to work automatically now have to be managed, and this is new. Is it an improvement? Well, eventually. Is it real? After all, from the outside the apparent changes probably don't look too good. I've retreated.

How literally does anyone take the idea of the new birth in Jesus? Oh, my physical body is the same, but the soul is being reborn. In many ways I'm a baby, just learning how to handle all the things that go on in the world. I no longer have the inflexible and reliable defensive cordon around me, and it seems as if at any moment the outside world could rise up and overwhelm me. I tend to be heavy.

The Holy Spirit, however, is quite bouyant. He's not shaken by anything. He shows me the wind, shows me the waves and how many miles away the shore is, and then he teaches me how to swim in rough waters. Now, by anyone else's standards the water I'm in is far from rough. Other people have much more difficulty in their lives than I have, but this is an example of how God's love and ways differ from ours.

In the normal world I'd be forced to pool my feelings with everyone else's. No one can be unique because one-offs can't be processed by our cultural systems. The world's threshold is set for certain characteristics and anyone outside of those is out of luck. The truth is that everyone doesn't fit the mold, but many are more successful at forcing the fit than the others.

God takes another route. If every thread in a tapestry were identical there's be no point in weaving it. All the unique colors come together in his hands to make the beautiful world we see around us; only human beings believe in uniformity. God isn't buying it, no matter how many religious systems try to standardize people.

God covered my bet and then raised me. "You want to be yourself? You think you're being daring?" Yah, I thought so. No dare at all, it seems. I just bumbled along, following him in this daring experiment, and ended playing the game exactly the way he wanted it. Sandbagged again.

And why write about it? One recipient of my "Weird Email" asked about this, saying that he wouldn't be able to do so. I started years ago in the hope that people would write back and we could get a dialog going, but it never happened. I learned, however, that I enjoyed writing stories. Even if no one else responded, the process of assembling words into worlds helped me to understand. I'd always thought more in images that words, but I learned, through years of writing, that words can evoke a world Word-sculptures. Yes, this could be seen as a tempest in a teacup, much ado about nothing, but from what I've read of other people's experience there is a need for an experimental Christian sending back letters from the weird edge. I could certainly have used some in 1971.

So, my world has shrunk. Without the Junkyard Dog to patrol the boundary I stay far away from any source of potential trouble. I don't like conflict.

And then last night God asked me about this. Why be so defensive? What's going to happen? Why stay in that little bitty world you've made when there's all this country I've given you, beyond the cross, to explore and inhabit?
"Oh, I'll get in trouble. No one will believe me." Memories of childhood.
"You're not a child any more. What can the church people, or anyone else, do to you? Whom do you believe?"
Good question. The Junkyard Dog was an artificial way to act brave. Now I have to learn the real thing, if I'm going to go anywhere into this new world. Fortunately, the Holy Spirit knows all about pain and bravery. He also knows what I'm capable of, and rather than just tossing me into the deep end as most human teachers would he will patiently help me to make baby steps until his courage fills me in.

I'd rather believe God. He has better ideas, and he helps me make them real. That I can believe him is a testament to his reality. Circular? To some extent, but I'm pragmatic. I see more possibilities for real life by believing Jesus died to bring me to this point than from any other belief system. He invented Bereans, after all.



A day at the beach. I arrived around 0830 and set up. I thought there was good sand all over, but it turned out to be a tease: a thin layer of good sand over very coarse material. I ended up mixing the fine sand, scraped off the surface through a lot of work, with coarser sand from beside the sculpture about 50-50. That's why you see such pronounced layers in this piece.

It's also why I had to scrap the original plan for this one. I wanted to build on what I'd done two weeks previously, but the sand wasn't strong enough for those delicate internal structures. I went back to an older plan, basically two slabs leaning on each other, with finer carving in the surfaces of the slabs. The perimeter would serve as pillars to hold everything up.

And then the Holy Spirit took over. I saw the sand in a new way and carved this one differently. On the west is an area of overlapping slots and legs, which played with the late afternoon light very nicely. On the east I had simpler shapes, but they were carved from a surface that was about half an inch thick. I also carved some internal structure.

It all fitted together pretty well. I've become more creative in the last year, under God's influence. I find this fascinating. Why does he care? I'm glad he does. It's not like he does the carving, but he does keep me from falling into ruts. Gives me nudges, helps me see the sculpture in a new way, helps me be patient.

Friday, April 15, 2005


Once For All, Each Second

1. Forgiven. Really!

God blesses those who need him. Unlike people, who tend to give themselves
to those who are already strong. This is a new concept for me; my family
tended to tease needy people and leave everyone else alone.

I was poking around in Blogland the other day and found some Blogs whose
writers were talking about rituals and icons, especially icons of the cross
and making the sign of the cross. Head, stomach, right shoulder, left
shoulder. Others commented on how this made them think about the cross, the
real cross, Jesus' cross, in a different way.

It took a ritual to make them think this? Where have they been? I sat back
in my chair, astounded. Forgiveness is so central to following Jesus that
I'm amazed anyone who's been saved for very long still doesn't understand.
Then I remembered my family, and other people's families, and work
situations and our whole world, and I realized that forgiveness is such a
strange concept that it's a wonder any of us gets it.

I was very fortunate. Need overwhelmed me at a time when there were people
who could introduce me to God in a way that could convince me of
forgiveness. Even so, it was hard for God to get through to me. Habit dies

The Holy Spirit burns fiercely bright. When he moves into a soul, many
things receive light that could be better left in darkness. That's why I
put them in the corners. Dimming or directing light isn't his job, however,
nor is his purpose what we often think it is. We've been taught by example
that people only shine light into the hidden places so they can get an
advantage over us. Rub our faces into the dirt. That's not Jesus' way; yes,
he's fierce about illuminating sin, but it's so he can get rid of it.

Once you walk under the cross, you're forgiven. I know that great
theologians have discussed this issue for 2000 years or so, but I'm both
pragmatic and simple. If Jesus' forgiveness isn't once for all then the
whole thing falls apart.

2. Beyond the Cross

So, the gate is behind you. Jesus has washed you clean and you're in God's
new land. Around you is a large encampment where many people still go
through ritual abasement and obsessive-compulsive hand-wringing, hoping to
make themselves clean. They never look up and back, never see the shadow of
the cross that has already done, completely, what they can never do for
themselves. All the activity does is keep them from going farther.

It's a big, strange land. And it gets stranger the farther you go into it.
Bigger, too, as is described in "The Chronicles of Narnia." Anchored by
guilt, we'll never move in.

Boundaries are mainly internal. Mine were enforced by the Junkyard Dog, and
this has turned out to be a more complex situation than I though. As usual.
Now that the Junkyard Dog has been banished, or controlled or something, I
face the strange edge, naked. The result has been the opposite of what you
might expect: I live in a very small place nowadays, afraid to move.
There's no more automatic control over what I do, so the potential for
making mistakes is much higher. I used to know my world. I don't any more.

You might think that God would be disgusted with me for cowering, hiding my
face, and trying to let the rest of my life just sort of pass me by while I
wait. You might think he'd apply his boot to my tail. That's the human way,
the way of the unforgiven.

God's way is entirely different. He keeps pouring his blessing on me. He
holds his hands around me as I go through the minimum necessary to get
through life. And he waits. He waits for that tide of blessing to seep into
my soul like an energizing glue. It helps me move, and it holds me
together, one day at a time. I hold his hand, I feel the contact, and I
take tiny steps. I guess.

I'm clearly not the person he wants me to be. If I were a human boss, I'd
fire me. Unsuitable, never will be, get out of here and quit taking up our
human resources time. God doesn't seem to know that he's supposed to bless
only the strong, help only those who can help themselves. He demonstrates
each day that he will bless those who know they need him, and will keep on
doing so.

What does he do when the need is no longer there? When the problem is
solved? The Holy Spirit turns a bit and shines his light into another dark
corner. Again, not to reduce me to abject sin, but to show me what we can
change next. The objective is to remove all that old dead weight so that I
can walk again. And maybe even dance.

We. That's quite a concept. God is in this with me, not just giving orders
but giving his hand, his Spirit, his Son, so that I can live.

2005 April 15

Saturday, April 09, 2005


No One Special

For Norm Blackburn

"Come on, Larry. Let's go."
How often do you get to swim with a lifeguard? "OK." I put down my carving tool and followed Bruce into the water. "Doin' the Stingray Shuffle..." I sang. He taught me that to avoid stepping on stingrays when the water's warm you drag your feet along the bottom to tell them you're coming. I'm not that confident an ocean swimmer; Bruce taught me most of what I know and it's by example as we bob around in the waves.

There's a pool in front of all of us. From the viewpoint on the verge it looks dangerous. Thrashing waves, gnashing rocks, spindrift flying from black water. Like Peter, we can see the wind. No way we're going in there no matter how many invitations we get. To jump in is to die. Oh, yes, if we're to live we have to give away our lives, but it's the old bird-in-the-hand syndrome. Why give up a safe, comfortable place on the shore for a chance at possible greatness out there in the wild water?

People stick their toes in the water, while hanging onto the shoreline rock, and call that reality. They stand around talking about the experience in glowing terms. Huge houses are built to worship the power of the waves and interpret them for everyone else.

Occasionally someone walks out of the water. These people look somewhat worn and disreputable. They invite others to join them, saying the swim will be difficult but lively. Safe? No, not that. But good.

Some months ago Lu and I were exchanging Email. She said I had the heart of a warrior.

When men build a fort the plans are based on what they're defending against. Aircraft bombs, missiles, tunnels and sappers, men carrying bazookas, check. We know about those. No one plans for the absurd, such as a truckload of avocados materializing inside the place, or a giant red rock eater walking over the hill.

Lu's statement was so absurd that it just walked in under the eyes of the guards and sat down, much as Erwin did that first Sunday I visited Mosaic. All these walls, and Truth found a hole the size of a truck and simply walked in. God, who didn't exist, was looking me in the eye. Lu's "warrior heart" idea put down its own roots. It wouldn't walk away and I was too stunned to throw it out. What if it were true?

Yesterday I got the shopping done. First Trader Joe's so there'd be some food in the house, and then REI to pick up the single-wheel bike trailer I'd ordered. On a whim I rode the #3 bus to the end of the line and then rode my commuter bike from there. It wasn't really any faster, but I get bored with doing the same thing, and I'd ridden to REI and back the week before. Variation is good. I hooked up the trailer and set out westbound on Rosecrans against a stiff wind. Typical for spring, cold, whitecaps on the ocean under air that blued away into the distance.

When I got home I made lunch. Tired from the ride I relaxed with a book. As is usual in cases like this, there are various other thought trains running along with the book and one of them suddenly went off like a flashgun. Names... warrior heart... growing...

I've been called many names over the years. Many have been intended to put me in my place. We've all been through that. Other names are temporary reflections of current reality. None of them have been names to grow into, names to call me forward beyond what's normally possible. Until Lu and her warrior heart. Like one of Nate's thought-Scuds that idea zipped in and blew up into something I didn't understand. It called me on. What if it's true? I had to think about it. Lu looked at my life, extrapolated into the future and said what she thought. It's one reason I respect her.

My response to her was "Do I have a warrior heart, or am I just desperate?" It's not hard to jump into the huge black waves when the shore is crumbling to death behind you.

Philosophers love to talk about the "leap of faith." They say that life is in the leap. By leaping, no matter what's out there, you truly live even if you crash. I've always thought that was balderdash and horse feathers, the last word of those too weak to consider reality. If reality is empty, well, live with it. Leaping into emptiness doesn't fill it.

Yes, I leaped. Desperation behind me, but ahead, out there holding like a lifeguard against the waves I could see God. Maybe he wouldn't catch me, but he was out there. I knew that because I saw the way other people shone with his presence, and I could see the same shine on recent events in my life. I certainly didn't deserve to be caught and haven't earned any of the grace and beauty he has shown me since that time.

So, why does he walk with me each day while others struggle for any kind of a sign? I don't know. His nature is love, love of a kind that really needs a new vocabulary. The relationship isn't one of employer and employee, nor lover and beloved, nor master and pet. It holds shades of mutual respect, abject need, fulfilling the role for which God designed me. Like any other creative project the contours flow and change around the unchanging adamant core of God's love.

As you start so shall you continue. What you believe tends to become true. I know a lot of people who live in self-defined hells. Anything would be better, but they refuse all suggestions. Well, I've been there. When it's all you can do to barely hang on by your toenails any shaking is a great threat.

Maybe the great secret here is that the Holy Spirit is stronger than my toenails. It just takes time to learn, as he gives us a new name to grow into.

2005 April 9
Email failed; posted to Blog April 11

Friday, April 08, 2005


History Isn't Now

I've been reading C.S. Lewis' "Till We Have Faces," acquired at Debbie and Nate's pre-garage sale. I'd come to help Nate assemble his new bicycle but they were deep into the "When in doubt, throw it out" process. They handed me a 50-pound box of books and said "Go at it." I also got a PDA, but that's another story.

"Till We Have Faces" is a retelling, so it says, of the Psyche and Cupid myth. I've not read that so don't know. The king has two daughters, one of them beautiful, and the beautiful one becomes a sacrifice to the local god when the land is in difficulty. The other daughter and her soldier friend go to retrieve Psyche's remains, but don't find them. While searching, however, from the top of the mountain they see a beautiful land down on the far side, so they go to take a look.

Psyche meets them. Orual crosses the stream to hug her and they start talking. Psyche describes the place where she lives, but that's not what Orual sees. Psyche's world holds a magnificent house and wine running in streams, but the other sees only hills, moss and water.

Orual, being the practical person she is, tells Psyche she's lying, that there's nothing like what she describes out there. That's where I stopped reading. It hurt too much.

If you believe in an ugly world you get plenty of support. Good things never last. History says that everything falls apart, so why should I even try to change it? People mumble and grumble their way through life, eyes to the ground.

God has to pour his love into me so that new grass grows faster than life's lawnmower can cut it off. New attempts have always crashed. Why believe that this could ever be different? Here's Dave's take on this:

"Do you remember the fishing story in Luke 5 - (read the story for yourself if you like). After the disciples had been fishing all night and caught nothing, Jesus tells Peter to push out again into deep water. Peter said, 'but Lord we have toiled all night and caught nothing.' Peter's focus was the failure of the past, Jesus said, 'Peter Push out and let down your net for a catch.' Jesus' focus was the future.

"After catching a huge amount of fish, Peter falls to his knees and says to Jesus, 'depart from me for I am a sinful man' - notice again, his focus was on past failures. One of satan's most powerful binding devices is when he chains us to our past. Jesus on the other hand - 'Peter fear not,' (don't worry about the past), 'From now on . . . . ' Get it, Blow Torch? The Lord's Perspective is forward not backward, what's ahead not what was behind. 'From now On . . . . .' Larry God in his grace gives you a blank slate; it is called 'From now On ....' Just let Him guide you as you compose your own new story.

"... Larry, remember to tell the junk yard dog - 'Stop your barking because it is all about "From now on . . . "' "

I suppose it's that people are well-meaning, but the alacrity with which they try to disabuse others of seeming illusions seems to be beyond the strict need. It's no wonder I keep dreams secret even from myself. I change sides as soon as I see that the nay-sayers have the majority. Protective coloration. Join in with the stone-throwers.

An image from "The Last Battle" keeps coming to mind: the dwarves sitting in a circle on the grass, so convinced that they're inside a dirty stable that no one, not even Aslan, can talk them out of that belief. Aslan's roar becomes a donkey's bray to them.

There are many illusions in this world. We've all been burned by them and thereby learn lessons that are strongly reinforced by the next flame job. I wonder how much of this is prophetic. A common idea in fantasy stories is that belief in itself dictates the outcome. I never wanted to believe that; I'd prefer the world to go on existing even if I don't believe in it, but I've seen many demonstrations of people growing into what others believe of them. If enough people believe that one person is a jerk, there's a strong likelihood of him growing up to be a jerk in the real world. Belief may not dictate reality but it is one of its vectors.

God gives every sign of loving us, no matter what the world says about us. The world's opinion is expressed every moment, pressing us into its mold of preconceived ideas and plans. "You are this. You will be this." God comes along and says "That's only one opinion. Mine is different." Which would I rather believe? If someone comes up to me and says "That wonderful house you live in, that God built, it's just an illusion. You need to come back to the real world and live with us..." well, who should I believe? Should I really believe that God can loosen the grip of the past and pull me out of it? Or would I rather be safe and believe nothing can change?

God really can build a new world. I don't even need to believe it completely. Hope seems to be enough, at least for a time. I just have to keep walking. He'll show it to me. Belief, however, does make the walk easier.

The Junkyard Dog was heavy. No growth I could produce could push him aside nor lift him but now that he's gone a sort of psychic isostatic rebound is going on, pieces of my soul moving around and rising, looking for daylight. Recently I've been struck by just how immature I am in many ways, and I think I know why. It makes sense; when maturity looks like death, why bother? God offers a living alternative that I believed could never happen. I can barely believe that it is happening. I'm still prone to telling God that he's being impractical or that what he proposes just can't be. He is slow to anger, and very patient with my absurd trust in human truth.

See, Kim? I can write a story that's not centered on lunch!

2005 April 8
Email failed; posted to Blog April 11

Wednesday, April 06, 2005


The Passion of Christ's Follower

I was headed for Grand Central to get a burrito. I'd just crossed 1st Street, going south on Main, and I saw him. Oh, man, what do I do now? I looked down, then started to turn right and walk west on 1st to Spring. I could go south there. But it was too late; I looked up to make sure I was headed the right way, and my eyes locked to his. He knew I was there. Now I know why they call him the Fisher of Men: He just reeled me right in.

What do you say to the one who spoke a word and the universe was made? I sort of hung back, very embarrassed. Dealing with God is a lot easier when you can't see him.

Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?

Simon replied, I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.

You have judged correctly, Jesus said.

Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.

Then Jesus said to her, Your sins are forgiven. (Luke 7:41-47 NIV)

In The Chronicles of Narnia, the Narnians always hug Aslan when he comes by. August as he is, they can't resist running their fingers through his glorious mane, standing where they can feel the heat of his body and the beat of his heart. Touching God? How can they?

A Pharisee, one of the lords of the city, invites Jesus to dinner. A woman wanders in, weeping, and her tears wash his feet. Then she wipes them with her hair. Touching God. What is this but worship? And yet it's such a strange idea. I've been well trained. God's in his distant heaven. Not for this woman. She knows he's there and does the only thing she can think of. Is he real? Is he here? I've touched him, she thinks. And he calls her forgiven.

God won't let me call myself names any more. If I start some sort of diatribe, the Holy Spirit steps in and stops it. It's sort of like the theory in self-improvement courses that whatever you call yourself is what you turn into, and there's some truth to it. The problem is in stopping the name.

I was with some friends one day. They've gotten into the habit, when one of them makes a mistake, of the other saying "You suck." After this had happened a couple of times, on Easter Sunday, no less, I said "How about we don't hear that word any more today." One of them responded with "Vunderbar!" and I could see it coming. Now, instead of saying "You suck!" they say "Vunderbar." Different word, same effect. A rose by any other name still has thorns.

There's also the problem that compliments are just as defining as insults. Compliments tend to lead people to do the act again that produced the compliment. Some people define me as a "great sand sculptor," but I prefer to just say that I'm a sand sculptor and leave the rest up to the audience.

Only God really knows who we are, and we're so full of our own names for ourselves that we have a hard time hearing his. It takes time, and discernment.

So, God names me forgiven and everything else comes from there. A friend sent me some encouragement, describing a story from the Gospel of John in which Peter tells Jesus he can't find a fish to save his soul and he'd been trying all night. Jesus tells him to try again, and this time they can hardly pull the net in, it's so full of fish. My friend pointed out that Jesus doesn't look at the past. Just because Peter had failed all night had nothing to do with what he could do after Jesus blessed him.

My life is full of failures that have come to define me in ever stronger terms. Unbreakable, until the Holy Spirit started working on them. Now the problem is getting used to success.

I was lying awake last night, thinking about limits and love. I draw careful circles around my behavior and do only what seems to be acceptable. Certainly wouldn't want to be caught being effusive or demonstrative in love or anything else. And yet another friend calls me "Blow Torch" because of the passion I demonstrate in sand sculpture and other things. Well, those are acceptable places for the demonstration of passion. Safe places. I can pour myself into the sand and no one will squawk.

What would happen if I were in a church, became overwhelmed by God's mercy and love, and started weeping uncontrollably? Best not to find out. What would happen if I met Jesus on the street, wept at the sight, fell on my knees right there in the crowd of an L.A. scene, and started washing his feet with my tears? It would all be justifiable worship, but where is it appropriate? I don't know.

I just don't like showing the effects of emotion. Turns me into a target for either do-gooders who believe that any display of emotion is too much, or those who see it as a problem and want to fix me. Worship has to fit within those safe bounds I've defined. I'm rather tired of that. Maybe I should learn to dance, or maybe sand sculpture is good enough.

The day is coming when I won't recognize myself. As the Holy Spirit continues his Larry Warming plan, the icepack thins and breaks up. Who knows? One of these days maybe I'll be able to tell him I love him, straight out like that. Right now the statement is hedged with logic and definite acts, the ice of knowledge. God made us with passion, and put his passion in us. I think it's coming to me. Watch out, world.

Saturday, April 02, 2005


The Next Big Thing

Well, I finally got a Saturday with a good tide and no rain. Three months I've waited.

Arrived on the beach around 0730. Form full by about 0930. Finshed carving at around 1600, and finished the clean-up at around 1700. The sculpture was interesting because I have been trying for years to get this internal-bridge kind of idea working, and it finally came out. Not perfectly. One problem is that a complex sculpture like this takes a lot of time. I could have worked on it for another five hours, easily, but had neither daylight nor energy.

Energy... I was light on lunch. Peanuts and oranges. Then a couple watched for a time, and as they walked away the man asked if I'd like for him to bring me a sandwich. What do you think I said? A few hours later he came back with a grocery bag of stuff: some homemade Russian delicacies, onions, cheese, bread, boiled eggs and a bottle of water. That man saved the day. I thanked him profusely and tore into the food.

Another highlight of the day was the little girl who asked great questions. Couldn't have been more than 5 years old, serious in demeanor, asking me about the sculpture. Better questions and a much better listener than most adults. Just before they left, as I was doing the clean-up, she asked about my tools.
"What does this one do? Which tool do you use to carve the holes? Which do you use to make that?" And she pointed.
"I use this one to start small holes. Kind of like this." I picked up the little loop tool and carved a curve in the sculpture's base.
"Now that's part of the sculpture."
I told you she was sharp. "Yes."
"Did you want it like that?"
"No, but..."
"Well, it fits."
"You're right."
They walked off. Rich and I looked at each other.
"She's going to be a handful for someone someday. If she isn't already," Rich said.
"You got that right"

I wanted to watch the sunset, but was too tired. Staggered home, had a hot dinner and then a hot shower. The next day I could hardly move. It was a good day.

Friday, April 01, 2005


For the Love of God!

"Do you love him?"
"Huh? You mean God?" I'm not real with it. On a whim I'd ridden to Manhattan Beach the day before, both ways with a headwind component, and then coming over the hill to Canoga Park today I found myself afraid of things I hadn't worried about in years. Fear on a mountain bike is
appropriate, but at one point I couldn't get started up the hill after a stop because I kept shying away from things. The Junkyard Dog and his automatic limits kept me from experiencing fear directly.

Ron had already asked about that. His first question, in fact, after we got settled at the restaurant.
"Who is the 'Junkyard Dog?' " He looked at me expectantly, leaning on the table. Organizing my thoughts is sort of like waiting for honey to pour from a jar... on a cold day. "He's, uh, a part of me, an aspect of my personality. A censor, a control. The problem is that he got his instructions when I was a child and hasn't changed since."

The restaurant isn't busy and some food arrives soon after Ron introduces us to the waiter. I munch on an onion ring and ponder the question. Love? It's one I've asked myself often. Do I love God? I don't know. How would I know if I did? If I use the stated standard, "If you love me, follow my commandments," then I don't love God at all.
"I don't know." I think Ron was expecting a quicker and simpler answer. He doesn't know about molasses in January.
"Well, then, do you know that he loves you?"
"Oh, yes, no question about that. If he didn't I'd be dead. His love is demonstrated in many ways that go beyond anything... It's too bad we use the same word for human love and God's love." All quite logical and clear, once you make the startling first assumption that God really does love
people. "I was thinking about that on one particularly long uphill. I had lots of time to think. Walking the bike. I was puny. Anyway, I got to thinking about how God corrects us. People, when they see something wrong, come up to you and point out how you screwed up and then they walk away. God shows me where I need to change, shows me why I need to change, tells
me that he can do it, shows me where we're going (whereupon I get scared and run away for a time) and then gives me the power to make the change. No vituperation, no guilt. Just 'Let's work on this, shall we?' and it really is 'us.'" What passes for eloquence on this day of fatigue seems to leave Ron unaffected. I thought it was a neat point.

My salad arrives, sort of an absurdity after French fries and onion rings, with the apple cobbler and ice cream waiting. Conversation continues but I'm fighting a continual rearguard action: Ron is moving a lot quicker than I can follow so I just sort of nod my head. He talks of finding a church to connect with, of burning out for God--"I'd rather burn out in a few years than have a long life of nothing"--but the score is 98-zip and I'm going down. By the time I get a thought together I'm 28 yards south of my own goal line and even the staunch fans have left the stands.

In the old days, a couple of weeks ago, this would have been a real problem. The Junkyard Dog would have used this as evidence that I should never have tried anything. His teeth would have closed around my ankle and I'd have been dragged back within the established safe boundary. As it is I'm sort of standing alone, wondering what has happened. Ron usually doesn't have an agenda. It feels as if he has one today but I can't figure it out.

"You know there are other guys out there with Junkyard Dogs."
"Oh, yes. I've heard from some of them." And know of more.

We end up back in front of his building. My bike is still there, which is good. I'd hate to have to walk back.

We hug in the shade of the building, under the sycamores that rattle in the strong north wind, and he walks back to work.

If you have to make a rendezvous, make sure it's with someone like Carl. I spot him from half a block.
"You'll just have to wait," I shout over the noise of the Third Street Promenade. "This is as fast as I can stagger."
"Tired from the bike ride?"
"Yes." Then a thought surfaces. "Who have you been talking to?"
"Your Email, man!"
My memory is about as retentive as a colander. And I'm perhaps a bit sensitive right now on the whole issue of Email and responses.

"Yeah, man, I got calls from everyone! Everyone asking if the group was in trouble."
That at least proves that people read the stories even if I don't hear anything about it. Ron had said he thought the communication was intended to be one way, but I'd always assumed that received Email is an, at least tacit, invitation to respond.
"I'm really sorry I got you in trouble."
"No problem."
"I never really know. Maybe it needed to happen. A while back I got into an Email exchange with some long-standing friends whose marriage had been thoroughly stuck for years. I came swinging in like an asteroid and, just by doing what I do, caused a whole lot of distress. The outcome has been good, though: they looked at the problems and got into counselling, and their relationship is better. Did I do a bad thing or a good thing? Or a good thing in a bad way? After talking with Ron yesterday I was thinking I could have written the stories that affected you in a better way. I don't know."

Our Fatburgers arrive. I've never seen anyone eat a double Kingburger before. It's equivalent to a four-by-four at Inn-n-Out. Between bites, Carl tells me of his new adventure.
"Yep. Tonight's my last night with the group. I'm really excited about the mentoring."
"How will that work? Some sort of group?"
"No. You can't mentor in a group. We'll be available after each celebration, and have contact sheets there so guys can sign up. The women's ministry at Mosaic has, what 1800 member? The men's ministry is tiny in comparison. Some of the guys envy the women. 'Why can't we be like that?' We have to make it."
"I agree. I asked Eric about mentoring a while back. Jack and I had discussed by Email. His church has a mentoring program. I don't know how it works."

He takes another bite of burger. I go get some more ketchup. French fries' only reason for being is as a vehicle for ketchup. Then I look at him. "How do you know you love God?"
The question apparently is one he hasn't thought much about. Maybe that's the best answer, but I didn't know it at the time. Carl looks at me, but won't quite meet my gaze. "Follow his commandments, I guess." There is no question in my mind that Carl loves God. Maybe this is something like creativity: those on the outside recognize it more easily than does the person himself.

"I need to be getting back. Thanks for joining me."
"You're welcome. And thanks for coming out here." We part after a hug. Carl walks north. I head south.

"How am I supposed to get out of this thing?" Nate and Bob watch as I try again to extract myself from the back seat. I may have to live here the rest of my life, unless someone turns the car on its side so I just fall out. Eventually I manage the right contortions and back ungracefully out of the car, almost running over Bob as I do so. Standing up straight feels good after riding for two miles with my head bent forward and pressed against the ceiling.
"Good night, Bob."
"Good night."
Nate and I head off into the night. The ride to my place is short so I have to get to the point.
"I never got the chance to ask my question of everyone tonight."
"What's the question?"
"How do you know if you love God?"
"That's the question?"
"Yes. I don't know."
"Oh, man, it's like..." He makes the turn south onto Barrington. "He's the center of my life. He's the most important part of it. I'm committed to following him. It's something like how I feel about Debbie."
"Hmmm... then how do you know you love Deb?"
He's quiet for a bit. "I want to be with her, share my life with her, live with her."
None of this is what I expected. I'd expected something more mystical but Nate, as usual, has bypassed all the gobbledegook and given an answer in real human terms. "So, I've really been asking the wrong question. Or looking for the wrong answer."
"How so?"
"I thought love would be something obvious, something in itself. Now it's seeming to be simpler, more practical. Without God I'd be dead. Therefore I follow him. I don't know if I love him, but I am committed to following him. He makes it possible."

Later on, after Nate has dropped me off at home and I've staggered to the door, looking forward to a shower and bed, the logical extension of this chain of thought comes to me. My love for God is entirely selfish. I'm committed to him because he makes it possible, and only by his continued
involvement will I have anything that can be called a real life.

And on the borderland of sleep, the final summation comes to me. As it has in so many other situations and conundrums of life, it's actually quite simple. "Just keep following Me." I can get lost in words. God guides by his actions and those are very clear.

2005 April 1
Posted to Blog April 5

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