Friday, April 01, 2005
For the Love of God!
"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."
"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."
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."
"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