Monday, April 18, 2005
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.