Thursday, June 23, 2005
Digging for the Mother Lode
God taught me what love is, by example. I know he loves me in ways far beyond the meanings conveyed by that feeble, overworn word. The most basic, the starting point, is his sending his own glorious Son to be spit on and beaten in our oh-so-correct world, so that He would then have access to the depths of my soul.
Since then he has continued to rain his love onto me, a rain that is both erosive and rebuilding. It dissolves the walls while it waters the desert I made of my soul so that the plants God put in there can start growing. All of this goes on for his own name's sake, not because I'm special or deserve it. He does it because he strongly desires fellowship with me.
The natural Hallmark-and-television response to the scenario would be for the subject of such love to gush forth "I love you" and send valentines. God's standard is higher: "If you love me, do the things that I command you." Well, I obviously don't do the things he commands, so QED I don't love him. There's a long list of things I'm supposed to do, starting with loving my neighbor as myself, and, well, it doesn't happen.
That's where I've left it. God loves me, I need him. Is it possible to transform need into love? It happens in movies, but real life is more harsh. Need drives people apart. Need drives people to God. What happens when the basic need is met?
Where, actually, does love come from? People say they love one another. What, actually, are they saying? I have strong feelings for God. Are those evidence of love?
This is one of those singularities I can't see beyond. Rational process can't figure out love, and my approach to God's love is very rational. There are good reasons for me to believe God loves me, and I stand by those reasons.
Reason, it seems, isn't quite enough. Lu talked about digging deep with the Holy Spirit's help, and the same has been happening with me. Some link through the luminiferous aether, I guess. God wants me to love him. He wants me to know I love him... and to feel it. I don't trust feeling at all. Give me facts and let me make up my own mind. It seems, from what the Holy Spirit and I were talking about last night, that this doesn't go far enough. Love at mental arm's length isn't the kind of love he wants; apparently limiting my expression that way has ramifications wider than I expected. It's just that: limiting, and God doesn't believe in limits.
Nor do I, really, having learned something of how the Holy Spirit works, but this is one of those big, deep, dark things lurking way down there, buried for very good reason. It's not the first of those I've had to give up, but each one is deeper than the last, and causes a greater soulquake when the Holy Shovel makes contact.
Love? Me? You must be kidding. No, he's not. I would simply panic and hit the dirt running... but for his grace, and what I've learned. Each time I've given up something like this the result has been great kindness from him, a sort of spiritual toughening-with-sensitivity that he somehow produces in me, and a new door opened.
And today? I'm irritable. I don't want His hands on this hidden part, but it is much too late. I can no longer stand the idea of being apart from God; just thinking about it hurts, and seems to hurt Him too. So I come and go in quick little flashes of obedience alternating with looking for my running shoes.
But God really is good at this kind of thing. He knows exactly what's in me, and his timing is, well, perfect. He somehow manages this running rebuild so that I can go on down the road while he rummages around in the basement, shaking things up but not apart. The Shovel of Love and the Glue of the Spirit. What a combination. Desperation leads in interesting ways.
Wednesday, June 22, 2005
The MIT Weblog Survey
You'll give them your Email address, and they'll send you a key. Use the key and your Email address to log in, after reading the short description and the equally short legal stuff.
Not Just A Shepherd
I thought that was pretty much it. Once you're through the narrow gate that passes under Jesus' cross, the soil issue is past. Then Eric gave me a pilot version of a book he's writing about this parable for my critique. I made some suggestions, but came away with the seed of an idea. Perhaps this dirt thing isn't static after all. What if God keeps tilling the soil and changes it? Is it possible?
I was about as hard as they come, but God's aim is precise, his guidance unerring as long as people don't exert their wills to deflect him. I no longer cared very much about where I went when I visited Mosaic, and God tossed that little seed into the one crack that would admit it.
The new plant turned out to be pretty muscular. It pushed my hard-packed soul aside and established a very deep root. Since then he has continued tilling and working my soul. We're used to thinking of Jesus as a shepherd, but he's also good at this soul-rebuilding process.
He knows the right combination of love-rain and encouragement to keep the work going. He has these marvellously sensitive tools for the work. I don't really know how he does it. He dissolves the rock, outshines the weeds, exploits every crack in the beaten path, all the while protecting the new growth that comes up because now there's a strong advocate for new ways.
Self-judgment hardens the ground. Habit ignores the attempts to rebuild the soil. Trying to do God's work for him in the interest of saving him time just makes a mess of it.
This is God, the One who made the universe, the one who designed all the complexity of soil. He knows his dirt, and he knows his souls. Given a chance he'll turn the lousiest dirt, the hardest rock into a gloriously blooming garden.
And all for his own name's sake. This still bothers me a bit. What need has God for more glory? The stars shout his name, the very stones underfoot know who he is. Why should I add to that? Well, maybe because he deserves it. It also seems that the alternative is to praise myself, which is a disaster waiting to happen.
For his name's sake. We talk a lot about honor, but it doesn't mean much. Just ask Native
Americans how much honor means in our culture. God, however, does what he promises to do, because he says he'll do it.
He likes gardens. I'm glad. He has his work cut out to bring blossoms to my soul, but he's doing it. He really is.
Tuesday, June 21, 2005
I'm glad that both are wrong. I'm glad that the only name that really matters is the one God gives me.
We have lots of names, good and bad, and both types are damaging. Bad names are obvious: drive another nail in the coffin, knock another leg out from under the table, kick the person when they're already down. Yah, we know that thoroughly.
The tyranny of a good name is more subtle. "Oh, so I'm a mighty warrior of God, hmmm? I guess that means I've solved all the problems. People should listen to me." But good names are like sand sculptures: here today, gone tomorrow. As the old saying has it, it takes 1000 attaboys to get a brownie point, but one awshit wipes them all out and resets the counter to zero.
God's name is permanent. At first it is incomprehensible. "What do you mean, 'forgiven?'" We have no experience with forgiveness that has no memory, no experience with an act so thorough that once we believe Jesus died for us the past, as far as bad names go, is gone. Washed away as completely as last week's sand sculpture after a few high tides.
Then God goes on to give us additions to our names, as we learn to live with him. "Beloved." That's a tall order, believing that idea when our world thinks love comes from Hallmark and its real hallmark is sex. God is the most outstanding teacher I've ever met, and he's even teaching me about real love. How? By his example. And the example changes me.
Being around people changes us; we take on their characteristics, even sharing dreams if the contact goes deeply enough. Being around God naturally causes us to become like him. "Turn your eyes upon Jesus..." If there's power in my life, He's where it comes from. If there's need in my life, he will have to fill it. He knows my name and will teach it to me, day by day.
Monday, June 20, 2005
The Language of Obedience, part 2
Erwin used Pharaoh as an example in his message yesterday. Pharaoh said, "Who is the LORD, that I should obey him and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD and I will not let Israel go." Eventually this turns into a real grudge match. Then we run into a shocker: Pharaoh will think, 'The Israelites are wandering around the land in confusion, hemmed in by the desert.' And I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and he will pursue them. But I will gain glory for myself through Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD." So the Israelites did this.
I'd always wondered what the verse meant; why would God harden Pharaoh's heart? When I first read it, in about January of 2004, I was worried. Could I end up in that place, where God would harden my heart? I held the verse in my mind, as is my wont with confusing things, and waited for more data.
Jesus says this too, talking of people whose hearts God hardened. They are, uniformly, hard cases to begin with, so I formed the theory that if you're paying any attention at all to God, he won't have to harden your heart. It seemed to match my experience and that of others I could see. Hard cases get harder, soft ones get.... ground up and spit out.
Well, that was my idea anyway. That's why I'd tried to harden myself over the years: to keep from being demolished by a world hostile to just about everything I believe in. I still had to leave some windows open to avoid becoming like those around me, which made for a delicate balancing act and some curious accommodations. The best technique for preserving myself was to keep to myself as much as possible.
That's self-limiting. Life isn't much good if one is isolated, so there was always this tension, going forward and backward in relationships with others. As years went by I just abandoned more and more of this territory. Its rules were too confusing and inconsistent for me to figure out.
God, at the last minute, found the one remaining open window and shone some light in. Naturally I jumped for it. Automatic reaction: if you're drowning and someone tosses a rope to you, you grab on without thinking.
My life was toast. It was easy for me to say "Whatever you want to do, do it." I also knew my tendency to wander, so I also asked God to do whatever it took to keep me with him. At the time I expected this to be a forceful demolition of my defenses, taking the Larry fortress by storm, as I'd heard described so many times in churches and elsewhere. "God has to break us down to pieces and then rebuild."
That sounds a lot like the Army way, and many people do believe in the Army model. I wasn't so sure, and one thing I had learned to do was make my own decisions based on the idea that I'd rather make my own mistakes than someone else's.
It turns out that I, and probably everyone else although I can't guarantee that, am already broken. Broken, deserted, limping, the garden mostly dead and just hanging on. I was still worried about staying with God, and expected some sort of dramatic action from him.
Time went on. I tend to simplify things. Figuring out what to do was too complicated, so I just decided to keep my eyes on Jesus and follow him. I figured this was cheating, but what else could I do? Everyone else was charging ahead, but I was just too tired. Tired of life, tired of work, tired of having to act as if I cared. God sent me a gentle and constant rain of love, and the walls began to dissolve and the garden, somehow, started to grow again.
I ended up at Mosaic Culver City yesterday because Nate called. I'd been up way too late two nights running, and done a sculpture on Friday, so I was really out to lunch. He asked if I wanted to go. On a whim I said yes.
On our way into the room--we always arrive late--one man I knew asked me to come and see him after the celebration. When Erwin started his talk with the verse about God hardening Pharaoh's heart, I became very interested, and when what he said corroborated what I'd learned in my own ways I was taken again by just how much God loves me. He'd taught me the same things.
Pharaoh just didn't want to listen. He knew what was what, and no God was going to get him to change his mind. So, he died. God used him as an example. If, at any time during the plagues and all the rest, Pharaoh had changed his mind, or even hinted that he might be thinking of changing it, God would have found another example. As it was, Pharaoh, and Judas, and all the other proud-of-themselves traitors, give God a chance to teach the rest of us a lesson.
How do you follow God? By hearing the Shepherd's voice. How do you hear his voice amid all the clangor of modern life? Learn what sets His voice apart from all the rest. What has God been doing with me for the last year and a half? Doing the opposite of what everyone else told me to do: he has been making me more sensitive by removing the walls and bulwarks I put up. What keeps me from being blown into a million little tiny pieces and carried away by the first stiff breeze? The Holy Spirit.
On the way out I found the man who wanted to talk to me. He proceeded to harangue me about obedience. It was a gentle harangue, and in line with some of what Erwin said about needing others around us to remind us where we're making mistakes. But how does one earn the right to, as Erwin said, "speak into our lives?" Certainly not by one chance encounter after several months. You gain admittance to people's lives by being there. By knowing them, knowing parts of their God-given names, and then working to understand the conditions in which they live.
God really doesn't believe in the one-size-fits all plan that most people use. God is just astoundingly, amazingly delicate and accurate in how he deals with people... unless their hearts are hard. If you're a hard case, then God will play rough. The important part is to get my attention and keep it.
So, I've obeyed God in my odd little way. Asking him to do whatever it took. My heart was hard, but shattered. He first had to reassemble it, then soften it, and that turns out to be the key for me to follow him: it hurts my new heart not to follow him.
And what does obedience look like? If you listen to people, it can look a lot like a job. If you listen to God, however, there are opportunities for beautiful obedience everywhere, things to speak or write that only I can do.
I didn't go to Mosaic's Highlander event this year, despite being invited by a number of people. I just wasn't ready, and the thought of being among all those people was, while more conceivable than last year, still out of reach. God's reaction to my plans was interesting. "If you don't go, who will present this viewpoint? If not you, who?" There are all kinds of people at that event, and one of them might have been able to use my point of view. God let me know that He wanted me to go, but knew why I wasn't, and that was OK. There would be other opportunities.
There have been, in a very surprising place. An on-line community called "Until Uru." That, however, is another story.
Tuesday, June 14, 2005
For Sand Sculpture Fans
It's all Lu's fault. By introducing me to Blogging I discovered that there was a way to put up Web content without writing HTML.
Well, I should put some blame on Sandra, too. She's the one who demonstrated how photo-hosting could spruce up a Blog.
Images and stories. A long-held dream: the illustrated story. I've made many experiments along this line, a recent one being my Blog-based one, "Hands in the Sand."
But it takes pull as well as push to get me moving. "Hands in the Sand" aroused no comment, and then I ran into a problem of a lack of images for some of the stories, so the project has stalled.
Then I was invited to post sculpture images on a forum (see links to left). That led to more invitations, which led to working on some of the more recent images that hadn't been shown. Preparing images and posting them on Photobucket for use elsewhere is over half the work, so I decided to do more experiments with Blogging them.
Now, some of these sculptures come with stories. I tried to post the stories, but it didn't work. After much troubleshooting I discovered that the problem was caused by invisible characters in the text files, but in the process of finding that out I read all the Blogger help files, finding what Blogger offers for people wanting to publish books. Turns out I'm not the only one.
So, the result is, for now, the 2003 sand sculpture Blog. I'll upgrade the others as time permits. And there are some additions and modifications to the 2003 one also. It's a work in progress. Read the forum entries too, because they ask different questions.
Tuesday, June 07, 2005
Who's Doing the Loving?
Saturday night I was wandering around in Until Uru, the online version of Cyan's computer game "Uru." Andrew, another member, has set up a neighborhood in the city of D'ni for the Uru Christian Fellowship. This is an experiment and hasn't really started, but after I logged in I noticed Andrew was there so I linked in to visit.
We chatted for a time, standing amid the colored lights by the fountain on the plaza, and then went to play a couple of games of Heek. It's a game that, like tic-tac-toe, is good for about two rounds and then it's over with.
About the time we were done, another friend logged in. I sent her a message telling her where we were--she'd expressed interest in the UCF before--and invited her to come and visit. She did. We started to chat, and then Andrew had to leave because of heavy homework. He lives in Australia and we were into his prime study time.
He left, and two more people came in. One I knew pretty well, and the other I'd met briefly once before. We sat down by the fountain, and proceeded to talk about mistakes. We moved on to talk about God. One of them expected judgment because he didn't believe in God, but we told him that that didn't matter. God loved him no matter what he believed, and would work with him if allowed.
The evening gradually took on a sort of glow. As we talked of God, I was trying to show that God loved this man and that human love couldn't touch God's. He asked, though, who was loving him. God, or the person? He wanted the person's love, not God's.
At first this made no sense to me. I'd a lot rather have God's love than anyone else's He's the only person who doesn't disappoint, who doesn't just flake out when things get sticky. He doesn't yell, and is always helping me learn his ways.
Here was someone wanting a person's love rather than God's. I tried looking at it from his viewpoint and couldn't do it. But the other woman kept pouring out her love to him in a way that was so obvious it even came out through this modern computer communication, which is supposed to be so cold and distant. "I love you," she said, "I myself."
Well, that really threw me. There is no love in me. If someone wants me to love them, they're going to have to get God's love at second hand. I thought that's the way this thing works.
That's radical enough, but what God really wants is even more radical: he wants me to be like that woman. He wants me to be so suffused with his love that people on the outside can't tell whose love it is.
So, I join Lu in her hopeless dependence upon Jesus. If he wants this kind of loving to happen, he'll have to do it. I'll burn myself out like a locomotive trying to climb a 20% grade pulling a mile-long train. Forget it. I have no idea how he will do it, but my main job is to stay out of his way. The best way to move forward is to quit holding onto the past.
Wednesday, June 01, 2005
Seeing God Through the Eyes of Love
The entryway looks so forbidding. We have thousands of years of history that make the entrance look hideous. Wars, inter-faith rivalry, all through history. People say "God is love" and then kill anyone who doesn't agree with their narrow interpretation of that.
Isn't God big enough to take care of himself? Isn't his confidence unshakeable enough that one ranting anti-Christ can't do anything about it? Even Satan, the ruler of this world, dances to God's tune. Just read Job for proof.
And yet love is the farthest thing from our thoughts. It's on our lips but our hearts, my heart, is stone. So he has to teach me, starting at the very beginning.
Blasphemy, some would say. "God helps those who help themselves." "God doesn't have time to mess with the weak. You must be strong, fight the good fight." Well, I'm a sort of warrior, but the hills are all too high for me to take. I'm helpless. God loves me anyway, and pours his love into me all the time, and gradually, oh so slowly, my course changes.
It's not that I'm trying to do this. I can only grow. I'm too tired to try any more, although I can be courageous at times. If I'm in myself I'm too weak to wrestle a kitten. If I'm listening to God, though, I'll stand up to just about anyone and declare that God has put me in this world for a purpose, His purpose, and I will allow no one to get in my way. A Berean on steroids, perhaps. Probably too rabid about it, but this is new. God allows me to make mistakes so that I can learn.
God is pleased when the new baby finally moves a toe. Signs of life, he loves. It's his own love, watering, fertilizing, feeding, encouraging and turning into something that only I can make of it. Why he does things this way I have no idea, but he certainly doesn't want Christian machinery. No, he has a plan and he knows how to do it.
Love does transform people. Love dissolves psychic granite and joints that used to be locked solid now move again, for the first time in years.
My hard-as-flint old eyes are made new, soft, accepting. The world is still hard, but I see hints of a difference.
Where's the Light?
They're too late. They're back there, standing by the barn door, watching the horses all run west, into the light. Amid the discussion of what a Blog for a church should be, there are many people who are already doing it. They're writing the book as they Blog, one day at a time.
Mosaic didn't snag me because of some carefully constructed plan that went along with a study guide and a succession of relevant sermons. No, they got me because I could see light in the place. My life was dark. I walked in there and saw light I'd forgotten existed. Nobody organized it. It grew. Followers of Jesus working together because of the life they've been given.
Writing a Blog is a natural outgrowth of that. One reader of my Blog called it a ministry, and I was glad of that. I'd like it to be a ministry for those who have been stuck in deadly routine as I was, and would like to see and get help in executing a more lively way. Not that I think I have all the answers. The main thing I'd like any visitor to this site to get is that God is infinitely patient, and will take your hand and lead you on the path he has designed for you.
Not a path designed for the church. Not a path that's set up to be as smooth as possible and not ruffle anyone else's feathers. Your feathers will most certainly be ruffled. It take a lot to change a life.
Organization is essential, like the bricks and mortar that support our culture. But it isn't the whole thing, nor the only thing! Life is why the infrastructure exists. Build the minimum necessary stuff and then let the life take over, like vines over the church. Don't try to direct them too closely or they'll die.
Instead of reading books about Blogging, go out and Blog. Rather than read books about following Jesus, ask him to take your hand and lead. There are a few good books: "Ruthless Trust" and "The Sacred Romance" being two I can recommend... if you want to take a dare. The main idea would be to approach Jesus in all your brokenness and just ask him what to do. The answer might be an ongoing surprise. He might even want you to write a Blog.