Friday, July 29, 2005
A Lot More Bottom
Life is rather like driving across Texas: lots of identical miles. What's the point in continuing the trip? Nothing changes, the route is cast in concrete, it all looks the same.
God seems to think there is a point in going on but I still haven't learned what it is. I hold his hand because he's the only hope I have of ever looking forward to living.
The first bricks go on the bottom. It just turns out that there's a whole lot more bottom in this life than I thought. If you want a good top, you need a good bottom, and that seems to be what God is concentrating on in my life: finding the bottom. It feels a lot like free-fall to me, digging for the bottom, trying to find it inside that pile of waste sand.
It seems that God wants me to know the reason for going on with this long, hot drive. I've just been holding his hand and staring off into dreamland while rolling along on a journey of no real goal other than following Jesus. I don't know. Maybe that's good enough, but I get hints every now and then that God wants me to have a dream.
Dreams? Forget it. Too expensive. As soon as one gets started, something comes along to knock it down. Go day-by-day, and when the tide comes in only one day's work disappears.
The chances of actually accomplishing a dream are slight. Not quite zero, but near, at least from my point of view. I'm thoroughly jaundiced. Cynical. Some people dream and do great things. Some people dream and get shot or crucified.
And dreams require some fight. You can't just roll over as I've learned to do.
It's interesting that I'm getting noticed more than used to be the case. I used to slip through life. If a conflict, or even a potential conflict, came up I'd duck and sidestep to keep my heart rate down. Conflict leaves unpleasant memories. Yesterday on the bus, though, I got on and wanted to talk to the driver so I sat in one of the front seats, next to an obvious hard case who was taking a seat and half of the next. Normally I'd have just gone looking for another seat. I sat down this time, and he started telling me what he was going to do to me if I touched him one more time. I told him to move and went back to talking with the driver. The other passenger continued to remonstrate and I ignored him.
Another seat became available and he moved. He continued to curse me and grumble. When another passenger sat next to me he started to tell her all the things that were wrong with me. So, I turned to him, told him I'd been vilified by guys lots better at it than he, and then I laughed in his face. I was just pretty well sick of the whole thing.
After I got off the bus I wondered where all of that came from. Granted, I'm angry about some things, and frustrated, but why stand up? What would Jesus have done? Something much different, I'm sure.
I think it has to do with finding the bottom and building new things on it. It takes time to learn how to live. I've been dead for so long that returning life is confusing, and takes odd forms. It actually felt pretty good to call that guy's bluff and send him packing. Rude people shouldn't be allowed to run the world. I'm sick of them.
Jesus loves them. I haven't gotten that far yet.
Wednesday, July 27, 2005
Breaking the Law
God has infiltrated my life so much now, though, that the separation hurts. People talk about dark nights of the soul, and I think I'm beginning to get the picture. It isn't that God turns from me, but that I try to hold the door closed against him.
And I had some things to do when I got home, so the distraction continued. I almost got run over by an idiot driver, but why mention that? Daily occurrence in L. A. so that no one notices, including the idiot drivers who almost run people over.
Finally I got a chance to be quiet. Where? In the shower, as usual. Nothing to do but wash the day's sweat off, and wonder why I washed off a better mood earlier.
Happiness is against the law. It brings attention to me. And it's against the Christian law, too. How many times have we all heard the statements about happiness not being the reason for life, and if you go looking for happiness you won't find it, and suchlike. The implication is that happiness itself is a Problem.
Well, I solved that problem by cutting it off. God is trying to teach me to allow it. It's an uphill battle.
I've been feeling pretty good of late. I know that feeling good isn't the reason for living, but life is far more enjoyable when I feel good than when I feel bad. Seems pretty basic. To me it isn't. This is advanced life management, I guess, and deals with things I thought I'd never need. But it turns out that life without happiness is pretty close to death.
Of course, an ability to feel happiness brings with it the ability to feel other and less pleasant things. To me the trade-0ff was worth it because of the vanishingly small chance of ever feeling real happiness that would stay for longer than a few seconds.
So, some echo of the old Junkyard Dog, or his more powerful cousin who has a death grip on the emotion controls, just pulled the switch and it felt as if the bottom went out from under me. In the old days I'd have panicked and ... well, in the old days it never woud have happened. There wouldn't have been a switch to pull, most of the time. In the few times I did lose touch with the bottom, I just closed up and prepared to survive the fall. Now... the floor disappears but I don't fall. I look down, nothing there, start running, but it's different.
Habit dies hard. At least this time it only took me a few hours to realize what I was doing and let the door swing open. This kind of thing must make God very sad: He knows what I need, is prepared to give it to me... and I hold his hand away. He tries to feed me but what he's holding looks, in these scared moments, like poison. Anything looks like poison. Gargh. I wonder why he's not sick of me.
But, damn, I'm sick of laws. Some laws make great sense: Don't run stop signs, don't rob banks, etc. Other laws make no sense: you may not feel this because it'll make you weak, you can't enjoy life, you must be hard as stone. I want to break some laws. I wish changing my soul were as easy as jaywalking.
How Do I Know?
Experience is part of it. Being a good observer, and comparing expected results to the real results is always instructive. Theory doesn't mean much when all of your sand just went on the ground. You can also sit around and theorize the problem to death, run simulations and predict, but no one knows until you actually try something. Sooner or later the information has to be used.
I'm highly suspicious of people. Most of them don't spend much time thinking about what they're doing, and just pass on to others what they've heard somewhere else. Nothing ever gets tested. They reinvent the wheel every day. We as a culture lack the principle that events and practices build on each other. We're supposed to learn, but our culture has no respect for the time and effort that real learning requires.
So, I learned a long time ago to make my own mistakes. At least then I could work to fix the problem. Making the same mistakes as others gets me into a place where I have no idea what's going on, and no understanding that would help me fix it.
Mosaic Beverly Hills was new when I started working there. At first I did miscellaneous things, but after a few weeks my technical skills got me involved with the sound and presentation group. We'd inherited an old and cranky sound system whose many patches were coming loose, so every Sunday was an intensive troubleshooting period. At first I was completely at sea. I had no idea what connected to what, nor why. I expected someone else knew what was supposed to work, but shortly was disabused of that belief. We worked around it, and then I got fed up.
Gradually, Sunday by Sunday, I had Lu help me find out what was supposed to happen. A few times I broke things that used to work, but we patched it and ran the show. By early spring we got the system reliable: we'd hook it up and it would work. We'd sorted out things that had been miswired for a long time, found the bad connectors or cables and replaced them, and labelled them so everyone knew where to plug them in. I still remember the day it all worked the first time, and I could sit back and relax as the band practiced. We were glad.
We had to learn our way through all of this. Make the mistakes, make decisions that turned out to be wrong, gather data and make it work. This isn't an elegant process. You just have to start someplace and see what happens. You will make mistakes.
I'm good at this process. It's the way God made me. I don't know why. If I start to feel confused I know that I'm missing information, and I start trying to learn.
If I feel the project is worth it. Technical stuff is easy. You plug it in. If it works, go to the next If it doesn't, wiggle it. If that changes something, figure out what's at fault. Be wary of multiple overlapping failures, and work through it. I've never felt helpless with this kind of thing; it is susceptible to an artistically rational way of thought that suits my brain.
Other things, I just give up. If you have a ball of cats, you need to find a tail someplace to hold. Relationships are a big ball of cats and I can find no tail. Who taught me this truth? Experience. I reach in, think I've found something true, and then claws and teeth sink in. Oops. Wrong end. Enough lacerations and I just quit. Back out, close the door, lock it and go on. I don't know where the truth is.
God just doesn't understand defeat. I've had my nose rubbed in defeat for a lifetime, so I've learned which battles not to try. And now God says that relationships are just another group of Philistines, and all it takes is one Jonathan. Victory is assured.
Assured? Who are you trying to kid? I have the scars to prove just how intractable this batch of Philistine cats is. They're tougher than I am. They are incomprehensible. There is no junction point to start with, no knob to twist in order to find out if it's the left or the right channel. I can't swap a card to see if the trouble moves. I look at the whole mess beyond the door that God has unlocked and see no way through. My artistically rational process, which has worked so well in so many different places, just falls to pieces, and the pieces scurry away looking for shelter.
How do I know defeat? Experience. Repeated. How do I know God? A string of victories, little ones, making a chain that lifts me beyond what I once knew. Can I trust this to continue? There's no reason not to, but... relationships? Very sharp claws in that ball of cats. I'd rather not.
God allows little choice, because I've told him repeatedly that I want what He knows is best. He knows. I don't. The limits of my knowledge, the limit of my experience, the close boundary of the familiar. Statistics say one more defeat is guaranteed. God doesn't understand statistics.
It's fairly easy to add new information to existing, similar, information, and by comparing and contrasting and testing find out where it fits. That enlarges the system, providing more hooks for even more new information. Once you've learned some technical things, new technical things have a place to hang their hats and stick around.
Brand-new information is harder to learn. You have to build the whole system from scratch, which is why children are so busy learning things and playing .It's how they assemble their world. Adults already have a world, but sometimes it needs an addition, and this is hard. Adults are less flexible, ossifying as they age. God is the great dissolver of calcium deposits, restoring flexibility; he just doesn't recognize such a thing as a box to think outside of.
He won't waste his time teaching a pig to fly. The pig isn't made that way. He will spend a lot of time teaching me to fly, because at one time in my life I had wings. That I cut them off is my fault, but he has made it his problem. Of course I no longer have the skills to fly, if I ever did. He has to start from scratch, teaching me to recognize his truth even if it's outside what I know. Far outside.
Monday, July 25, 2005
Fixing the Contents Links
I just fixed them. Everything I've tested works, although I did just test a few representative stories. If you find more problems, please let me know.
Sunday, July 24, 2005
God's Touches of Love
So, I got to bed at a more-or-less decent hour. Which meant I was able to get up early the next morning and be first to the laundromat. The early bird gets the washing machine, and I was home again, clothes put away, by about 0730. So, what to do with the rest of the day?
The Holy Spirit whispered to me, in that quiet voice I'm now better at hearing because I'm not so afraid, "Mosaic." "You want me to go? Well, all right, it'll be an excuse for a bike ride, if nothing else." It isn't all that often that I get a direct hint like this. I went.
South through Marina del Rey, then east along Ballona Creek. The tide had turned, pushing up the estuary along with lots of bicyclists. I'm not used to this much traffic. I passed most of them on the upgrades out from under the streets; these flatlanders don't have my climbing muscles. I also remember why I ride a bike, and stopped at a couple of places to look at birds. Egrets, and then a family of ducks. The mother walked along beside the little stream, while her half-grown kids paddled like mad against the current.
It's high summer. Climbing the slow gradient with a tailwind, I got pretty hot. Even slowing down on the shady approach to the Mosaic meeting place didn't help, and I was pretty well running with sweat when I pulled into the parking lot. I stayed in the shade there for a few minutes and then found a place to put the bike and then walked in to get a drink.
The foyer had a nice breeze, so I leaned against a counter and let the wind draw the built-up heat away. Daydreaming, I heard a voice. Looked up, and there was Neocoach.
Now, until I met this man I'd never had anything good to say about coaches. My memories were all bad, junior high and high school sadists in white gym shorts. I kept my head down and survived. When I first ran into the man I'd eventually know as Neocoach the meeting did nothing to dispel the feeling: his job was to whip up enthusiasm in a group of men. I tuned him out to the extent allowed by the loud amplification.
A year later I planned to go to the same men's event but the roof fell in on me and I bailed. When Neocoach got back, he fired off an Email asking why. So, I told him the story, briefly and strongly, and expected to hear nothing more. To my surprise he wrote back, and that's when I discovered that I had made the wrong assumption. "Coach" moniker or no, here was a man with a real heart. A few more meetings, and some more Emails, confirmed the new image.
He and his wife walked up to me. We hugged. They had never been to this meeting before, and I came on a whim. God's little present to both of us. We talked for a bit, then went in and sat down for the celebration. At the end we made plans for lunch, so I rode home against the usual afternoon sea breeze and then met them at Casablanca.
Lunch was a delight. It's not often I meet people who are both humble and alive. We joked, we talked seriously. Neocoach asked me what I thought of the skit Mosaic had presented, and I said it was incomprehensible, as usual. His wife told us what she thought, and her mind was flexible enough to find a connection between the sandwich-shop skit and the pastor's message. Neocoach went on to say that the guy who played the proprietor gave his life to Jesus at the men's event I attended, and is now in charge of the performances at Mosaic Culver City.
What is friendship made of? Much more than planned meetings, and much less. Getting together to see what happens is a big part of it. I wish we lived closer to each other. I walked them back to their car and with a final joke we went on our separate paths, God having given all of us one of those wonderful little gifts that so delight Him to give, if I'll just be quiet and give him the chance.
A Rebel Through the Eyes of Love
Or you can turn him. Brainwashing. Get your hands on him and work your fingers into the marvellously plastic human mind, and he'll end up believing anything. Then send him out as a poster boy for the New millennium, happily spreading his deadly contagion.
If that fails, just lobotomize him. So damage his mind that he can't think but will follow orders explicitly.
That's how I see the world. That's why I'm so determined to be a hard stone in the implacable machinery: it's me against Them, the ones who've tried to steal my soul from the moment of my birth.
What gave me the idea that my own little soul is so important? Why would I fight tooth and nail, and give up so many facets of normal human life, to preserve what I felt to be ME? In the cosmic scheme of things I'm just a very temporary assemblage of chemicals and minerals with no more claim to rights than any other. Completely interchangeable. If I don't do what I do, someone else will, or, if not, it didn't need to be done. No, I couldn't buy that. I'm here and must be myself. Otherwise, to exist is a complete lie; if I'm not here to contribute some sort of Larryness to the world I might as well off myself.
But man, oh, man, is it hard to hold onto that idea. It seems that everyone knows better what I should be doing. They all have their own ideas from little ones that just nip off a tiny piece to big ones that would swallow me whole. Little by little or all at once the end is the same: subsumed into someone else's worldview, my voice forever stilled.
Who gives my voice value? God himself. He says he wants me in his world. He died to make this possible, died so that I could get fresh eyes and a new mind. Eyes to see reality and a mind to figure it out.
Reality is that the world isn't so hard-edged as I've assumed. When you're a very fragile, brittle piece of stone caught in the gears, any dent is an incipient problem and must be resisted with all force possible. When, however, you're a child of the Living God, the One who made the Universe, the gears of the world might seem as large, but they aren't hard enough to grind me up. They may hurt, but the Holy Spirit knows how to heal me.
This isn't exactly a new idea. I've been thinking about it for the last year and a half, ever since seeing that God was taking this whole reconstruction plan very seriously. He was going to do it, because he made a promise before the world began. I could resist, but he would take every opportunity to remind me of the promise, and my own request to do whatever it took. What's new is seeing how wide-spread the reconstruction is. Everything in me is affected by God's touch; he follows the threads of history and reason down and down to where they originate, and my soul quakes as new awareness changes the relationships.
The Holy Spirit goes about his business to the degree that I let him, and he's at it all the time. I wake up and find something has changed. Most of the time I then resist the change, try to put things back, but we're way past the Humpty-Dumpty stage. The new parts are too big to fit the old soul. You can't put new rebellious wine in an old rebellious wineskin.
Rebellion is part of me. It's there for a good reason: this world is run by a master liar, and his lies are close enough to truth that it take real discrimination to identify them. Once the pattern is learned, though, the lies become easier to spot, which is why the Devil doesn't want anyone asking questions. He hates rebels, which is why I'm really, really glad the Holy Spirit holds me close. Otherwise, I'd be toast.
Saturday, July 23, 2005
Distraction is Distraction
True for most years, but this one was something else. Spring starts when the rain hits, and it started early and kept up. Chaparral plants are extreme opportunists, as am I, sensing with their slow processes the change in season and going for broke.
I rode into the mountains to record the process. Giant phacelia, in a normal year about a foot tall and therefore a true giant among chaparral flowers, this year reached four feet and showed in places I'd never seen it before. Everywhere I turned there were flowers, and the camera I'd bought with the macro lens just for this purpose was always ready.
Mountain biking started as a way to see the wild world, or at least as much of it remains around here. After God brought me back to himself riding was a way to have some time with him away from the telephone and computer, and we solved many problems while I was up there. I'd ride for a time, walk for a time, sit under a bush and think, praying for clarity and getting it under his skilled tutelage.
Toting a camera turned the whole thing into work. I couldn't let any flower go unphotographed. It was a handy distraction. God's voice faded. I got some good images, but they were expensive.
Distraction is a handy tool for one who needs not to care. When thoughts run too deep I can simply run: to photography, to sand sculpture, to reading. I guess I'm lucky I never became the type to get drunk as a distraction or I'd have died years ago. Lucky, or protected? I always chose distractions that weren't life-threatening, at least in the physical sense.
Spiritual health is another issue. Good distraction is still distraction, and God's touch helps center me. It also sets me aflame with a whole lot of barely comprehensible things. I don't really want to comprehend. He wants me to love? I can see where that path leads. Distraction is more attractive, and yet I remember the warmth of his gentle touch. I add the fire, remembering the implied judgment that God has never made. He calls and I drown the voice in things that are themselves good but used wrongly. Music, even church. Being busy.
Love means that God keeps his voice quiet. He's not a manipulator.
As my life improves the options for good distractions increase. Depression is a great reason not to do anything, or to concentrate on one or two things that are good enough to get me moving. Now there are more options and every minute can be filled with something that builds a fence between God and me.
Another balance. Fear against need, attraction and fear, gentleness versus perception and memory. Getting close to God is uncompromising, a call to growth that, like the flowers here in the mountains, can't be supported by anything but His constant rain of love. Distraction is a purposeful stepping on the new growth, and putting up an umbrella to preserve the desert.
Learning to Care
Given nothing to react against, do I have a life? There's this thick, strong shell, and nothing inside? I doubt that it's really that clearly defined, but it feels that way. Who am I, if I'm not reacting?
Usually there's plenty to react against. For every action... but lately I've just had a hard time caring about anything. Well, I care about falling, so I hold onto God's hand, but beyond that I'm not very concerned. What has always defined me has evaporated.
This might be the definition of an ideal Christian. Completely empty, so he can be filled by God. That doesn't seem to be what God wants; he has put considerable time and effort into pointing out to me where I'm lacking and how that affects the way I live. The Holy Spirit seems to be leading me to shed various ideas, or to follow the threads deep into what makes me, me, and start caring about that.
It turns out that writing is a way of caring. It's a way of learning. My memory runs shallow, but writing imprints events, gets them out of me where they can be seen, and allows God to use the ideas and move me onward. I've not written consistently in the last couple of months... and haven't learned much. The overheated pace of life slowed.
I've been drifting. I needed a break, but that may be the wrong kind. I think I've given God a bad rap: he's supposed to be cracking the whip all the time, so I don't go to him for comfort. He is called, for some reason, the Comforter, however, and maybe I need to learn about that.
He knows I could use it. There has been very little comfort in my life. I don't allow it. It's habit-forming and weakening. In walking through a hostile world there can be no softness allowed. To resist the world's grinding gears I must be a stone. A hard stone.
God wants me to be something else. I resist the idea, but know that he is a better guide than I. He knows me completely. He wants me to be brave, soft and flexible. Reaction allows no time to develop any of that, nor admits of any need to become such a person. Action is the way. To produce a life like Jesus' I have to allow the changes.
Jesus cared. He was open to all who came to him, even the Pharisees who plotted his death. Can you imagine the strength that took? There's no way I can do that, and I can't even conceive of climbing the foothills to that mountain. Naturally, I'm disappointed. I'm supposed to follow Jesus, so just hit the road. Nothing to it.
React to the rules by following them, so as to stay out of trouble. That's not God's goal here. He doesn't want me following Jesus as a step-by-step rulebook-bound process of staying on his good side. He wants me alive, argumentative and resistant as I am. Iconoclastic too, rebellious, and cloaking it in such high-minded church-approved terms as "Berean."
What happens when the rebel has nothing to rebel against? God's leadership is hardly slave-driving. I find freedom whenever I look at Jesus, but soon after that comes the internal judgment to keep me from acting in that freedom. If God won't judge me, I'll do it myself. That means I can go on being irritable and cranky, because nothing makes people cranky like being judged unfairly.
Self-judgment is a killer. You'd think that God's alternative would be so attractive that I'd drop everything and run, but the truth is I quail. The thought of freedom terrifies me. Free to love, free to know the pain of missing love, free to actually see the results of my actions on the world around me. I've always ignored this because I knew the effect had to be bad, but what if there's some good in there too? I resolutely ignore it. I ignore everything but the bare task of survival, and there is no room in survival for caring.
So, God reaches deep, deep inside to find the remnant of caring. The wide-eyed child who watched cats walking across the back yard, and wondered how such a small animal could be made so perfectly, and move so beautifully. Crocus flowers coming up through the last snow; how could this happen? What told the trees to make buds in the spring? What told them to shed the leaves in the fall? There wasn't much room for wonder amid the facts: spring meant we had to work on the garden, fall meant we had to rake up all the pesky leaves.
If I wanted to feel wonder I had to do so alone. I could care then, out by myself on my bicycle or walking, just looking at things. It was a compromise that worked well enough: some wonder amid the year-by-year drudgery.
And now God has a hold on my life, and he is always there. I have no privacy any more. He sees every mistake, and my judgmental imagination sees him ready to toss me off the bus after finally losing patience. The fear is very deep-seated. So I do my best to make the grade, plodding up the mountain, not looking to one side or the other, ignoring the flowers because they distract from the simple act of moving on. That's what he expects. Run the race, climb the mountain, gain approval. Or at least do well enough to be ignored.
Under the surface the Holy Spirit does his work, reweaving what makes me able to stand. Most of the time I don't know what he's doing, and don't want to care. The news is bound to be bad: more mistakes, more shortcomings, more echoes from the past. It's just too much for me to believe that the rule book has really been thrown away, the past removed utterly, and the only rule now is love. I guess I do care about that because otherwise I would have quit.
Friday, July 22, 2005
Freedom of Emotion
Immortality is a popular theme in science fiction books. People kill everyone else in their attempts to extend their own lives by a day or two. I never have been able to understand their motivation; it is never discussed, but treated as a concept so basic that it needs no explanation nor justification.
If someone came up to me and offered immortality I'd turn them down. I never have looked forward to each day, as some do. I count any day a success that has no major pains, physical or of the psyche.
God offered me immortality, and I took it. As a side effect, however. The main issue for me, wrong-headed as this might be, has always been the hope that day-to-day life might become something more than a weary walk to some tedious destination, better than just counting days down until the one finally comes and I'm released.
Why is this? I've not looked very closely because I figured the result of messing with a system in balance would most likely be to destroy it... and I wasn't ready for the results. If the ending comes I want it to be clean, not to subject me to the mechanized ministrations of people paid to act as if they care. I've seen enough of this.
Side effects of immortality: God's ministry of restarting the dead heart. Where does depression come from? Probably as many paths to that as there are people, but one reason for mine, I'm learning bit by painful and confusing bit, is that I'm always telling myself what to feel.
Life run by rational fiat. If the mind says the emotion is justified, then I can feel it, but by the time all the processing is over with the event that started it is long gone. About as spontaneous as yesterday's radio program. There's no point.
God comes along and suggests a different approach, which starts from the assumption that he made me as I am. What logically follows from that? The idea that emotion is a normal part of a real human being. How about that? Logically being led to the point of realizing I have to turn loose of logic. This might give you some idea of why I've been so crabby for the last few months: the very destruction I've held away for most of my life is happening, and God, the one who promised to be my friend, is the one doing the tearing down.
God didn't promise to be a yes-man political friend. He promised to do what is right, one who would do whatever it took to restore life to my self-made desert. Why? Because it is what He does: bring life to whatever he touches, to the degree he is allowed. He hears the call of the desperate and zips in a tendril of help before the door slams shut in His face. By such fleeting touches He communicates his intent, plants seeds, waters with love, and waits for the hell-bent soul to realize his depravity and brokenness. Maybe the soul will reopen the door. He hopes.
Desperation is a good way to get the initial contact but it doesn't work for the long haul. There must be something sturdier underneath the relationship. I have to want to live.
I see little chance of that, but God is not the quitting kind. I've learned to quit before spending any more of my scarce resources on what has been proven, over and over, to be impossible.
Now I see hints of the possible. Look, folks! Progress, even when I resolutely ignore everything around me and just hang onto Jesus' hand. This, of course, brings its own reaction: people are going to notice this kind of change. Pessimistic, cynical Larry getting up with a smile?
God doesn't guarantee happiness, but he does guarantee authenticity. Once you start down the road of unawareness there is no stop until everything is wrapped in cotton and foam. Pain and pleasure both become impossible, the one sacrificed so as to keep the other at a distance, and which is more dangerous? Pleasure, of course, because it draws too much attention. Pain, everyone sees that. It just blends into the background of modern life. Pleasure stands out like a wildflower among regiments of cultured black roses. Authentic life requires real emotion.
I can trace the trail of learning back, each step I've made growing from the previous one. God is a quite astounding teacher. First getting my attention, then showing me how badly I'd managed my life in contrast to the "coincidences" he had arranged through the years I denied him. And then, day by day, showing me that even if his touch burns a bit it leads toward a better life. Each little lesson providing a reason to believe the next, little step by little step moving me into a country I no longer recognize.
It is a country that exists only by God's grace and intent. To back out now, retrace my walk to where I started, would hurt so much I can't even think about it, even when the pain of the present journey is more than I want to face.
Pain is a constant. Pain without God is just pain. Pain with God is... possibility. Hold his hand. Look beyond, believe, even as a child might, if his father is a good one, that the pain caused by pulling the splinter out of his hand is better and more brief than the pain which would result from the short-term idea of leaving it in place.
This may sound fatuous. God, you might think, has better things to do than smooth out the emotional life of one man, who would be better served by serving others. I'd suggest that you read some history and see how many good causes have been destroyed by the weaknesses that ran unrecognized within the members. God doesn't seem to be in a hurry. He doesn't dawdle, but he also doesn't push people into situations that will break them. People do enough of that already.
For me, the decision is easy to make. Change, or die. Do this God's way, or further living is an outlook so bleak I'm not interested.
I have been dilatory in blogging. I'm sorry. God is disappointed with this, but also understanding why. One reason is just not wanting to write, pull myself into a shell and forget the whole world. Another reason stems from that: not being brave enough to put these ideas out. Christians aren't supposed to be mavericks. Depression leads to just wanting to disappear.
How can I tell my story in a way that's believable? I have no idea. People will read this and laugh. "How can he take all this twaddle seriously?" Well, it's serious to me, and I'm still here so it must be a matter of some seriousness for my Father, too. If he were really bothered he'd do something, terminate the failed experiment. There are probably things I could do better, but in the welter of imperfect paths to choose I try to work it out.
One guide for that is my own weaknesses. Experience has taught me where I'm good and where I'm not so good. A book suggested that the areas where I have problem are my areas of strength because that's where the Enemy attacks hardest. Holding Jesus' hand is not only a good way to stay alive, but also a good way to gain improved eyesight. God will remove the tons of dry sand I heaped up on top of the gifts he gave me. The enemy is powerless once he's recognized, and he can't tolerate any kind of light.
Naturally, I shy away from weak areas. Once the rest of the world finds out where I'm weak, the attacks come. Experience, again. Shying away from weakness just perpetuates that weakness. So, the path God leads me on runs repeatedly through these areas of confusion, but each trip teaches me more about how to see. God takes the time to do things right.
I might prefer a quick fix. Just pump in some new emotion. The problem with that is that I would destroy it as I have destroyed the other gifts. No, he has to dig deep for freedom.
Blogs, their entries and comments, are a good resource. Reminders of God's grace, reminders of what I've learned when I'm looking ahead at what looks like a steep and rough path. The path turns out to be sort of like fog, though: at some point everything just disappears, but the point of grey blankness recedes at the same rate I walk. What looks impossible to day will, like today's thin-section sand sculptures, become routine.
If I keep holding God's hand. Only He makes life worth living.
Through Mud, with Lead Shoes
And if it doesn't happen, if by some miracle the bus keeps going and I stay on board? What then? Well, I'll just take God's place. If he won't throw me off, I'll just jump off before he gets tired of me.
Self-judgment is a wonderful defensive mechanism. Why bother starting anything when you know it will end? The constant drag of unworthiness is less painful than the sharp disappointment and agony of having something good taken from my grasp, so I'll just stay away. I also won't become attached to anything good because my touch will make it evaporate or simply come apart and run out of my hand like dry sand through my fingers.
Here I am, almost two years into this experiment, and God's bus is still rolling, and I'm still aboard. That my life isn't very joyous has more to do with how I respond to God's grace than with anything He has done.
It's simple. All he has asked me to do is follow him. I have learned that his demands aren't extreme, and are always within my capability if I keep hold of his hand. Why would I let go? Because I predict. I can see where the path leads. It's steep, long, impossible, and God will be very upset with me when I can't get there.
If someone had shown me one of my modern sand sculptures back in 1984 and told me to make one, I'd have quit on the spot. "No way. Sand won't do that. I certainly can't do it." I'd have been so discouraged that the process wouldn't have been any fun at all. I'd have been looking toward what I should be instead of enjoying what I was. But in 1984 I had no idea what was coming. It was a new path, unpredictable. I expected each sculpture to be the last, but I kept finding new ideas, and here we are 21 years later and I'm still finding new ideas. I look back and see that I've climbed quite a hill. Looking forward, the sand sculpture track disappears into a nearby fogbank. I don't know what's beyond it, but the process of making sculpture is still enjoyable, still a challenge I like to take, and I'll keep walking.
Walking with Jesus is, in principle, the same. I don't really know what's coming. The problem is that, like readers of a new book who can't wait to tell someone else about it, churches and speakers are constantly telling me where I should go. I know the standard by which I'm measured. I'm very small on that scale, incompetent, and always have been. Starting when I was a kid I was never good enough.
God is my great Father. Sometimes he actually convinces me that I'm good enough, that his Son made me clean and beautiful in His sight. He doesn't see the road ahead and how short a distance I've climbed. He sees who I am inside, and calls me beautiful as I am. I try to short-circuit this, believing that it can't be true. Too many people have told me too many times that God is very demanding... and so I end up looking back at Egypt.
It's really no wonder. Life seems to be so demanding ahead that slavery looks good by comparison. Slavery to old ideas, to my way of directing myself. Slavery to judging myself if God refuses to do so, so that I won't be disappointed and hurt one more time when the bus driver finally gets tired of me and throws me off because I'm not pulling my weight.
Life turns into a long plod, and then circumstances turn the ground to mud. Sticky mud, and everything just gets heavy. Jesus came to set the prisoner free. Well, I'm a prisoner, all right. Where's the freedom?
Freedom is in his glorious hand. He touches me, guides me, tells me I am loved and that I am loved as I sit. He wants me to do things but is willing to take the time to teach me well. His touch burns when I'm trying to hide, but it's more my extreme sensitivity than the heat of his fingers. I'm just looking for any slight hint of the coming cut-off.
So, there are rules. One is never to be ebullient. Happy people get shot at. Keep your head down; acting pleased is just asking for too much attention, and my life has depended on being invisible. But why shouldn't I be happy? God is good to me. His constant push is out of the hole of depression. I resist. I don't know how to be happy. I tend to get giddy and silly, perhaps because it's so rare. Let the dogs out of the pen and of course they go nuts with freedom. I'm supposed to stay in my straitjacket.
Lead shoes are standard equipment for adults. We can't have them jumping around like kids. I'm quite a mimic in the name of survival. God is trying to teach me a new way of life. It's more than just trudging heavily along through the dry days. I look ahead and see difficulty and problems. God looks back and sees a path through the wilderness that he will lead me on if I just keep looking at him and holding his hand.
Where will we end up? I don't know, other than I will end up in some unique way looking like Jesus. How can millions of followers of Jesus be like him and yet themselves? I don't know, but the God who designs all of our details can do it without breaking a sweat. I sweat, yes, and swear too when it gets to be too much. That's my sign that I'm looking ahead, not at him.
And that path ahead isn't even God's path! It's a path laid out by people who think that one or two paths are enough. Only God knows the multiplex weavings of life. We try to standardize. God works at restoring uniqueness. It's quite a tension, and I end up trying to remain invisible. This upsets God. Only he can break into the cycle of self-punishment, remove the lead from my feet and put a spring in my step that hasn't been there in years. If I let him.
Tuesday, July 19, 2005
Holding the Flaming Hand
Who defines life? Me, in my minefield dance of narrow paths and dire missteps? It's familiar, comfortable, joyless (but who needs joy) and fairly easy to get through the day, so long as I don't dream of doing anything better. Or is it God who defines life, him of the heart burning to restore his people? He, who dares me to try something new, asks me to trust that he will hold onto me? He, whose love is so strong that he gave up his Son?
Trust is easy when we're walking among the daisies on a cool morning. I can imagine the wide land ahead of me, imagine living there with none of my usual constraints. God gave the Israelites a dry path across the Jordan, brought them to the land and said "It's yours. A wide land, flowing with milk and honey." There was a slight problem of prior ownership, but God would be with them in that too. The land was promised to Jacob and his descendants, and God honors his promises.
So, they had to fight. I'm not much of a fighter. Well, maybe I am, when I know I have a good chance of winning. As God works his way more deeply into my life, though, we face enemies that can eat my lunch so quickly, and have done it so often, that I don't even think about attacking or even staying put. I run. I've never won, so what crazy idea would make me think I could win this time?
God tells me I can win. I have to stay in the fight. I have to put some effort into moving a foot forward. He promises to help.
Where are we headed, with those little tiny steps? A land of his choosing, a place that he promises will be good. To my fallen eyes and feelings, he's being optimistic. I see trouble, I see pain, I see involvement in situations that have always made me uncomfortable. He calls me to love, he calls me to serve, and I've seen what happens to people who throw their lives into such things: they get ground up and thanklessly spit out as little fragments.
Note that God calls me to love. He doesn't define it. He just says follow me. I fill in the unpleasant, predicted details based on my own fallen view of things, and therefore balk. I have learned that God's definition of my life is much broader than what churches have said; churches have a few niches for people, and they're trimmed to fit. God seems to have a niche for each individual person, and he wants them to expand into their niches as Israel expanded into their new land.
Well, it's all a nice story. I wish I could give you the happy ending. I move on into the land and live happily ever after. The truth is darker: I resist going where God goes. His touch burns with life, and I quail. What started as a sort of gutterball approach to following Jesus turns out to have been right down the center of the alley that leads to God's heart, and no surprise. That's where the Holy Spirit leads if given a chance, and desperation gave me the impetus to let him lead. Now, though, I'm not so desperate. I'm a bit stronger, and I know more about what God is doing.
Nothing, really, has changed. God is still himself and his goals haven't changed. What has changed is my view. Life is more assured, less desperate, and that's good enough for me. It's not good enough for the Holy Spirit. He wants perfection, and he keeps giving me an itch for going on. I do still have a desire to find out what's beyond the next ridge.
It's a motivation I've had all my life. "There must be a better way." Siren song of the problem solver cum explorer. What is possible, if you throw away the rule book and go back to first principles? The first thing I learned is that this is a lonely way. No one understood when I was a kid, and I dreamed of having someone understand.
Well, be careful what you wish for. God understands, yes, and goes beyond understanding to saying "Let's go find out. Come and see." And I, the intrepid explorer, turn down the invitation. Because I'm just plain scared.
The touch that heals, the touch that burns. Only God knows how to do it, only his touch brings life. That his life looks to me like death is my fault. I'm astounded that he's willing to spend the time it takes to teach me. Somebody says "No" to me once, I'm gone. God... sees things differently. A "No" from fear is different from a "No" originating in defiance.
Community should be a process of people growing together into their new lands, helping each other along the way, one's strength filling in for another's momentary weakness, and then trading roles. Usually, though, some planner gets ahold of things and drags everyone down to some mechanistic level. "If we put this in, we'll get this out." That doesn't work.
We just have to encourage each person to take God's hand, in fear and trembling or in great delight and courage, and keep making that decision every day. The strong and brave types have an easier time of it. Some of us see the wind and the waves it raises, and become very scared.
Monday, July 18, 2005
Stone, Flesh, Pain, Memory
A heart of flesh can't live that way. It's aware of the hurt, knows it has been damaged in some deep way, and begins to ache. Well, the ache was always there but hidden, buried in noise or events, or under enough layers of other stuff that the pain can't be felt any more. It still hurts and the direction of my life bypasses it, leaving that area unknown, unexplored, dangerous like a hidden land mine.
Seen from this perspective, God is very dangerous. He's a virus attacking the cyst, and my psychologic immune system reacts strongly. He's a lone warrior against the years-old castle, who won't take "No! Hell, no!" for an answer.
I bailed from psychoanalysis when I finally realized I'd die before I'd tell the analyst anything important. I still hold to that defense: life starts to get difficult, or just plain heads south, and I get quiet. That's why there has been so little new content on this Blog over the last few months.
Churches are no help. They insist on structure, organization, and putting machinery before people, plans before effectiveness. It can't possibly be the Holy Spirit doing this because it doesn't fit our way of doing things. The last time I went to church I was taken aside by a man I'd not seen in months and given a gentle lecture about obedience. Now, how the hell would he know if I'm being obedient? He's guessing, from the small part of the pattern that he sees, without asking for my story. This is why I'd rather die than tell anyone anything that's critical to me: people won't take the time to understand.
I could try to tell him that God is working on my heart and he'd say "Wonderful." He could quote me the verse about God taking my stone heart away and replacing it with flesh. What he doesn't understand is the absolute terror this process gives me. I know how to live with a stone heart. I know nothing of flesh, so I'm scared, and when I'm scared I keep to myself... because people tell me I shouldn't be afraid.
I know all that. I know the story of Peter walking to Jesus through the storm. Peter lost his grip on God's reality when he saw the wind coming to tear him apart and sink him. It's a real concern. How many other times have I been promised help that never appears? It's better not to try to float. Stay on the bottom, in the low-energy position where there's little to lose.
God works toward bouyancy. He infuses me with lightness, or works to that end. I'm a pessimist by training, however, due to all those old torpedoes. I know my place is on the bottom, so I stay there, resisting the offer of Jesus' hand to restore me. Falling hurts. Better to simplify things and stay where I've already sunk.
Flesh-for-stone sounds wonderful. The promise of a new life, one that actually has some life to it, skating the wavetops with Jesus. It'll be wonderful when it's done. Getting there is the real problem: staying with Jesus day by day as his transformation takes place through the things we do together. Community is supposed to make this easier, or, if not easier in fact, at least more bearable through having company. But much of what is called community is just spam, in Lu's parlance, and adds to the burden. I not only have to survive the changes, but justify and explain them to skeptics who believe following Jesus is a step-by-step process with recognizable landmarks that can be checked off according to the plan.
There's only so much energy available. I don't have any to use for phony community. So I go my way, and God patiently takes the threads of pain, traces them back to the encysted torpedo, defuses the thing and removes it. My role in this?
Don't hold onto the torpedo. Let it, and the pain, go. They don't define me, but habits, especially those designed to avoid pain (have I told you that I really don't like pain of any kind?) are hard to break. Some of those things really hurt, too. God goes digging, touches something very sensitive, and the pain goes through me like stepping on a hot nail. It's hard to let go. It's hard to let God have his way, when I've learned how to live in the space between the cysts.
I know the safe paths, the places to avoid, the little areas where I can walk without pain. Note that without pain is different from living with pleasure, but it's a trade-off I'm willing to make.
It is NOT, however, a trade-off that interests God. You can't walk a wide land that's laced with land mines. Expansive life doesn't take place on a few narrow paths, trodden deep through the years because they're safely below the level of danger. Bravery seems to go with the heart of flesh, and I squash it.
God is the great breaker of habits, the anti-statistical element in our predictable universes, the wings on the cannonball that has suddenly gone counter-ballistic. The only predictable thing in his behavior is his absolutely unflinching love that requires him to do his best for each of us. He knows what is best, and does his best to get me to see that.
It is a lonely path. I wish there were others on the way, but I've not found them. Maybe I, trained well by the past, haven't been looking deeply enough. Maybe I'm not adventurous enough in approaching people. Most are followers: if someone starts something, the others will go along, but the ideas, the spark, come from someone else. Maybe that's a role God wants me to play, and again the guide might come from sand sculpture. If I'd sat around waiting for someone to tell me how to make an arch of sand, I'd still be waiting. Unfortunately, experimenting with people is much more fraught with danger than trying things in sand.
Well, if it were easy, everyone in the world would be following Jesus. If art were easy, everyone would be doing it. Some things take work, and the more work it takes, the more likely it is to be important. After all, Satan sees no point in attacking us where we're weak. If he takes our strength away, as Lu hints, then we're dead in the water and sinking.
Thus, God's great care for these things that cause me so much trouble. They're my strengths. I wonder what shape they'll take on as the restoration proceeds. If you know, please don't tell me. I'd just get scared.