Friday, November 25, 2005
Clifford Simak, in "City," suggests that it's an ability of people see accurately through the words and other limitations to the real concepts in another person. The story grows around a particular system of philosophy that humans might some day achieve. It's a good idea.
We already have what we need to do this. He's the Holy Spirit.
Sandra, in a recent Blog entry, talks about being transformed. I left a comment there that I hoped would add some light to what she said. Another person left several comments, one of which criticized me for being so noisy in my talking about God. Perhaps I'm using the noise to cover up that deep hole? Whitewash over the rotten fence?
It's a good question, and I'm the questioning type. How do I know God is real? We all have ways of finding things we trust. Reality is what doesn't change when you quit looking at it.
At the same time, I suspect that if my beliefs were more fashionable I wouldn't be criticized. If I trumpeted a nice melange of New Age and shamanistic ideas and gave it a fancy name, it would be seen as a fascinating presentation of ideas rather than as proselytizing. Truth is a hard thing to contain within words and communicating it requires work from both the sender and the receiver. As Erwin said last Sunday, quoting someone else, "You can't see it if you don't believe it."
We're very well trained to see things as our world expects. To deviate from that is to risk becoming an outcast. There's even a caste of proud outcasts who conform to the ideas of the other outcasts. To walk with Jesus is to be guided away from all such comforting holes to drop into. He teaches me to stop, look, and see the truth.
Communicating it is something else. I try to state events and situations as clearly as I can, but any such effort is well beyond what our short-attention-span world encourages. You just have to keep to your course, stay true to what Jesus teaches, as he himself stayed true to what his Father taught him. That's all I can do.
Finding truth is an interesting proposition. Truth itself rarely changes, but its face changes as I change and circumstances around it change. Truth doesn't mind being tested, compared to other things to see if the pattern of change, or the pattern behind that pattern, changes in a way that squares with observed reality. That can be compared to the reality that God himself has presented in his Word and also shows in how our world works underneath the human level.
I don't know why this is so important to me. I need to know why an answer is true, why it works. This is handy in my job as a troubleshooter, but it's rather difficult in places like churches. The real problem with off-the-shelf answers is that I have no idea how to fix them when they break. If I understand them I can fix them, or find a new one. More trusting people probably do better with listening to others and accepting what they say. I hold everything in abeyance until various pieces come together, or not. If not, I toss the whole load.
Why am I so vociferous in describing my relationship with God? Because I'm still here, and the simplest explanation for that is his direct involvement in my life. It's OK to talk about answers that work in fixing computers or cars. Why not spiritual matters? If I talk about the answers God has given me, now I'm pushing an agenda. I don't see it that way. I'm not ashamed to be a follower of Jesus. I'm rather shamed that my techniques for living have failed so badly--it's a stain on my self-reliant principles--but I am still alive. I've learned thereby that I was never designed to be independent. Better to be alive and ashamed than go down holding fast to principles that just don't work.
What Jesus teaches works. This is a pearl of great price in world that cherishes pretty illusions wrapped up in fancy words. Jesus' love for us never changes. His love is no metaphor, but it's so big that it doesn't fit any words very well. The only way to learn it is to ask Him to teach you, to open your eyes.
All I can do is tell the truth as best I can.
Friday, November 18, 2005
The Greatest Gift
Some people do. They tend to be rough, never really together, unpolished, somewhat confused as they try to assemble facts and hold them just long enough to take the next step. Other people talk, building fancy castles in the sky from lovely, trendy words and impressing each other with the depth of their knowledge.
Lu's post knocked my socks off. She had a short post last week that said she finally "got it," and while I'm still waiting for some details (Please?), it's one of the few things I've read about worship that really makes any sense. I suppose that's just another way of saying that she has come up with a view of worship that agrees with mine, but when it's clear that present system and ideas don't work, it's time to get radical.
God gave us a radical gift, a Person, His Son. Then he goes on to give us a continuous gift, the Holy Spirit. He is worthy of worship, but worship doesn't come out of a pump, like air for a tire.
I used to be really confused about the Holy Spirit. My ideas were colored by the antics of charismatic churches, which I'd seen in action. It seemed another way of putting pizzazz into things without really accomplishing anything. As with the movie business, it was all for show.
If there's any reality to Jesus, there must be a way to learn about Him. This isn't New Age feel-good stuff, where you take some ideas and toss them like salad to make a dish that's just like the others but organized a little differently. The Holy Spirit is our teacher, objectively real, teaching us how to live in an invisible but no less objectively real world. He's always there, always personally involved in teaching what we need to know. I got introduced in one remarkable class, when Greg Soo Hoo said that each Christian should start the day by asking the Holy Spirit to empower her or him to live that day. The teaching process is life long, and I don't mean physical life. I expect that the Holy Spirit will be teaching us forever.
Until that class with Greg, I'd thought the Holy Spirit was for the super-Christians, those with lots of years of study and learning. When you're good enough, you get the Holy Spirit involved in your life. That's not true. The Holy Spirit gives himself to us, any of us, because we need him. Otherwise we can't see the reality of spiritual warfare that has our world in complete thrall.
Worship is life. Jesus' life was in worship of his father, and the Holy Spirit will bring that about in me if I let him work. Worship is like the light coming out of a lamp when it's lit: the lamp can't help being bright. God has poured himself out for us and we will glow to the extent that we allow Him to change our so sadly fallen beings into what he intended from the beginning.
In church this is all a mechanical process. The band plays, the people speak, and the director makes sure everyone keeps to the schedule. I'm not sure church is about worship. Church may be, as it was for me, a place where people see an active God in action, working in people's lives. Do I worship in church? No. I worship by living my life, stopping along the trail to look at the details of new spring flowers... in November.
I have a good friend whom I've never met face-to-face. We meet for music and conversation in the 3-D graphic world of Until Uru. We've been doing this for about six months. She said recently that I had a sort of glow. We'd been talking about God. I don't know what her beliefs are in any detail, but I'd been talking about how God seems delighted with each new day that comes up and I've not quit.
Lu, in her post about worship, asks if many of her daily actions constitute worship. I'd say yes: all of the above. I may be living in dreamland, but it seems to me pretty simple. Look to God, look at him, the communication comes and goes, and there's a constant direction and pressure to change into the likeness of Jesus. No quantity of fancy words will ever replace a simple, direct and true statement of "God, I need help." He loves to help people. The most important thing to do is fold up the umbrella we use to keep God's blessings from touching our delicately balanced lives.
(rewritten November 19)
Monday, November 14, 2005
One Size Does Not Fit All
It was Mosaic's last meeting in Culver City. Things have gone around the circle, and now they'll meet in Beverly Hills High School, where the West Side adventure began.
You might wonder why I have to be bribed to go to church. It's because, while I like to tell stories, I have a hard time telling my oddball disorganized story to an organized, fired-up group. And Erwin certainly was fired up.
His theme was contentment, taken from the last chapter of Philippians. Paul talks about being content with anything because he knows God. Erwin took this a step farther, saying that we can even be happy. Extraordinarily content.
I've known times of happiness. Brief and infrequent. It's a dream that always dangles out of reach no matter how I move, so I've given up on it.
I've pretty much given up on emotions, in fact. Which is kind of odd considering how hard I fought for most of my life to retain the ability to feel in the face of a square-edged world whose main product is pain. God Himself has put a lot of effort into designing emotions into human beings generally, and was always behind the scenes in my life helping me hold to the course I'd set. Why is that falling apart now?
I'd guess that it's due to the internal imbalance. I see the conflict between the peace and quiet that I want, the inconvenience that any change promises, and the church's demands to fit in with their way of thinking. Three-way crosschop in a heavy wind, and I go to cyst mode, a little self-contained lifeboat just trying to stay on top.
God invites me to live large, but the path to get there requires going back through the things that prevent me feeling any contentment. That leads to great discontentment. I'd rather not feel. Cyst time. But God insists on bringing me out, and I just have to hold his hand and trust that, as I open up, I won't be sunk.
Butterflies are helpless when they come out of the cocoon. Cocoons look similar but the butterfly that comes out is much different. Each of God's people has a path that can't be summed up by any one-paragraph story, nor directed by a remote authority. Only God knows what each person needs, and only he can bring that about.
We live in a world that thrives on convenience. If a store is two blocks away, that's too far to walk. If someone requires individual attention, that's too much. They just need to learn to fit in with the rest of the group so they can be processed efficiently and quickly.
I don't think God is interested in quick so much as good. He himself can do things instantly, but changing people takes time or else they just break. And we do need to change. I see only the bad parts of the world, having been trained to see Murphy's Law everywhere. Good things never last.
God promised never to leave nor forsake us. He gave his life for that idea. I have intellectual confidence in that, but emotion is different. Deeper roots, harder to take out. This takes patience... and individual attention.
Wednesday, November 09, 2005
Let Them Go
I am not about rules either Larry... In fact my spirit just wants to break up against them sometimes... especially when it comes from a person that is "legalistic" per se. BUT you know I've been working on my term paper? Well I found that I short -cut there as well... I take short cuts. I have found that I have had to spend a considerable amount of time going back to the small rules about APA format, referencing, giving credit...
In the same way... I think God takes us back... when we try to short cut!
Yes. It's called the spiral approach: repeating the lesson, each time a little deeper. With God, even the short cuts aren't short.
Some rules are necessary. In writing a term paper you are, in essence, competing with others in the same class for a grade. So are scientists, when they write about their research for publication. For such a paper to mean anything it has to follow the rules for research and presentation because otherwise you're comparing apples and oranges.
I'm not against rules per se. I'm also not a rebel just for the sake of being a rebel. I simply see no good in following an arbitrary rule just because someone set it up as a rule.
If you believe in the rules, right now we're all supposed to wear earth tones. I still wear my bright colors because that's what I like. The rules say we're supposed to put ourselves in deep debt to get the latest car and a big house. I still drive an old car because it works, and have no interest in a house and the attendant long drive to work.
If you believe the rules, knowing God is a step-by-step process guaranteed to bring you wealth, friends and everything you want. Of course, figuring out which step is next is a matter of some difficulty, but there are plenty of churches out there willing to help. Oh, for a small donation, of course.
When you meet a person you want to know better, you don't go through a lesson plan. Assuming that the other one is interested in you, you spend time with each other. As the relationship grows you learn more about each other, anticipate what they'll want, do silly things for each other.
When God brought me back to himself I knew very clearly a lot of things that didn't work. I bet my life that God was big enough to teach me what I needed to know, and threw the rules out. I could see the results of these in people's lives and had no interest in emulating that. I see no need for repeating mistakes. If it doesn't work, try something else.
Anything else. Even if it's wrong. You can't steer a car that's sitting still.
God had already let me run for 25 years. He wasn't very worried.
First, came truth. I need truth. I need something to hold onto, and through Greg Soo Hoo and others I found truth that, when tested, didn't fall apart. Real ideas, not rules. Like talking to God. Asking questions, and getting answers I needed.
The big problem with rules is that they narrowly define where you are. If life events push you outside the space defined by the rules, you're really in trouble because you have no idea how to respond. If, however, you learn the principles from which the rules were made, you can use the principles to figure out what to do after life has knocked your playpen apart.
Paul had little use for men's rules. He was a slave to Christ, and the rule that defined his life was love for those God had given into his care. He spent a lot of time in jail. He spent a lot of time with God. He was in love with God. Ask a Pharisee how much love comes from observing rules and then look at the cross, which is the measure of how much God loves us. No rule could lead Jesus to giving his life for us.
Paul also was good at presenting the Gospel in the way that his listeners could best grasp. If some needed to start out with a somewhat different set of rules, he'd accommodate them by using metaphors and ideas that they worked with every day.
My problem is that I'm determined to hold onto my way at all costs. This comes from experience. I've met so many people, starting at an early age, that wanted to overwrite me with their own ideas. I've learned to defend myself strongly, if needed. My personal history has shown that I'm pretty good at figuring things out, and I'd rather make my own mistakes that repeat someone else's.
If you're the Marine Corps, you beat on people with psychologic hammers until they crumble, and then you reassemble them as you want. The result, to my mind, is highly questionable.
God's approach seems to be more like that of a horse whisperer. Let them run. Be there, unchanging. Show them that while there might be things to fear, you're not going to leave them alone. Keep them from hurting themselves, help them invisibly, give an honest reward to the slightest attempt at going the way that you know is best.
The result of all of this is something that looks suspiciously like love. And I'd better quit writing before I get too scared and start running again. This hasn't been an easy week. I don't snuggle up to the idea of love and call it home.
Sunday, November 06, 2005
Now I'm on a different kind of ride, following Jesus into strange terrain. Not cold, but still there is the potential for things to become intolerable.
Where does bravery come from? What heat keeps me moving on this path?
I spent most of yesterday on the verge of tears. At times I had a hard time seeing the computer screen as I wrote an Email to a friend I'd never seen but had spent a lot of time talking with. She said she was leaving the on-line world due to complications in relationships with some others.
I didn't expect to hurt, but it seems that she has become an important thread in the tapestry of my life. It happened slowly, imperceptibly, Saturday nights with music and others, Sunday afternoons with more music, the two of us chatting. We have a lot in common and we draw each other out.
It's all an experiment. Relationships don't happen by accident, contrary to modern belief. They have to be built and that's what we'd been doing, brick by brick, not really paying attention to the construction.
And now I'd lost it. The thread got pulled and it was in there deep.
In the old days I'd have just ditched everything and clammed up. But I guess some of God's bravery has rubbed off on me, and I've grown into that warrior heart that Lu says I have.
This was preceded by another incident. Some co-workers and I started a study of the Gospel of John at work. I'm rarely able to attend, though, because it meets during lunch time and that's when people start calling me. So I forgot about it for a time.
Then last week I got the thought to look at the study Blog and see where they were. Chapter 19: Jesus being crucified. Well, I might not be able to attend the study, but I got an idea for a little story, which I wrote and posted. Then I realized there was another story in there, so I posted it, too. And then the day got quiet, so I was able to attend the study. I was walking down the hall back to the office when Ray called me.
There are several things I don't get about modern Christianity. One is the distance from which Christians look at God. They're saved, yet they're afraid to approach him. Hey, folks, if God wanted, you'd be smoke right now so you might as well enter into his presence with noise, confusion and confidence. That's what Jesus' life and death are about: there is no longer separation from God for those who believe. Walk up to the table and eat your fill. There's plenty.
And yet what we get is timid teaching with an emphasis on words and precise definitions. Bones with no flesh.
I've always been an outcast, a bottom-feeder, an eel through life, forgotten. I'm used to this position, used to knowing that what I say really doesn't matter because no one is listening anyway. Well, if no one cares, why not do something wild? When God brought me back to Himself, I just chucked the Christian rulebook out the window because looking around will show you that it doesn't work. The Pharisees proved that rules don't work. What we have is life, given by the Holy Spirit. I had nothing to lose so I bet my life--which was worth nothing--that God wouldn't just ash me on the spot and I might learn something.
God saw the opening and moved right in. Why me? I asked one day. "Because you asked." I felt as if I'd rebelled my way into exactly the path God wanted me on... and he was laughing. I laughed for a time, too, and then began to see that while there was some humor in it, He was deadly serious. He was fighting for my life. This wasn't a game. I got very scared and ran.
Running doesn't help. Life comes from God's touch. I'd felt his touch. Life without His hand on mine was grey.
For a time I didn't talk to anyone. Who'd believe this story? Who'd believe that I had any remaining connection with God? I didn't follow the rules. Well, neither did God. He promised never to leave nor forsake me, and he didn't. This was by his choice. Frightening, that is. One way forward and it requires holding the hand of a wild God who has my best interests at heart, deep in his heart, but doesn't see the world as I do.
Other people have other things to live for. I have only God's hand on mine, leading me on into something I hope will be better than today. I'd rather have died, but death isn't on God's mind. Jesus died so I could have life abundantly. Abundant life doesn't fit (new wine in old wineskins, as Jesus said) in an old psyche. Rebuilding psyches is what Jesus does best. Love is the glue that holds the bits together.
All of that changed me. Add those changes to the basic idea that nothing I say matters, and you get the sort of do-or-die response to boredom I have to normal Christianity. God really wants to get through to people. I'm not the best person to do this because I tend to use any tool, no matter how crude. I said a bad word in the study, and got called on it. Usually I'd just back down, but this time I explained why I did what I did.
I still don't know what's right... and if anyone was truly offended by what I said. It was brought up to me in theoretical way, which is exactly what I'm trying to get away from. You can sit around and worry about offending people, guiding your doings so that no one can possibly take exception, but then the whole thing is so devoid of life that no one gets any nourishment from it. The juice is all gone. Maybe I put too much juice in what I said, but better that than getting stuck and dehydrated.
And then this thing comes up with my friends in Until Uru. Yes, they are friends. Our words carry enough meaning for us to learn to know one another. Key to the whole thing is that we choose to spend time with each other, which folks in so-called "real life" are too damned busy to do. Regular contact is required.
The upset hurts. Instead of rolling over the thought on my mind is how to heal the wounds. One part of that is to admit that I've been wounded, that the actions of another person have hurt me. Yes, they did. There's no communication without honesty. I don't know how this will turn out. We're learning from each other in this experiment, and they're putting more effort into it than the people I see talking about Community.
Bravery. I wonder where this leads.
Wednesday, November 02, 2005
"Life of Pi" (see story below) is as much about storytelling as it is about anything else. What story do you tell? What story will anyone believe? Writers in our culture generally goes in the direction of trimming all the hard-to-believe parts of a story off so that it won't offend or confuse anyone. Martel's book is neither dumbed-down, nor one of the fashionably flashy ones that deliberately sets out to confuse people. It's a rare attempt to simply tell a story, whole and complete, let the readers believe what they may.
That's the way I see it. Believability isn't my responsibility. Telling the truth is always difficult because truth is much more shy than lies. Truth has to be told with a certain amount of creative flexibility on both the writer's part and the reader's. No story can be told whole; there are always holes the readers must fill in. I try to provide as much detail as I can, but you, the readers, still have to build some bridges.
Faith is something I never believed in. God has his ways of teaching, though, and he has taught me through repetition and practice that no matter how intellectual one might be, there's no escaping faith. Even a rational atheist doesn't know the difference between a creature that's alive and one that's still warm but obviously not living. We all simply believe that our multiplex processes will keep on going and we'll get out of bed in the morning and continue converting food into motion. The faith of a follower of Jesus isn't different in character from this, but it is a more knowledgeable faith. We know we need it.
Just because the bridge is invisible, people say it's not there. Jesus built the bridge for us and those who believe step out onto it and keep going. Walking that bridge turns out to be truly life-changing in ways unique to every follower but common in how the walk shakes loose assumptions and years' worth of add-ons.
Faith, being necessary, leaves a hole when it's denied. So I do all kinds of things to try to fill in that hole, sort of like crude patches on the side of a building. Year by year the patches get thicker and more rickety. Jesus arrives and, gently as he can but knowing that the old things must go, starts removing the patches and doing real structural repair. This doesn't feel too good, but, really, what choice is there? I've tried everything else and it's all bullshit. Only God tells the truth and stays with it no matter what.
Running, the dynamic life, seems like a good way to go. Just go. Skip from sinking stone to sinking stone, bailing off of each one just before it goes down for good. It's great for young and energetic people. What about us who are a bit beyond middle age? Energy is no longer the endless resource it used to be. Running becomes, has become, work.
I'm tired. I don't care much what anyone else says. I'm just going to stand here for a time, feet suspended over the chasm that terrified me for so long, and see what happens. God, if you want movement, it's up to you.
Tuesday, November 01, 2005
The Road Alone
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.
I used to think that was another metaphor, someone's idea of the ideal Christian life. It turns out to be simple truth.
I don't know if it's my usual "I don't care" defense. Maybe I'm just throwing everything away in an attempt to distract God. Or maybe it's a dawning realization that to run from God is to be a branch without a tree, a baby without a mother. It could be a passing phase, but not even sand sculpture keeps my fire lit these days. I'd give up if not for God's hand on me.
All I can do is keep walking. Deal with what is, not what I want things to be. The world, God, and the universe don't work to my specifications. I can only learn the reality of them and hope I'm not crushed in the process.
So many ways to die, and most of them start with giving up. I've fought tooth and nail at times to keep my self-awareness, like a junkyard dog backed into a corner. This, I say, you will not take from me. And now those things I defended so strenuously are just... fading away. Yet I don't die. I feel life coming from God and while living feels like dragging a sack of rocks through a desert, there is something that makes it worthwhile. I don't look forward to each day, but perhaps beyond this day there will be something better.
Will that something better be based on what's available here? In part, maybe. Real life comes from God. Real life, a thread of connection through which comes what desire to live that I have, comes out of my belief. Or, more likely, God's belief in me.
All I can do is keep going. God has promised to do things, he's doing them, and... I wait.