Wednesday, January 11, 2006


Jesus and John

There's a knock at the door.
"Who's there?" I've been taken more times than I can count.
"mumble mumble"
"Hold on a second." I pause the music, go put on a pair of shorts.
"Who's there?"
"mumble I want to talk to you."
Yeah, right. Well, it's too late to pretend I'm not home. I wonder what the scam is this time. I open the door a little way.
"Oh." I open it wide. Not much else to do when Jesus comes calling.

The disciples were having dinner with Jesus. They all were there. John was next to his Lord, and in a quick description he is said to be leaning back against Jesus. Can you imagine this? The first few times I read that I just passed over it. The phrases before and after that conveyed some meaning to me, but that one was like a patch of ice under my feet: I just slid over and then resumed walking on the far side.

Think about it. John, leaning against Jesus' warm body, hearing his heart beat, feeling him breathe in a kind of intimacy that is shocking. Try that these days and you'll get thrown out of your host's house. There it is, black and white in God's words. John leaning on Jesus, and Jesus calmly sitting. A child in the lap.

There are lots of things I associate with Jesus. Casual intimacy isn't one of them. Oh, I know that he knows everything that goes on in me, every thought. That's one kind of intimate relationship, and it's essential. He has to do that or else I'll die. Simple as that. Every time I start thinking about why, though, I run into that skittery ice problem. Can't handle it, zip on past.

Logic is a strong indicator, though. Why else would someone who can do anything he wants, choose to have anything to do with me? The only reason that makes sense is that he wants to, that he enjoys the contact. Jesus enjoys watching His people, enjoys being with them, enjoys visiting, enjoys knowing them. He enjoyed knowing John.

Not always does the whip crack. Jesus comes calling, and it's just to have some time together. Lean against me, He says. Know me. Let us walk together, or sit together if you're too tired to walk... because you're knocking yourself out trying to prevent intimacy with me. Learn from John.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006


Gluing the Whole Person

"Don't be so sensitive." It was a common comment. Rationality was on the side of those who told me this, but logic indicated otherwise. It was really pretty simple: If I have to spend my life learning to be a rock, why was I born a boy? Of course, I couldn't tell anyone else about this logic. Sensitivity is a good tool for discovering what other people don't want to hear.

What does it take to be a whole person? What aspects are missing? Everyone has their own partial take on the whole-person idea. Add up all the biases and you get enough pieces to assemble several people, none of them whole.

So, nobody knows. Psychologists stumble around in the dark, limited by the filters imposed by the person describing their troubles, and by their own school-imposed filters. We all work under a cultural bias toward a certain ideal person, which makes the picture even more muddy.

Pieces of truth, misapplied. To anyone sensitive, this should be as clear as a laser in a thunderstorm: Satan has been messing with our minds.

Take the earlier logic one step farther. It's logical that a whole human being would be alive in all regards: intellect, emotion, physical and all that go with those. The problem comes in cutting through all the fog, noise, innuendo, assumption and slightly skewed lies to... the truth.

Truth. A wonderful thing. Who has a sword sharp enough to cut away millennia of obfuscation? God Himself, and the first lie he had to deal with in me had to do with fatherhood. To me, a father is that primary voice in my head telling me to be intellectual, be stone-like, never admit hurt, train myself to ignore it and go on. The road to wholeness has a lot more obstacles than a misapplied father image. The Holy Spirit's light shines on those obstacles, which assume even more dragon-like characteristics than I saw as a child.

Now I'm old. I'm inflexible. Can't bend worth a damn. The Holy Spirit lights up a curve and I turn tail and run. Go find yourself another mountain climber, another adventurer who wants to bet his soul, his very self-concept on something as tenuous as...

A feeling. How do you know you're right? Some things can be checked intellectually; you can weigh a chunk of cheese, or read a book about the Battle of the Coral Sea. Depending on the complexity of the thing being measured there will be a fuzz factor, but you can get close. But how do you guide a life? Millions of songs have been written about a feeling called love, but they seem to be no good foundation for the real thing. So people are taught to either ignore their emotions, or go with the whim of the moment. The center way is left untravelled, because it's the truth.

We need all of us. God doesn't make junk. Would you go buy a new bicycle and then start tossing parts? Seat? Nah, don't need that. It's for sissies. I'll just stand up all the time. Gears? Don't need that complicated junk either. I'll climb on muscle power. Handlebars? Forget 'em. Steer by leaning. And brakes? Who needs to stop? If I stop, things just catch up with me. See how simple we can make life?

Simple, yes, but... is it a life? You can't steer, you can't stop, you can't climb without killing your knees, and then some other nut will come along and tell you you don't even need pedals, that you can do it all with your mind. Now you've been reduced to a vague cloud of something-or-other that does what?

Then we consider the alternative. A state-of-the art, 27-speed, disk-brake, full suspension lightweight mountain bike, possible only in the last few years due to constant development of metallurgy, careful engineering, iterative development and clever designers. You can go anywhere.

That may be the core of the whole problem. You can go anywhere. God looks as you and asks why you're stuck someplace. The whole world looks at you as if you're from Mars. It's better to hide the high-tech completeness and run around with three-quarters of your capabilities kept in a bushel basket, unseen. But it's safe. No damn-fool dreams or wild-hair ideas. Just keep going to work, wait for retirement, plan for death.

God makes the adventurer's life possible. Peter went out and walked on the storm waves with Jesus. Once started, there's really no going back, although I'd really like to. I'd stand and look back at Gomorrah until I died. Being a pillar of rock salt sounds really attractive: no worries, no hassles, and no need to hang onto God's freely offered hand as we face yet another one of those long-avoided childhood dragons.

We're not talking pussycats here. These are full-grown dragons that can, and have, taken me out for months of pain. Well, days of pain and then months of deadness. I learn my lessons well. Don't poke sleeping dragons. Step around them, or just don't go anywhere.

Jesus didn't live that way. He wasn't fearless but he know who his father was, and God gave him what he needed. This wasn't some syrupy ideal of God, a wonderful light-loving postcard God that's really made of a person's own energy. He's the God of the Universe, and Jesus lived to do His will.

Other people express God's will in other ways. We weren't made on mass-production assembly lines. Each of us was put together of specially chosen aspects. Attempts to standardize people do not come from God. Nor do admonitions to throw out this or that part. God made us whole and wants us whole and is willing to do anything it takes to bring us through the obfuscation and mud to the shining ideal He holds in his mind.

It's easier to toss things overboard. I'm a master of it. Jesus brings all that junk back.
"If I wanted it, I would have kept it."
"I want you to have it."
"Go find another sucker."
"You need it."
"Like I need another boss."
It's pretty simple after that. All he has to do is remind me of the last few years. One way is guaranteed death, of one sort or another. The other way looks like death--big dragons, mountains, howling storms, sharp rocks, and a very long fall if something breaks. In the past it has always been when something breaks, so I've never started the trip. Now I'm up there.

Failure really isn't an option any more. God won't let me fail.

What's really hard in this is explaining to others. I know what popular Christian culture says about emotions and self-examination. I've heard it all. I know I'm right. I feel it. That doesn't mean this path is for everyone. I don't expect everyone to jump on the self-examination bandwagon so that I can develop Larry Nelson Ministries and emblazon my name across the world. God knows what you need. He knows who you are. If you want to know, ask Him. He tells the truth through the years it takes to learn the answer in all its multifaceted, multi-level complexity. Only he is a sure enough guide through the weird country of the soul.

Friday, January 06, 2006


Between the Bricks

What holds life together? We all know about events and actions, history and future, but what is the glue that turns events into a life? You can pursue this right down to the level of atoms and quarks: ever smaller bricks, with ever more mysterious forces holding them together. Our culture is full of brick-talk, but the bonding is left to take care of itself. No wonder we're such haphazard constructions.

God comes along and by some odd miracle manages to get someone, amid the cell phone calls, work, children, errands, plans, etc, etc, to pay attention. What then? The only thing I know is that the result of the encounter will be unique.

I wonder if God thinks more about cement than he does about bricks. I wonder if the real core of a life is indicated by what a person uses to hold things together. I also wonder if this is just my metaphor. It may not make sense to anyone else, but it seems to me the bricks are pretty much similar. Everyone has the same stock. Where their personality comes out is in what they use to hold them together.

Some use cynicism. I know that well. It's a good way to prevent disappointment: everything is bad, and if it's not it soon will be. Some use activity so they won't have to think about anything. Some use homilies and catchphrases, telling themselves over and over "I'm getting better." Some just use patience, a willingness to outwait everyone else.

God, I think, has a different way. I, for example, am far more worried about what's going to happen when the glue fails than I am with the actual bricks. So I quite consciously avoid doing anything that might contribute to dissolution or challenge to what I'll admit is a pretty shaky edifice. God is working on changing that. The Holy Spirit replaces my original equipment glue with something so strange I have a hard time thinking about it.

How can a glue be both adamantly strong, and very flexible? The bricks move around, but never detach themselves. Whatever quake comes along seems more frightening in prospect than it turns out to be in fact: the walls wiggle, the glue stretches alarmingly, but everything comes back into place. The Holy Spirit doesn't allow any brick, no matter how little, to get shaken out.

They may move around. I become a different person. I fear what might happen, but it never does. Shaken, rattled... but not disassembled.

I'm still afraid. For all of my life the only person I could depend upon was myself, so anything that shook me up was too great a threat to be tolerated. I learned to avoid them. The only way to learn something new is to do it, so God has to sort of guide me along this new path, one step forward, 371 steps back, and so on. Each step forward, though, demonstrates God's faithfulness. He does what he promises, and holds on. I don't come apart, and I don't fall.

He takes this all very seriously, saving a life. He has proven over and over again that he's better at guiding and protecting me than I am. My protection tends to be of a very destructive kind: hide under a rock, wait for things to pass. If it goes beyond that, if I receive a reward for something I did. I tear it up, trample it, throw it away and curse the day it showed up. Rewards are the biggest threat to stability because they call me forward: any action rewarded tends to be repeated. Just ask Pavlov's bell-called dogs.

I'm not a dog. I refuse to be bribed. I refuse to be sucked into anything because it makes me feel good. But I'm beginning to learn that this is a normal part of life. Why shouldn't I feel good because I've done something well? Where is the reward if I can't feel it? Why bother living if the only feeling I'm allowed to have is bad?

I'm amazed, and disgusted, with how tightly I cling to this particular self-protective trait. I would destroy myself if God weren't holding me tightly. And, gradually, little by little, his gentle but utterly inflexible love is changing me. I'm beginning to see rewards in a more accurate way, beginning to see that the glue that holds things together is part emotional, part intellectual, and mostly love. What else, as a friend wrote to me, is there?

Monday, January 02, 2006



Without love, it's just sand.

What do I do out there that's really new? I make a block of sand and carve it. I make holes, I make shapes. None of it is new. Shapes come from here and there, all having been done before, designs dredged up from subcoscious memories.

But there is something there. Mercy saw it all those years ago. What transforms pedestrian sand into something that stops people in their tracks? Mercy knew it. I tried to ignore it, but I can't any more.

I've not done a sculpture since mid-September. I have the tools, I have the sand, I have the experience and the memories, but I no longer have the balance. The hidden love that held my own grains together is gone, bashed away, forced to run by a relentless attack. The only reason I'm still here is that the Holy Spirit keeps me from falling into utter self-destruction. I admire his spirit, his tenacity.


The Door Won't Stay Locked

You walk into the library. Waiting on the shelves are books, all innocent and silent. If the powers-that-be had any idea what they were doing, they'd kill them all, burn the building and salt the ashes. Books. You can't trust them at all. You think you have life figured out and then some damned book opens its pages and simply blows your careful constructions to flinders, gone on the wind, and now what?

There it sits. Inviting cover. "BRADBURY" is at the top. Is he still alive? My high-school teacher gave me one of his books, and it was pretty ratty looking even then. 1968 or some nearly impossible year like that. "The Cat's Pajamas." How can you resist? The cover is a polychrome melange of abstracted cats--how can a cat look anything but abstracted?--and of course you pick it up. No questions asked. You might as well try to resist a basket of kittens. And the Holy Spirit chuckles, waiting. Time bomb.

It explodes on page 88: "The secret lay not in Bess or William, but in love itself. Love was always the reason for work, for enthusiasm."

You'd think a simple science fiction book would be proof against God's manipulations. But then, Jesus is the Word, and His words are everywhere. He did write the book on love. He is the god of the believable, and his story is unbelievable but true.

What happens to life when love goes away? Life soon follows its heels. I used to have a sort of balance on this. Love happened, or it didn't, and I looked at it sideways and got along. I could dip into the fountain occasionally and get out before too much stuck to me. Then Love Himself came and picked me up, stared me in the face, and the balance went out the window. I've been trying to hide ever since, digging the hole ever deeper as God pursues.

What happens when you drive love out of your life? Life become drudgery. I have no substitute. I know what the fakes are; I'm a good observer and won't fall for the tricks of sex or busyness or the rest of it. Me alone against the universe, straight up, but God doesn't quit. Close one door, he finds a crack. Put up an umbrella, he becomes a gas to scent the air.

It's odd. I know where life comes from, and I shield myself against it. I want nothing to do with love, and am prepared to throw everything away in preference to acknowledging love, or learning about it. It upsets the balance, makes life complicated. Take it away. Put me back in that cold desert. Send me back to Egypt, please.

Lies are impossible to one who lives with the Holy Spirit. The cost of maintaining a lie is very great. Most of my energy goes to ignoring God's guidance, ignoring his rain of love into my life. He dissolves the shell, I add to it from underneath and don't care much about how cramped it gets under the rock.

I know it's true. I can feel it. Love is the core of life. Love is why God does what he does; the spark of his love drives the Universe. The alternative is death of one kind or another. Moving, or stiff. "Love is the reason for work," Bradbury writes. I have no reason for anything. Life just goes on, God preserving me for his own reasons. He seems to think I can learn this. I wonder where the next bomb is.

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