Tuesday, February 28, 2006
Christian Entropy Soup
I love the argument from religious people that they
are now "saved" whereas others are still not.
My question then is this; when Jesus died on the cross
who did he save?
When were they saved? And is there some type of action
I need to do to make it effective for me?
Did his exclamation "It is finish" only apply to some
but not others?
This got me thinking about my experience. As I've become more sensitive to God's voice and leading, I look back and see His touch in my life even when I was a child. Add to that the premise that there's nothing super-double-extra-special about me, and I come up with the idea that God speaks to everyone until they have closed all the doors. God has more than 29 ways to make it to his lover's room, but eventually they all disappear.
Satan's goal is the opposite. He wants us all uniform, marching interchangeably, merging into a great grey soup that's easily channeled into a deadly future. This is our culture. Anyone who says "I hear the voice of God" is treated as a nutcase. Anyone who seems special, or out of the ordinary even in minor ways, is abused unconsciously by the surrounding cultural soup until they conform and sink back into mediocrity.
I believe we're born with the windows and doors open to God's sunlight of guidance, rain of blessing and wind of Spirit. Then we start looking around at others, see that the same isn't true of the more experienced ones, and the peer pressure builds from within. After a few years the open-door person is gone, and has the proper view that anyone who does have doors open to God is a crank, blah, blah, blah.
We get to make choices. Each time something comes up, we can choose. Do I go with this unusual wind, or do I make the culturally expected choice? One key aspect of my life helped me follow the wind: I've never been popular. The barely perceptible wind seemed to care more about me-qua-me than anyone else. It never attacked me as did those around me. It never wanted to reduce me to soup. I couldn't figure out why I needed to fit in with the soup. I was obviously unique, and I was willing to bet that everyone else started out unique and then started to trim the corners off. So, I went my way, and people mostly left me alone. I remained me.
When did I get saved? The stated event, deliberately opening a door to Jesus, occurred 1971-October-18. The process started much earlier. The hand I feel now feels very similar to what I felt then: things will work out.
In short, only God really knows when a person is saved. I believe he wants to save everyone, and will keep giving them chances until the door is opened permanently, or there are no more ways to reach the soul inside. Some people want nothing to do with God, and that's their choice. Others want God, but see him boxed up for the Church's convenience and think that can't be the God of the Universe in there. They see Christians who look no different from anyone else and think "Why bother, if the results are the same?" They see Christians who are so weird with the self-importance of their very special touch of God that they laugh.
People are looking for light. They need the wind. They want to rise out of the heavy sludge our over-busy culture makes of life. The church hands them bricks of theology and guilt-stones and then asks them to fly. They aren't even allowed to learn to float first.
Each of us is unique and special to God. He has the power to guide each of the Earth's billions of individuals in an individual way that allows flight and light. It's not my business to try to figure out the moment of salvation. When Jesus said "It is finished," he finished everything, for everyone. The veil in the Temple between the hoi polloi and the Chosen Ones was forever torn when Jesus died, covering those who choose in Jesus' righteousness and giving them direct access to God Himself. No priest necessary. The hand of God touches everyone.
Sunday, February 26, 2006
Destruction and Love
Satan obviously sees me only as a thing to be used to help destroy love in this world. I've ignored questions of love for most of my life because the word means so many different things that it has become meaningless. If you want to tear down a world, remove the love from it and you've pretty much got it done. God cares greatly for me, enough so that, unlike Satan, he gives me an open choice. Satan works under the surface, by hints, tiny suggestions that add up over the years to an intolerable weight.
Last night I met with some on-line friends for our weekly Music Night. This has become important to all of us. The conversation is always different, depending upon who shows up and what kind of mood we're in. I played music somewhat more conducive to contemplation than I had the previous week, and perhaps that's what got us talking about self-esteem.
It's one of those subjects that everyone lampoons, but it never goes away. That's a pretty good sign, not only that it's important, but that Satan has been working on it. If he can get us to laugh and ridicule, then the serious aspects will be eroded to nothing.
I really don't like myself. I never have. Should I like myself? If so, how do I do it? What would give me grounds for liking myself? I need permission from someone. Where is that person? What would I do if they did come along and permit me to like myself?
Here I get caught in the crossfire between my own inquisitive nature and the way I've been taught. God doesn't care for the person. He cares only for tools. Hmmm... That sounds more like Satan to me. Guess who's in charge of teaching us to live in this world? Right. The problem is that the assumptions are just that: invisible parts of the person. Only the Holy Spirit has enough light, enough love and enough patience to winkle out the truth. I just have to keep walking, which is sometimes very hard to do.
If I keep walking, sooner or later I'll get someplace. If I'm listening to God while I walk the chances are the place I end up will be better than where I am now. But I'm not very trusting, especially when he starts talking about love.
I know where love got him. Crucified. I may not care that much for life, but I don't like pain at all. I lead a life of pain-avoidance. And yet, without love it is impossible to know God, and I want to know him. I know that his gaze brings change, his light produces new growth and that cracks the old structures. None of that feels good. Does he understand? Yes. He is the one whose Father abandoned him on a cross and left him to hang there and die. He knows. I still don't trust him.
But there is learning. The Cross looms in the future, perhaps. Some form of death, from daily little ones to the ultimate biggie at the end of my physical time, is a most definite factor in the future. I'm not there yet. I may never get there. All I'm asked to do is walk, and believe. It's not as if he's asking for faith in faith, either. He gives me good reasons to believe.
He knows my unbelief, my unloving nature. But as my friend Aeris pointed out last night, "There is more of love in you than you will admit." I don't want to know that, either. Quite a quandary. My unconsciousness, God's awareness.
What makes awareness work at all is God's gentle help. He keeps the worst of the world's sharp edges from cutting my tender new skin. Love destroys death that's understood as life, and gives life that looks like death. I'm beginning to understand, and I wonder if perhaps this isn't part of the whole self-esteem thing. Self esteem comes from God: he calls me "very good." Someday maybe I'll believe it.
A Burr Under the Saddle
The first thing that got to me was the idea that God could be hurt by my actions. I knew he could be angered, but hurt? He's God. He is power made into a person. How could he be hurt, especially by anything I did? I'm still not sure about this, but I believe that has more to do with my own bias than the truth of the matter. Logically, it makes sense that my actions can hurt God. After all, parents are hurt when their children make bad choices and get hurt. What's interesting is that God has to tolerate some of this because I'm so badly depraved I see lies where there is really truth. That unbelief probably hurts God a lot but he doesn't react as a human does. He gives me more chances. More choices. I'd rather not know about it.
The question is, what to do about it? If this idea becomes just another way of feeling guilty (and thank you, Holy Spirit, for reminding me of this), then it's not much good. Christians already walk under too much guilt. Guilt motivates most actions in this world. God is offering us here a picture of what pure love looks like: he doesn't blame me for being unbelieving. He just asks that I acknowledge my unbelief. I can't figure this out. How does he convert unbelief to belief? Imperceptibly the change occurs.
Then, there's Satan. I walked up the hill toward Will Rogers park this morning, thinking about this. Why would Satan care if I'm hurt, or if God is hurt? All he wants to do is destroy everything. Then the Holy Spirit pointed out a few things. I had this image of Lucifer being thrown out of Heaven, never to return. He thinks he belongs there, thinks he should run the place, and loses it. Forever. Put a burr under a horse's saddle and the gentle creature becomes a bucking monster, determined to break out. That memory of Heaven must be the biggest burr in the world. We know that in our world anger dictates a lot of destruction, and our world is inspired by its master. Anger. Fear. Destroy anything just because you can. Destroy everything.
I'm sure this is partial. I have no idea what really went on in the courts of the angels when Lucifer mutinied. I just wonder, though, is Satan sophisticated enough to know that his injury of me hurts the Father? Or is it simply blind rage that uses any cat's paw or tool available?
Again, I'm not sure how much this matters. Satan attempts to use me, but God is in control. If Satan gets an idea into me it's because of God's teaching technique, which is to let me keep repeating mistakes until I really get it. God knows when the lesson has really gone to my heart. Until then he has to keep the heat on so that I don't return to status quo room temp.
What I like most about Lu's story, though, is that it is unique. It shows God's utterly unique way of teaching Lu what she needs to know to go on to the next lesson. She's a model for others not in the way the lesson is taught, nor in the results, but in showing that God will teach us in the way we can best use, if we let him. If we get beyond the stereotypes, the church language, the expectations, the drudgery.
There is a lesson plan for each of us. God has already set it up. Let God be God. Think about things, see God's truth for yourself. We're conditioned never to ask questions of the Living God, for fear of his wrath. The ones who learn, however, are the ones who ask. They tackle God in the middle of the night and wrestle, not letting go, suffering the dislocated hip so that they can get His blessing. Jacob was out there by himself.
Dream world? To some extent, yes. I'm not able to handle much of the real world, so God shields me from most of it so I can get through the day. Bit by bit I learn, though, and God won't give up. This is my story. I don't expect its specifics to work for anyone else. You need to go ask God for your own story. Learn to listen to him. You don't have to go through five-hour meditative rituals in order to hear his voice. Basically, all you have to do is want to hear. It helps if you have a few people who understand what happens after you become sensitive enough to hear. I'm glad I know Lu. I feel less alone in the Christian world.
Thursday, February 23, 2006
It's About This
Praise hits me the same way. I am seldom praised for anything so I have no defenses, no habituation to it. Big-name popular people, musicians, politicians, preachers, get praised all the time so it just rolls off like water off a duck's back.
Praise is, however, biblical. "Well done, good and faithful servant." My sole contribution to God's kingdom being that, by the Holy Spirit's constant help, I haven't quit, I am unlikely ever to hear that. They'll have to put a new sub-basement in Heaven when I arrive, but a quarter-inch on that side of the border is good enough for me. Better there than anywhere else. I'll be so far from the table that only crumbs will arrive, but I've always subsisted on crumbs, so a full meal would choke me.
Praise is what got me into God's hands. The church's pastor came around and praised some stories I wrote, in front of some other people, and I wanted to disappear. So, I did. Body there, lights on, nobody home. God came to me that night and helped guide me through the mess. God has, since then, attempted to praise what I've done but I've become much more sophisticated in my resistance.
I know how powerful praise is. I know what it does. I've seen it turn good engineers into suck-ups. I've seen it turn me into a tail-wagging puppy. Beer is better. That gives me an excuse for acting silly. God tries to praise me and my world threatens to come apart. I think the truth here is that God is delighted with each day I don't quit, but that doesn't carry much weight among God's kingdom-builders on Earth. I also don't like the out-of-control feelings engendered by that, but the problem with emotional control is that it metastasizes rapidly to consume every emotion and life becomes very flat.
Praise also implies disappointment. I know God is disappointed with some things I do, and that's like the sun not only going behind a cloud, but being turned off. Things get cold, quick. The contrast is devastating, so, in my logical way, I just live in the cold. Which means that if the sun does come back through some gap I've not managed to close, it sears me to the core. I'm not habituated.
I wonder if Christianity hasn't just turned into a bunch of habits dictated by whatever idea is in fashion. I don't care about fashion, but survival recommends at least some blending in. I am very firmly guided by survivalist techniques learned through a lifetime. I think God loves cheap drunks because they know when they drink strong beer. How do you become habituated without becoming dead?
Wednesday, February 22, 2006
Desperation and Love
All I know is that I'm fighting like hell to stay away from it. Desperation I understand. Love is something else.
You'd think God would really be steamed. But what, really, has changed? I was depraved before I met him, I'm depraved now. The only difference is that I know more of the depth of my depravity. I know that I greet his kindness with "Go away" because all I can see is the future, and I'm scared of what might happen.
Love is inconvenient. I know that. I don't like inconvenience. If I have to give up adventure, love, creativity, joy, and anything else that makes God's kind of life, I will, in order to retain my understanding of who I am and what I'm doing. I just don't want the upset.
Well, God knows all this. I think he's sad. He's patient, though. Willing to wait until I've come to the end of this skein and am hanging over nothing. He has already shown me that, no matter what, he won't let me fall. When my yarn ends, his hand is there.
How in the world could I even entertain the idea that I can learn that kind of love? Love seems to be connected to the depression. God promised an end to my depression, but I'm willing to keep that familiar millstone rather than go his way into love that simply goes on loving, no matter what happens. But, it's inevitable, really. God promised, and he keeps his promises. And I have asked him to hold me to my end of the promise, and no amount of hiding, weasel-wording or ignoring God changes the fact that the Holy Spirit gives me an itch that can only be alleviated by following Jesus.
That's the standard. Love never quits, love is kind. We've read the words and they sound wonderful. And then God starts bringing them to life in a dead soul, and growing pains become the rule of the day. Every day I better understand the appeal of rules-based Christianity, of complacency, of staying with the herd. That's all easier than getting up in the morning knowing it's going to be another struggle with the living God who breathes the fire of love.
Monday, February 20, 2006
The Day of the Drudge
It might have been a good decision. It might even have been the right, and best, decision. As all decisions do this one had ramifications far beyond, and far deeper, than just the simple act of taking a steady job in Nebraska.
I had been a Christian for 9 years at that time. I'd heard God's voice. I'd even seen hints of his guidance, but my hearing wasn't sensitive enough to consistently hear the Holy Spirit. My eyes were too easily diverted in my attempts to blend in with society so as to assure survival. Taking this steady job was just one more step, but it abrogated an unwritten, mostly unconscious deal with God. I took the steering wheel into my hands.
A charmed life, they say. I tiptoed through life's minefields and didn't get hurt. I had just enough money to pay the bills. I wasn't serious about any of this. I was living to learn things, to see what I could see, and simply didn't care about the other trappings of life. I was different, had different motivations. It could have ended at any time. Life is unstable, you can't see beyond the present instant, and almost anything could have thrown me into a hole. It didn't happen. God's hand on my life? I think so. The reasons are his.
June of 1980, a friend and I took off in my old Ford to go camping. We had barely enough money. We ended up in Spokane, Washington and if the car had broken down there we'd have been stuck. The car ran and got us back to Colorado with about 58 cents in our pockets and fumes in the tank. We were young, silly, and optimistic. Two months after the end of that trip I lost the optimism and became a drudge. God let me drive.
This moment has come to mind often in the last two years. I'd never made such a decision before, and certainly would not have chosen to leave Colorado if I'd been in my right mind. I'd left Kansas to come to Colorado nine years before, following a dream. Now I was going back to the flatlands, not for a dream, but for respectability. Steady job. Confidence. Being able to pay the bills. I didn't even ask God about this part of it. I just asked him whether I should go or not, and he was silent. I made the decision myself.
God kept quiet because it wouldn't have done much good if he'd spoken up. I'd already made the decision. I wanted respect. I wanted to look like somebody. A succession of part-time jobs wasn't much of a resume. Besides, only nutcases and weirdos do things because God tells them to. I couldn't possibly be hearing God's voice; people who'd been Christians far longer than I said they only heard him occasionally, so who was I to claim to hear him, every day? Impossible. Self-delusion. God wept. I moved to Nebraska.
Being basically odd, I managed to make even that wider path a pretty strange deal. The company I worked for went out of business so I went to school. This third attempt ended as the other two had but by that time I had a good chance of a job in Los Angeles, so I came here. Even worse than Nebraska, but a good job. The dream got buried under even more money and respectability. I'm still here, 21 years later.
And yet, those few people who respect me, do so for reasons that have nothing to do with the job or the money or other practical concerns. They respect the fire they see occasionally, that comes out in sand sculpture or in my peculiar approach to following Jesus. A couple of years ago Lu said I have a warrior heart and I thought she was nuts. God cheered. Far down deep, yes, but she saw, with her incredible vision, through the thick skin of the drudge to the warrior. Nate and Debbie have made similar comments, and a few other through the years.
What's the difference today? The lesson seems to be not that my decision in the fall of 1980 was bad, but that the reasons for making that decision were not in keeping with my character as God had taught me. I was hard to teach back then. Well, I still am, having learned early that there's a lot more baloney than truth in this world. God had taken very good care of me. Why did I suddenly abandon his way? Because I wasn't aware enough to know what I was doing. I thought God was far behind, a passing fancy, and now it was time to enter the real world. Enough fantasy. Only drudges survive.
The only reason I survived that experience is that God, even though I slew him, yet he did serve me. Love in action, daily. It was a bad time. More than a few times I was ready to end it, but he always put something out there, another stepping stone so that as bleak as life was it never became completely hopeless. Until 2003 when I'd run out of stepping stones and desperation forced me to step into his lap.
You'd be nuts to believe this story. I believe it because I've lived it. That I'm still here is because God cares about me more than he cares about his reputation or his dignity. Now we seem to be moving beyond desperation because that's a poor motivation for long-term living. This is a brand-new thought, born about two hours ago, so I'm not sure where it will go. Thoughts guide life. God guides thoughts. Q.E.D. Go for it.
Sunday, February 19, 2006
Afraid to Move
So, once I've reached something akin to a comfortable place--I'm not saying good, nor attractive, just survivable and better than other places--I tend to stay put. Challenges are for those who have some confidence of being able to make it out the other side after they move. I look at the challenge, know it's bigger than I am, and turn aside. Bottom-feeder survival mentality. It has always been somewhat embarrassing, but I am still here.
Now, I wonder what this might have looked like, if I'd had some confidence that when the shit hits the fan it won't last forever, that I'll come out of it. Instead, I see each problem as the one that's going to break me. Perhaps the truth is partway between. I can't do everything but I can do some things.
If life is just a constant round of ever-harder challenges, why bother? Is that really what God wants? I must have a wrong idea someplace. Perhaps if I take my glance off the floor and look ahead, what I see will be better than I expect. Nah. Can't be. You're never disappointed when assuming the worst. And I'm tired.
Some people rate the sincerity of a follower of Jesus by the number of times they've gotten up after being knocked over. There's an element of truth to this, except that often they go around looking for ways to get pushed over, and then brag about it.
The goal of life isn't to lie on the ground. Nor is it to get up and go looking for trouble. The idea is to do things, and in the doing sometimes you fall over. There's no need to seek trouble. If you start something you're going to get flack, no matter how small a thing it is.
For some, for part of their lives, it's asking enough for them to just get out of bed. For others, the world is too small and they're constantly adding to their lists of things to do. The latter rarely understand the former, and usually abuse them if only in their thoughts.
Getting knocked over is a sign of standing out. Set up a sand sculpture on the beach and you're sure to get a few people who want to knock it over just because they can. A level beach is, apparently, God's ideal. This is Satan's way of getting people to keep their heads down, which is why we so need God's help every time we poke our heads above the rim of our foxholes.
Somewhere between quitting and volunteering for every available mission is God's path from the comfort of his breast to the rigors of doing things that have never been done before. Only he is competent to guide us on that path because only he is free of our biases, assumptions, silly beliefs and crackpot ideas picked up from other people.
I think that we just don't know how seriously odd God's ways are. We keep trying to cast him and his actions in human terms, and that just doesn't work. I need to quit assuming I know who God is and let him teach me. I carry around 50-odd years' accumulated junk, and I hold to it with a literal death grip because it's familiar. God has to pry me away, finger by finger.
So, it starts with spiritual eye surgery. I have to learn to see. Then maybe getting up will look worthwhile.
Saturday, February 18, 2006
Over the Cliff
I need to change. I knew it in 2003 when God sneaked up on me and kept surprising me in unpredictable ways. I've managed, since then, to achieve a sort of balance, but it's a running gun battle kind of thing, dodging around the stray ray of grace, ignoring the chosen word. Sort of like dodging raindrops, as I did this morning on a mountain bike ride. I got soaked. No matter how sophisticated I get in self-defense God still threads his way into my soul.
And I have conniptions. Auto-immune disorders are like this: reacting against innocuous or even helpful things. God works toward change and life. I try to find new ways to keep God at a distance, which is sort of like disconnecting the pumpkin from the vine. Hopeless, which is why I always end up reconnecting, somehow.
Last week was bad. I wanted nothing more to do with God. That the problem is largely due to my reactions doesn't matter.
It's driving me crazy. I can't sleep and I'm crabby. All the time. The Snark-O-Meter (tm) is pegged most of the time. And this last time, I even upset the Holy Spirit. Willful disbelief. God's anger is something different from what we have words for, a mix of grief, anger and directed determination.
Some thoughts from this morning... I was lying in bed, thinking about this, and wondering about roles. I likened God's guidance to sliding down a bobsled run: not much choice. And he promptly said "But you have to take the step." Well, yes, but where does the will to take the step come from, especially when that step is going to lead to more pain? The confusion of change.
Somehow I have to learn to live with this determined invader inside. The running battles need to stop. They take energy that could go somewhere else, such as into sand sculpture. But how does a bottom-feeder learn to accept change? How does a drifter take some control, make some decisions, and accept the results? I have no idea. I do know a good teacher, Him of the lightning touch and quiet thunder-voice. Problem and solution in one Person.
Friday, February 17, 2006
Beyond "I'm Still Here"
I don't know where motivation comes from. I never have had much. Even as a child I was uninterested in the expensive cars, big houses and other characteristics of my upper-middle-class upbringing. It's probably a luxury of having luxury to be able to renounce that luxury, but it's still reflected in my rather elitist approach to things.
What was I looking for? I couldn't put a name to it. I wonder if perhaps, for his own reasons, God was nudging me along even then. I constantly had the idea that there had to be something more than money and gadgets.
I have more than my share of gadgets. Probably more than my share of money, too, and I'm sure my planetary "footprint" is a product of my times and the real luxury of living alone. All of this is the result of the one long-running dream I've had: to be left alone. I don't buy, nor do I interfere with anyone else's trip, and I ask that they leave me to mine. We all make our choices and get to them while avoiding the obstacles.
And all of it did work pretty well. I survived childhood with some basic ideas intact, such as knowledge that playing is important, and that adults can learn a lot from children.
Should I be asking for more? If so, what is it? Lately, I've been purely concentrated on getting through each day without exploding. Avoiding God tends to make me very crabby; when all you have to live for is a relationship with Jesus, hiding just isn't a good thing.
The problem is that Jesus is unlike anyone else I know. My defenses are set up for the normal run of vindictive human beings. Jesus comes up with these absurd notions such as throwing myself on his mercy and all I can do is wait for the drop. And Christians frequently don't help. Everyone goes around saying things like "You can't expect God to be with you all the time," and I just freak out. That's all I have to live for! Mature Christians don't hear from God? On my better days I don't buy that at all. On bad days, when I'm poised to bolt because of what I've learned about relating to Jesus, a few words are all it takes to put thought into action. Run! Get out before you get dropped. I'm sure the people who say things like this, including C.S. Lewis in "The Screwtape Letters," have the best of intentions based on their experience.
But one person's experience isn't another person's. Perhaps I'll get to a point where losing that touch isn't so devastating, but I tell you I was on the edge of spitting nails at most people for the last couple of days.
God used this to teach me a few things about motivation. I think he wants me to become more interested in the process of guidance. When there are many things to do, all of them good, it really doesn't matter which one you choose. I'm the kind to, from laziness or conservatism or fear, take my talents and hide them or at least keep them out of common view. I know the "foxhole rule:" he who pokes his head out of the foxhole is the one who gets shot. Showing talent is a great way to draw fire, and I'm not very robust. Attack me and I flee. Life gets difficult, I quit looking ahead and just trudge along, head down, until the attacks cease.
Somewhere between overweening ambition and apathy is a wide middle ground. Somehow I need to learn that putting my paddle into the river and actually doing some steering might not be such a bad thing. This is a thought in process. I don't know where it will lead.
One who can't stray would be the ideal Christian, right? A person without feelings is one low on passions, low on the tendency to commit sins of passion. Always rational, always under control, always enduring what can't be changed and that includes almost everything. Intellectual. Give me reasons, tell me what to do, and I'll do it. Simple. Good.
Is God like that? No. Scattering all those stars up there takes some serious passion. Creating people who can choose to stab you in the back requires even more.
I've dreamed of nothing beyond survival. Endure. I've learned that I can outwait just about anything. God tries to light my soul with some of his fiery passion and I run away. That doesn't stop him. He continues to rain his love and blessing into my life and that works its own changes in my stony soul. He's not above using my unconsciousness to slip a new lesson in; so long as life goes by undisturbed, I don't examine things very closely.
So, I read Nate's (not Novero) Blog entry about the higher law we're held to. Love. My comment described some of my experience in learning God's kind of love, and ended with "I'd chuck it all, except I couldn't stand living without his voice." This was a case of knowing something without knowing it, and now, suddenly, I knew it.
The idea had been growing. What makes the Christian's life worth living? Lu had been looking into this also, and we'd been leaving comments for each other. The comment I left on Nate's Blog was the logical conclusion, written in my usual offhand-comment way, not real until it was posted there in black and white.
Any Christian who wants to live the kind of life God has in mind is going to have problems. These don't come from any vindictiveness on God's part, nor as punishment, and He doesn't have any delight in our pain. Pain goes with change, and change goes with following Jesus because we are all fallen. I don't have any idea what real life is like. I've been a bottom-feeder all my years. Jesus comes in and starts teaching me.
What is the objective? Early on I rejected the common practice of becoming an interchangeable Christian unit. I'm much to marvellously made for that. God put too much passion into making me Larry and not someone else to have me subsume my God-given Larryness into some person's idea of ideal uniformity. So, am I to become a unique missionary? A preacher? What dream does God have for me? What is his plan for my life?
He wants me to become... a friend of Jesus. Relationship is the desired outcome of all God's effort. He wants to know me. This idea grew on me through a year or so, and it seemed pretty neat, until I began to see just what was required. In order to have a real, living relationship with Jesus, I have to change. I must learn love, and this isn't some academic exercise demonstrated on Sundays but an every-second kind of breath.
One tiny step doesn't get you very far. I'm quite aware that I'm not the fastest mover in the world. No sprinter am I. More like a Mack truck, in low gear. Endure. Climb the hill because it's there and that's the way God has me pointed. Interesting how as I fought against what I saw as my future I became the very thing I detested: a barely-Christian robot, looking forward only to the termination of this fleshy part of the story. And yet, those tiny steps add up. Take a look back and see just how far. "I'd chuck it all, except I couldn't stand living without his voice."
For all that I was mostly unconscious of this, it was still true, as had been uncovered in the dialogue with Lu. Here it was plain. Life really isn't worth living without Jesus' hand on my shoulder. Once I saw that I just freaked. Ran, cursed the day I was born, hid under a rock, told Jesus to just hie himself off into the wilderness and bother someone else, someone who cared. Leave. Me. The. Hell. Alone! Dammit. And I found Hell, all right. Truth, once admitted, becomes a requirement. There is no going back. God holds me responsible: you know it, use it for life or you can't avoid the consequences. It's a natural law: learn something, take the geni out of the bottle and you can't put him back. Folklore is full of this idea. Take the step, and live with it.
Endurance isn't enough. God wants the impossible. I want to go to sleep and wake up only when it's all over. God wants me alive. I predict rough times ahead.
Sunday, February 12, 2006
The American Dream
Take a look at this post.
And this one.
For a different take, look at this.
Read this one, too. Same issue, different angle.
Then take a look at this little story.
And, finally, to give yourself a break, read this one.
We are all caught in webs of lies. Some of them even look holy, but everyone has their own version of the American Dream. It takes time for God to lead us out of that confusing wilderness, and only his Spirit shines enough light to show us the path. There are many, many paths, all of them easier than the real one. They even look almost the same. Only a heart sensitized to God's guiding can tell the difference.
So, you're trying to live a life sensitized to God, in world that has no use for sensitivity. It's no wonder you hurt all the time.
My version of the American Dream is to, basically, go live under a rock someplace. Far away from the noise and sharp edges of the city. I hate this place, hate interacting with its crowds, hate the stink and the hassles. So, I expect God to push me to the opposite. This is another idea that Christians have propounded for years: only if it's painful is life any good.
I think that's a lie, too. I think what we need to do, every day, is ask God to help us find the truth. What is my real dream? What is yours? What is God's real dream for you? Not the dream the church would have you believe, and not the dream you've picked up over the years, but the real and true dream that God wants you to live. It won't be easy to find.
The difficulty has nothing to do with God being vindictive, or wanting to cause pain. That's another human conceit. Pain comes from change. The deeper the change, the more it hurts. We are all so fragile that we wrap ourselves around with protections and then cry every time the protections break down.
We're taught a very intellectual kind of religion. God will do this if we do that. The step-by-step way to being a follower of Jesus. Even the so-called "Mystic Nation" doesn't get it, being believers in words just as the churches are. We need, desperately, to let God into our deep hearts. He could do incredible, irreparable damage in there, and of course we don't want him in because he's portrayed as a very bitter old man who wants his way NOW!
If that were true... we'd all be dead right now. God is stern. He is Right and Truth made manifest in the world. His standard is perfection. The imperfect, even just a slight spot, cannot endure a microsecond in his presence. He is Himself, unchanging, holy. He also... tenderly sought out the one lost sheep and his Son was sacrificed so that that sheep could be brought back. Jesus becomes our Word of Truth and our shield before God, transmuting God's wrath to a love that includes us in his dream.
How is it that in 2000 years of Christian history the only enduring popular image of God is that of the vengeful curmudgeon? How is it that followers of Jesus still carry the same image around with them, with the assumption that anything good in life is bad? I think it's an artificial hair-shirt philosophy: if I sit out here in the desert and eat locusts, God will love me more. Better yet, I'll make a whip and bloody my back at Easter time so that God will know I'm with him. Why is it that God's gentleness, as demonstrated by everything from evanescent tendrils of cloud in a valley, to a snowflake reflecting headlights, to the comforting hand of the Holy Spirit at 3:00 AM, is disregarded as being beneath the notice of a serious Christian?
We pave our world with concrete, and then act surprised when the Holy Spirit keeps sending little blades of grass up through the cracks. Truth is in the grass, not the concrete. I believe God is quite capable of guiding us where we need to go. We don't need to help him by becoming anti-dream and anti-comfort. The truth is that the American Dream brings no happiness by itself. A life with God isn't happiness all the time, but it is a relationship that feels real in the ways that count to the deepest heart. You think I understand this? No, I don't. I'm going by feel. Intellect is a very cold guide to God's heart.
God expects tantrums. He knows us. Tantrums end. Life goes on, and this is how we learn. An ounce of experience is worth a truckload of intellectual theorizing. And at any one time, life is bound to be out of balance: intellect, heart, experience, teaching. We're small and weak. We move back and forth on God's broad path, thinking that the part we see at the moment is the whole thing. It may be stones and ice now, but that's for a purpose. God is a good guide, and the Holy Spirit knows where he's going.
While I was writing that, Lu was also busy. She pretty much answered her own question. God is good.
Friday, February 10, 2006
Sparked by Sam's post on intimacy with God as a church value, I've been thinking about church from two standpoints. One question is about what kind of church would revolutionize the world. The other question has to do with what kind of church would capture me.
Last night, tired from a busy day at work, I went to bed early and started a sort of guided imagery discussion of this with the Holy Spirit. I've had this fairly fuzzy idea that a church could be made with almost no structure. Let the Holy Spirit himself guide the people there and suggest what to do. It's a nice theory, a dance wherein each person is guided by the subtle cues of God's kindness. I entertained that image for a time, and then the Holy Spirit gently reminded me that, in a crowd, His voice is harder to hear.
I ran through my memories of various church meetings. Some overstructured and dead, some understructured and taken over by people with more enthusiasm than Spirit. Rather sadly I arrived at the idea that some structure is necessary, but those who are providing the structure need to be very sensitive to what's going on.
Then I imagined going someplace and starting a church. What would I do? Thought experiment. First, why do it? There are many churches just about everywhere. What could I offer that the others don't? It'd be a rather one-horse affair: teach about God, encourage intimacy with him, and then let the rest work out from there. It'd probably never be big, but what might be the outcome? The image of a new oak tree came to my mind: two inches of tree above the ground, with two tiny leaves and nothing else to show for a few years of development. Under the surface, though, is a root six feet down. The root does what it is designed to do.
Our root is in Jesus' heart. Why follow him? I don't have words for it. It's a feeling, but something other than the normal everyday feelings we have. It is stronger or weaker at times, but never gone, always leading toward light, always suggesting that now is not the time to quit. Eventually I fell asleep but had some wild dreams including one in which I was standing in a yard guarding someone else's stuff while my own stuff was all by itself. Story of my life. Guarding the old ideas I grew up with, leaving God's new ideas alone as if they're radioactive. I know his way is better, solidly, intellectually, but the root of intellect is way ahead of the emotional tree. Or something like that.
This is an experiment. An odd sort of experiment, with me as the guinea pig and my life depending upon the outcome. It's an experiment because I don't trust much of what I've been taught, so I'm figuring it out on the fly. This started the day God brought me back to himself by instigating a crisis in the quite literal sense: choice. Being the straightforward guy that I am, I asked God for help thinking through what had happened. He did, in the first of the guided-imagery sessions that I experienced.
I responded to Sam's post about church values because this is important to me. Any church must allow room for individual variation in experience. What I've experienced is assigned to the "Weird" hopper by many, but for every weird story I have, Lu and others have ten more that are even weirder. What kind of church would attract me? One that would allow weirdness. On one of the last times I went to church, one of the people I knew took me aside and lectured me about obedience. This was a man who hadn't seen me in about six months. How does he know me well enough to know what I need? And by what is he judging obedience?
If you look at that two-inch oak in objective terms, comparing it to the 50-foot ones nearby, it's a failure. Laughable. The root sits undergound and says "Just you watch." It, in obedience to its God-given biologic imperative, is growing. The tree will come.
Note that no magical faith-in-faith is required here. Roots make trees whether or not you, or I, or the rest of the universe is thinking about it. God makes followers of Jesus out of those who follow Jesus. They hold his hand and dance with the whirlwind.
The morning is calm, cool, sunny. It's time to do something physical. I have no strong desire to get out there among the growing crowds of beachside joggers and such, but I need to move.
That used to be enough motivation. Simple pleasure in movement. Get on the mountain bike and go, under the sun, up the hills, move and see what's out there. Nowadays it's harder to get out there. Being around people is a strain, but if you want to be able to ride you have to ride. So, I go to the garage, get the bike and ride.
It is fairly crowded. Sunday morning is a lousy time to be on the bike path. Coming home will be worse. Once I get off the path and start riding up the canyon things get better: cars at least stay in their lanes.
When I turn onto the driveway from Sunset it's even better. Quiet. The tall eucalyptus trees seem to absorb the road noise and my jangled nerves settle. The going is slow; I'm not in very good shape right now and pushing will only lead to problems.
I stop at the drinking fountain and tank up for the long climb ahead. It's cool but I still sweat. These Fatburner Special rides go the lightest, simplest way. No water bottle, no pack, run what you brung and if it breaks walk home. At the top of the paved driveway I turn left, into the sunshine on the hillsides rather than the tree-shaded road that wraps around to the right.
The land is becoming greener. Winter sycamores are losing their leaves while the new early-spring flowers are coming out. The rainy season started well but has since turned stingy, but these plants are well experienced with promises that don't pan out. They're survivors.
The park is quiet. Not as many people walking around as I expected. I climb the constant grade, looking for progress in the magenta poppies but no buds have formed yet. The gooseberry has its neat shiny green leaves but no flowers. Farther up is a surprise, a lavender flower I'm not familiar with. Eventually I run out of mountain and take a break on top of a picnic table, looking north into the mountains.
What is a dream? People talk about having dreams to guide their lives, but whatever dream I might have once had is now pretty well shredded. I live day to day. A cold breeze from the south chills my sweaty back but that's offset partially by the sun. When the talk turns to dreams I tend to be quiet because everyone else builds these big shiny wonderstruck castles, and I'm content to live in a rented cabin. Mention survival to those who are planning to change the world and the results aren't attractive. A friend of mine pointed out a different way of looking at this: I actually have a pretty good life.
I've tended to credit God with that more than me. As I sit on the table, though, a clearer look comes to mind in one of those odd silent dialogues I have. Some parts of survival I've handled pretty well: physical structure, job, art. The simple things. Interpersonal aspects of human life I've left alone. My assumption is that God wants this to change, because he is himself relational and made me in his image. I tend to resist the idea, though, and today, finally, some ideas as to why come to mind. The Holy Spirit is a marvellous teacher.
What I want is to be myself. This sounds selfish, but I know that no person exists alone. I have a systems approach to the idea. My attempts to find out who I am, beyond the basic functional aspects of life, have failed to the point where I quit trying. Now things are moving around inside and perhaps I'm not such a lousy dreamer after all.
God made me. He knows me. I don't know much about myself, and there are good reasons for that. I attack whatever I find that doesn't fit with the invisible survival requirement. To live in society is to be subject to many conflicting opinions as to who I should be, and I've learned to resolutely defend myself. Invisibly, but still effectively, to the extent that I know. And that extent is pretty shallow. Only God knows the deeper parts, and only he can bring them to my attention and then keep me from destroying myself in an oft-repeated pattern of relentless attack. I already know that God cares. He wouldn't have sacrificed Jesus otherwise. What's surprising is how hard it is to change from an assumption that no one cares, which is a very good self-defense tactic, to an assumption that God cares, and that he cares far beyond reprogramming the machinery.
If you want a dream to grow you have to have the right kind of soil. God knows all about dirt.
I woke up this morning wondering if life with God is really better than life without him. It's one of those questions that Good Christians Never Ask, and the right answer is supposed to be unquestioned. Well, why?
The melody of "29 Ways to Leave Your Lover" ran through my mind. I think I've tried more than 29 ways to leave God, but none of them has worked. I suppose this is because God is singing "29 Ways to Make it to My Baby's Door."
I bought my first motorcycle from a confirmed gearhead. His house was decorated in Advanced Mechanical, with motorcycle parts on every horizontal surface. He told me that what you do with a new motorcycle is roll the thing down a mountainside. As it tumbles all the frippery gets thrown off, silly doo-dads the manufacturer thought were necessary. What's left at the bottom is a much-lightened bike, ready to ride away.
So, I wonder if it's possible to follow Jesus without falling off a mountain sometimes. This is what leads me to question living his way. The process of losing ideas, concepts, engrams, patterns, habits, is just plain hard and painful. I've seen lots of wrecks among Christians and some of them don't bother getting up to try again.
The only reason I get up to try again is that I have no choice. I know what the road behind me is like. Perhaps, some day, the road ahead will get better.
That's the rational part. The irrational part is a feeling. I know that feeling and experience are in bad odor among modern followers of Jesus, but this is my life, not someone else's. If I weren't a pragmatist I never would have succeeded in making an arch out of sand. Somehow, failing with Jesus and watching the pieces of old life fall off, feels right. It's hard to describe the feeling, perhaps because in my rationally driven life I have too little experience with emotion to know the names.
I fear the wreck. I fear not being able to go on. I've always been able to crack the whip and force some more movement, and I figured the day I lost that ability would be the day I give up and the men in the white coats come to take me away as they did a neighbor some years back. Well, now it seems the whip is one of the things I lost in the latest tumble from a cliff. While I've been working on other things the ability to drive myself onward seems to have gone missing. The white-coat boys aren't here yet and perhaps I'm entering a new world. I don't know what real motivation is. Perhaps the only way to learn it is to do it.
I should be panicked. This is, however, just the latest in a long string of improbable graces. 29 ways to leave, 29 ways for God to pursue, and the major difference is that he never quits.
Some friends were moving last year, and they gave me a copy of Frank Paretti's "This Present Darkness." I'd heard about this man's books, and heard that he was good. Christian without being preachy, good stories, good ideas. I read about 20 pages and gave it up.
It's full of stereotypes. The worst one is the demons meeting in hierarchy amid the stink of sulphur. If demons announced their presence in this way they'd have no power: smell sulphur, think demon, leave.
Satan has no real power. Only by insinuating hints into people who aren't sensitive to his wiles can he do anything. Remember Satan had to ask God's permission to do anything to Job.
I believe there are demons around. Satan cares only for taking things apart, so his hints are always about destruction. Self-destruction is the easiest: if he can get someone, through a lifetime of hints and small darts, to question their own quality then he's winning the battle. God comes along with his story of humans being worth so much that he sacrifices His own beloved Son, and naturally Satan wants no one to hear that. Not only that, but Satan will do what he can to keep you from getting any closer to Jesus than you are now.
Hints, innuendo, suggestions. God makes us more sensitive so the hints carry more power. He has also given us the Holy Spirit, who helps us think straight and see Satan for who he is. Sensitivity is important to knowing God and living with him, so learning how to live with the sensitivity is also important. It's very easy for a Christian to go astray in this process. I've done so many times.
There isn't a sulphur-scented demon behind every bush. Not every line in a non-Christian book is there to lead you astray. It's more the pattern of our culture: every subtle cue comes from the ruler of this world, and is designed to make a relationship with God harder. Culminating in the ridicule any Christian gets when he mentions that he talks with God.
On the face of it, a relationship with God is absurd. That's our culture speaking. We deal with nuts and bolts, things that can be held. People can't see God, can't touch him, certainly can't hold him and measure his weight, electron voltage or spin. God is God. How do we relate? He built the bridge so that we can. Talking with him is easier than picking up the phone, but more difficult than carrying a truckload of lead. He brings up questions of responsibility, and none of it seems good. Satan has warped our ideas of love into a cute and fuzzy kind of nebulous sugar coating, and God's love is the toughest. To relate to God is to meet yourself face to face, and the view is often ugly.
So, it's easy to believe that God doesn't care. If he cared, I wouldn't be in pain. God sees beyond the now, beyond the present, to a future of wellness that goes beyond death. He wants the best for each of us,and he knows what it is, and he knows how to bring it about, and he will bring it about if he's given the chance and enough time. He never quits.
Our culture doesn't believe any of this Our culture assumes each of us is alone, and that being alone is a good thing. Never ask for help. That's Satan's plan. We were actually designed to be helped. We were made to have God living with us. That's normal. Normal, folks. The God of the Universe wants us. He wants us. His choice.
Go ahead. Throw yourself on God's breast, just as John did. It'll revitalize you, and drive Satan nuts.
Calling the Bluff
The "Spiritual Warfare" post didn't go the way I expected it to. It actually started out in concept as a story about being bamboozled by God into walking into his open arms. Then I thought about an Email from a friend, who questioned the presence of demons in our world, which reminded me that not too long ago I also questioned that. The ideas collided, fuelled by two doughnuts and the ensuing sugar rush brought about that rather odd mix of ideas that necessitated a new category: The Soapbox.
What's really behind it is God's direction. When he brought me back to himself in the fall of 2003, I decided, all by myself, that I was going to reinvent Christianity. The old stuff didn't work. Be radical. Rather than believing all the stuff preachers put out there, I'd ask my own questions. Who would I ask? God, himself. I thought I was nuts, but I was desperate enough to try anything. When everything you've done doesn't work, it's time to be radical.
At the time the best outcome I could envision was that God would tolerate this modus operandi for a little while, and then he'd tell me to straighten myself out and start acting like a real Christian. I thought I was doing something strange, weird, on the edge. I even used to send out little messages to interested people that I called "Weird Email" because they showed examples of the odd way I approached Jesus. Every day I expected this dream to end.
When it stubbornly refused to end, I began to take steps to end it myself. For every weird step I made, God matched me and pushed. I thereby learned first-hand that God has a very deep sense of humor. I could imagine him sitting with some angels, talking about how clever I thought I was, taking the back door and then learning that either there is no back door to God, or else he'd recently repaved it.
I don't handle intimacy very well. God designed this path very well. For 7 months I was very busy working with Mosaic in Beverly Hills and just kept walking without really thinking much about what I was doing. When the Beverly Hills experiment ended I was about done with it anyway, awakening to just how far along this path I'd been led by a God who, while he can't lie, is not obligated to tell the whole story unless he's asked. The question implied things so deep that I didn't even want to get close to them, and I ran.
For about a year and a half, I alternated running, turning around, and running again. Approaching God felt like walking up to a blast furnace. Change, intimacy, knowledge, caring, all blended into a big gnarly knot I wanted nothing to do with. Yet God is faithful. As the bridge turned to tissue paper beneath me I didn't fall through. The Holy Spirit held his hand under me and I took one slow shaky step into this new world after another. There really was no choice. I remember what the pre-God days were like.
Lately I've sort of gotten used to the idea of radical intimacy with God. What started out as something half-joke and half-desperation, with a bit of devil-may-care daring--if God fries me I've not lost anything--has turned out to be something other than the lifetime gutterball I expected. I've been led down the primrose path to leaning on God's warm chest, and that's not the end of the story. I don't know what comes next.
I'm living the result of one radical experiment and uninterested in trying another. Except that I have to. All the principles of life have changed. I can't do this myself. Life by myself is intolerable. God starts at the beginning and teaches good lessons. One of these days I'm going to have to turn around and face the future instead of walking backward.
But I wonder about that, too. People talk about big dreams, and perhaps I should have one. I just don't know. Maybe God has to prepare the soil more before any kind of dream will take root. It's pretty sterile in there. I have no doubt that he will do it if that's what's needed.
The Unbroken Thread
Through my roommate in college in the fall of 1970, I met Craig Rouch, whose following of Jesus got my attention through authenticity. Some months later, thinking that being a Christian had something to do with Craig's character, I listened to his invitation in a cassette-letter and asked Jesus to save me. I didn't really know what I was doing, but I bought a bible and started learning.
The problem was that I didn't really believe what I learned. Protective coloration at work here: if what I learn is different from what others teach, then at least act as if I believe the people. The Holy Spirit didn't stand a chance. I heard his voice. I just couldn't believe it, and over the ensuing years I drifted off. I was trying to find the hard core of truth in Christianity, and failed. Finally, in about 1980, I just bagged the whole thing and made the working assumption that there is no God. I held the filter in my hand through which I had run everything I knew about God, and there was nothing left in it. No matter how fine the mesh, no truth of God stayed in.
I told people I didn't believe in God, that I believed life was up to me. If anything was going to come of it, I'd have to do it. If the question came up seriously, though, I also said I didn't believe there was no God. I assumed he was a myth, but even I, pragmatic, statistical and based on the Scientific Method, could see there were things that couldn't be explained with current knowledge. That didn't prevent me from making jokes along the line of "Jesus is just another invisible friend, like Santa Claus and the Easter bunny. Believe if you will."
Life went on. 20-odd years later I was about done. Life held no meaning. If it was up to me, well, it was going to end. I'd run my last option. God brought a man to the beach one day while I was making a sculpture and that meeting led to visiting Mosaic, in which place God showed up and said "Remember me?"
Twenty years of classic backsliding. Intellectual hole-digging. Years of denying God.
He never denied me. He still guided my life, stepping in to keep the worst from happening. This was almost invisible amid all the events of my life until I started thinking about it in the light of the Mosaic events. Coincidences? No. I'm enough of a jackleg statistician to know the odds against a succession of events such as I'd experienced. Timing, practice, events, bumbling along and landing in the right place. Too much for luck.
God doesn't forget his own. Even if they try to forget him.
Thursday, February 09, 2006
Transfers from Voxtropolis
If you want to read an honest Blog, take a look at Life Unplugged. Lu asks questions that are implied every day of a Christian's life, but most people don't want to rock the tradition-bound boat by asking them.
Why is life worth living as a follower of Jesus? His touch burns, His way is rough, steep and bare-faced honest. God isn't political. You can't talk your way into a cushier seat on the train. There is no train. Just walk, like everyone else, on a path difficult enough that I look at it and want to quit.
Options? Not many. Go back to living as I used to. Not attractive... but why? What has changed? I don't get out of bed in the morning looking forward to another day of walking with Jesus. I dread what might happen. The future is out of control. My control, anyway, and I have this ingrained habit of trusting only myself. Why is it worth the pain of letting God undo that confidence? I must be nuts.
Either that... Or I was nuts before, and am now becoming sane. Maybe sanity, at some very deep level, feels better than the insanity that comes from bending and reshaping to fit the world as Satan has oh so subtlely reformed to fit his ideas.
Maybe I see a thread, a tiny thing, leading from where I am to some brighter future. Maybe I accept that burning hand's touch because the fire is a true fire that helps me see reality. If there's one thing I've cared about beyond being left alone, it's reality. Reality is what doesn't crumble when my back is turned. God, in his attitude toward me, has never wavered. Always there, always fiercely kind, not letting me lie to myself. Maybe in some very odd way this feels good and it's that feeling that I pursue. Not God as a talisman against an unfeeling world, or God as magic pill to boost my emotions, but God as a real Father. He cares, and rather than letting a casual slap on the shoulder stand in for love he gets in there with his sleeves rolled up and says "I will never leave you nor forsake you. Let's do this together."
The idea of "together" is unusual enough that it gets my attention. Asking for help, even from the church, is like a third-world country inviting the U.S. to provide aid. You ask for seeds, you get the Army and computers.
Some people appear to take to this life of following Jesus easily. I would bet, though, that behind the single-point visible act that gets people's attention is a long submarine spell. Prep work. It took Jesus 30 years.
Getting to "Us"
Oh, Father, I'll rest in knowing that you love me
And you will guide me along, oh
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Father, while I am waiting
Oh, Father, eagles are making their way through the sky,
Father, please teach me to fly
"What separates artifices and artifacts from mere assemblages of components, what defines them and their use, is the love with which they are constructed and applied."
Father, send me your Spirit
Oh, Father, help me to hear [him]
I want to walk in your light
Pleasing to be in your sight
I wrote a version of this post last night. In it, I denigrated my ability to love. Why? Because, to my way of seeing, I don't love anyone and am not interested in learning to do so. I got it finished, tried an experiment, and lost it. Gone. Irrecoverable. I stared at the blank screen. A little later, God told me why. He brought some memories up from the depths.
Father, when I feel forsaken
Oh, Father, when my fragile heart is just breaking in two
Help me to draw nearer to you
"I see love in the sculpture," she said. A young woman from Taiwan, here to learn English and taking a day off in Venice Beach, where I happened to be making a sculpture. I told her I didn't know anything about love. She didn't say it in so many words, but she didn't believe me. I, in my self-reliant and obdurate way--if you want to survive in this place you have to hold on very tightly to yourself--blew her off. But I have a good memory. I think it's a necessary precondition for anyone who wants to gain skill in anything.
Father, I'm not deserving
But Father, I know there's blessing in serving you.
Show me the right things to do.
Prostrate, lying face-up in the desert I'd made of my soul, I one chance to avoid oblivion: accept God's love. In the years since love has been the substrate for everything else. Lately I've been trying to ignore it. Don't want nuttin' to do with love. It's a fake, just words. I deal with fact, hard things I can touch and hold.
Father, send me your Spirit
Oh, Father, help me to hear [him]
I want to walk in your light
Pleasing to be in your sight
"I think every Christian should pray each morning, and ask God to give him the strength to get through the day." When Greg said that I was shocked. God... cares about daily things? Small thing? Everyone who believes can ask for life of the Holy Spirit? When the tank is empty you don't quibble about what comes down the pipe. I figured there might be repercussions from rubbing shoulders with the Holy Spirit, but, again, desperation makes for strange bedfellows. A less likely subject for God's love would be hard to imagine... by our world's standards.
Father, though we are few
Oh, Father, you've chosen us to be your light
Help us to shine oh so bright.
Need opens the door. I kept telling God I didn't need love. I needed something else. It turns out, though, that love is at the core of what I need, it's the center from which the rest comes. Trying to live with Jesus while denying love is like walking naked in a thunderstorm without getting wet. Once I saw that I did the logical thing: freak out and run.
Father, send us your Spirit
Oh, Father, help us to hear [him]
We want to walk in your light
Pleasing to be in your sight
We want to walk in your light
Pleasing to be in your sight
And I ran... and I ran... if you want to make time, you throw things out to lighten the load. Love, of course, was one of the first things to be jettisoned. It's interesting to find out how many other things are connected to that. Sand sculpture went over, observation and enjoyment. I walked around with my eyes on the ground, hoping I wouldn't be noticed. As the battle continued life turned more and more grey. Pretty amazing for a child of God, but that's the price I was willing to pay to keep from having to deal with love. Better to keep it hidden. The balance was thoroughly destroyed by which I'd lived. Love was fine so long as it didn't mess things up.
Oh, Father of lights
Oh, Father of lights
Oh, Father of lights
Oh, Father of lights...
That ol' searchlight kept finding me. He wouldn't leave me alone. Not only did he promise not to leave, but I asked him some time back to do whatever it took to keep me with him. You want to fight? OK, I'll do what you asked. And the run gets very rough. There's really not much point in living that way. Eventually even I, desperate to avoid God's touch, could see that what I was doing to avoid everything was worse that anything God could dream up. So a few weeks back I gave up the running. It's still going to take time. There is no community without love. Even I know that, and have for a long time. The problem is in learning to love.
So, I will learn love. God has said so. It may not be such a long trip. What it takes is consciousness, which is the nub of my problem. Anything is fine so long as I don't have to pay attention. The Holy Spirit really doesn't care much for unawareness; that's not compatible with his kind of life. Unawareness is a hard habit to break but he doesn't quit. He also gets upset when I cut myself down after he's put so much into reconstruction. It's the gentlest reading of the riot act I've run into. He wants me honestly conscious. Restoring the balance.
"Father of Lights" by Karen Lafferty, 1978
1 Corinthians 13:1-3 NIV
"Artifices" quote from "The Eternity Artifact" by L.E. Modesitt Jr.
Go On! Crazy.
My friend Lu wrote a little story about Life Unplugged, wherein she asks "Am I willing to let [Jesus] be enough?" I wrote a quick comment, and then added another about my own questions. Why is living with Jesus worthwhile?
Lu, when she gets going, burns like a torch. She took the question and built a whole story on it.
I met Lu when I was a newbie Temple Slave at Mosaic in Beverly Hills. I'd shown up one day to help set up and as is typical in Mosaic enterprise within a few Sundays I'd found a place within the technical team. Lu did the sound mixing and I fixed what didn't work. Baling wire and worship. We worked hard to get that celebration off each Sunday.
Most people, regardless of what field they're in, repeat what someone else has told them. Lu is one of the few who will go after the truth. The same tendency in me formed the other end of a natural link and we had some enjoyable evenings--too few--of trading stories. She followed her dream to Nashville where everything blew up. I'd made sanguine assumptions about her landing on her feet, which has happened, but the whole thing has been much more of a struggle than I thought it would be.
The core of the story is love. God is makes real friends. In that process we have to learn what's true and what's not, and that, given that we live in a world ruled by lies, is difficult. The image keeps coming to my mind of Aslan having to help Eustace shed his dragon skin in "Voyage of the Dawn Treader." Only Aslan could reach deep enough and take a strong enough grip to pull the scaly old hide of lies off of the pink-skinned boy inside.
The question of "Is it worth it?" is, to me, legitimate. No fancy dancing around the issue will hide the pain of a Christian's life. Because God loves us and wants the best for us we have to face the truth.
Something about truth feels good. A good answer resonates deeply inside. It's hard these days to talk about feeling as the basis of a life, but God did give me emotions and I'm pretty well determined to figure out what the hell to do with them. I kind of wish I'd never started this.
Somewhere out there, though, is an answer for me. It'll be something that makes getting out of bed in the morning something less than the chore it is now. I have no idea what it will be. I'm not sure I'd recognize it if I saw it today. So, life today is a sort of holding pattern. I'm waiting for the good stuff.
Perhaps that's not the way to approach it, though. When I went to Mosaic Beverly Hills that first Sunday I was really looking for people. The God question had been settled for 25 years and I knew that life was up to me.
God is interesting in how he approaches people. Some, he comes to quietly. Others he really puts through the wringer. Me, he met with a brass band, flashing lights, bright eyes and a question: "Remember Me?"
"Well, yeah, but you're not real." I had some time to think about that one. And then he pretty much dared me to come up with the weirdest ideas I could, and then he'd trump them. He brought people into my life who'd done the same thing. Lu was among these.
So, no matter how nutty you think your life with God is, someone out there is even nuttier. Once through the narrow gate there's a wide country to explore. The problem is that it's full of terrifying old monsters and myths. Is it really better out there, or am I better off returning to Egypt? So what if I was a slave. It was at least comprehensible.
God ends up having to make the incomprehensible possible. He has done it before: Paul on the road, and poor confused Ananias called to meet the one he knew was death on Christians. Talk about nutty stories. Being a Christian may never be fun, but it's good.
Logos Dei: Winter Wheat
Another cloud of burning dust rolls voraciously across land so seared it makes Sherman's march through Georgia look like a Sierra Club outing. Weapons of mass desctuction are toys compared to what can be turned inside, directed against a hated soul.
Kansas in January: furrows under a cold sun. Arctic air, frozen ground. A few inches underneath, the promise of what the farmers put there in the fall. You plant and you hope.
God does the planting. As an experiment I took the seed. When it started to grow I unleashed the attack. His Word, delicate, green, living amid the soul-wide destruction, improbably stayed. Winter fell and also stayed.
Center-seeking self-preservation admits of no need for new greenery. Any change is defined as a bad thing as it upsets a careful stability. Yet the seed is there, the new plant, and no hellish farm implement, no well-planned and sustained plan of destruction will touch it. It's as if the bulldozers all hit glass walls. God's Word will not be touched. Eventually, even maintaining winter costs too much. Years pile up in fatigued windrows, movement becomes slow and pained. God does not quit.
No effort of man can stop Earth's progress around the sun. Spring will come, the land warms, the ice reluctantly lets go. Some delicate timer says "Now!" and last fall's wheat begins to grow again. If everything goes reasonably well, in late July there will be bright yellow wheat to harvest. Even if things aren't reasonable, if drought blows in on eternal hot winds, if constant rain lashes the land, something will grow. Perhaps not perfectly, but the seed will not be completely denied.
God invented gardening. He will make it grow. Anyone who stands in the way pays the price in agonized life. Spring will not be denied. The pleasure of the new growth can be denied, I can stick my head into the hard dry ground and ignore the signs of growth and its pain, but the growth will happen. God doesn't give up.
Vox Humana: Wilderness
So, what of this God we try to describe, to contain within cunningly arranged words? Creeds, mottoes, core values arbitrary or not. The living God of the Universe is unnetted, uncontained, locked out. He stands outside the net working between the strands that only serve to separate us from him.
His Word is a sword sharp enough to cut the net. The Living Word, Jesus himself, he of the bloodstained cross whence he went by his own choice. His love is a singular solvent, working to separate words far enough that a Spirit can work between them and touch the contained soul.
Words make our world, our future. They reshape the past. They warp our view of reality, our thoughts and then our actions. What is spoken becomes real, whether it is true or not. We end up so short of daylight amid the weeds that grow from this strong wordy fertilizer that we think that's all there is. Reality is what we make it. Outside the thicket still stands the Person who made it all, even the ground from which the weeds grow. He offers tools to address the ground and turn it to better use than this crop of choking stems.
Where is truth? Where is beauty? In opinion, or in God? The beauty of God's gifts is wrapped around a singular ability to teach us truth, and how to recognize it. The Holy Spirit's burning-but-lifegiving touch, truth-pain and life-beauty together, gives us the vision to see beyond the net of words to the image that God works constantly to bring about. What marvellous, what impossible gifts! Truth that lives inside us! Beauty available at the turn of a word, the softening of a heart that knows its broken nature and cries out in desperation for some kind of solace.
Words pile up bricks immovable around the delicate soul. The soul dies for want of air and light. God somehow dissolves the bricks and the soul screams. "My protection! My safety! How will I survive? I will be dissolved too!" And it imagines beasts ravening. The beasts are real, but no match for God's protection.
Fear drives me away from God. Fear drives me back. Fear of love, fear of what God might do with me. Then fear of the cold desolate desperate wastes I've lived in for so long that the sight of a single blade of grass sets me to shivering with terror. What is this thing growing within me? God, what are you doing?
Could it be that I'm falling in love? I, who have never loved anything, learning that love starts with Jesus, outside of the chuch's words? Can I learn, really learn and live, to nurture that blade of grass growing impossibly in a desert 50 years wide? That seems to be God's goal, day by itchy, irritable, tedious hidden-soul day.
If I am glad of anything in this, it's that God is not words. He refuses to fit my descriptions, my ideas, my plans. He is resolutely himself, a never-changing personal maker of my univers whose presentations to me change as I change in perfectly flexible adaptations that were modelled in Jesus' participation in our world. Always himself, always just what another human being needed. Truth presented with a glare and a twinkle, heart walking among the soul-destroyers with determination and delight.
To touch him, to cut through the net of words and be speared by his gaze, seared by his touch, is to feel something I don't understand. Pure life, perhaps, something that calls insistently even to my mostly-dead self. Paul counted everything he'd done as loss beside the presence of Jesus in his life. I, quaking, terrified, astounded, am beginning to understand why. Even if I can't put it into words.
God Out of the Box
We have 2000 years of Christian history and writing that tells us who God is. Some of it's even true. There are even older writings that have been interpreted, filtered, described, researched in great detail in exegesis after exegesis. Some of that's true, too.
"Who do you say I am?" Jesus asked. "Come and see," Jesus invited. Whatever these brand-new disciples expected, they were still surprised regularly. Jesus wasn't like anyone else they'd ever met. No box would hold Him, nor the disciples as they worked out their own salvation, and I'll bet there was plenty of fear and trembling. Strange territory. God walking with us.
Now we have history. Everyone knows the name Jesus, and they think they know what goes along with it. The cross has become a symbol worn prominently around the necks of secular media stars. Made of silver, elegantly decorated. The real thing is rough wood and has blood on it, and shows God's demonstrated love. As Brennan Manning points out in "A Glimpse of Jesus," no other religion has anything like the cross.
God broke the box of history. We've been trying to rebuild it. When God saved me a couple of years ago I had nothing to lose so I just asked him to do whatever was necessary. That I'm still here shows God's care and lack of interest in doing things in predictable ways. I have a long way to go yet, wandering along through this very strange country colored by love.
I'm very good at sealing up the walls of my box so that no one can hurt me. I'm reminded of "Pilgrim's Progress," the Feeling Gate, the Ear Gate, the other gates. Wall them up. Box in the soul so that it's unaffected by the world. This doesn't seem to be God's way. He has been carefully at work from the beginning of this experiment, removing the stones from the gates because closed walls keep me from experiencing him. It seems that love doesn't exist without senses, without a whole human being. I'm very fond of intellect and hard answers like bricks used to build. It takes cement to hold things together, though, and the cement is soft, runny, dries up if not refreshed and oftentimes needs to be replaced anyway. Without it the structure falls apart.
I think the Holy Spirit is the main ingredient in soul-cement. He needs freedom to work. Love wants freedom... like a hart panting for water on a hot day. Love rains down on all of us. How sturdy is your umbrella? Mine was pretty strong, but not strong enough to resist the Living God of the Universe. His patience is greater than mine, and the water of his Spirit is replacing the old dried-up stuff in my soul. The results are unpredictable.
The Sensual Christian
After God brought me back to himself a couple of years ago, I expected certain things to happen. I figured I'd be instructed to go someplace, be a missionary, something like that. What happened instead was some basic instruction, and a few hints. One of the hints was about emotions.
I come from a family whose religion is complete emotional control. I sort of split the exit on this one; suspecting that I wasn't being told the whole story, I sort of stuck a toe in the emotional pool and discovered that I came up with better answers when I was able to consider the emotional component. The balance was uneasy but it worked so long as I kept a pretty heavy thumb on the feelings. I always worried about what might happen if my thumb slipped, so, when God asked me to give him my emotions I didn't fully understand but it seemed a good idea. "Here. Take 'em."
After a while he started giving them back. I resisted. "If I wanted to feel this stuff I would have done so years ago." I continued to resist, ever more strongly, until I could barely move. This was worse than anything I did before meeting God. Imagine being with a 24-hour slave driver always telling you exactly what to do. As spontaneous as a computer program, which was kind of funny because I'd always resisted being programmed by anyone. Here I was, supposedly freed by God to be myself, and I was more locked up than ever. I guess there are choices to make, and I chose to ignore what God was telling me, more afraid of what might happen than I was of what was already happening.
There are depths to the soul that I've not seen nor felt. Sort of like having wolves and bears in the forest: I'm glad they're there, but I don't really want to see them when I'm hiking. I've lived without them for 50-odd years, so the rest of my life shouldn't be a problem. I'll just go on into the future hoping nothing else falls off.
God has other ideas. So do I, in my better moments. He made life to be good, not necessarily easy. I've gone for easy, having learned long ago that I have very little control over anything. Emotional needs are hard to meet by myself, which is why I've always made the decision to ignore them. God, for some reason, wants me to be different. He wants to open those closed areas of my soul. To resist him is to die by little pieces. To go his way is also to die in little pieces, but he replaces the dead pieces with himself.
Lu's question from a couple of weeks ago still resonates: what makes the suffering worthwhile? The answer seems to be Jesus himself. Intellect and duty aren't the way to a whole relationship. "Love the Lord your God with all your mind, all your heart, all your strength." If you don't have a heart, he has to make it from scratch. Or... resurrect it.
I posted this originally on Long Haul Christian, but it seems that no one reads what I put there. So, this may be step one in pulling out of the Voxtropolis Experiment.
Monday, February 06, 2006
The Voxtropolis Experiment
The entry point is here: Voxtropolis Cafe.
My Blog is here: Long Haul Christian.
There are all kinds of people there. It'll be interesting to see how it develops.
I'm unsure of my long-term participation there. The "Long Haul Christian" idea is one I've been thinking about for a couple of years--How does God turn ordinary people into people who will follow Jesus for the rest of their lives?--but the name "longhaul.blogspot.com" was taken. It was a natural follow-on to "Last Exit." I may not be a permanent fit with Voxtropolis, though, and the whole thing may fold. Blogger has a demonstrated commitment to keeping things going, and I think there's benefit in just having the one Blog for everything.
There are a lot of church people on Voxtropolis, and as church people do, they talk a lot about "should." As soon as that word shows up, life goes out the window. I don't believe in "should."
There are lots of hard cases around, people hanging on by a thread and fighting to protect that thread. The circumstances of life look bleak, chances for improvement even bleaker, and yet they hang on. Could it be something that God put in us? Something that keeps us picking up one heavy, mud-covered foot at a time, keeps pushing us up the unending hill? I wonder what it is.
It's academic now. Things are changing and I don't understand. I don't feel so desperate, which is kind of nice. I also don't feel any strong drive to do anything. I haven't done a sand sculpture in months. Usually a hiatus like this is caused by weather or a sort of artistic regrouping, and ends when the drive to sculpt builds up. Now there's no drive. I think about sculpture, but the fire seems to be out.
I think I'm cornered. His logic is inescapable. "Love me, and the rest doesn't matter." I know the logic of his love: his Son died so that I could know the Father. Logic isn't enough. Logic doesn't go to the heart, except in a labyrinthine slow process. Love me today, I move next month. By that time the motivation has been forgotten.
Why don't I quit? Because God loves me and won't let me quit? Love so scares me that I'd love to quit so I wouldn't have to think about it. Love, it seems to me, is just an excuse to take advantage of people. There's also the idea that quitting today precludes the chance of things getting better tomorrow, but how long does that hope live? How many disappointments can one person stand? I don't stand disappointment very well. God has never disappointed me, and there's something stirring inside me that I've never known before, or at least only briefly. I wonder if it's love.
I thought desperation was a pretty good motivator. Throw myself on Jesus. I didn't care what would happen. Anything was better than staring down past the edge of the cliff my toes were hanging over. I guess it's a good way to start, but not the best for a long-term relationship. Or, perhaps that long-term relationship simply changes everything. Desperation fades in the light of love? Desperation is simple. I understand it. Black and white, death or life. Love is fuzzy, incomprehensible. I have no experience of it other than looking at how God loves me.
The truth is that it's happening. Here comes the future, whether I'm ready or not. Larry and love. Only God would be crazy enough to try that experiment.