Saturday, May 27, 2006
Jesus and the Architects
"He is an amazing artist and I love the way he articulates his thoughts....would love that cuppa sitting with the 2 of you and so many others listening to each other.....Why have we so screwed up everything.....You just figure God is watching us saying come on can't you figure out how to love each other???..... "
I read this after having dinner with some friends. Our conversation over Killer Shrimp and pinot grigio was much different from the severe lunch I'd had the previous weekend.
Debbie is an architect. After 7 years she has landed in the middle of a dream job: money isn't a problem, and the clients really want what Deb has to offer. God has given her a gift. As is usual with such gifts it requires some stretching: Debbie is being changed by it. She's having to learn supervision skills.
If you were the common sort of crabbed, conservative Christian that wants to speak for everyone, you could easily say that the whole project is decadent and that no real Christian would be involved in it. The money could be better spent elsewhere. That would be to deny God's many gifts, and his guidance. Many things had to come together at just the right time to put Deb in this place at this time. She has learned, and is learning more. I don't believe in coincidences, and who am I to deny that God can give this lavishly? After all, I'm still here, which is about as lavish a gift as I can comprehend right now.
We all have stories like this. As BJK envisions, wouldn't it be wonderful to gather with some friends and share the wonders of what God is teaching us? Face to face?
One of the things I was chided for last week was spending so much time with friends on-line rather than face to face. I see this pragmatically: People in the face-to-face world won't make time to meet. My friends in Uru do make time. Every Saturday night we gather for music and conversation, and have been doing so for almost a year. If you want to know people you have to talk with them, and that takes time. I know my Music Night friends pretty well by now.
What led to Music Night is another of our Chief Architect's weird plans. I needed a PC to play Uru so started looking around on the Web. I'd played the game on noisy PC and sort of hoped that there were alternatives. Laptops looked like the best way, but are somewhat unreliable for games. Then, by chance, I found a "silent" PC. No fans. I bought one of those and played the game. Then I realized that a silent PC could be used as a music source; I'd already been using a Mac for music playback and liked the convenience. It was too noisy for daily use, but the new PC could hold my music collection and make it all findable. I started copying CDs to it. So, when I learned how to play music in Uru the two threads came together and Music Night was the result. Coincidence? No. I think it's a series of gifts, designed and built just for me.
Sand sculpture is an even better example. Who would have thought of making an arch from sand? The idea just came to me one day, and I enjoyed the experiments even as they failed because I like the feel of sand. Eventually I learned how to make the arch. It became a more complex arch, and then became bigger and more complex. After a few years I was confident enough of the structure that I could concentrate on design. It all just grew, little step after little step. What drives such an act? I didn't know, and was afraid to look for fear of making the goose quit laying golden eggs. Sand sculpture's complex and delicate arches built a bridge over a bad period of my life, creativity carrying me through until I was ready to admit defeat.
What drives such an act? God is driven by love. One day a woman told me that she saw love in the sculpture, and her word matched those of other people. I told her I knew nothing of love, which was the truth. She was astounded. For me it was business as usual. If there's love involved I don't want to know about it. I have a habit of ruthlessly stamping out any such delicate thing from my life. Love, beauty, kindness are all erosive of the rigid structure necessary for a sensitive man to survive in brutal world.
"You just figure God is watching us saying come on can't you figure out how to love each other???....."
Well, of course we can't figure out how to love each other. We're too busy emulating Dirty Harry and the Cat Who Walks By Himself. Wrong model. God hands us bread. We turn it to stone and throw it away. Advanced Christianity become equated with a herd of rhinoceroses crashing through a forest. What of the flowers underfoot?
God has the audacity to say he can teach me to love. He's pretty confident, too. He's using Mercy's comments to illustrate what he means and to bring me to consciousness of love. I still resist, having had enough bread turned to stone that I have little confidence that this time will be different. I'll get out there on the tip of the branch and then God will break it off. That's what we're taught. Christianity is full of pain and suffering. If you have joy it will be brief.
Well, I know all about enduring. I've been enduring for years. I look at Debbie and her face is just illuminated by the wonder of this project and the fact that it's her out there were the big ships go. She is the lead designer. It'll be her name in the magazine articles. Can I ever find something that would bring such joy to my face? I doubt it. God, however, has other ideas and while they include enduring, I doubt that it's endurance just for the sake of being here. I think the main thing he wants to erode is my insistence on a narrow life of survival. He wants to build something beautiful... Or perhaps it's more a matter of, as Debbie is doing with her project, removing the ugly remodelling that has been done before to return the house to what its real Architect desired. I still think he's nuts, but he's free to try. I'm going nowhere on my own.
Friday, May 26, 2006
Give Until You Die
Of course this puts me in conflict with people who believe in church. They exhort, they cajole, they know best. They believe in the challenge.
Many people react strongly against this sort of thing. When they're attacked by wild dogs, they beat the dogs. I'm not allowed to do that so I do what I can: I put myself in a cage so the dogs can't get at me. No one else can, either, but I'm willing to pay that price to keep my heart my own.
God's way of working with people is much different. You'd think he'd be the most forceful one out there. He's God. He can make me do anything. If I balk, he can just twiddle something inside and there I go, like a marionette. Or he could touch some little tender part of me and cause great pain. I'd then do whatever he asked, just to avoid the pain.
God calls me to give up everything. Give it to him. He calls me to die to myself. I see the need for this. It's essential in any life change: you die to the old way, grow into a new one. Human beings just aren't made to change radically every week. We grow, like trees, like puppies, like flowers. Day to day it seems not much changes but after some time you see the small changes accumulate.
After last Sunday's savage attacks I just retreated into my cage and let the world go by. Note that savageness is in the body of the experiencer. God stepped up his rain of blessing and eventually I realized what had happened. Under extreme provocation like that my response is automatic: I run away and hide, rather than lash out or try to defend myself. Once the attack starts it's too late. I could have attacked, but what good would come from that? Instead of one hurt person there'd have been three. God used the whole event to illustrate his gentleness.
His way is impossible, but gentle. He leads in one little step after another. He calls to living in constant mission. My life is my mission and only he can bring that about. Why can we not call to people's desire to move on? Instead of driving them with guilt, why not call them with love? That's what God has done with me, and although I know little of love in its fancier aspects I understand pretty well the nuts and bolts of how God operates.
Look at the Cross. That act of love is my model.
Sunday, May 21, 2006
You Are MY Mystic
Pure white ceanothus blossoms on spreading bushes
Off-white balls of tiny blooms on buckwheat stalks
Cream-colored spikes of even tinier flowers on the dark-green chamise
Faded blue flowers in grey-green whorls on very dark-green black sage
Startling magenta big poppy-shaped flowers with glowing yellow centers on low bushes
Conical lavender clusters of flowers on the spiky kind of ceanothus
Along the trail I've seen delicate mariposa lilies, lavender shading to purple on the outside, creamy white on the inside that's furred with yellow hairs. Caterpillar phacelia's fragile little blossoms, pale lavender on the low-growing fuzzy stems. Vibrant golden yarrow. Canyon sunflower radiant in shaded places.
The hills are simply covered with flowers. High Spring in southern California after a good year of rain.
Everyone shares in the bounty. Bees attend to the magenta poppy-like ones, pollen baskets loaded. One of them takes off from its bright landing pad and bumbles right into the flower-stalk of a chamise. Disdaining this offering, the bee goes on to the real gold: the center of another magenta magnet.
Runners pound past. Joggers with headphones determinedly climb the grade, right past the miracle of the fuchsia-flowering gooseberry making new seeds.
I, of course, stop. This plant is an old friend, and I'm glad to see that it's doing well.
I went to part of a church service today. The pastor made the familiar plea to greatness inside the crabbed confines of missionary systems. Later on I had lunch with some friends who didn't act very friend-like, seeing it as their duty to challenge me to greater things. How could I answer? God is doing his best to make greatness in me, but he's starting a fire in very wet wood.
Later on I was reading. The book is well written but has some darker elements, and the Holy Spirit kept suggesting that I put it down. Not having anything better to do, and wanting to forget the whole lunch thing, I kept reading. The Holy Spirit prodded me harder: "This really isn't good for you."
"Am I supposed to care? Why should I?"
There followed a quick and complex exchange of half-thoughts and images, and I landed on the idea of the old-style mystic: one who just wants to know the truth, no matter how weird.
Does a bee know pride as it goes its rounds, collecting what the hive needs? Does God cup its tiny life in his hand, protecting it and guiding it? How does a bee know which way to go? What guides its path? I doubt that bees get back to the hive and compare notes on who brought in the most. They're not competing. No one exhorts them to ever greater goals. They simply unload what they picked up and then go back and get another load. Does the bee feel fulfilled? Only God knows the heart of a bee.
Do I know pride? Sometimes. There is always someone around to puncture that particular balloon. I wonder what would happen if we got together to celebrate each person's small accomplishments and let the future take care of itself. The rains come, the flowers bloom, the bees live and the ecosystem runs its slow cycle in another year. Why? Because it is. Just so. No more than that. God is delighted.
God holds the bee, and God holds me. "Keep going," He says. "You're MY mystic."
Wednesday, May 17, 2006
He didn't dredge it up from within himself, as we're exhorted to do. He got it from God. And quick. I'm not sure how that happened. Maybe having Jesus appear to him on that road and strike him blind was a strong motivator to getting things right. But then, Paul was already a zealot and perhaps it's easier for someone who's already a zealot to change course than it is to change the course of someone who doesn't care much.
First God has to get my attention. Then he has to sweet-talk me into caring. Try to fit that plan of action inside your 40 days of purpose or whatever program is popular right now.
Why should I be motivated? That's the question of the week. If God has to do all this just to keep me moving, what's the point of me being me? He has gone through great effort and trouble to preserve me as myself, so he has something in mind. I still don't get the motivation thing.
Why should I be motivated to emulate Paul? Prison? I'll take a pass, thanks. But I wonder if my stony heart could be so transformed by Jesus' love that I could be thrown into prison, or into a packed bus creeping home, and sing instead of complain and just wait for the end. I guess I'm going to find out. It's not as if I have a plan or anything.
Today's thought: Doesn't do you much good to have someone offer you your heart's desire if you don't know what you want. God spreads his promises before me and asks me to choose, and I just keep stumbling along the familiar path. I want something different but that's all I know. What is it? Beats me. Besides which, if something better came along it wouldn't last. And it's impossible anyway, so don't bother thinking about it.
People talk about dreaming big dreams. I've seen the results. I just read an article on a Web site by a photographer about his journey into making a living doing what he loves. Wow. Maybe if I loved something I could make a living at it.
This morning's thought: If you want something to grow, you don't have to work at it. Just take the rock off of it. I limit myself, and the more God calls the more I just hunker down in survival mode. Man, I am one untrusting and crotchety old stick-in-the-mud. Sigh. I don't have to do anything to help God. I just need to quit sitting on things.
And there are things I'm zealous about. I just don't want to show it.
Tuesday, May 16, 2006
The Pleasures of the Lord
Most Christians seem to think that what God has planned for them is a life of pain. They steel themselves to bear up under it, and the whole thing reminds me a lot of how I've always lived. Cannot the living God of the Universe do better than that?
How many people really take pleasure in hedonism? I see the people here in Los Angeles who have everything: new cars, cell phones, nice clothes, yet they aren't smiling as they're driving the car while talking on the phone. I'm sensitive to these kinds of things. They don't look happy to me.
Perhaps a Christian takes off into hedonism for a time, given the freedom to live separate from the rock of sin that has always invisibly oppressed them. Freedom is a heady thing, and our culture is convinced that freedom should be kept on a short leash. Don't believe me? Watch people as they go through life, hemmed in by rules that exist only in their minds. Fashions, TV news, opinion polls and the like. Jesus comes along and offers freedom from all that, and we all close our eyes and just sort of touch the hem of his robe, hoping to be saved while avoiding the more severe effects of freedom.
I speak from experience here. Jesus lays his wonderful meals out on the table in front of me, and I skulk around the edges, just grabbing a crumb or two because I know the food will transform me. I'll become happy. I'll become more comfortable with life, and therefore shine like a light on top of a hill. I'd rather be a submarine, but Jesus keeps calling, keeps offering, keeps pestering me.
It's sort of like trying to stop the slide of a rain-saturated California clay hillside. Once it starts to move you're just along for the slow ride. Attempting to hold Jesus' hand while remaining myself is to pit my own puny psyche against the universe-spanning power of the Holy Spirit, gentle as he might be. No power at all can prevail against him, and he doesn't quit. All I can do in this struggle is make myself miserable.
It's very sad. I'm used to misery. I grew up with it. I grew up with the idea that life was something to be endured until you die. Avoiding pain was all I could do, and I've become quite adept at it. Of course, this means the death of several aspects of a man's soul, but the price seemed low in exchange for the avoidance of sharp pains. And I was just a kid when I made the decisions. What did I know?
God offers me freedom from at least one kind of misery, the dead dullness of a life that is just the process of getting through another day. There's nothing really to look forward to.
Do you see why God's offer three years ago of a new kind of life appealed to me to the point where I jumped for it? Do you also see why all the talk of Christians not being allowed pleasure is sand in my gearbox? I know that life lived purely for pleasure is a dead end. I see it all around me. I also know that life without pleasure just isn't worth living.
God knows the balance. I don't. I'm pretty far in the hole on this one. His main work is to keep me going long enough that my stony soul will catch the Holy Spirit's life and begin to glow in response. I need to learn to quit stopping it. I need to let His pleasure fill my life so that I can feel pleasure. The alternatives are to continue being a stone, or to become a pleasure seeker trying to fill a bucket whose bottom is missing. Pour in as much as you want, it'll never work. Neither path is attractive. Being a stone is familiar, so I fall that way. I don't fall completely, though, because it's God's pleasure to hold me up.
Monday, May 15, 2006
Keeping Things Going
"I sit a moment looking at him as he stares out the window. He is already on the mental road home, and already mentally retired. Just waiting for that last load assignment, and his gold watch. I look at him carefully, and I know he has the answer to every driving question I have.
"There is a wealth of information in this man, if I can just get to it. I don't know how to do that, so I just ask him straight out, if he had one piece of advice to give, and only one, what would it be. He looks at me again, pauses, and says he has never had a wreck, never laid one over, never went [sic] off the road, that he never even scratched a fender. I look at him absolutely amazed. He is telling the truth. To have such a record is phenomenal. Virtually impossible. He is referencing probably two-and-a-half, maybe three million highway miles in all kinds of weather, dozens of thousands of backings, tens of thousands of parking lots, and innumerable opportunities to wrinkle a truck. But I see in his countenance that he is not lying. He did it. I ask him how.
"It was another answer he thought out years ago. He looks up and says, 'You just have to care...' and I am suddenly aware I have been given the key. The key to lots of things. He is right. You do just have to care. And that is really the deciding factor in getting anything right. Caring that it is done, and done properly. The man said you just have to care."
Caring is dangerous. Jesus cared, and got killed. People die for caring all the time, either outright or a little bit at a time as those around sense the tenderness and nip in like piranhas to cut the other down to their level. If it's anything Satan wants to keep out of our world, it's caring. Fortunately, the human heart really is very robust and we've resisted the slide into complete barbarity, but a little more gets taken away each year as resources dwindle and numbers increase. We rub shoulders, ever more irritated.
One way to handle the friction is to quit caring. Too many bosses demanding too much, and I throw up my hands and I say I don't care. And I die a little bit more. I learned this trick years ago: if I don't care, I can't be hurt.
Oddly enough it has become a real problem since I started following Jesus with more survival-motivated dedication. He has stripped off some layers of armor. My response has been to fall back on my time-tested survival techniques, of which the major one is not caring. Naturally my work suffers, my life suffers, I suffer... but I'm used to suffering so what's another day, month, year of it? No big deal.
God, however, is the first person I've met who can outwait me. He continues to press in the direction of caring, and I learn the complexities of life.
Those of you who are parents... please let your children care about things. Teach them how to be strong in caring. Of course, this means you'll have to learn it yourselves, but the next generation is going to be very challenged and only caring will get them through.
Those of you who are following Jesus... ask him to teach you how to help others care. This has nothing to do with rote prayers and church services, and everything to do with knowing God's Spirit.
Speak Up and Listen!
Cat Stevens sings "From the time that I could talk I was ordered to listen." Mary Chapin Carpenter sings "Talk to me when I'm listening." Our world is made of communication failures, so it's not a big surprise that no one knows how to communicate with God. Add to the usual distractions of modern life the fact that you can't see God and you get great potential for feeling very silly.
How do you know that God hears? He's always listening, but how do you know? You have to listen for him, which means stilling the internal racket. It's no more than you'd do for anyone else... assuming that anyone in this world still remembers what it is to really listen to anyone. When was the last time you really held a conversation with someone? I mean, TV off, radio off, cell phone off, no book in your lap, no planning for the future going on in your head. Look at the other person, pay attention to their words and think about what they're saying instead of the usual uh, huh at times that, from the tone of voice, you know are appropriate. I mean a conversation that you actually remember after your friend has walked out the door.
How do you know God listens? Try asking him a question and then waiting for an answer. You don't have to be completely silent. God knows our weaknesses and spending years at intensive discipline so that your mind is empty isn't the real goal. Hearing God is the goal. Just as you can hear a bird's call over the wind and waterfalls in a forest, you can learn to hear God over the usual noises of life.
His voice is unique. He's the best conversational partner you'll ever have. He's honest. Always tells the truth. He is always kind. He will never force his way into someone who doesn't want to hear, so go ahead and speak up. Forget the traditional rituals of God-talk and be yourself.
And then hang on.
Thursday, May 11, 2006
The Depression Report
Nobody's going to believe it. Why bother writing?
But, what matter. People believe what they want. If you want to live in a world where God does nothing, I can't change that. God does things for me for his own reasons, or perhaps simply because I ask. Lu wrote something about this a while back, about a moment of doubt she had while driving. Well, among the things I've screwed up in living with Jesus, that's not one of them. Perhaps watching my ten-ton stony self get plucked from the rim of the canyon just before I took the last step has something to do with God being real.
The premise is that God knows what I need, and I don't. I gave him carte blanche. Why not? I was dead meat. I've heard plenty of stories about people asking God for help, with the result that nothing happens. I expected nothing to happen. I didn't have faith, I didn't believe, I was grasping at the last straw. When God stilled my mind so that I could think straight one night I was so far gone it just seemed normal. Only later did the weirdness of that moment sink in but by that time I was well set on the path. Start weird, keep on weird.
God is real. He does things in my life, He touches me, He listens to me, He speaks to me.
He muzzled the junkyard dog that has bedevilled my life. He keeps the damned thing muzzled, too.
God promised to, well, I can't say it any better than this: cure my depression. Who am I to quibble? He wants to try, he's welcome to do so. I'm not doing much with my life so he might as well.
It's happening. The change is slow, but it's as real as the God who is doing it. I try to tell people about this (assuming I can even get anyone to stand still for a minute to listen) and I can feel the disbelief. I say "God," they think "The indomitable spirit of Man" or some such. They look in the mirror of the story I tell and see themselves.
I have no indomitable spirit. Well, actually, I do. Sort of. After all, I didn't quit. I also, given the many choices of routes to follow in life, have historically chosen my own. Some things, though, I just give up. Romance is one. A goal for my life is another. I just don't think that way because...
Because there is no point. The future is no farther away than the end of my nose and that's all I care about. So, my friend Rocket gets into music with a dream of being a singer. He has a good voice, but the business is tough. In disgust at the game-playing, he quits. Buys an old, clapped-out Subaru Brat and the cheapest decent carpet cleaning machine he can, and starts his own business. 18 years later he's selling the business and moving to Bali. He no longer needs to worry about income. I'm still plodding, still bashing along in my stolid muddy truck, surviving. Maybe the comparison is invalid.
Maybe I do have a dream. Maybe I've always had it, a rather odd dream of being a whole human being.
That's what I'm doing, whether it's a good dream or not. It seems a necessary first step. Why bother living if you don't much care about getting up in the morning?
The road to healing has been rough. One necessary step has been knocking out the falsework I've used to hold my life out of the gutter. I've seen the results of completely losing hope, and of losing self. I don't want to go there. Naturally, I'm terrified when God shakes that old foundation, but the shape of the foundation dictates the shape of the building and mine was not shaped to allow a whole life. The foundation has to be rebuilt. Life has to go on, though; I can't park myself under a rock while my soul is transformed. Life also affects the transformation.
So, God removes, and holds. Castle in the air. It's an odd feeling to go on with my life, knowing that it's only God's hand between me and the long, long-feared drop. He pulls out the odd strands, strengthens what needs to be strengthened, and changes the way I view the world. There are hints of a new foundation forming underneath but I don't know much about it yet.
And what of those people who beg God for help, and he doesn't answer? I simply don't know. What of those who will read this story and laugh at my delusion? I don't know about them, either. "God doesn't do that," they say. "God helps those who help themselves." No, he doesn't. If that were true he wouldn't be helping anyone, because we're all helpless. Those things we can control are too small to be of much interest.
I've written before about how the way to God's new land is very narrow. Lots of paths lead to the cross but there is only one way through. Once you've made that narrow decision, I said, you find a very large land on the other side of the cross. It's one of those things that seemed right in theory but at the time was more idea than reality. Now it's becoming reality.
I think many of the failures have to do with preconceptions. If you tell God who He is he can't do much. If you let him tell you who he is, well, it's kind of like planting zucchini squash. Throw the seeds, and run.
Why me? I don't know. Ask Jesus. He'll probably tell you, or he might say, "Child, I will only tell you your story." Why now and not 30 years ago? It took me that long to realize that God helps those who need his help. Curing depression might seem like a luxury to those who see God only in terms of taskmaster, but the real and invisible God won't fit anyone's preconceptions. Thank God for that.
I'm not responsible for acceptance. My sole responsibility in this deal is to tell the story.
Pollyanna and the Truck
You still have to keep going. The lemons and mud will come. A lot of people stand around and complain about it, throw the lemons back and add a twist.
I ignore all factions and just keep going, a truck in low gear hoping that over the next hill will be a country where the sun shines and lemons don't fly. I'm no optimist, though. The main reason I keep going is that staying put is intolerable; I've long since lost any hope that life will really get better but it's like the lotto. Your chance of winning is vanishingly small, but it's zero if you don't buy a ticket. If the truck doesn't keep rolling then there's no hope at all, so hope gets transferred from the future to the blind act of rolling.
Jesus is an optimist. He's the one who enables Pollyanna to dance between the lemons. When the mud hits, it's his cloak that it won't stick to. In my determination not to be duped by a world of lies, I've quit caring where the truck is pointed, or even that the size of the target makes it a handy place for mud to stick. All I know is not quitting. That's what compound-low gears are for. I'll never dance.
But... our God is one who believes in dancing. Sacred dance has been a part of His way from the beginning of our time. Dance, song, and beauty. All fragile, all easily overlooked, and always coming back after the most dreadful attacks like the lawn after the mower passes.
I wish I were light and fast-moving. Perhaps I am in some potential but my truck-like belief has so permeated my thoughts that it's all I see. It is a handy trait for living in a place like Los Angeles, where there is so much going on all the time that people move like frightened rabbits in an attempt to keep track of it all. Holding to one course makes for a longer attention span, which is the only way to learn some things.
Still, I wonder if it's possible to dance this route, to shed the truck and still be safe. When the attacks come, who will protect my soul if not the sheet metal and lead with which I cloak myself? Will Jesus really protect the fragile? Does he respect tenderness and sensitivity? Do I dare trust that he does? I know he made me as I am but it's asking a lot after 54 years of hard lessons. The idea is nice, but like other high-risk endeavors I doubt the payoff is really there.
My stony soul doesn't rise to the call to dance. There are probably more lessons ahead.
Wednesday, May 10, 2006
Parallel Lives, Deep Holes
The first time I went in for psychotherapy, the therapist loaned me a book called "Loneliness." It was an interesting experience, both because Carlton had so quickly uncovered that ground state, and because the book itself had a different take on loneliness. Those who can't be alone have little to offer anyone else, the author suggested. Well, if that's true, then people ought to be flocking to my door. Of course, that's related to the "Shyness Paradigm:" Shy people are perfect for each other, but how do they meet?
One way is through doing things together. That's how Lu and I met: working like crazy to cobble the Mosaic Beverly Hills sound system together long enough to get off another celebration. Then we'd go have lunch and drape ourselves over sun-warmed chairs, and heave sighs of relief that we'd squeaked through for another Sunday.
Beyond that, though, there was little contact. She, and the others on the tech team, went their way and I went mine. If loneliness is expected, what's the point of trying to build bridges?
Besides that, loneliness did have one good outworking: there being no people who wanted to talk to me, I wasn't about to force myself on them and I turned to God. At first with delight, then with awe, and eventually awe slid down into intractable fear. To hear God is to be less lonely, but it is also to be changed irrevocably.
If you believe in judgment, then the God you see will be judgmental. If you believe in everything being rosy, then God will be all-accepting and nice to have around for the unsafe moments but otherwise forgotten. If you believe in kindness, then you will see a God whose kindness knows no boundary at all, and that kindness will infiltrate your stony soul, and your life will begin to change. Kindness begets love, it seems.
No hole is too deep for God to reach into in order to redeem one of his people. No slime is too stinky, no mess too big, no tangled weave of self-deception, lies and running like hell to put the past behind is too complicated for God Himself to reach in and start, one by connected one, as gently as he can, separating the strands so that the connections become visible. If you believe God can do anything, then he will start to do anything to improve your life, even things you really don't like. Which is probably why so few people really call God's name alone.
There is great comfort, I guess, in surrounding yourself with like-minded people. The modern "Mystic Nation" movement is one of the more absurd; mystics just don't gather in clumps. If you're in a group you're not a mystic. Mysticism, approaching God for who He is, isn't something that can be done with company because each person's path to freedom is unique. Each follower of Jesus needs to hold to what Jesus Himself promises. It's very easy in an Ipodded, cell-phoned, always-on-call world to lose track of the fact that ultimately all any of us really has is Jesus. No one else understands us the way he does.
That said... I know I'm doing things wrong. I'm too isolate. I need to be able to let other people touch me, but that's one of those threads that disappears into a big complicated mess at the heart of my being. To change is to die, and I've become very tenacious in hanging onto what I know works.
Lu throws herself out there at the invitation of Jesus and commits herself to buying a new car. It's a promise to her from God. I hold onto my fiscal conservatism and think only of pits and snares awaiting in the unknowable future. I buy good tools, but no luxuries, and I pay cash, and like Lu's father I have money squirrelled away in various places. This might even be a good thing ultimately, but right now it's really an exercise in self-righteousness, and it continues my essential loneliness.
One thing that brings people together is problems. I don't have problems. If I can't solve it myself I let it go. God wants to change this. I'd like him to do it without damaging my ability to take care of myself; nothing scares me more than being dependent upon another flaky person. Hence, conservatism.
There are signs of change. I've become rather noted in the Until Uru community for managing parties. I used to do this completely solo: I'd tell people what I was doing, and then I'd do it. But an odd thing happened: others came along, liked the idea, and volunteered to help. We're now a team that, every two weeks, puts on a nine-hour party for people who visit the Cavern.
God has many ways, and marvellous. If he can't use the door, he'll use a window, etc. I suppose self-righteousness is the best shield against God's kindness, and I've more than my share of that, but the Holy Spirit helps me be honest. I know self-righteousness when I see it, but I'm scared of change.
But I wonder how much of that fear has to do with the crisis-based "crash of rhinos" ideas prevalent in today's Christianity? Well, it's everywhere. Read any book and the solution to the problems described in the first 400 pages comes in the last 20, poof, and everyone is changed forever. Real life goes by petty pace. Change has to be lived with all day, every day, and I just get tired.
I wonder if this is what the companionship Lu desires is really intended to do: psychologic cut and fill. When I'm tired of keeping on, a companion would lay a hand on my shoulder and say "Let's rest for a while." Everyone else in the herd goes crashing on past, but I get a chance to lay aside my own self-righteous insistence on keeping the pedal to the metal, and my friend and I help recharge each other's batteries.
I don't know, though. It's a nice scene. The hard part is getting anyone in the herd to stop long enough to notice that other people are hurting.
Friday, May 05, 2006
Yes, he is just that personal. It's very interesting to me. "Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever." He's the same but how he works with each person is unique, made of that person's needs and state at any one moment.
I need one kind of freedom. bjk needs another. Lu's freedom involves car payments, which are something I see only as a kind of bondage. God led her to that position for his own purposes, just as he has led bjk and me to where we are today.
So, where's the heart of this matter? God's heart, naturally. He never changes. He made each of us, and knows each of us. I think problems come in when people hear what some well-intentioned teacher starts standardizing freedom. We're told not to compare ourselves to others, but to walk our own path. This is the reason: someone else's path is designed, by God, for that person. It won't help me except in the general idea that God loves that person enough to establish a path, and I can expect Him to do the same for me.
There's comfort in being part of the herd, which is why freedom can be so quickly standardized. To blaze your own path is very much more difficult. You have to scout it yourself, see where you're going, and you have to keep on going. The herd sort of carries you along. When it's just you and God, you know what's happening, and you can hear God's voice.
I'm probably biased toward the solo path too much, which is part of my own freedom program. I've been so involved in making sure no one notices what I'm doing that I monitor my own state by how others react. If they see me, I've failed. This isn't a good plan when God's goal is to have each life shine in a way that attracts others. So I need to be independent enough to remain standing out in plain view.
Only God knows what your freedom is. He will teach you if you want him to. It's a difficult path. The last year of my life hasn't been much fun, but I think I'm finally beginning to learn some of the truth of love, freedom and truth. God is a good teacher and leaves nothing out, and he repeats the lessons until they really have been taken to heart.
Enjoying the Future
The last time I bought a car I did so through the mechanic who worked on my last one. He had a customer selling an Accord. I bought it for cash. High mileage, but it's a Honda, and if it blows up I'm not out much. Buying for the future, based on the past.
Bad things lurk in the fog ahead. I could lose my job, I could lose my apartment, etc. I don't want car payments to be a monthly millstone added to the list of things to go wrong. My confidence goes only about as far as I can reach.
Lu sees the same potential problems but to her they're no big deal. A new car to her, payments and all, is a gift from God for a better future. If she loses her job something else will come along. God will provide something as he provided a good deal on a new car. She pays the money, she gets reliability, a warranty, and various intangible things that echo within her soul.
Lu has bought a couch, too. Another investment in the future, another gift from God of a kind that is foreign to me. Sometimes I think I'm cutting-edge in my dependence upon God's demonstrated kindness, but this is kindness of a whole different order. God cares about comfort?
Well, yes, he does. He even gives us a living Comforter to stay with us. Comfort is another thing I don't believe in, though, because it has always been the precursor to even worse pain. Sometimes I wish my memory weren't so good. Especially for pain.
But none of that really matters because we're not talking about believing in belief. God isn't a balloon of desire that I keep pumped up by frantic action. God is Himself. He holds the universe in his hands, but the core of Christianity is simple. The demonstrated act of love 2000 years ago that has since been buried in human teaching and assumption is the only real thing in that huge heap. If you tunnel through it to behold the reality of Jesus on the cross, you see love in its highest expression. God did it.
He continues to do it whether I believe it or not. I share far too much with those dwarves sitting on the hillside in "The Last Battle," steadfastly refusing to be taken in by the beautiful lies they saw around them. Delicious food is turned into dirty straw, and Aslan's promise of a glowing future is simply ignored as they sit in a circle and reinforce each other's lack of vision.
Lu, I hope your new car brings you great delight. Thank you for your example. Maybe, some day before this millennium is out, I'll begin to really get it and cease my dependence on the austere world inside that dark stable.
Thursday, May 04, 2006
Freedom and Love
Peter, Paul and Mary sing about "No easy walk to freedom." The song is all about the usual icons of freedom and the difficulties they faced, but has nothing to say about how freedom is prosecuted among normal people. What does it mean to be set free? What does it mean to live free? The people who espouse these ideals usually seem to be about as free as a knight dressed in armor, who can't even get onto his horse without help. They also take great umbrage with those people who don't agree with their particular shape of freedom.
You can take a slave out of the pen. Now, how does the slave learn to live? You can set the prisoner free but his whole internal economy is based on that of the prison. Now all the rules have changed. Who will teach him to live in a world that is said to be free but is in truth nearly as binding as the one inside the walls?
Paul described himself as a slave of Christ. His life doesn't look like that of the usual slave. Something is different about Jesus' mastership, and it won't fit easily into words. The only way to learn it is to do it, and that's as frightening a prospect as that first day outside for the long-term prisoner.
God knows this. He knows that being washed in the blood of the Lamb is the essential first step. Without that he has no access to the lost soul. Once washed, though, the soul is white as the Lamb Himself, and God can now live within that fragile envelope. Change must be done carefully, with a long-term plan. God is a master of this.
Step one is basic: saving a life. Avert the course from the rocks, the cliff-edge, a thousand forms of self-immolation. "Don't jump," he says. "I am your salvation, and better days are coming." It's hard to believe, which is why God constantly whispers this to me. I don't really believe in hope, but that voice keeps me going and every once in a while I see a glimmer of something that could become a hint of better things coming.
But, oh, what if it's another lie? Hoping in hope. I've fallen for that too many times to count. But this hope has an intangible reality, more solid than anything else in my world for all that it can't be seen. Look back, look at the Cross, and there's the proof.
Love. God loved me first, for his own reasons, and continues to pour out his love onto me regardless of my response. Most of the time I try to hide but some of it gets through anyway. The example shines behind and casts light forward into the future, illuminating the way ahead. Love is God's way. Not that I understand it well, but I know the examples and from those I begin to see something of God's heart.
It's a heartless Christianity we've grown up with. Duty, expectation, a loveless mechanical repetition of rote acts and if you don't agree with our particular interpretation of those acts you're going to Hell. That's just another set of lies in a world full of them. Do you really want to know the truth? Ask God. He will teach. Shedding the preconceptions, those of the world and those of your own, is very hard work. I'm always amazed at my tenacity in holding onto the corpse of an old, dead way of life. Dead, yes, but familiar.
So, love is the start and freedom seems to be the core of action. Most of the world's ways are designed to reduce freedom. God reintroduces freedom and then asks "What are you going to do?"
"Well, I'm going to hide under this rock because I'm scared."
"You're not going to have much fun under there."
"That's OK. I can do without fun."
So, God waits. His acts don't change. His love rains down. Oh, so very slowly a heart kept in stone begins to grow in freedom and the square walls get in the way.
God's ways are very interesting. If you listen to people, the word freedom is instantly followed by words like duty, debt and should. God gives love, and he gives freedom, and it's like rain on a mountainside. At first it's bare dirt and all the rain soaks in and disappears. People get frustrated with the length of time taken, so they do things like dig up the soil in the guise of "cultivation" and they add fertilizers, soil amendments, and they stand there chanting "Grow!" God knows that the rain itself is the thing. Love Himself will saturate the ground, and then the ground will freely give what it has. He plants today, waters tomorrow and next year, or 10 years later, something comes up that is far more beautiful than the hothouse creations.
I'd rather see one pasque flower, low, lavender, lovely, growing in the forest floor in the springtime than a whole basketful of a florist's seemingly vibrant roses. One is a free gift, the other a duty.
Monday, May 01, 2006
Spirit and Will
There's a rattle of diesel noise, growing. Then it stops, and a loud hiss announces its parking. The driver gets out of his truck and walks over to you.
"Oh, good. You're home. I have a delivery for you."
"Me?" you ask.
He hands you the waybill. Your friend watches, bemused. "Is that your name? The address checks. I don't drive around in this truck just for fun, you know."
"Yes, that's me. But the biggest thing I ordered was a computer a while back."
"This is lots bigger than a computer. Well, sign for it and I'll get it off the truck. It's yours, buddy."
The truck restarts with a buzz and a clatter. Not a Jimmy, you think. Sounds more like a Cat. Not smooth enough to be a Cummins. Then there are various hydraulic noises: the liftgate going up and down, and an electric whir.
"Well, I guess I'd better go and see what this is. If it requires a powered pallet mover it must be serious."
And it is big. The truck driver maneuvers the electric mule around.
"Where do you want it?"
"I guess in the driveway. Can't leave it in the street. How am I even going to unpack it?"
The driver smiles. "Not my problem." He hauls the big crate over to your driveway, lowers it, and moves the mule away. You hand him the signed waybill.
"Thanks, buddy. Enjoy your new whatever!" He quickly puts the mule back in the truck and buttons everything up. Just before the door closes, you see the truck has several more crates inside, and they all look just like yours.
"Sorry, Mac. Gotta go." He releases the brakes and takes off. Silence returns to the neighborhood, in which you hear the whispers of curtains being dropped back into place. Everyone on the block knows about this thing, you think.
You and your friend walk around the crate. Stenciled on the sides are "This way up," with an arrow pointing, fortunately, up.
"At least they got that right."
You look suspiciously at your friend. "You, um, didn't have something to do with this?"
"Not me. Never seen one before. And look. It has your address, but no return address."
"You're right. Well, how am I going to find out what's inside?"
"Got a crowbar?"
"For driving brads."
"Hopeless. I'll go get one of mine. Be back in a few minutes."
"Wait a minute." You'd continued walking around the box, and you've noticed something. "Says 'Start here,' and there's a little door."
"OK. Open it."
"Maybe I should use a long stick."
"It isn't ticking. And there are less obvious ways to off you if that's the intent."
"'To boldly go...' Engage!" And you press the little door, there being no handle. It pops open, revealing a big green button with the legend "WILL." It has a light that slowly pulsates. You laugh.
"Well, that's what it takes. Will. Well, well. Mysterious boxes with a sense of humor. As Will said, 'To be or not to be...' and unquestionably I must will."
You press the button. It goes in and stays there. Little clickings and whirrings can be heard. Cracks open along the edges and the box begins to open. The neighborhood curtains begin to whisper, and phones can be heard ringing.
"I feel like the circus ringmaster."
Somehow the sides of the box fold away and disappear. Inside is... a box. It's plain, but nicely proportioned. On its side is printed "This device will do anything you ask of it. You must ask." You reach out and run your hand along the words, and the whole thing fades away. You feel a tingling in your fingers, your hand, and up your arm to your heart.
All that's left, for a short time, is the panel of wood that was beneath the box. On it is printed "It's yours now. But, of course, first you have to learn how to use it." Then the panel fades away and the driveway is empty but for two confused men.
If Jesus didn't start his ministry for 30 years, I doubt that God is in a big all-fired rush for us to get into things we don't understand. Will and spirit and freedom. They take time to learn.