Monday, October 30, 2006
What Do You Want to Be?
You'd think that something like that would be upsetting to God. It certainly upsets me. It's like a filter interposed between the Holy Spirit and me. As I stood there in the kitchen, though, God was quiet. I passed anyway.
Of course there's no way I can win this battle. If I go ahead and drink I'm all fuzzy the next day. If I don't drink I stomp on myself for being so wimpy as to want a relationship with God more than I want beer. This can't be real. Yet God leaves the choice to me. Interesting.
It's a deeper question than just a bottle of beer. What kind of person do I want to be? We all choose. The path Jesus has led me along comes from His own heart, but the routing is affected by my assumptions, beliefs and limits. Do I want to remain hard? Do I want to keep following Jesus into a more heart-oriented life?
I'd pretty much given up on all of that. Life was well established. God has no qualms about reopening old questions. I'd just as soon skip it. I got out of analysis because I'd die rather than tell the analyst anything deep. Now I have the Holy Spirit who knows everything, and has a piece of my heart. That's more or less OK. I've learned to trust him.
The big question comes about people. How much of my heart do I want to show anyone else? It's very hard to show things to God and put them back in the bottle the rest of the time. It's easier to never open the bottle, but that gets in the way of a life-giving relationship with God. This is why I'm not in a very good mood right now. Choices I never planned on making. Gargh.
Friday, October 20, 2006
A Home for Jesus' Oddballs
There is great pressure on human beings to conform. Even those who take pride in their tattooed and baggy non-conformance are conforming with someone else's idea of non-conformance.
How do you balance your desire to be accepted with your desire to be yourself? From the moments I first remember I've never managed to be a part of anything, and I saw those around me prostrate themselves trying to be accepted. I decided I'd made the better bargain. Oddballs get used to loneliness.
Jesus calls us to community. The road to community might take some divagations from the expected mean, though, and how do you square that with churches' insistence on the straight and narrow?
God has demonstrated great creativity in how people work. He gives everyone different gifts and the pattern of gifts is unique to each person. Our society tends to reduce these gifts to neatly definable characteristics, and you are put in a niche bound up with words so that you fit nicely. It's no wonder that people rebel.
The rebellion is doomed to failure because the human heart just isn't strong enough to make it alone. What people don't see, what they can't see because of how Christians have presented him, is that God is living with us, breathing with us, breathing on us. His breath brings an unpredictable life to the walking dead who've been buried in sin so long that they, like me, don't recognize life when it's presented on a silver platter held in Jesus' blood-stained hand. It takes time to learn this and in our hurry-up world Christians are expected to grow like hot house flowers. Gaudy, brilliant, short-lived.
Any real plant is more root than plant for most of its life. God is the master of root regrowth. I don't know how to encourage this kind of growth. What class can teach it? Oddballs get even more odd as they follow God's light down into the roots, where he works at removing the dead and dry ones so he can replace them with new, lovingly grown under his own personal protection. Junkyard Dogs of judgment, such as Lu and I have, eventually learn to respect God's care, if we're given the time needed to recognize them and learn to deal with them.
God loves oddballs. Jesus wasn't exactly a conformer. Churches and other groups of Christians should be out there on the edge, defining the direction of society, instead of bringing up the rear with their "cultural relevance" and "multiculturalism." The question is how to do it. I have no idea but I have the strong impression that I'm going to learn. By example.
Thursday, October 19, 2006
Can You Believe It?
2006 October 18. I'm still here. 35 years, of which only five or six count, but Jesus is patient and a very good guide.
There have been other guides. Craig, the one who started it. Other friends in Greeley, who encouraged me in a human way to follow Jesus. Suzie and Tom Baker, Steve, Dave Thoren, more. I still wandered off into the wilderness, but God is out there too. He waited.
In recent years there's Jack, who was the spark for the relight. Eric who accepted one more oddball into his church. Erwin, who had all those good words (such as "The safest place for a sinnner to be is at the feet of Jesus"). There are, of course, more.
That I'm still here is due mainly to Jesus Himself, but he had helpers along the way. What really counts in all of this isn't the doctrine but the touch of the Holy Spirit. Light will have its way. My thanks to all of Jesus' helpers for sharing your holy humanity with me.
Thursday, October 12, 2006
Jesus Gets Dirty
One is that the seed that's cast around doesn't need a plot the size of a modern mega-farm to grow in. It doesn't even need a quarter section. All it needs is a big enough crack to put a little tiny root into. The seed may land on the most burned-over, dry, hard and stony ground imaginable, one that from our usual macro perspective looks about as lively as a concrete sidewalk, but this isn't your usual seed. This seed has a plan, and it has ability. It wouldn't surprise me if it even navigates to the one crack in an otherwise solidly paved-over soul. When the seed finds that entry way it insinuates a rootlet.
It's a patient seed. It's also effective: if it can grow at all, that growth changes the surroundings. Jesus' growth turns stone into soil, slowly, patiently. Given time, ground that once had just a few spiky, hard-bitten weeds growing among the rocks will turn into a garden.
That brings up the big question: What kind of plant grows in this new soil? How much control do I want over the process? If I control it, any plant that comes up will look a lot like the dead ones that already extend as far as the soul's eye can see. If I don't control it, then what do I turn into? What's the purpose of me having a mind if I can't direct my own growth? If I do direct it, my life becomes just one more lap around a familiar circuit. To open my stony ground to Jesus' loving hands is very difficult for me to do because such opening in the past has led only to hurt.
I have these visions, or models. One is of a pillar of stone projecting from a wildly stormy ocean. Nothing else is around. The waves thrash and batter, trying to bring down the stone. Emotion abhors intellect and tries to destroy its purity. I've seen it happen: lives immured in emotion go nowhere. People repeat the same mistakes. Emotion is an unreliable guide. Intellect is a lonely place, though. No real connection to anything happens completely rationally.
I'm just as suspicious of Jesus' plantings in me, but his way is far gentler than the sea-versus-stone idea. His way is also more powerful: I can always pile more stone around the base of the pillar to keep the waves away. The Holy Spirit's touch dissolves stone, and it's for a good reason. He shows me what he's doing, and tells me why. Still, the touch burns. He touches areas in me that haven't seen the light of day for most of my life.
The plant that grows, changes me. Its growth makes the soil better. I still see this change as a threat to my way of life, and it is. The stone comes down, but nothing really falls apart. God holds me in his hand, a touch unlike any other, and I can wait. Trembling, terrified, but I wait for the slow growth.
What's hardest to deal with, for me, is the outward change. I want to blend in. Being noticed is a bad thing because it leads to conflict and awkward questions. We've been over this ground before so I don't need to repeat the story. Jesus is in the business of lighting up the world, so any plant he grows is going to be dazzling. Dazzling isn't a role to play, nor a performance. It's just the kind of plant he designed, and it's what grows from the soil he has touched.
Thursday, October 05, 2006
Weaving a Life
When you see a picture of a loom, you see some parallel threads passing through the machinery. These are the warp threads, and they tend to be stronger. It depends on the fabric being made. Rugs, for example, have very heavy warp threads. The weft threads, carried back-and-forth through the warp by the shuttle, are lighter. Fabric is described as "threadbare" when the weft is worn away, leaving only the stronger warp.
I've always thought that intellect is the warp that holds the threads of life's tapestry together. Now I'm in some doubt about this. Intellect might just be a dime a bushel, while emotion is the real hidden treasure, unappreciated, misunderstood, absence indicated in a thousand clumsy and disheartening ways of living. Less than human.
Well, so be it. At least intellect won't run out on you when things get tough. Intellect is a tool to use in avoiding difficulty and then getting out when problems find you anyway.
Except... why go on with any of it? When God brought me back to himself three years ago, one big question on the list was why I should bother getting out of bed in the morning. It turns out that intellect is a threadbare blanket against a long, cold night. Well, that's not a problem. We all know the world is a cold hard place. Learn to live with it. Nothing will change. Warm sunlight and bluebirds are illusions, or at least temporary. I've gotten answers to many questions by simply asking God. We discuss things. This one, however, is always greeted with silence. The only answer I have, and it's not exactly satisfactory, is that I'm here because God wants me to be here. What's the connection with getting up in the morning? Very slight.
Maybe that's the way God wants it. I have a strong tendency to automate things: come up with answers, and run them like computer programs so that I can quit thinking about them. If God gives me no answer to why I should bother to live, I have to keep asking. I have to keep going to Him. He knows me and my underground ways. This way it's kind of like the manna the Israelites found in the desert: it didn't last longer than the day. You have to go out each day and find more.
I mistrust emotion. In contrast with the nice hard edges and predictable behavior of intellect, emotion is about as easy to pin down as a drop of water. You can't even see it square on. Try to pick it up and it moves, elusive, illusive. The direct approach is about as effective here as it is with trying to herd cats. How can a life depend upon anything so shapelessly squishy?
I wouldn't even pay attention except that emotion is a big deal with God. He's the one driving this exploration. I knew a long time ago that no decision was good that overlooked emotion, but it's still a slippery process. In recent years this has become even more slippery because God shines his light on the whole sloppy assemblage of my life and I'm acutely embarrassed. My natural response has been to become even more intellectual, ruthlessly suppressing feeling. Life has been pretty empty. I go through the motions and wait for something better.
The better that I want is intellectual in nature. God can keep his emotional better, except that he has me by the tender parts. I can't bear to be parted from him, so I have to turn around and look at this emotional mess and give up my hard, bright intellect.
One thing is sure: you don't have cloth without both warp and weft. Which role is taken by which thread doesn't really matter. If you don't have both all you have is a pile of fluff. We live in an intellectual world, which supports the idea that emotion really is the warp. If you look at our world and assume that everything you see is the opposite of God's truth you'll be closer to being right than if you follow the popular concept. Emotion has always taken a back seat, leading to overemphasis in some areas (this is just as disastrous as underemphasis) and hyperintellectualism elsewhere. Making cloth is always a balance.
God is love. How is love expressed? Why does anyone bother? Intellect can't wrap itself around love. That scares me.
Wednesday, October 04, 2006
True Stories and Sweat
From Edgar Pangborn's Davy:
We all lie about ourselves, trying to diddle the world with an image that's had all the warts rubbed off. But wouldn't it be the cruddy trick to begin a true-tale and back off into white-wash lying at the first tough spot? By writing at all I've made the warts your business--of course, it's not quite fair , since I'll never know much about you or your Aunt Cassandra and her yellow tomcat with the bent ear.
So, I'm not the first to stare at a half-done story, searching the memories, trying to get an elusive feeling to stay put long enough to catch some of it in words, trying to figure out how much farther to go, wondering if it's time to scrap the whole thing or go ahead and unload the rest of it. Other writers have sat there in the dark, looking for courage or a simulacrum to get them past something they'd rather not remember but which, if left out, guts the whole story. I've read too damned many stories like that and I'm not about to inflict more of them on you. Either write it all or don't write. To do otherwise is to convert Beethoven's ninth symphony into an MP3 file and still think it's music. The notes are there but the heart has been cut out.
Someone Else's Dream
I've occasionally said to people "I wouldn't know what to do with a girlfriend if I had one." This comes up when people ask if I'm married, or have ever been married. The guy at the sandwich shop said, when I told him I was unmarried (in response to his question), "Who hurt you?"
It's better not to know. Nothing will change the past so just let it go. I deal with what is now. God, however, pulls on strings in the Now and things way back in the Then get tugged. Shaky foundations don't get better for being ignored and painted over. Paint's not very strong.
Having a romance with God isn't safe, but I know he's not out to get me just for the sake of pain. People can be vindictive, deliberately making a painful situation worse. I've never understood this. It's why I don't show anyone anything of myself unless I'm prepared to lose it, abandoning pieces like a trapped skink.
Things kind of sneak up on you over the years. One little step after another and suddenly you're not amid anything familiar. God keeps pulling the logical threads and they have emotional roots and non-rational attachments. I'd leave them alone, were it left to me. Light is light, however, and it illuminates everything. It changes everything it touches, and the emotional roots become a a logical part of growth.
Still, I'm more comfortable being unknown. That's an odd statement for one who has such a widespread Web presence but all that stuff is behind me. Pull on those strings and you'll end up with loops around your hands, and a cut end. The active heart-stuff is well protected.
The question is... from what is my soul protected? As the guy in the sandwich shop asked 22 years ago, "Who hurt me?" What memory do I carry around that threatens everything I do now? My response to current events and self-disclosure is to think seriously about taking down every Web site I've made, and expunge all the posts I've put up on various Internet forums. Looking backward, because looking forward is a blank.
I don't even know why people do things together. All these years I've just sort of followed a feeling and when I run into the limit beyond which I'm not comfortable, I stop, or turn around. This is probably frustrating for others because after that I bring nothing more that's new to the relationship. The new stuff is behind that heart-shield. Nobody goes there except for God and he only gets in because he's very clever at slipping through tiny gaps. People are too big, too clumsy, and if they're to get in I have to open the door.
There's always an open door someplace. Might be hard to find it. Or you might just walk around randomly and find it without looking. What happens after that? I don't know. All the power of intellect, skill of exrapolation and prediction, trend analysis and projection, none of that means a thing when your feet are on the path and there's no data to use.
Maybe information is an illusion anyway. What can be analyzed is long past and therefore dead, except for its use in giving one confidence in facing the confusing world. Intuition is perhaps the only guide left but it's notably loose. Better for getting me into things than in getting me out once I'm there.
It was a long, restless night, ending with that strange dream. Swimming, of all things. I'm better at walking. I took to driving with some distaste, and still only do it if I have to. Early in my career I got the car hung up on a manzanita bush. My cousin and I managed to get it out, and we were driving back up the road when we met my uncle coming to look for us. I figured I'd get thrashed, but he didn't do anything. We got out on this really loose road. The lesson I got from that is never to get myself into something I can't get myself out of. It was a good lesson, and perhaps my uncle was intuitive enough to know I'd learned it. No good lesson works everywhere, and self-judgment can cause more problems than the real situation of getting stuck on a manzanita bush.
Brave words. I'm a flag in an inconstant wind.
Tuesday, October 03, 2006
Jesus told his new disciples to "Come and see." That's the only way to find out what he's like, who he is.
Relationships have plenty of new ground. I have more that most people, having never played the dating games in school. The whole idea was distasteful to me: competing for the favors of a girl and then enduring the taunts of everyone around. As usual, you get good at what you do. I didn't do this, so never got good at it. Eventually I realized it would never happen so I quit thinking about it. The field lay abandoned. No one was interested in it.
Years came and went. People came and went too. Sometimes we'd talk but it never lasted long. I was comfortable talking with women if there was no chance of making any kind of a connection. One time a co-worker tried to hook me up with his daughter but the first meeting was a disaster and I never saw her again. I was embarrassed and she probably was too.
Age is a handy divider. There's not much point in trying to make a connection with someone much younger than I am, and the chance of meeting a woman my age still single is small.
Taken all together, the chance of meeting someone who fits the various characteristics is so small that I wrote it off. Equivalent to zero. Don't ever say things like that about God. He doesn't care about statistics and odds.
So, we met. She's not much younger than I. She's a follower of Jesus. She speaks her mind and knows how to tell a story. This is about as likely as one man from Terre Haute being on the beach at the same time I am. In other words there are no natural external limits on the relationship.
My natural response is to run. Fast. I'm not used to making decisions like this. Most of the time the decision is made be external elements. I look ahead and see the direction it'll go, and take comfort in the fact that I just have to play the role. This time there really is no such limit. I look ahead and see white paper. No map. What's out there? The only way to find out is to walk. Come and see.
And I feel God's hand on me, calming my panic. I want to say I'm too old for this kind of thing. Or some other excuse. It irritates me not being able to predict what will happen. Each meeting is odd.
I really don't know what will happen. So far we've not even met face to face. I don't know what her voice sounds like. We've seen pictures, and we've spent time sending text back and forth in Until Uru, avatars face to face or walking through the worlds.
This whole thing is so unlikely, such a bolt out of the blue, that I'm even more unsettled than usual. It seems so prosaic. Why is the God of the Universe concerned with something so insignificant as two people meeting? Yet there he is, making opportunities, making the impossible irresistible.