Wednesday, November 29, 2006


Feelings ARE Facts

Another relationship blew up in January of 1985. I moved out, found a place to live right by the railroad tracks. Freight trains blew through frequently and I almost as often imagined just diving into the front of one. Lights out. I'd done nothing but screw things up. Why try again?

Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. They say. What happens when the problem is permanent? Well, maybe it's not. There was the radical option of psychotherapy, and I decided to do that. The short-term counsellor I saw suggested something longer-term and, having no other appointments that I could think of other than with the east end of an eastbound highballing train, I went for it.

Nine years, a whole lot of hours and a large pile of money later, I bailed. I took little away from the experience other than memories of long silent struggles. A lock on the mouth, a straitjacket for feelings. A few things stayed with me, such as the idea that terminated the process: I'll die before I'll tell her anything. More valuable was a basic concept that shook my world: A feeling is a feeling. It's real. It's there. I can choose how to respond to it but the emotion itself is a fact.

I, however, was better than that. I could wave my magic manipulative wand and make feelings just disappear. I couldn't erase their history, however, and only time allowed some of the stronger ones to dissipate so that I could resume an even keel. Time requires solitude. I live alone.

So, God comes along and plucks me up from the edge of the last fall. The main thing I got from psychoanalysis was a bridge across those nine years. I might not have survived without them and might have gone over the edge before God had done all of the preparatory work. I was still there when His work bore fruit and I saw His hand and heard His voice.

I had nothing to lose. And then suddenly I did have something to lose: my vaunted emotional independence. Feelings might blow through but they didn't affect me. As God returned sensitivity to the old dry desert feelings began raising dust-devils in the sand, writing curling lines of the future in their passage. I did what any self-respecting intellectual would do: I ran. Running from God, though, is like tearing the Earth from its orbit and flinging it independent out into the black. It's cold out there, dry, ever farther from the sun that whispers of life in frequencies ranging from infrared to beautiful blue. Jesus said his sheep knew his voice. I'd learned it and there was no other. How could I run? The Son's warm reality might kill me but the cold would surely finish the job I'd started years ago when I started manipulating the reality of feeling.

God gave me the ability to feel. Feeling, it seems, is central to human being's participation in life. People who feel they're worth nothing tend to act that way. Belief and feeling are strongly connected. I'd known this for most of my life and what got me as far as I managed to go was an unspoken and little-realized balance: If the emotions would leave me alone, I'd leave them alone. I knew of their importance to design and decision-making processes. Any decision that was purely intellectual was bound to fail. That didn't keep me from being as rational as possible and keeping emotions in the mental ghetto but I still knew, and used, the principle. God upset that balance. He shines his light and it goes everywhere, not just where I'd like it to go.

What's the point in doing anything if I don't feel good in the doing? If everything I do leads to pain, why bother? No matter what, I can't win. I'm depressed when I'm depressed, and I soon become depressed if at some point something happens that makes me happy.

Happiness has to be earned. There has to be a reason for it. Otherwise, it is unearned and therefore unjustifiable. I have no good reason for feeling that way. Feeling good just opens the door for the Junkyard Dog to return and hammer me into the ground, so it's much better to just damp all feeling. That's not the way Jesus lived. He sighed, He wept, He groaned. Much of what He saw made Him sad. No surprise. He knew what He felt and He didn't worry about complex rational arguments for justification of those feelings. His goal is to make me like Himself.

So, I have to face facts. I'd think it's impossible if I hadn't already seen what happens when I think God can't do something. The emotions are there. I don't know how to live with them.

Thursday, November 23, 2006


Care is Core?

When the secrets start to come apart life gets difficult. For most of my life I've cared greatly about things but never shown it. Now, the whole damned world knows. Through this Blog and other things you all know, and God knows, I care about music, sculpture, art, peace, beauty, and many other things that don't count for much in modern society.

My response to threat is to abandon the handle and run. I've used the metaphor here before: the skink's tail gets trapped by a predator and the skink simply abandons the tail and escapes. How much of a life can be abandoned and still have a person be viable?

Of course, writing about it and having it understood are two different things. I have no idea how much of what I've written here is comprehensible. I just write. Comprehension is someone else's responsibility.

Caring is important. I've always known that, and I can see the results of loosening my grip on it. If not for God's hold on me I probably would have gone over the edge, but he holds on and I just kind of stagger on, thinking that if I'm lucky someday things will get better. I don't really care much any more, and I see the outworking of that in my life.

How does one learn to care openly? Jesus knew how to do so. He was no patsy. He always did what His Father instructed. He was so convinced of His Father's love that caring about doing what was right was his first nature. I'm so convinced of the world's hostility that I don't hang around to see if anyone treats my ideas with respect. I expect problems, abandon the issue like yesterday's sand sculpture, and run. It's a bad model for life.

How do I learn to care again? I don't want to care in God's terms. And yet I've done myself more of a disservice by not caring than God has ever done in working to teach me to care from my heart and to hold onto what I care about.

There is a difference, I believe, between acting as if I care and really caring. I know the teaching about learning to care from the act, and perhaps there's some truth to that. It is, after all, better than the alternative. I still don't think it'll hold up for long under the stresses imposed by daily life. Assumed caring is brittle. I've had done with being brittle. I want to be more flexible.

I'd really like to live in beauty, to have my every movement be an expression of confident assumption of God's beautiful life. Instead I just stay indoors and hope no crises show up. Nobody who has done good art has lived that way. I know it's fashionable to believe that art just happens, that it requires no part of the human soul, but I don't believe it. Art without soul isn't art. Art that has no piece of a human being in it is dead. I have no interest in doing something like that, nor perceiving it.

The human heart makes a difference. What is it like to care enough to go ahead and put one's heart out there and be prepared to take the inevitable hits? What is it like to be visible?


Finding the Right Melody

It seems an absurd question: "Who am I?" It's the standard criticism of a generation. I believed that it didn't matter that much. I am I and who else needs to know?

Well, it becomes more important as the world closes in. It seems that everyone wants to reduce the individual person to an easily assigned cypher in some equation. Those who manage to escape the trap are assigned to the "weirdo" category and no one takes them seriously. Movies are about mavericks but they are received better in the fantasy world than in reality. Try making a living as a maverick.

Does God want individuals? Does he want easily directed robotish sorts? Seems people usually lean toward the robotish, but that's not only among Christians. The whole wretched world goes that way. I've always hoped for something better.

Now I've pretty much given that up. I'm not sure why. Maybe it's a belief that I just can't stand against the God of the Universe; he'd trump any move I can make. I can't outmaneuver him, hide from him, pull wool over the eyes of Him who made lambs. Why should I care? I've obviously failed at the things important to me.

I am still here, which is a sign that I've not completely failed. But what is it that keeps a person living? What makes a person care? I'm still here but I don't care very much about it. I'm just sort of waiting for the next act, and the curtain seems late in rising. What am I waiting for? God to give me permission to be a human being? Or for God to leave me alone so I can go back to a rather rickety balance that while fragile at least felt like it was mine. Now it's all God's business. My soul is saved but my spirit seems to be dying.

So, why has this question come up again? It probably has to do with seeing, even more clearly, the direction of God's changes. I just don't want to go there. We're going down a path that don't like so where's the room for me as me? How much do I trust God? I trusted him quite a bit until this relationship stuff came up and now... well, I guess I want to renege on the deal. God doesn't accept boundaries very well. All the earth is his and everything in it. I can't draw a line around part of my being and tell him to stay out. He'll pay attention but is always looking for the way in, the little crack.

I guess I'm just living out what I thought to myself toward the end of psychoanalysis: "I'll die before I tell the analyst anything about this." Now it's God I want to keep secrets from. God, and people... and myself. I just don't want to go there. By which I guess I join the millions of other human beings trying to hide behind fig leaves, except that I know better.

God has treated me gently, kindly, honorably. His guidance has been good. Why question it now? Because he's pulling on strings that go very deep. But once you've let God in partway there's really no turning around because everything else is just... a meal of sawdust. Or Muzak on an MP3 player. God knows the tune and wants to teach, no matter what. Intellect goes one way, emotions another. I used to be able to direct the emotions but no longer.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006


Music Player Update

Windows Media Player just about had me panicked last year. It defaults to writing music in the MP3 format, but I discovered that I could change that to Windows Lossless format. Since then I've copied just about my whole CD collection to the PC.

So, I got the brilliant idea to buy a portable music player to replace my bedside CD player. I'd have my big library available. Playlists on the fly! I bought a player with a big hard drive and started to copy. My disappointment was quick. The unit wouldn't play Windows Lossless files. I didn't know which questions to ask.

A few months later I've learned a lot.
The Archos AV500 media device will play WAV, MP3 and WMA files. Not lossless.
Windows Media Player will write MP3, WMA lossless and WMA (lossy compression).
Itunes 7 will write Apple Lossless, MP3, WAV and AAC (lossy compression).

Well, look. There is a way out: Use Itunes to write WAV files and copy those to the AV500. That means I have to copy every CD twice. Blecch.

I looked forward to the Microsoft Zune music player. I doubted it would be great, but being a Microsoft product it would have to play WMA lossless files, right? Wrong. Microsoft has come up with another dog with two and a half legs.

If I want to change everything, I can copy all of my CDs (again) with Itunes as Apple Lossless (ALAC) files. But then I lose my Teamspeak capability, and I don't know how it works with Shoutcast, and I have to re-copy every CD. Blecch, again.

Then the cavalry arrived. Somehow I stumbled upon a gadget called a Squeezebox "network music player." You connect an Ethernet cable between this device and your computer. It gives you remote control of your media library and sends the audio to the remote over the Ethernet. The server software plays WMA lossless files, too! It's about the price of a 30GB Ipod. They tell me it sounds good, too.

There are other network music players out there, designed for various variations on the service. Some handle video. The Squeezebox has a headphone output and it's small, so it will fit in with my bedside music needs quite well. I haven't bought it yet, but it's coming. I'll let you know.


Moving Beyond Leftovers

Territorial squabbles take a lot of time. Everyone competes for limited resources and the last one in gets the hind tit. You either learn to live on leftovers, or you just give up and die.

How am I supposed to defend my territory? I've done this in the past by not having territory, but slipping into the interstices between other, more established, worlds. I scavenge, I wait, I don't fight. Eventually things move around and there's new space. I don't ask for much.

I figured that's the way my life would be. It's kind of like the effect on a communist society of seeing the economic benefits of commercial culture: everyone out there is wearing designer jeans but we have to put up with hand-me-downs from 30 years back. God starts showing me the benefits of making a way, and I begin to itch for something better. Jesus certainly didn't spend his days waiting for others to move out of the way before he could live.

People certainly make themselves obnoxious when fighting for space. I don't want to be like that, yet I'd also like to have a place of my own. God will really have to help me with this one. The deeper I go the more potential for trouble there is.


Small Repairs

I left some characters out of the link to "Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit." I've now fixed that.

Saturday, November 18, 2006


One Soundtrack Of Many

Tony Myles (see sidebar link) posted a while back about soundtracks for life. He got me to thinking. Well, I'd already been thinking, and had assembled a couple of partial playlists. Last Saturday I decided to make a more complete playlist and run it for my friends in Uru. Here's how it came out.

Note that in several cases I've chosen less commonly known songs from albums that have big hits. Everyone knows the hits, and they're often not my favorites. They certainly don't need to be repeated all the time.

I Salina, Kansas, 1952-1966

I don't know when the portable stereo record player showed up. We had that and a stack of 45s. I don't remember all of them, and of the ones I remember, "Walk Right In" is the only song I have available right now. Then my brother started buying LPs.

1. Rooftop Singers: "Walk Right In" (notable for guitar break in the middle, although I didn't know what it was called then)
2. Jan and Dean: "Drag City" (my brother was the record buyer. I made a tape of this for myself)
3. The Seekers: "Georgy Girl"
4. Jan and Dean: "Popsicle"

Lawrence, Kansas, 1966-1968

I don't remember any songs from this period. We didn't have a stereo, nor a radio. I spent most of my time outside.

II Fort Collins, Colorado, 1968-1970

My mother bought a stereo record player and a few records. I mainly listened to a portable radio in my workshop as I built model airplanes when I was ostensibly doing homework. I heard Mason Williams in an English class and wanted the record for my birthday, but ended up getting "Bridge Over Troubled Water" instead, which is also good. "Phonograph Record" became the first record I bought when I got an old turntable at college in the summer of 1970.

5. Mama Cass: "It's Getting Better"
6. Waylon Jennings: "MacArthur Park" (no one understands this, but I like it)
7. Mason Williams: "Long Time Blues"
8. Frank Sinatra: "Moody River" (my mother bought this and I ended up liking it)

III Boulder, Colorado, 1970-1971 (college)

I bought a stereo and then a set of better speakers for it, setting the pattern for the next several years of looking for better playback equipment. In between there was time and a little leftover money for records.

9. It's A Beautiful Day: "Hot Summer Day" (heard this from a dorm neighbor, I think)
10. Moody Blues: "Forever Afternoon (Tuesday)" (heard at speaker maker's house in Crisman)
11. Gordon Lightfoot: "If You Could Read My Mind" (bought in record store on The Hill)
12. Peter Paul and Mary: "Early Morning Rain" (record club purchase)
13. Simon and Garfunkel: "Flowers Never Bend with the Rainfall"

IV Christmas Interlude, Denver, Colorado 1970
With my sister and some friends. Brewer and Shipley should also be here, but not until recently have I been able to find a copy of "Weeds." It will be on the next version.

14. Elton John: "Your Song"

V Salina, Kansas, autumn 1971
I went back to Salina for a few months. Should have been for the rest of my life, but the sirens were in Colorado. And my friend Craig.

15. Carole King: "So Far Away" (sent in a cassletter from my friend Craig)
16. Paul Stookey: "John Henry Bosworth" (Album bought on a flyer)

VI Greeley, Colorado, 1971-1978

I got ever better stereo equipment but had trouble finding records. I expanded my Moody Blues collection, added a lot of classical, and some others. Because I've played songs form this period before, this is just a small sampling.

17. Moody Blues: "Lost in a Lost World"
18. John Denver: "Rocky Mountain High"
19. Ken Medema: "Touching"

Maine, 1978-1980

Went to visit a friend in Maine and stayed for a year and a half. While there, I learned of Karen Lafferty, and also got more into the Beach Boys. They're not on this playlist because I've played them before, but if they were I'd have "Father of Lights" and "Fun, Fun, Fun" here.

VII Nebraska (Lincoln and Omaha) 1980-1984

The Maine experiment ended badly. I left in March of 1980 and went back to Greeley for a time, then Estes Park for the summer. That fall I moved to Maine to take a job. The main thing I learned in this period is that no stereo system will sound like live music, so save money on the machinery and buy more records. I had a simple Philips receiver, a turntable and a pair of decent Polk speakers.

The Alan Parsons songs are from the album "The Turn of a Friendly Card," and I've always thought of the last part as a suite. It's included entire here.

20. Dan Fogelberg: "In the Passage" (bought this after hearing a song in a store)
21. Supertramp: "Take the Long Way Home" (heard over credits on a TV show)
22. Mannheim Steamroller: "Mere Image"
23. Alan Parsons Project: "The Gold Bug" (music for writing when I should have been studying)
24. - "The Turn of a Friendly Card, part 1"
25. - "The Turn of a Friendly Card: Snake Eyes"
26. - "The Turn of a Friendly Card: The Ace of Swords"
27. - "The Turn of a Friendly Card: Nothing Left to Lose"
28. - "The Turn of a Friendly Card, part 2"

Denver, summer 1984

The Nebraska experiment ended in more failure. I went to Denver to help my sister build a deck and visit friends. Roman introduced me to Windham Hill recordings of what's now called "New Age" music, mainly from their 1984 sampler.

VIII Los Angeles, Calfornia, 1984-2006

One of the first things I did after I got a job was buy a portable cassette player. After that, I bought that Windham Hill 1984 sampler to listen to when I went to bed. In the summer of 1985 I went out to buy a better cassette deck but discovered that CD players were now the same price, so I bought that instead. There followed an explosion of new music. CDs solved many of the problems that had irritated me for years with LPs.

This period is worth several playlists. My musical taste broadened quite a bit, especially when I discovered used CD stores. I'm willing to experiment when it's cheap, and a steady paycheck helped. What follows is just a sampling, starting with the Windham Hill 1984 sampler, which was one of the first CDs I bought. It ends with Rich Mullins, to whom I was introduced last week by a friend.

"The Unicorn" represents a class of music that has become more common with my DJ activities. People talk about music and that will suggest something, or remind me of something. One night I was playing my animals playlist, and someone mentioned "Bear Necessities" and "The Unicorn." I promptly bought the CDs, and put the unicorn song here because I'd played "Bear" at another party. People's recommendations and reviews on the Web have helped me find new music.

Note that while playing this, I was asked to talk more about the songs. I had to remove "Orabidoo" from the playlist because I was getting tired and the comments made things run late.

29. Billy Oskay and Michael O'Domhnaill: "The Cricket's Wicket"
30. Mark Isham: "Man Before the Mirror" (another Windham Hill artist)
31. Mike Oldfield: "Orabidoo" (not played due to comments taking more time)
32. Clannad: "Journey's End" (played on bus rides, portable CD player)
33. Billy Barber: "Martian Love Song" (also used on the bus)
34. Peter Gabriel:"Mercy Street"
35. Cat Stevens: "Foreigner Suite"
36. Bruce Hornsby: "White Wheeled Limousine"
37. Renaissance: "Ashes are Burning" (live version with bass jam)
38. Bruce Hornsby: "The Road Not Taken"
39. The Irish Rovers: "The Unicorn"
40. Rich Mullins: "The Maker of Noses"

Moods in music. There are many ways to do this.

Friday, November 17, 2006


Only God Knows I Am

A Skype conversation with a friend last night. My text is in italic.


howerya doin?
are you ok?

Tired. somewhat better than yesterday, though.

awww (((((((((((((((((((((hug)))))))))))))))))

Oh, thank you.

I understand, actually

How are you doing?

good. cool. I'm much better than last time we talked.

Yes. He does have a chip on his shoulder in some regards, but not bad.

sure, well, we all do if we look over there hard enough
I try to ignore mine

Yes... I ignore them as I can, and try to keep mine from causing too much hurt.

yeah, when that happens (mine) is when I feel the worse

Well, I can't win. If I screw up I feel bad. If I feel good I end up feeling bad.

uh oh

Long-standing problem that's finally coming to the light. I hate it but maybe this time God will really be able to change it. I just have to keep walking.

yes, and I'll walk with you
I'm sorry I've been gone. Family came to visit and I had to get something on paper for my diss. advisor

That might get you hurt... when cornered I tend to lash out.

You won't drive me away, dear. Nothing you can say would
I know you well enough, and you've now warned me, lol

Thank you. I'll try not to test that too severely.

don't worry about that, either. See, now I know the score....

Right. If I hurt you, the attack is really aimed at myself.

I've been in that place you were in, too. You're going through something really big.
I know, btw

Yah.. something I thought I could just skate by for the rst of my life.

You have a need to be able to be good and mad and vent and you're a powerful person and maybe others have gotten hurt
and you think no one out there wouldn't be hurt
but here's one
so you can yell if you want
been there, guy
and it ain't pretty.

Well, if I yell at you, you'll know that progress has been made.

yeah, that would be something

I just don't do it. Well, I've yelled at God at times.

hey, if anyone can handle it, God can
he'd better be able to, after all, he got you to come here!

True. He has heard it all before.

in every very kind and gentle person is a powerhouse.

Interesting thought... I've never considered that...

and sometimes, when you're going through hell, you need strong people with whom you can be your "real" whole self

...even when my friend Lu said I have a warrior heart.

you do

But then, those who would be kind have to fight for the room in which to do it.

I know
it sucks
and it's not fair

Well, that has always been a problem. I grew up in a family of appearances. Never rock the boat because then they'll abandon me.

and why doesn't everyone understand that?
still, you know they don't

Because it's easier to just reject kindness as being soft.


Well, yes, they can't abandon me now because they did years ago.

they are not strong enough to not be scared
and you, my dear, could be right scary you are so wise and kind
but that's precisely why I hang out with you

I think I do intimidate some people. Not my intention.
You're waiting for the mouse to roar.

he he he
you are definitely not a mouse

Well, there is a roar in there someplace. I'm still here, which really is amazing.

btw, you'll get through this and be even more intimidating in your kindness. May as well get used to it

That, I think, is the graduate degree.

when you finally decide to like who you are, it will be less painful

That ought to help. It is, however, looking like a long, steep, rough and hot slope.

strong, powerful people are not unkind. They just ARE
the worse part is, you know others don't understand

Right. Like Jesus. Knew exactlly the right word for the people he met.

they can get away with being mean, and you can't
and you wouldn't anyway

Yes... being mean just plain hurts.

but you can still hurt
yep, that's why I know you are big and powerful. You feel bad when you hurt others

But.. being kind usually works better over the long haul.

but you have to allow your self to be yourself, too

And being kind is certainly better for civilization as a whole.

and that's why some of us have gravitated to you

It'd be easier to be myself if I knew who that is.
I've lived the act for so long that I have little idea what's really inside.

aaaah. well, now, who else is going to know but you?
and I bet if you ask you, you will have something interesting to say

Nobody. I'll just have to keep walking.

that is a good decision
stopping never got anyone anywhere

Easy to make because it's all I have. And yes. Just sitting on the ground really doesn't help.

and if the bridge up ahead looks like it's out, keep in mind it only "looks" like it's out

You can only steer if you're moving.


I'm not used to being needy

ooooh, I know that one!
when you finally accept it, you will be terribly embarrased
and feel really neat, too.

I'll bet you do... you had brothers to remind you of the cost of being needy.

and one husband who waited for years for me to need him

Ah... I'll bet that's an interesting story.
Seems to me that need is what sinks many relationships... but it's also essential.

and he's an artist, too, and often not very confident, even when he's doing well

I've always thought I'd rather be wanted than needed, but that may be fatuous theory.
Real artists are never confident.

be wanted. better than being needed

If they're confident, they're not doing real art.

yeah, something about that

But there is an element of need in a relationship. Sometimes people need things.

and you are right about need. need implies we don't have whatever it is.

Right... but is it a real need, or something an advertisment has taught us we need?

I like him, but I don't need him, although I like needing him, lol
and he likes that (don't ask me why or how to explain that)

Well, then, who hugs you when you're feeling strung out?


Some need is OK. You have to be a real person, but real people need. Even Jesus sighed, and wept at times.
We're so afraid of need. Seems nearly universal.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Anger. Destruction. They, and more, are in me and I don't want to know about it. I'd rather do just about anything else, but anything that gets in the way of I Am needs to go. God knows the way. I don't.

What do I do with need? What happened to choice? Am I not too damned old to be learning this adolescent stuff? I guess if you don't do it then, you do it now or you grow older and more crabbed and bitter. Want to be a real human being? Follow I Am until you are. He sings my name out there in the wild and his voice has a quality that is irresistible.

It's hard to get through, though. There are days when I don't want to talk to anyone. That's my response. I wonder if it's the best.

I've never had anyone say to me what my friend says here. Someone to walk with me? Other than God, this is a first. Maybe there have been others but I missed the cues. I so dread need that I will beat myself rather than allow any need to show. That makes me tired, cranky and... angry. I've never been allowed to be myself. What happens next?

Well, I guess I'll get some breakfast. Movement of any kind requires energy of some kind.

Monday, November 13, 2006


Nosing Out the Path

Animals can smell water from a long way off, separating the rare damp molecules from the olfactory noise in the environment even in the heat of the day. They follow their noses the rest of the way.

I believe there is a place
where people live in perfect peace
Where there is food on every plate
Where work is rewarded and rest is sweet
Where the color of your skin
won't get you in or keep you out
Where justice reigns and truth finally wins
its hard-fought war against fear and doubt

Rich Mullins is an optimist. He has scented the water in the middle of the desert.

And everyone I know wants to go there too
But when I ask them how to do it they seem so confused
Do I turn to the left
Do I turn to the right
When I turn to the world they gave me this advice

Well, actually, I guess lots of people at least say they're looking for it. Seems to me it really shouldn't be that hard to find.

They said boy you just follow your heart
but my heart just lead me into my chest
They said follow your nose
but the direction changed every time I went and turned my head
They said boy you just follow your dreams
but my dreams were only misty notions
But the Father of hearts and the Maker of noses
and the giver of dreams He's the one I have chosen
And I will follow him

"Follow your nose" is a fine old midwestern expression. I was told that a lot. I've used the phrase since then to describe how I've lived my life because it implies that just sitting still won't get you any closer. If you don't know which way to go, just start walking. Follow your nose.

But perhaps it's deeper than that. Perhaps I've gotten wind of God, scenting him on some vagrant breeze, a few tantalizing molecules amid the hideous human-made desert of what was once a magnificent place. Maybe we all start with the right sense of smell and I was just too stupid or too simple or too enamored to ignore it as was suggested by most of the people I knew. "Be practical. The world doesn't work the way you want it to." My thought was "If this place really works the way you say it does I'd rather not be here."

Somebody has to follow dreams or there'd be no light bulbs and no electricity to run them. There'd be no keyboards, no kindnesses done for friends. There'd be no music. Yeow, what a desert that would be. There would be no stories, no fantasies, no filigree around the edges of our lives.

At the same time there needs to be some kind of grounding. Light bulbs grew from hundreds of years of painstaking research, gradually disseminated in an increasingly scientific world in ways that weren't possible until printing became common. Knowledge of electricity grew the same way and led to motors and microchips and middle-aged men at midnight keyboards. Now we have better ways to communicate our stories but they've been preempted by empty dreams and promises with no more substance than fog in a Namibian dawn. We're told to believe in the dream, have faith in faith to see us through. Edison wouldn't have gotten anywhere with that idea. He got his hands dirty, tried, failed, tried again. He was following his nose, his instincts, against those prevailing in the workaday world around him. Real dreamers test their dreams and end up illuminating the world.

The only route more direct than music to a human heart is smell. Maybe what has drawn me on all these years is nothing more complicated that a certain hint of a wondrous fragrance. They say I got my nose from my grandfather. I think God knows better.

Eventually my nose found its Maker. This isn't due to any great skill on my part. God left his carefully designed scent trail for me to follow. I was blind to deeper truth and still miss most of it, but of all senses the nose is least likely to lie. Corruption stinks and no amount of attar of roses will ever hide it. Does the presence of corruption mean there is no rose? No nose truly knows; believe in the Rose of Sharon and you will be saved. Your nose isn't just leading you on.

Excerpt from "The Maker of Noses," by Rich Mullins


Soundtrack for a Life

I forgot to mention Tony Myles' post Full Soundtrack in my two posts about playlists. It's probably the gentle push that got me moving in the direction that produced last Saturday's "lifetime playlist." People talk about music and memories, and it's easy for images and events from long-gone periods to come back into vibrant life with the just the starting notes of a song.

Even just in memory, "Blame It On the Bossa-Nova" conjures up the deep blue carpet of our big living room, the cool air I'd drop into as I came downstairs from my room. I'd also sneak over to the record player and change the order of the stack of records my sister had set up. I wanted to hear "Puff" before she did. My DJ roots showed early, I guess. Sometimes she caught me at it and was upset.

Given all that it's kind of odd how, when I first heard about portable music players and playlists it all seemed a solution in search of a problem. Who would want to take the time to copy CDs, convert them to MP3 and then set up playlists? Why not just put the CD into the player and spin it out?

Well, there are some CDs out there that have just one song I want to hear amid a bunch I'd rather do without. Eventually I learned that Itunes could both copy songs and play them back, and I used this capability to reduce a stack of one-song CDs to a 4-hour collection of singles. Even with this strong hint I still wasn't thinking about playlist design: the songs played simply in the order I copied them to the computer.

Now I know better. Take the same set of songs. Put them in one order, you have one kind of party. Put them in another order and you change the mood. Change a song or two and you have something else again. You can go for smooth transitions, or you can drop people off of cliffs. Music I wouldn't listen to by itself becomes a kind of spice in the larger mix, providing contrast rather as bits of ginger in the tom kah guy soup.

That's all a given. DJs have been playing with this forever. I recently found a Web site devoted to playlist design for aspiring DJs. I don't follow any of their principles. You're surprised, right?

What's not a given is what the DJ can add to things. A playlist can transcend mood design and go into deeper territory. Music reaches into people. Propagandists have used this for years. It's kind of frightening for me to know how music hooks people because I detest manipulation in any form and I'm not sure where the boundary is.

Sunday, November 12, 2006


The Promise of Gentle

So, I lay my tired body down in bed, pulled the covers over, and waited. My memory was still amid my friends in Kadish. I'd really done it this time, stepping way beyond my normal bounds, and that always results in the fall of a hammer.

Who would it be? Parents? They're gone. God? He's the most to be feared, of course. My friends had already shown their approval so I wouldn't get anything more from them. I've never been able to take a step like that without getting stomped.

God very gently suggested that the judgment wasn't from him. He reminded me of Jesus. Where's the logic in God, who gave up his Son for me, judging me for being forward with some friends? No, he said, there's no one here but you and me, and I'm not judging. He left the rest of the equation to me.

I live in reaction to those around me. I walk the interstices between others, not wanting to compete for the good things. I prefer to be invisible as I go on about my life. As God has shown his kindness to me, which encourages me to make more daring moves, I've responded by becoming even more rule bound. This has nothing to do with God. He offers freedom. I build stronger fences around myself to contain myself within familiar boundaries.

How would the world respond to a happy Larry? We found out something of that this morning when I went to breakfast with Debbie and Nate. You see, God actually got his point across last night. The judgment comes from me. It may be intended for self-protection but it's still choking the life out of my... life. God and I deflected it last night as I thought about my four-hour extravaganza of self-disclosure. He asked, "What was bad about that?" He pointed out that nothing bad happened. Everyone there enjoyed it. I violated my own rules, but why were the rules set up as they were? Seems rather counter-productive, yes?

Well, yes, but what about self-control? I guess I can add that to the list of things I don't know anything about. My idea of self-control is, if your heart offends you, encase it in concrete.

I'm afraid of what might happen if I just turn loose of my control. The world is pretty hard on happy people. Still, there's some way God has of salving wounds that just works. Somehow. He even salves the self-inflicted slashes. And, really, when was the last time I got hurt? Yes, it does happen, but I'm responding as if as soon as I open the door there's a pack of pit bulls out there looking for blood.

It's just that so few people seem to understand any of this. I've never been to a church that is very interested in seeing people as anything other than tools in God's hands. God doesn't seem to be interested in this. If he wanted tools he could have done a lot better. He wants something else. I'm not sure what it is but it has to be better than my assumptions. I'd like to have some company on this path but there just don't seem to be very many. Maybe that's the nature of life. Maybe it's a favor from God, because the ideas are originally His and only by paying attention to Him will I learn my way out of the deadly self-control maze.

At least I slept pretty well last night. The day came up clean and blue. I took out the RollsRolls skateboard and headed south. It took about 45 minutes of flatland pushing to get to Debbie and Nate's house. We drove to Dinah's from there and I was cutting capers in the waiting area, in response to some silly song Nate was singing. They make songs up on the spot. Through some spirited horse trading Debbie got some of my apple pancake, Nate got Debbie's scramble and I got some of Nate's chicken. Then we went back and played some Bocce on a ground so lumpy that you never really knew where the ball would go. Besides which, their pug felt it was his duty to intercept the balls. He was declared to be a natural hazard. I've been trying to tell them that for years, but Pug-O-Deb's-Heart can do no wrong. We had fun.


Following My Nose

By the time I was born my father had quit playing music, except for an occasional performance of "Boogie Woogie" on the baby grand piano in the living room. My parents didn't often listen to music. We didn't get a stereo until sometime in the late 1950's a portable stereo record player showed up. This replaced a little portable player for 45rpm records. The 45s got moved to the bigger machine. We'd stack them up on summer afternoons and lounge in the air-conditioned living room, by the baby grand, and listen. My sister and I were usually the ones there.

"Walk Right In" got my attention for a guitar break in the middle. The sound was very dense for a time, and then floated up into a simpler arrangement. I had no idea how it was done but the effect moved me.

We had "Puff, the Magic Dragon" and "Old Smokey Locomotion" and "Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport" and "Alley Cat." I also liked "Marking Time," which was on the other side. The song that really took me away was Eydie Gorme's "Blame It On the Bossa Nova." That song really moved out, melodic and spirited. Silly, too, but good silly.

There is no judgment in music. It is what it is. The recording spins out. There may be emotional effects but they're manipulative. Emotion is inherent in good music, which is why I detest Muzak: all the life has been stripped away and the sound is just there to distract. It irritates me.

An example is Don McLean's "American Pie." This was a huge hit. I didn't like it. Then I found out I'd been hearing versions that had been trimmed to fit the radio. McLean's version, all eight minutes of it, is quite a song. Sacrificed to commercial interests. As Billy Joel sings, "It was a beautiful song but it ran too long, so they cut it down to 3:05."

I could listen to music, let it into my world, and not fear the results. There was no one looking over my shoulder waiting for me to produce the proper actions after their emotional browbeating. Music lit up my world and showed alternatives.

It still does, all these years later. A friend of mine noticed in 1981 and sent me a copy of Charlie Dore's "Pilot of the Airwaves," with a suggestion that I seek out a job as a DJ. I thought the suggestion was absurd. Who'd be interested, besides Roman, in the music I like?

It turns out that many people are interested. Roman knew his man. I'm a DJ now. Or, as we say in Uru, a D'niJ because we play in the Cavern of the D'ni in the online version of Cyan's game "Uru."

The online version of Uru is coming back after dying in February of 2004. I joined its shadow version, "Until Uru," in May of 2005 and soon learned how to play music for others in the Cavern. I set up my first musical event in mid-June that year. There were certain standards I swore to maintain.

One was that I would respect the music. I wouldn't overlap songs and I would present them exactly as the maker executed them. No scratching, no talking, no messing around. And no talking. I don't listen to the radio because of the non-stop chatter: the DJ talks on the tail of a song and goes right on over the beginning of the next. That's assuming there's a song between the commercials. I would present music, pure and simple.

At first I didn't know what I was doing. I played whole CDs. After a month or two I learned that I could select a new song just as the previous one ended and thereby respond to the mood of the moment. Get near the end of a song, window out of the game, select the next song and double-click at just the right time. Then I learned that I could queue up a song so I wouldn't have to window out so often, and the transition went more smoothly. In October I made my first playlist, and promptly remembered two events. One was that stack of 45s on the Philco stereo.

The other event was an aborted project for a friend in the Netherlands. I decided to collect some of my favorite songs and make a CD for her. This was right after I'd learned about copying songs from CDs to the computer and finally understood that I could make a list of favorites. When the time came to copy this list for my friend, though, I got cold feet. It was much to revealing. If you know what music moves a person you have a big window into their soul. I never sent the CD.

From late October on, the playlist became my standard method. I lost the spontaneity of selecting songs on the fly but gained more because I could actually pay attention to the ongoing conversation. I learned by doing that playlist design is interesting in itself. I've seen, many times, the interaction between certain kinds of music and conversation. Sometimes we're in a quiet mood, and sometimes in a more dance mood. I design playlists to suit.

Through all of that I observed rule #1: let the music speak. The D'niJ can just keep quiet.

Life, however, goes on. It never stays put. I got involved in a bigger musical party, and as a joke I recorded some announcements that I'd add to the playlist here and there. It was just a joke. It backfired. "Hey, you have a great voice!" So, I set things up so that whenever needed I could speak live and announce a song. If someone made a request I'd announce that. Birthdays, too. Or sometimes just for fun I'd add some silly songs and announce those.

Music Night, the quieter Saturday meeting, was still different. More people started listening, though, so I felt the need to announce at the beginning what we were up to that night. Again, the response was "We like hearing from you. Why don't you announce songs?" We switched to Shoutcast, which includes song information in the player display, but people still wanted the spoken announcement.

One thing leads to another. Some ideas need more than the music itself. Music Night has deep history and I played some of the older songs after speaking a little about how I got ahold of them. People told me that this added to their enjoyment of the songs, so I decided to go all out and do a kind of historical overview, starting with "Walk Right In" and going on to the most recent song in my collection, Rich Mullins' "The Maker of Noses." I set it up in blocks, each block for a major sojourn: Salina, Kansas, and onward to Los Angeles. I intended to announce the blocks and leave it at that.

Events overran me. I made my initial announcement and let the playlist run for the first block. "What about this song?" someone asked.
"We want to hear more!"
I resisted, saying "You're here for the music more than you're here for me."
"We want both!"
These are people I've known for over a year. They wouldn't lie about this. I scrapped the plan and went ad-lib, announcing most of the songs and telling everyone where it came from and what I was doing when I first heard it.

If I'd have known this would happen I wouldn't have gotten into it. Sprung on me by surprise as a fait accompli I just went with the flow. I knew I'd pay the piper later, but while on the wave you just ride and enjoy. I had to drop a 13-minute song from the list because of all the talking.

The last song, the aforementioned "Maker of Noses," spooled off into the aether and the channel fell silent. I made my last announcement, thanking people for their interest and then I closed it down. Shoutcast buffers the sound so about 40 seconds later everyone else heard it. Spontaneous applause filled the Kadish forest, and I said my good-nights and staggered off to bed. I knew what was coming.

Saturday, November 11, 2006


Strange Attractors

There's quite a storm brewing about a Seattle preacher who seems to think women should stay in positions defined by, you guessed it, men. I heard about this from other Bloggers.
Gary Means: Part 1 Part 2
Layla, whose post introduced me to this.

This kind of thing needs to stop. Jesus didn't die so that a man could be right and impose his ideas on thousand of others, or even a whole city. Given how we're taught to live as Christians, though, falling away is just about a given.

Think about this: you open a door and look into a room. On the far side is another door and it's your task to walk to that other door. It'd be easy but for the fact that the floor is dimpled and slippery. There are many paths across but they all require you to balance on the ridges between the depressions. No matter where you put your feet they're on a slope one way or another. Sometimes the slope is almost imperceptible and your senses won't detect it, and you wander away, gradually descending away from that illuminated door.

No application of rules will help you identify the moment you start to turn away. All you can do is apply the rule and hope that its very rigidity keeps you from falling in. Perhaps you'll avoid one pit but in the adherence to a straight-ahead course you'll just go over the edge into another pit, like a skier out of synch with the ridges in a ski run.

Well, OK. Given that we can't hold onto the ridge, what's the answer? Has God just set us at that door and then abandoned us? Sink or swim, do it or you're done? This is the kind of teaching that I got, and I think there are many others for whom this is the way. Rules are easy to teach and response is easy to measure. You either follow the rule or you don't. Transgressions are easy to spot, and there are many people watching.

God isn't watching for mistakes. He's not rubbing his hands in glee, hoping you'll screw up so he'll have an excuse to zap you. If that were how he leads I'd be dead by now.

No, what He does is teach you to recognize the territory you're walking. He will give you the ideas, the judgment, the discrimination to stay on the path He has given you. If you fall off he will help you climb back to where you need to be, and He'll help you use the experience to learn about the walk. He walks with you and holds your feet, to keep them from slipping into the depressions. It's a subtle process, but strong. It's easy to run off, headstrong, leave God behind, and easy to fall. God expects that, though, and His work with us takes the ease of distraction into account. He knows I'm weak.

I believe that if there were more teaching of God's grace there would still be many problems, but recovering from them would be if not easier, then at least more likely. There isn't any easy way to walk to that far door. God Himself knows this! He knows we fall. That's why Jesus died, once for all. Far more than 7 times, or 777 times, we will be forgiven for falling. Everyone, me, Layla, Gary, Mark Driscoll, falls. What really makes a Christian is what they do after they fall. Failing, again. Spiritual abuse leads to sneaking around the Garden, hoping God won't notice my nakedness. Grace recognizes my poverty and gives me not only a fig leaf but another gentle lesson in how to live in a fallen world.

Maybe that's the most critical lesson a pastor could teach. Turn to God when things go wrong. Throw away the list of rules. Quit worrying about failure and let God teach us how to handle, for the first time in our lives, success. That doesn't come from the approval of other people, nor even a measure of how much we've done for God. Success means just taking that next step with God.

Thursday, November 09, 2006



Robert wrote in a comment "I was thinking about what it was like for the people in Jesus day what did they do to keep from being bored??? I think what you say about sensitivity is a key. They didn't have all the technological distractions we do today. It was a lot easier, I think, for them to connect to that *still small voice* as well as to have much deeper relationships. Must have been a lot tougher to be a *loner* back then as well..."

I think about this now and then. Our culture is very independent. I can choose to be a loner because I take care of almost all of my own needs. I think in Jesus' day people didn't have that luxury.

Leisure time was probably scarce for most people. Living each day was a struggle except for the fatcats. What else is new? They didn't have refrigerators so they had to go to the market every day, to struggle with the baker's high prices, the grain-seller's short weights and all the other ways to cheat. Whatever was left over went to the tax man, who skimmed his own profit so that he could move up to Fatcat Hill.

Still, that daily contact would reinforce humanity. You can't help but get to know the people you rub shoulders with regularly, and some friendships would develop out of that. Borrowing a cup of wheat to make up for a month-end shortage, or getting some help with a sick child, or maybe some sewing advice. Nowadays we do that kind of thing on the Internet.

I really doubt, though, that this helped anyone get closer to God. If Jesus were here today he'd see similar distractions in different modes. Instead of complaining about the tax collector, the grain merchant would be sitting in traffic in his fancy car, cell phone glued to his ear while the music from the stereo filled the car and he tried to track a missing shipment. Back then it would have been donkey brays and dust and a worried broker looking down the road for his day-late load from Mt Hermon.

People would probably have been more sensitive. Everything they did depended upon the weather so they were finely attuned to the state of the atmosphere. From Jesus' comments people weren't using that sensitivity to find Him. I'm sure the sensitive ones still walked away from the towns, even as Jesus did, to get away from the bustle humans create at whatever level technology allows.

So, you start with the premise that people want to be distracted. We don't want to hear God's voice until, at least in my case, he lets events unravel to the point where it's His voice or nothing. This is rather sad. Why is the most beautiful sound in the Universe so universally ignored? I ignore God because I'm afraid. Each step is a battle. The beauty still wins. I hope that continues.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006


A Car for Love?

Here's part of an interesting comment from Rosy Boa on Layla's "Action and Feeling" post:

"The funny thing about this debate is that there's little mention of "love." I only found the word in one post out of twenty. I think that love is the center of the matter; it's the greatest commandment, and the code by which we are to live. I think the diagram is silly for the same reason: no love in the mix. It's all describes the mechanism for fostering love without mentioning the thing of greatest worth. Perhaps we don't get the full context of the illustration. As it stands, it's like having a manual for a tortilla-making machine that doesn't mention tortillas."

I think Kevin makes a good point, and I rather wish this idea had occurred to me. I'm afraid I still don't think about things in terms of love, or even relationships. My friend mentioned the other night, when I told her I was going to listen to some music before bed, that she wanted to share the music with me. I pointed out the technical possibilities and completely missed the boat:

Still rather tired. But not bad. I'll listen to some music and drift away.

[my friend] wishes she could listen to the music with Larry.

Sorry... my headphone cord isn't long enough.

Have a wonderful evening. Even though you made a joke, I still wish I could listen to the music with you.

I may be able to do some things like that with Shoutcast. Once Ash finds out what the bandwidth is really like.

Not really the sentiment I was expressing, but that's OK.

I can be really obtuse. Comes from being a narrowly focused troubleshooter looking only for survival, and looking only at the surface so as to avoid drowning. But Jesus is highly experienced in keeping people from sinking. This is an area that could use some application of sensitivity.

I'm just not sure where love fits in with the facts, the faith, and the feeling. Well, I don't know where love fits with anything real. All I know of love I've learned from God's expression of it toward me. There are probably other indications but I've missed them. This will probably change.

I still think Kevin's comment is a good one. I'm just not sure what it means. Maybe love is the track the train runs on, or maybe it's the fuel inside the tender. More likely it's the force that holds all atoms together, whether they're assembled as a middle aged tired man or a big ol' steam locomotive charging into space and time. What encourages me is that God is willing to start at the beginning and teach me, by example, what I need to know. And to feel. I predict rough track ahead.


What I Feel

Amid all the discussion on Layla's Action and Feeling story some assumptions were made. One of them is that feeling God involves constant fireworks and excitement. That may be what some people want but it's nothing that interests me.

What I feel is more like a thread. It goes to something inside me, and it's always there. Sometimes more strongly, sometimes barely perceptible, but always there. Sometimes it's a source of guidance, in that I feel a twinge as if the string were struck, which I take as a signal that I need to look again at what I'm doing or thinking. This is a source of confidence for me. I don't know if I could face life without knowing that God is connected to my heart.

Sometimes God is more effusive. There have been times when I've felt I was in the middle of a rain of blessing. Sometimes I feel his laughter.

More often His presence is a kind of thought-exchange conversation, rapidly moving. He keeps me from falling into my usual ruts.

Most of the time, though, His presence is indicated just by that thread tied onto something deep in me. This is, I think, why He has been so careful to keep me from judging myself. The thread is a kind of "still, small voice" that could be easily missed if I weren't sensitive. I find that alcohol pretty much deadens the feeling. Being busy certainly doesn't help, but it doesn't blank things out the way alcohol does.

Sensitivity has always been a problem for me. Much of modern life--the noise, the bustle, the distractions--just plain irritates me. I need quiet. I need some distance. When I was a child everyone told me I was too sensitive. I could see a choice: become like the clods I went to school with, or preserve something that I felt was valuable. I chose the latter, and became a loner.

So, now I know what sensitivity is for. It's still hard to live with.


What's Special?

Layla wrote "I know God is trying to tell me something through your recent posts...I can sense that. I believe He participates in my life - and I want Him to, but ... I don't know. It seems like He's just not there anymore. I am growing weary wanting some sort of FEELING that God is there. I believe the facts. I just want what you seem to have - a living relationship with Him, experiencing His presence in every aspect of your life."

I'm bringing this up because other people have made similar comments to me, and the implied questions have itched at me for three years. Why does God treat me so well?

I asked him that one time. The answer seemed to have to do with need. Can it really be that simple? If God doesn't walk with me I'm dead because I have no other motivation. I have never cared much for what motivates other people: popularity, fancy cars, a house, a career that others would envy, being well known.

My name is known in most of the world for sand sculpture. That and about two dollars will get me a cup of coffee. I get no jobs because my sculptures are unique and I'm unwilling to bend on this issue.

This is fine with me. All I've ever really wanted is to be left alone. My ideal would be to have a cabin in the middle of nowhere, or perhaps as I mentioned in my previous post, an airplane that never needs to land. Let me fly off into the unknown. Better yet, a starship that could take me anyplace out there nearly instantly.

That, of course, isn't going to happen. Even the cabin in the woods requires some external support, and it has to be purchased and maintained. It seems that land and house prices go up just a little bit faster than my income, which precludes the initial purchase, and then once I'm there how do I make the payments?

So, I'm left in Los Angeles, of all places. Surrounded by people I can still be largely anonymous. But for the constant irritation of a big city's noise it's about the best place for being left alone.

God, however, didn't leave me alone. He arranged events so that I'd land here, looking west with noplace farther to go. I see his handprints all over my life, starting when I was young. Maybe it's because I closed the door but didn't lock it. I didn't believe in a personal God, but I didn't have enough evidence to make the statement that there is no God. A part of me wanted something more so I kept the files open. New data were scarce, but navigating by feel I found a few.

Photography, writing, sand sculpture were all things that would engage my heart without me really knowing about it. It was a strange dichotomous life: two people living in the same body but if they ever communicated very clearly the result was about like mixing water and potassium: sparks, steam and heat. I learned to keep the membrane inviolate.

It wasn't much of a life, and it was heading toward final collapse when God moved a few more events. In the middle of it I was having dinner with a friend at a Thai restaurant. I opened my fortune cookie and found "Be prepared for the truth." We looked at that and broke up because it so suited the whole weekend. I thought I was prepared for the truth.

I wasn't. But by the time I knew what was coming, I was hooked. No option but to go forward. Desperation makes for strong motivation. I wanted to just give it up, but something about Jesus kept attracting me, even through the internal hell of crossing the boundaries.

God loves me no more than he loves anyone else. Perhaps his closeness now has to do with my destitution. It could also be due to the way he made me; I've always been sensitive, and I see details that others miss. I also have the ability to associate those details with others and build a model. I have the intellect to hold these ideas in abeyance until more evidence comes in, the creativity to assemble new ideas or reject those that don't work. I don't take credit for any of that. God made me the way I am, and all I've done is, for all of my life, try to find a way of life that uses what I have.

Jesus does say you have to give up everything in order to follow him. "Everything" includes all those buried desperation moments you have in your heart, the ones you don't want to see because they cause so much hopeless pain. That I'm still here doesn't mean I'm special. What it really means is that God is honorable.

My life is also colored by the fact that it has been pretty easy. I've not had major health problems, nor huge debts, nor disastrously failed relationships. I don't have a family to struggle to maintain, no chronically ill children to maintain. There is no purpose for my life other than following Jesus to find out where we end up. That my life hasn't been worth living is mainly due to my own mishandling of things. I've deliberately guided myself in unchallenging ways to make sure I wouldn't run into life-ending problems. I've ended up where I am, in a decent job and a place to live, more by God's guidance than my own.

So, finally, if I had to take a flying guess at how a person who doesn't hear God's voice should best approach the idea, I'd say be prepared to spend some time with God. Turn off the TV and turn off your expectations. No relationship runs on rules. I'm convinced that while it may take some time, if you keep after asking the Holy Spirit to make you sensitive he will do so.

Just be prepared to face the danger. Asking for God's presence in your life really is a dangerous request. It harks back to the old fairytales: the person asking receives that which he asks for... but loses something dreadful. In this case what you lose is the confidence you have in your current way of life.

Remember, too, that there's a problem with the filled-cup model that Layla quoted in one of her Blog posts. "This cup represents all I know, and the second cup represents all you know. If you want to fill your cup with my knowledge, you must first empty your cup of your knowledge." The problem is that any real teaching builds on what you already know. The Holy Spirit solves the space problem quite simply: He helps your cup grow bigger.

Monday, November 06, 2006


I'm Still Here, but Who Am I?

I've sort of lost my way. Like a small boat caught in the crosschop of intersecting waves, with three contrary winds added. My response to stress is to do the Gorgles trick, playing turtle until it all blows over.

The problem is that God isn't going to blow over. I've heard talk, and read, of the "Great Adventure" that God wants my life to be. Well, I don't really want adventure. At least, part of me doesn't want it.

The adventure got closed down years ago. What's interesting is that I didn't kill off the part of me that still believed life could be wonderful. I read stories of people who did manage that, or came close, and their hells are even worse than mine. Theirs come with drugs and sharp sticks. Mine is just sort of grey. Neutral. Survival. Somehow I maintained a thread of belief that life really could be wonderful. The natural world spoke to me in voices quite clear and beautiful, and in that polyphonic praise I heard my own hopeful future.

It didn't happen. Still, I never gave up the belief entirely but it got buried ever more deeply under what used to seem life's minutiae but grew through the years into bigger issues. I could see a time coming when there would be no more hope, and I'd pulled the last, magic, distractionary rabbit out of my shrinking bag of tricks.

God stepped in. As suits the occasion, He did so with drama and humor. The mix was irresistible and I was taken away. A few months later I realized that, all joking aside, I really had been sandbagged. He was going to overhaul me from the inside out, exactly so.

At first I just sort of went along with the idea. God isn't real unless you believe in him, right? Wrong-O, Buzzard-Breath! God is as real as the fingers on your hands or the sun blazing down at noon. I didn't want to believe in him but he continued to believe in me. Life support.

Who am I, underneath years of habit, resistance, reaction and assumption? I'm one who'd like to figure out the answers beforehand, make the mistakes in private and then head out into the world, all sails drawing perfectly, serene in my confidence to meet what comes. As my psychoanalyst said years ago, "I think you want to be an airplane that takes off and never has to land." She was right, and prescient. I didn't want to understand her comment. I don't want my hands muddied with the ugly affairs of the untidy human world. I prefer nature, where everything is honest. Predator, prey, life coming with the rain, each year a variation within the familiar cycle, every piece simply what it is and no more. No intentional lies, no subterfuge.

I grew up in a human world where words were simply used as tools to produce the desired effect in others. The only words I could trust were the ones I came up with myself, and they were few because no one else wanted to listen. What really got my attention with God is that his words mean exactly what they say. He has no interest in remaking me as a propagandist, nor any need. Add up all the things God has done in my life and the only motivation I can find is love. He purely desires my company, my whole company, alive and myself.

There's no way I can predict what kind of person I will become. If I could do that I would turn the whole process into a set of rules, put it on a shiny platter and present it to the world as a fait accompli. Three years ago I looked into the future and saw a singularity, a point beyond which I knew nothing. Now I look into the future and see blank white fog. God invites me to trust. He doesn't demand, but waits for me to understand and then take a step. The Holy Spirit guides my feet to secure holds. I have a feeling we're creating the ground I walk on as we go.

Note: "Gorgles" refers to a song by Ken Medema, about a relationship between a boy and a creature he finds who has a face like a person, but a shell like a turtle.


Facts, Revisited

Paul wrote "If Jesus Christ be not risen from the dead, then we are of all men most miserable." My life, and that of any other follower of Jesus, is built on this idea. How do we know it happened?

Newton figured out the law of physics that states "For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction." My body pushes on the floor with a 210-pound force. The floor pushes back and I don't sink. Modern argument technique seems to be based on the same idea: let's forget about truth, but just come up with a counterargument. So, we have the popular belief that Jesus was a good man, but not God. There are other beliefs, too, none of which has to do with Jesus being God.

How does one in our modern, skeptical age come to belief in Jesus? After coming to that belief, how does one stay with it in the face of continued skepticism? How can belief change a life? One objection to Christianity is that people can be as bad as they want but if they believe in Jesus they'll still go to heaven. That simple belief could save one's soul seems preposterous.

Belief can certainly make of our lives a living hell. Belief can get people to do what seems impossible. Look at history. Events abound that illustrate the power of belief for both good and bad.

One who becomes a Christian by that simple act of stated belief, also by that act receives the Holy Spirit who then lives within the believer. The Holy Spirit acts to help the person understand, to see God's hand, to hear God's voice, to reinforce the weak human belief in the dark times. In a sense a Christian cheats: God gives each believer this wonderful gift to help them live. The Holy Spirit helps the believer build a bridge across the abyss of unbelief.

In anyone else this would be brainwashing. Once I realized how intimately God could influence my very thinking I got very scared. How would this differ from any other propaganda campaign? My own mind was under attack. I got vicious in my self-defense for a while, and then realized that God was making no hostile takeover. As you start, so shall you continue, and the first thing God did for me was help me think through a very sticky and emotionally-charged situation. He had no agenda of his own, other than saving a life I no longer cared much about.

So, how to choose what to believe? To me one of the hallmarks of truth is that it's supported by many viewpoints. Those who want to question Jesus have several sources to look at. The Bible is the main authority. Salient historical events can be corroborated from other sources such as early Roman historians and modern archaeologists. There's meta-proof too, in the way Christians are still around after 2000 years when other competing ideologies have disappeared. The witness of one's own mind and heart should be accepted too, although that's out of fashion in our intellectual worldview.

It's kind of odd that I should say that, too, as I've always been highly intellectual in my approach to living. See things, figure them out, then respond. This is why I'm so surprised by God: I thought he'd need to disassemble that way of life, but instead he has worked through my intellect to get at my heart. His desire has always been for a better balance in my life, taking away the intra-soul warfare and bringing peace. Do I believe he can do it? Yes. God has proven over and over again that he is able and will do what he says.

Current questions involve identity. Yes, I'm still here, but who am I? What do I believe? Much of my life has been guided by reaction to others, as my friend peripherally pointed out in her comments about my attitudes toward churches. I react, and find a path that is away from what hurts me. What might the truth be? It's a new idea. Under all the layers of self-deception and counterpoise there must be a real human heart, but I don't know much about it.

That's why I so much appreciate God's participation in my life. I may be lost, confused, hurting and tired but I do have a rock to stand on and the God of the Universe holding my hand so I don't fall off. The only way to find truth is to keep pushing through the thickets of conflict until I find the truth inside. God believes he can do it, and his belief rubs off on me. It's a promise, and God's promises are facts.

Sunday, November 05, 2006


Jesus and Facts

Robert brought up a good point about my "Derailed" post.

"There are *facts* that we can verify. Jesus was a real historical human being, He lived,died and was resurrected. Christianity is based on historical actual factual occurrences."

These facts are good enough for me. The problem is that they won't stand up to a skeptic's examination as would a scientific study. I'm trying to differentiate between founding a life on the concrete blocks of logic and God's way of requiring something of a stretch to a new kind of reasoning.

Intellectual argument can justify anything, I've seen. Life requires balance in emotion and intellect. Only God knows how to bring that about, in my experience.

"God created us with emotions but they have to be viewed in light of His Word as well as the Holy Spirit. ... If we don't have an objective base for our faith then all is relative and anyone can claim anything based on their own *subjective feelings* and say they are right since we are all human."

I know this is a delicate subject, and it's one I struggle with. I don't want to wander off into subjective swamps. Each of us occupies a unique place in the continuum between pure logic and pure emotion, and I'm biased pretty strongly toward the logical side. This is why God has to tailor my path toward emotional reality. Someone who has problems more from the subjective end would need a different ministry from the Holy Spirit.

Layla left a comment too:
"My problem is that often when I hear so many conflicting opinions I allow myself to get caught up and confused in what other's think. I think God answers me via the Holy Spirit when I try to figure these things out, but instead of trusting that, I think its my own answer and doubt myself."

There are many people in a place like this, Layla, and they nearly bring me to tears. My own trip through catering to other people's opinions led me to wander alone in the wilderness for over 20 years. I heard God's voice, but believed the voices of the people around me above His. I wish that all people would learn to believe they can hear God. And that He's worth listening to. Not with a voice of judgment, but a voice that offers life.



After I wrote "Derailed," a friend and I chatted about it, among other things. Here's the log. To save space, rather than identify the speakers I've put my comments in italic and left hers in Roman. Note that in a few places our responses are, as is typical of text chat, interleaved. You'll be able to make sense of it.

You know, you talk a lot about "prevailing thought in modern Christianity" but it is seldom the thought that I have encountered.

Different tracks.
but it reflects a lot of what I read, and between the lines.


But you're right... I should probably be more specific.

I was just reading the part about not asking awkward questions, but I've always been encouraged to go to God with everything, awkward or not.

You were, I think, lucky.
I've known very few Christians who seemed to feel free to ask questions.

That was the experience across a Methodist, two Baptist, and several Assemblies churches.

That's good.

I know you had a mainline experience when young, and then whatever that experience was when you were a young adult.

Presbyterian, yes. Maybe they were open to questions, but I just didn't see it.

Is it OK if I honestly share with you how I feel when I read that?

Go ahead.

These are just my feelings, not validated by anything else, understand.


It hurts me a lot. Because I love the church and the many wonderful people I have met there and that have encouraged me. I feel like you dismiss it all and appear to be saying that the established Christian establishment is all branded with the same brush, and it is bad.

I can understand that.
But a lifetime of bouncing off of organizations has produced a do-it-myself attitude. No justification. Just the way I work.

I guess you can describe your experience, and your feelings, but I hope people understand when they read it that it is just your experience, not the universal experience. I am always careful to differentiate what is my opinion and experiences from what is truly known fact to me.

Organizations of all kinds. Not just churches. I have the same attitude toward most formal education.

Why do you think that is?

Because so often people would try to oversimplify life, and I just don't fit.
How much am I supposed to trim off to make my square peg fit the round hole?

I can understand your frustration with systems that were really designed to deal with the needs of the masses. You wouldn't or couldn't fit in with the masses, so your experience was unfortunately difficult.

Any time I expressed a diverging opinion, the automatic assumption was that I was wrong, that I needed to make myself fit.

I understand that was hard for you. It's just the way people are, they need to be right all the time.
True humility is a difficult thing to find. I always have to try to accept when people have a differing opinion than mine.
It is difficult, because I want to badly to be right.

I only have a problem with different opinions when people try to coerce me to agree.
Being right is kind of odd. It's overrated... but it's also essential.

But we lose the truth in it sometimes.

I think being right is more a state of being than a specific set of beliefs.
I agree with that: losing the truth in being right.

By "being right" I mean the winner of the argument.


We have to "be right" and everyone has to agree with us.

Erwin said one time "Jesus didn't die so that you could be right."
I just have to be right with God. Everyone else's colors will be different.

So, when you said "prevailing thought in modern Christianity is not to upset God with awkward questions" what source were you thinking of?
What have you experienced/read that made you think that was the prevailing thought?

My experience, and seeing the experience of others just blindly following what they've been taught, and wondering where the life went.

But was that more what they were trying to accomplish than what was being taught to them?

It seems to be prevailing because of the frequency I run into. Lots of people seem to believe that.

Were they trying to fit into molds, as is the human tendency, in order to "fit in"?

Seems to be what's taught. I don't see many organizations teaching people to think.

I guess I am looking for the fault more generally in the speaker AND the hearer.

I think so... the idea of belonging is so attractive that people do just about anything to fit.
I agree both are at fault. Somebody needs to break the cycle.

Christianity's basic teaching is about an ideal...we all try to obtain it on our own path.
And sometimes we are overzealous in tackling the rules instead of the guidance.

An ideal whose every detail God has planned and made provision for.

But you can't mistake the idea, it is there.

Even I feel the attraction of rules. they're easy to organize, easy to state, easy to measure progress.

Sinless perfection is the ideal, and people engineer all kinds of means to get there, instead of seeking the giver.

Right. We will never achieve sinless perfection here. We can only get better. But God sees the believer through Jesus, so he sees us as perfect already. Life follows that fact if we let it.

But so often (at least in my experience) it is the seeker that is at fault, not the teacher.

There is that... the teacher can teach life, and the student can turn it into rules. I've seen a lot of that in art classes.

But maybe that is what you mean by "prevailing thought", meaning what the person in the pew translates the teaching to?

That's a good idea. The actual outworking of the person's experience.

So often we won't venture into the darkest place in our souls, to allow God's light to shine there, because we want to deny its existence in our quest for sinless perfection.
But God wants us to invite him there.

Well, that and the fact that it hurts.

He teaches us to examine ourselves.

More than that... he holds my hand as we walk in those places, and he holds the light.

Yes, it is true.
But I have had much good teaching about that. But what I did with it...well, that was my issues.

The point I try to get across is that God is involved with out lives. He's not out there cracking a whip. He's in with us, getting dirty with us.

Here is my heart about this...

And that's something that can't really be taught. You learn it by experience, and I hope that my descriptions will help people sometime in the future. Or perhaps even today.

Not sure how to best say this...

Well, just start someplace and then correct the course as needed.

Once again, just my input. Your experiences were different than mine, so I guess if you had qualified that "my experience has been" instead of "prevailing thought" I would not have been so hurt. I'm concerned that people who are seeking a relationship with God will not know where to turn, because they will think that a church is a horrible place. It may have been a horrible place for you, but it has nurtured me and brought me great friends and fellowship.

I'll take a look and think about what might need to change.

That is all that I can ask. Thank you for being willing to consider it.
And if my judgment is colored by my experience, you can certainly take that into account as well.

You can also make a comment on the Blog about it. These things go better as dialogs.

I appreciate so much that you heard me out on this. You share incredible things about your experiences that I know have touched many people very deeply.
And I can see that they do strike a chord with people who have had bad experiences in the church.

It helps that you're not judging me, but presenting your beliefs. Strongly, yes, but not with a hammer.



Layla brought this topic up. Facts versus feelings. It has sparked some spirited debate. It seems a minor issue but I think--naturally--that it's far more important than that. Why? Because God gave us the ability to feel. If life perfected means the shedding of feelings as the ascetics recommend, then why were we made as we are? God really wasted a lot of time making within us the systems that allow emotion. Ask any programmer. Intellect is easy to produce or emulate. Emotion is nearly impossible. It's uniquely organic and a sign of God's touch in us. Jesus wept. Jesus sighed. Jesus felt compassion.

Here's Campus Crusade for Christ's model:

I understand their point. There are people who want only to feel God's presence. At least, that's the theory. I'm not sure how it works.

The problem is that there are no real facts involved in following Jesus. Not even the most dedicated follower of Jesus can point to facts on the order of the law of gravity that relate to God. The Bible describes events but our modern outlook on things doesn't allow that as concrete evidence. We've become expert at explaining things so effectively that life becomes a process of tail-chasing.

So, how do you find the right path? You let Jesus tune yourself to his guidance. His words, his touch, the Bible, experience and feelings all weave together to produce something that while not approaching what a scientist would accept as fact still works quite well for the construction of a new life. Bricks made by the Holy Spirit and a human heart may be invisible but nothing will destroy them unless the human being involved turns his back. The citadel of the soul can only be conquered from within.

Modern life makes this pretty easy. We're distracted, busy, and above all rational. "Just the facts, Ma'am." In trying to stick with the facts we leave life out of everything.

Emotions are dangerous. I understand the logic behind CCC's little train. Save the people some trouble and give them an easily remembered mantra to repeat when life gets complicated. The problem is that mantras just don't work. Endless repetition just leads to more repetition. What does work is leaning on God in the sea of confusion. Fact, feeling and faith weave together to make a rope strong enough to swing a life over the burning abyss.

Life without emotion isn't worth living. Purely rational life is heir to mistakes just as cataclysmic as those produced from pure emotion. Satan loves extremes because he knows that concentrating on one end or the other produces imbalance that brings the whole structure down.

Folks, it is time, and more than time, to run beyond an intellectually balanced Christianity. We need to be weavers instead of clippers. We need to be builders who use everything available to create beauty. Souls require wholeness for harmony.

There's one particularly dangerous idea that grows out of this little train, too. It's said that if you keep acting in certain ways that the feelings will follow. This is true. It's called brainwashing. It's blatant manipulation under the guise of doing the right thing. It looks good for a time, the smile on the outside, the great loving actions, and then the whole thing blows up not only in your own face but in the faces of those around you.

We're convinced that God can make no real change in us. We have to help him. It's an act, and the soul dies by pieces as the act goes on. Who are you trying to please? People? Dead end street, cul-de-sac, box canyon. Try climbing out of that with that silly locomotive.

No, it takes God's ministry to the heart to make real, lasting, stable change. If you're angry with God, tell him! If you can't stand the whole damned process, speak up! Do something about it. God is far more robust than we're usually given to think. If God were as he's usually described I'd have been hamburger by now. God is unlike anyone else we've ever met, and we need to meet him on his terms. We need to let him tell us his stories, and along the way to rewrite our stories. None of this is easily contained in a little booklet.

That's a place to start. A beginning follower of Jesus has a lot to learn, and some guidance principles aren't a bad place to start. The problem is that as you start you tend to continue, and that little locomotive just isn't strong enough to pull a whole life. It's a switcher. Only the Holy Spirit has the zazz to get us out on the main and pulling for the high passes. And I guarantee you won't bother with the trip unless you can feel. What do you think the engine runs on?

Addendum: Along with his heart-felt plea, my friend Craig sent in 1971 some of CCC's four-law booklets. Not knowing any better I used it as a guide but soon felt dogma's pinch on real life. I'd felt this all of my life. People giving me standard answers to unique situations.

Sometimes I got myself in trouble, and I can't say that I made a really good life out of what I was given, but I did make it through as my own person. More or less. And I'm still here.

Along the way I became fairly proud of my ability to figure things out and fix them. Some of the pride was misplaced, but now I'm a professional troubleshooter. Just goes to show that God, if given some freedom, really is good at leading.

Saturday, November 04, 2006


Freedom, Heart, Dreams

God chases the heart. It's his contact, the part of the human being that responds to his touch. A heart is hard to reach. We're all defended, some more than others, and from what I've seen self-abuse of the heart is nearly universal. I can't speak for others, but here's what God has done with me.

Blogging is a really odd activity. Why would people put their inner thoughts out for anyone in the world to read? Why would anyone read the thoughts? For me it's akin to the beach phenomenon. At first I was nervous about making my heartfelt sculptures out there where any passerby could see and comment, but it turns out that very few of them even really see the sculpture. They look, but see only what's inside their own heads. My ideas were safely unseen, except for the few who see what's in front of their eyes. They're the ones who have changed me by asking questions or making comments that show their perception and add to what I know. My desire for this Blog is that others will read of my experiences and be encouraged to ask deep questions of God about their lives. Prevailing thought in modern Christianity is not to upset God with awkward questions. As I upset the sand sculpture world with my unique ideas and techniques I'd like to shake up the Christian world.

We grow up with abuse of all kinds. I learned to internalize that: quench my own heart so that no one else had to do it for me. So, God gave me this little image a few nights ago: my little heart inside a ring of stone wall, cowering, unable to move because it would get smashed again before it ever got near the wall. Self-defense taken to extremes.

The best way to defend something is to make sure no one sees it. No hint of its existence should reach the outside world. If it did show itself when I was a child I would catch all kinds of ridicule. I spent a lot of time alone. When with others I put on my normal-family-member suit and survived. Practice becomes habit and habit digs the rut deeper. God doesn't much like ruts. Jesus certainly didn't live in a rut.

There are no standard answers. Only you and God know what you need, and at the start you have no idea. All of my ideas have been warped by a lifetime of self-defense, self-abuse and responses to those. Life is a minefield I walk through delicately in an attempt to avoid blow-ups for just one more day.

Sand sculpture was a very odd foray of the heart into the real world. I can do--well, could do--things like this. The justification for sand sculpture was as an engineering exercise: can I do this? Once I proved that it was possible, well, I couldn't just keep doing the same thing all the time. How do you keep doing something you like when it has outlived its original mandate? I didn't look ahead. I just kept doing it. The feeling of my carving tools in the sand, the soft warm feel of sunset sand, being on the beach, I liked them all. Each sculpture was a sensitive bridge across another impossible day. Taken together, 350 or so sculptures bridged 10 years of desert living. My heart was along for the ride, nearly unseen. Ultimately that wasn't enough. I could see the end of the bridge, and that's when God stepped back into my life.

Hope for the hopeless, questions I'd always had suddenly finding answers that worked. Life started to grow again amid the desert. Instead of running I could stay put and see the garden grow.

Then I got a good look at what was going on. It wasn't just the desert coming back to life. God was touching my heart. I woke up and ran. No one touches my heart. The result has always been disaster. No one sees, no one knows.

Except God knows everything. In my more rational moments I knew this but I still tried to run. The timing was interesting, though. I'd been connected with God long enough, a few months, to know that being separated from him was to return to that burning desert and there was no more bridge.

I continued running. There is no rationality involved. Running from God is like running from air. Still, God respects the human mind, and if he's not wanted he doesn't intrude. Well, sort of. He waits for those tiny windows when he can get a thought in. As I wavered along the precipice he'd offer words that would guide my steps away from the final drop. After a couple of years of that, the result is surprising: confidence. If God won't drop me when I'm pissed off and running, he won't drop me ever. I said there was no rationality here. Rationally I knew that God would never depart; not only does he say so himself, but he has proven it by taking the first step in sacrificing his Son for me. I'm forgiven before I hit the road.

Still, there's no terror like that of a frightened heart. It's no wonder I'm frightened. No one respects the heart. Especially me. I want nothing to do with it.

There is, however, no place for a heartless Christian. I can't relate to God in any real way without a free heart. Human relationships can run in a kind of bastard intellectual way, and there are ways to act as if there's a heart in the works. This works for the same reason that sand sculpture works: no one really looks at what's before them.

I didn't expect God to be this interested in my heart, and yet I look back and see every step I've taken headed in this direction. He goes with the need, and I have been guided by his wind. If I'm walking with the wind in my face I'm headed the right way. Is it a scent? A feeling? It's very subtle, but unmistakable.

I thought I'd reached a kind of balance, a line drawn. I'd stay on this side, God would stay on the other. This is, however, why I've not done a sculpture in more than a year, nor anything else creative. Self-expression is impossible for me without a heart and I dare not make a move because of the self-judgment that awaits.

God believes he can change this. It is a battle I have never won. I've engaged several times over the years and been thrown out bleeding and broken every damned time. I have no faith that I can every win this time. God isn't asking me to win. He just wants me to quit fighting for the enemy. If my heart is going to be attacked, let someone else do it. I don't need to prejudice the case, nor anticipate the probable results. All he asks is that I take a step and let him handle the judgment.

I'm still here. 54 years old, having outlived the other male members of my family, largely self-maintaining, managing my affairs well enough to stay out of trouble. There's not much room in that scenario for dreams, but it turns out that I'm not well set up for dreaming because the source of the dreams is in soil that neither God nor I put down. Dreams growing from someone else's assumptions look a lot like their dreams. God wants better.

God wants better. That's why his start is in the heart. The future is a singularity, a white blank, a fogbank I can't see through. Surprises are certain. If I could predict the way it would look a lot like where I've already been and there's not much point in going through all that. I've done it. I know it doesn't work.

It's beyond terrifying. I don't want to go there. I want to be comfortable and am not terribly interested in challenges, but that comes from a lifetime of self-defeat. With the Holy Spirit between my heart and the hammers and flame-throwers, who knows what might happen?

There are, of course, lots of excuses for not walking forward. I could assume that all those Christians who talk about God abandoning them are right, and that God will simply drop me when the going gets rough. Statistics, a language I speak fairly well, deny the possibility. If God were going to abandon me he'd have done it in 1983 when I finally concluded that He doesn't exist. He kept right on guiding me for the next 20 years so that nothing final happened.

Then there are the events of the last three years, one marvellous step after another. The way led into terror, yes, but God put his hands where I needed them to enable this very timid man to go toe-to-toe with some of the smaller inner dragons. Small victories don't mean much in the larger scheme, though, at least to my skewed view. I want a once-for-all clearing of all problems, after which I can sail away easily into the west untroubled by further problems.

That doesn't seem to be the way. God doesn't care if I don't look ahead, but he does care if I hold his hand. Guidance isn't my responsibility at the moment. Just take the next step.

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