Sunday, January 21, 2007
Captive, Caged, Trained, Free
"Hey, man, are you down for tradition?"
"Yes. Where are we going?" They've instituted a diet that precludes Killer Shrimp. Besides, Deb has said that she wanted to go somewhere else, somewhere new.
"Killer Shrimp! Yeah, man, that's what she wants." We laughed.
When we got to the restaurant Nate talked about how he has been thinking about "holding every thought captive to Christ." We talked about it. It's interesting how parts of the Bible take on different meanings when removed from their context.
The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. And we will be ready to punish every act of disobedience, once your obedience is complete.
2d Corinthians 10:4-6 NIV
I could write a book on taking thought captive. The results have been good in some cases, disastrous in many others. Talking about taking thought captive makes me nervous because of this quote: It's something I'm supposed to do, but I've seen the results of misapplication in my life and in the lives of others.
Are thoughts to be caged, never to move again? Trained never to look beyond the barred confines? Excursions from the cage are punished. Eventually you get to the point where the cage can be removed and the well-trained mind doesn't even notice. How does this fit with "When Jesus makes you free you will be free indeed?"
I do recognize the need for guidance and some discipline. There's a big difference between a heap of random sand and a sand sculpture, and lack of discipline in engineering will soon turn the latter into the former.
How is this supposed to work? Going from my experience it seems that what happens is guided freedom. Grapevines grow on guide wires. Growth comes from the vine and sunlight, with the wires provided as a place for the vine to grow. In that case it's mainly for the convenience of those who would gather the grapes. Human growth is a different kind of thing, very complex, and the guide wires are invisible and can be ignored. I think my thoughts twine with those of Jesus, shaped as I allow by the Holy Spirit in a growing braid.
I have replaced God's plan for my life with my own ideas and practices. I've enforced these ideas brutally and turned God's garden into a desert. I don't know much about growing. I know that cages don't work, that training tends to turn into dictatorship and that captives tend to just give up and die. Learned helplessness.
How do I resist the maker of the Universe? It's built into His nature. If I really want to walk alone he will allow this but I'll be missing His guidance, his sturdy wires that allow me to grow and spread. If I want to. Growth is frightening to someone who has been mostly dead. It's new, confusing, and can't be learned as a captive.
History holds us all. Familiar paths calling our tired feet. I accept this phony rest, an easy walk in a dead land. I suspect that if I could really see what God intends the path would be much more attractive. God wants just one step at a time, even if taken while not looking more than about a foot in front of my toes. He'll handle the guidance, for now anyway.
God provides structure, strength to resist both the pull of the past and howling winds of present confusion. His structure is mysterious and kind, just about the opposite of what we've been taught.
I am Jesus' captive. I'm very glad I'm his captive, and no longer captive to my ideas of who Jesus is. It takes a long time to learn the difference in the real world of emotional experience.
Friday, January 19, 2007
The more I listen to these the more I like them. His voice is gentle but strong, an interesting combination. The lyrics are personal, honest. Sometimes he rearranges an old hymn and makes it new.
The biggest surprise for me has been the recording quality. Great care has been taken in putting the music onto the CD. They've used excellent mics that let me hear the differences between the various cymbals used, and the drums. There's subtlety and richness in the sound itself that reinforces the beauty of the words.
In general, he has gone far beyond the usual stereotypes. His music doesn't fit any genre but his own, as he uses motifs of various kinds to go with the subject. I'm surprised such music could come out of our commercial system. He's like early Ken Medema in that I know there's a real person doing the music, not a committee guided by focus groups and last year's hits.
If you're looking for exceptionally good Christian music, I recommend these:
"Meditations of the Heart" (instrumentals)
"The Breaking of the Dawn"
"The Shadow of Your Wings"
God of Depression
Gary wrote about spiritual depression in December. I left a comment in which I mentioned that God had promised to take care of my depression. Other comments were skeptical. Not surprising, given all the nonsense about God and healing, but in this case I wasn't the leader. God's the one who said it.
Oh, yes, I understand the skepticism. I'm a skeptic myself but have been encouraged to believe by spending a lot of time standing with my toes hanging over the edge of the abyss. Even radical, absurd impossible change looks better than the long black fall.
From my point of view it's very logical. Depression adds nothing to life. I look back over the three years I've been walking with Jesus in desperation and each little step shines, each one leading to where I am now.
There are lots of reasons for being depressed. I made my own, converting God's garden to desolation with my own brand of dynamite, big mechanical scarifiers and other powerful ideas that reduced a normal self to a kind of shadow-human. God tells me the damage can be undone, and dancing ex-cripples illustrate his power. Lazarus walked.
God says he can teach me to love. As with any other long trip there's a lot of preparation work that has to be done first, such as learning to recognize it. I've used intellect as a substitute for most normal human processes, which has been good in some ways and bad in others. Relationships, even that with God, aren't a rational process. I don't even see how it all works. Anyone else would have given up. I gave up. God didn't.
How far will we get before my time here is done? I have no idea. That's God's business. One good idea that came out of the dead years was that life is a process, and process is much more fun than arrival. More interesting, anyway.
There's a fine line between believing what's impossible and believing that something is impossible. God has to be able to insinuate the idea that change is possible, even if church and world say it's impossible. I see mainly my need. God sees mainly my transformed self in Jesus' white raiment, but he also sees through that to my need. He's not upset. He simply reaches out with his hand and asks me to hold on.
Resting, Resting, 1... 2... 3....
I was sort of awake in bed this morning, thinking about things. There are two major questions in my mind right now. I'm wonder what love is, and how you know if you love someone. I'm also trying to figure out how art fits into God's plans.
I may have run into the limits of what I can know through logic. Like a pioneer leaving Kansas City in 1850, I step into new land. Unknown. There be dragons, or grasshoppers, or something. The wagon dries out, wheels loosen. I dry out and don't know where to find water, mile after dusty mile, knowing only that God will never let me hit the absolute bottom. Somewhere out there is an answer, or a chain of answers.
I can only take so much horizontal time. My back hurts. I got out of bed and started the day. I think the key here is to learn how to rest while in motion. Or at least rest while remaining engaged. Or something. You make a theory and think, but only putting a foot to the path will bring the answer, or pieces of answers, closer.
Wednesday, January 17, 2007
Gifts and Self-indulgence
That wasn't my friend's question but it was at the heart of how I evaded a real answer. She asked, after I'd mentioned that the year-plus hiatus in sand sculpture hadn't hurt my engineering chops but had allowed my holistic design sense to atrophy, if I thought the deterioration were due to no longer being comfortable showing myself out there.
My answer wasn't really evasive. I just explained the reality: I don't think about that very much. If I did I wouldn't be able to carve at all. I grew up with a strong sense that I would best be invisible. That I ended up doing art in about as public a place as can be imagined is easily explained: it didn't start as art. I just wanted to make an arch. I was comfortable as an engineer because I was doing research into the structural qualities of packed sand.
Since my friend asked me about that, the Holy Spirit has been giving me something of an itch to drag this whole unwieldy structure out into the daylight. To justify sand sculpture after it turned into nearly pure design--what else can you do when you've solved all the engineering problems?--I just quit thinking about it. Each sculpture stood alone. Then it washed away, leaving no tracks to show my completely self-immersed indulgence of a useless practice.
Those who are the most showy usually have little really to show. Those who make the most noise are the ones who should really keep quiet. I don't like show-offs and self-important people. That's why it's handy that I work in sand: it's hard to be self-important when the Greatest Artwork in the World just dries out and crumbles when a seagull lands on top of it. Go to the beach the next day and there's either a stump or nothing.
And yet, all that said, people have been interested in my engineering/art since the day I started making them. I used to discount this. They're just being nice. But I'm sensitive enough to know that this wasn't true. I could see the looks on many people's faces: fascination. Well, it is unusual to see a lacy structure of sand standing nearly as tall as a person from a base about the same size as their footprints.
I imagine that all creative people have doubts. I wonder how Fernando Ortega handles it. His music is beautiful and humble, yet he stands on a stage and sings for crowds.
There are some truths in sand. One is that I developed the whole process from scratch. Another is that what I do is unique, not in the currently overused connotation of that word but in truth. No one else does anything like it, in all the world.
That doesn't really matter to God. We were discussing this tonight. I'm practice-oriented. I have value so long as I do something useful. Sand sculpture for God. God values me for who I am, which is a concept I may someday understand. His outlook is more like mine in 1984: forget the questions, quit thinking, just go out and make a sculpture and see if it stands. Half the time that year it didn't stand. From just about my birth, though, the easiest way to find me was to go where there was a pile of sand or dirt. I'd be there digging, making roads. I like the feel of the material. Sculpture comes out of my hands and heart, sneaking out the back door deliberately left open while I'm not looking. Maybe that's the same door that God sneaked in through in 2003. Sure enough it's the door that has been closed for the last year or so, until I decided, well, to hell with the thinking. Go make a sculpture.
I still enjoy it. Is that good enough? Can I ever become comfortable with being publicly creative? From my viewpoint it's about as pure an artform as can be conceived: no economic attachments, no politics, no focus group nor design by committee. One man, one day, one beach and an Idea that leads step by step into places I never thought about before. If someone had told me in high school that I'd be on the beach doing art because I liked it I'd have said they were nuts.
I always did art in high school while looking over my shoulder for disapproval. I'd learned long before that my way of seeing things, and the things I enjoyed, were askew from the rest of the world. I was tactile, soft, experimental in a hard-edged we-know-everything culture. That's why I had to hide my art. I kept it in my head. Images built and changed.
Sand sculpture starts from those images. How does one get comfortable with anything like that? Maybe really creative people never do. Maybe they reach accommodation and go on, but the deep itch never goes away. Maybe it was a comparable deep itch that caused Jesus to open his mouth and sing a universe into being.
If I'm being self-indulgent, I have a good role model. Creativity is a gift. My friend says she has no artistic talent. I wonder. I think everyone has some and the key is to keep experimenting until you find a mode of expression that you enjoy enough to keep after it. I benefit from not having a well-trodden path ahead of me. Every sculpture I do makes another blaze on a path in the wilderness. If I were trying to paint people would have all of history to use as a judgment standard. They have no idea what to make of my sculptures, meeting them on the sculpture's own terms. Maybe they're no more comfortable than I am.
Friday, January 12, 2007
Perfecting the Bus
Are you sure they are the ones in the front? Seems to me -- in my picture of this bus -- that those are the ones toward the back, or at least in the middle. They're the people who, while still on the bus, aren't really in contact with Jesus that much; who are still trying to drive their own particular buses without realizing they don't have control, never did.
A good idea, I think. As I'd expect of Lu it's a more understanding way of seeing things.
My thought when I wrote the story was that the ones in front are the self-important ones, those who want to be seen, the self-proclaimed experts crowding around Jesus so He will notice how good they are. This is modelled on the way people try to take the "best" seats at the banquet.
I think you and I are the ones in the front -- where we can be in constant contact with the Driver, with Jesus. We realize that no matter how much we WANT to be in control, no matter how much we try to be, we aren't. Control is an illusion. And, yeah, I believe the illusion more than I prefer to admit, but that doesn't change the fact that it's illusion.
My idea was more along the line of it not really mattering where you sit. Jesus sees all of the passengers, every one of us, even if we're hanging onto the rear bumper like that woman with the hemorrhage. So, the Important People in the front make it impossible for anyone else to be there. We end up shuffled off to the back end... where we really find Jesus' heart. Jesus loves the shuffled-off, the bottom feeders, the marginal ones. Well, he loves the self-important ones also, but rarely can do even so much as get one word into their well-organized worldviews.
And I'm not so sure the sign on the front reads "Perfection" -- unless we're using the Biblical definition (ie, complete-ness) and not the world's definition (without flaw or brokenness). At least I don't want to be on a bus heading for the latter -- the former, yes, but not the world's view of perfection. Perhaps it reads "Redemption".....?
I thought about this. Decided to stay with "Perfection" because that is where Jesus has promised to deliver us. If the headsign on your bus reads "Nashville" but the driver takes you to Poughkeepsie, he hasn't done his job. He has betrayed you. Jesus says perfection and that's where we're going, but it's His idea of perfection, not ours. I doubt that it has anything to do with toothpaste smiles and big ugly-but-impressive houses.
Redemption is already done. As soon as we stepped, or were carried, through the bus door we were redeemed. I got off the bus but was still a passenger, and Jesus came back and got me when I was tired enough to start listening again.
I thought about making this a longer story. I'd have some characters, kind of like Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales" and illustrate various things. But I had about ten minutes for the writing so I pared the story down to just the essential core ideas, that Jesus will get us there, and that the most important thing we can do is stay with Him. Where there's connection to Jesus there's hope.
I came up with the bus metaphor because I've ridden them. I was on a bus in Colorado one time when the driver didn't know where the stations were. I'd been over the route a few times so I guided him to each station in turn. I don't know what he did north of Greeley because I got off there. I've been on city buses too where the driver sort of got lost and did a few extra loops around the city.
There are people who are afraid of flying. They get on the airplane and tremble the whole time. I see the time to worry being before you get on. You can decide not to fly. Once you've decided to fly, you might as well relax as there's nothing you can do. Worrying and fidgeting isn't going to keep the clear air turbulence from tearing the plane apart, or keep the pilot from having a heart attack, or anything else our active imaginations can come up with.
No, once you get on board, bus, plane, train, you might as well relax and enjoy the ride. Or read a book. Getting potted helps but you have a headache later. Books and music are better. You get on, turn on the music, open your book, and some indefinable time later, voila. You're there. You've arrived.
That's the idea I wanted to get across. It's Jesus promising perfection, not our own efforts. It takes time to learn how this works in the real world.
Wednesday, January 10, 2007
Staying On the Bus
The bus whose headsign reads "Perfection" is no different. I got on that bus in 1971, but got off after a few years. Many years after that, Jesus saw this pathetic wreck beside the road, stopped the bus, shot the brakes, got out from behind the wheel and picked me up. Very gently he picked me up and put me in a seat on His bus.
Did I look at the headsign that time? No. I knew I'd been headed over a cliff. Jesus saw more in me than I ever saw in myself.
It's a big bus. There are lots of people on it. Those near the front have equipped their seats with all kinds of controls: steering wheels, brakes, gearshifts. They pass around books telling each other how to drive. They espouse schemes for repainting the bus to make it more attractive and jazzing up the message. The people in the back just sort of look dazed. Some of them are crying because they thought they were lost but the bus came for them. A few have strapped themselves in because they know they have a tendency to wander away.
This one's for Lu.
Tuesday, January 09, 2007
Trust Or Die
I think there are a couple of big reasons why I have a hard time trusting Him. One is that trusting people provides a very bad model. "I'll always be here for you," they say, until you actually do need them and then it's "Um, sorry, I have a prior commitment." God comes along and says "Trust Me," and I, in the grip of memory, say "Yeah, right."
The other big reason is that many commonly repeated stories about God reinforce the idea that He has His own agenda, which probably won't include anything I'm interested in. Why should I give my already ruined life to Jesus when he seems to have ruined so many others? They have a hard time paying their bills, they get hung out there on the edge, life is never comfortable. I'll settle for comfort, thank you, having had about as much challenge as I want. Those followers of Jesus who are gung-ho for some hair-raising adventure can just leave me behind.
It could be, however, that there's another way to look at this. Instead of seeing God's demands and my shortcomings compared to the future, maybe I should concentrate on God's forgiveness in the present. He knows who I am, to the last little detail. He knows I'm impatient, ungraceful, reticent, a loner. He knows I'm not the first person you'd choose to represent the Model Follower Of Jesus 2007. I'll never be on the cover of "Christianity Today," which might just be a good thing.
There are reasons why I'm a sand sculptor. I don't have to ask anyone's permission. The materials are free, and the result is immovable and temporary. No records other than the abstraction of a photograph. These days even the photograph isn't real, being just a collection of ordered binary numbers on a computer hard disk. I ask nothing from the world except to be left alone, and sand sculpture is the medium of expression that suits my trackless vagabond ways.
I live as a homeless person. I've feared the future even while not believing in it; I could die tomorrow. I never thought I'd live to be 54 but my one-day-at-a-time steps have resulted in an impossible accumulation of years.
Along the way I've accumulated experience, too. It's odd experience, but there are times when what I know exactly fits someone else's need. I have the occasional chat with people, or the occasional Blog post that hits the spot for one or two others. Perhaps God never intended me to be mass-market.
So, I can thrash around and assume God is going to make me mass-market, or I can continue the pattern of a lifetime and drift in His hands. The overall assumption is that no matter where I end up God knows what he's doing, and knows who I am. The chances are his fearless guidance will be much better than my cowering behind a rock, expecting to die.
Monday, January 08, 2007
The Fat Moment
Well, about all I can do is look at the future and shudder. Anything could lie in wait out there in the dark unknowable shadows. I've seen many people laid low by the unpredictable, a long litany of events ranging from all too common to the absurdly unlikely.
There are many things followers of Jesus beat themselves up for. Worrying is one. "Who of you by worrying can change anything?" Or something like that. And yet I do it.
God is understanding, and takes his time. You can't just deprive someone of a lifelong habit, so the Holy Spirit insinuates his subtle guiding thoughts in my unguarded moments.
"What can you do about the future?"
"Well, um... nothing, really, but I should be prepared."
"Look at how expensive that is. Always expecting the blow, twitching, ready to leap."
"What else can I do?"
"All you have is now. This moment. This is where you live."
"Yah... but over this moment looms the breaking wave of the future."
"Can you stop it from breaking? Whose Hand stays the blast?"
"No, I can't. But I just... seem to be a worrier. I can't stop."
"True, but you can quit holding onto the idea."
Another theme of this new life. Quit holding on. Use the energy for something else.
Wednesday, January 03, 2007
SuZi came down a couple of years ago and shot some video that she used in a short film about Venice, called "The End of the Western World." Call it an anthology of fringe people. I'm surprised I made the cut, as most video producers go no farther than the Boardwalk. Sand gets in their shoes, you know, and it's hard work to get out there. And the wind might mess up their expensive hair designs. SuZi did a good job, digging deeper than most. When I decided to do a New Year Day sculpture I sent her an Email saying I'd be out there. She and her husband came down to see what I was working on, and shot some photos as I worked.
You could compare this to a photo of a soldier in a foxhole: it's a wonder I'm still alive. Sand sculpture was the bridge and my shelter through many years. Once God picked me up again He demonstrated to me that it was still OK for me to do sculpture. It is, after all, a gift.
And yet, following 2005-September-24, I just gave it up. When cold rain deterred the New Year sculpture I just sort of quit thinking about it, and those to whom I had sent images seemed not to notice the lack. I didn't either, being more concerned with removing anything from my life that would give rise to any thoughts of me having real needs. A robot in a dark foxhole.
Is creativity a legitimate need? I'm kind of tired of the word "legitimate." How do I know? A better approach might be to say that if I can sculpt, it's not only OK but a real need.
If I can talk to people and make connections, it's not only OK but a real need. See the ramifications of a simple tool on the sand? And yet one leads to the other quite logically and God created logic. The wonder is that my ideas and desires lived through that long self-imposed draught.
Desperation of Need
It continued with some laughter.
Then it turned into the antechamber to hell, which is typical of my life. Good things precipitate really bad things in some kind of sick psychic balance.
I have changed in the last year and a half. The agent has been an on-line game and the people who play it. In physical life I've survived by being low-profile verging on invisible. If I do become visible, for example by sand sculpture, it's temporary as I walk away and the sculpture disappears. In the electronic world of Uru, however, I've become very visible.
That wasn't my intention, but by following my nose it just happened. I turn my face toward those things that interest me and, nose leading the way, I walk into something new. In Uru there is essentially unlimited idea-space for people to use. There is no competition for limited resources. So, I grew into places that I didn't predict and became a somewhat larger-than-life organizer of musical events and parties. It would be hard to imagine a role more different from anything I do in the physical world.
And yet, every avatar I see in Uru is backed by a real person. Propinquity leads to intimacy even when the face you see is that of an electronic simulacrum. Somehow enough reality comes through the interface for people to know each other. Perhaps they even like what they see.
The electronic simulacrum is at least partially the real person. In my case the impresario role isn't so much a lie as the result of lifting the rock off from something that I've always been. I displace no one by what I do, and those who enjoy it are free to join me, just as those who don't like it are free to stay away. Nothing is forced.
So, who am I? Party maven or submarine? Depends on the world. The changes in one attracted some of the people there and I suddenly awoke to what was going on. People liking me, wanting me to be there, comes close to need. I enjoy their company and that comes even closer to need. I am to have no needs. Needs are the hooks the world uses to tear you apart, one little piece at a time until there's nothing left but an obedient shell. Seeing what lay ahead I did the natural thing: run. I might have paid more attention to guidance, but it's hard to guide when looking backward and I ended up splitting the exit between physical me and electronic me, and ended up at hell's antechamber, overlooking oblivion's dark hole, wishing I'd never started anything.
Naturally, when the discussion turns to need God's name comes up. Well, I don't need him either. That put the black paint on the antechamber, but still it looked better than where I thought He was leading me. "Nope. Not going there. Forget it." Still, he has the advantage. Me trying to live without God is like the Kansas sunflower trying to bloom in January. All He has to do is wait.
Well, it's more complicated than that. God's kind of waiting is very special. Ascetics spend years learning how to be quiet for a few hours so as to hear God's voice, but sometimes all He needs is a split second to insert a thought. Accumulate enough of those little quick thoughts and eventually they achieve something like critical mass and softly explode into new light and meaning.
"Are you really living now?"
"Are you sure it's Me you're running from?"
"Remember _________________?" (fill in the blank with one of many little miracles)
"What do you think I'm working at?"
"What is the source of that idea?"
"Are you really living your life, or someone else's?"
Note that none of these is couched in the usual challenge of day to day conflict we all live with. God isn't out to prove a point. His only desire is to serve me.
Still, it all takes time. I keep sliding down, driving myself with well-aimed kicks. Self-destruction is the theme of my life, which has taught me draconian survival skills. I've learned to be the indigestible nut passing through the world's drains. No matter what you do to me, I will remain. Hah. Take that. Of course what comes out the other end is hardly a human being, but look at it from my point of view: survival is the necessary precondition to getting better. If I allow myself to be ground up by the world's ideas and attitudes there is no hope at all. Little enough as I go, but even less that way.
But, hell's bells, folks, it's no way to live and it certainly isn't God's way. I have my ideas of what God wants, but He always surprises me with his gentleness, certainty and service. God knows His own. Anyone else in His position would use that power to completely overwrite my psyche. Sometimes I wish He would. That would be easier that going through these lessons in becoming a human being.
Some things are just hard to admit. I'd rather do just about anything than admit to having needs of the personal sort. You can't order friends from Amazon and have them delivered to your doorstep, and get some credit on your card. People aren't products and God is not at all interested in making them such. Neither is He a product. "Be prepared for the truth." God is a person who knows what He's doing. Beyond that, He knows how to do it for each of the many people under His care.
My life has been a succession of things given up. Dreams, facts, whatever. Bit by bit, like an aeronaut tossing things out of the balloon to keep it flying just a little longer. Eventually I started tossing the important stuff, whittling away at life, doing the things that I'd determined not to allow the world to do. Run from God and die, sinking, sinking, turning my eyes from His buoyant life.
Of all the things I wanted to eliminate from my life, need for other people is the biggest. Well, at the moment. Who knows what else is buried in there. As I said about the therapist I was talking to for a time, "I'd rather die than tell her anything." Well, God, as is His way, took me up on the dare. "You want to die? Go ahead, but first I'll help you figure out what the truth is."
I wish I could tell you how the turnaround happens. Somehow God's words reach beyond my panic, while He holds me invisibly to keep me from falling off the cliff edge I court so assiduously. Perhaps I compare the view ahead--desert, dark, dry, no promise of change--to the vision God offers to one side or the other down some little path marked by a blood-red flower. That's the promise. He let himself be killed so that I could go on walking. Eventually I come to my senses, exhausted, and quit dreaming of moving to a cabin out in the middle of nowhere or flying an airplane that never needs to land.
Jesus suggests that landing isn't so bad, that living in the cabin might be smoother but it wouldn't be so rich. He further suggests that such richness is a good thing, rather than the erosion that I've always believed it to be. Maybe it's pure fatigue that allows me to agree with him at the moment, and when my energy comes back I'll start running again. I hope not. I'm really tired.