Saturday, March 31, 2007
Somewhere between concrete and air is the real thing. Some people believe in nothing, and have nothing. Others believe in everything and still have nothing. Truth is hard to find in a code, or in theory. I can believe anything I want but if I jump off the roof of City Hall in the belief that I will fly I'll have about three seconds to consider the failure.
Yet belief tends to get lumped into one big pot. It looks messy. It is messy.
I don't like secrets, at least of the kind that are introduced with "You won't understand." Or, "Don't ask questions." I know truth is shy, but it's not that shy. If I want to know something, I'd like for that something to at least stay in the neighborhood so that I can learn of it. If I can't learn of it then I suspect that it's not real, not worth leaning on.
Concrete isn't it. I look for patterns, shapes, curlicues and colors in the wind that denote a reality one step beyond mine. Once the new thing shows enough shape I take the step.
Why do I believe in God? Because of the pattern of events in my life. I look back and see events that form a pattern I can't, in good Berean style, ascribe to coincidence. Everything had to come from someplace and I might as well believe God made it because the gracefulness of such an answer fits with the grace that has accompanied my mostly wasted life.
Some would say that belief is a chemical reaction. They're probably right. Inject me with the right chemicals and I'd probably forget all about God. What have you proven with this? The human body is a chemical factory. I stay away from needles and other forms of mindless brainwashing.
I demand that the curtain be pulled aside. I want to see God at work. Less so now than when I started, but I still don't want the wool pulled over my eyes; I want to know how faith works. God doesn't seem to mind. He answers my questions and then waits for a response. "OK, Mr. Mystic, what are you going to do next?"
In her response, bjk quoted 1 Corinthians at length. One verse is the cornerstone: "If Christ wasn't raised from the dead, then our faith is in vain." I've never seen anyone resurrected but have heard about plenty of near-death experiences. Are these real? I won't know until I've either had one myself or met someone who has. It does no harm to my own faith to lodge it in this particular tree. I can't prove that Jesus rose physically but if He didn't when my own time comes I'll just be worm food.
I just don't buy it. That would be an ugly end and would not fit with the pattern of my years. Why would God put so much effort into bringing me back from the edge of self-destruction if I were just destined for another hole in the ground, this one physical? I realize this is self-referential. Here's an exercise for you: work your way back along the path of your own life and try to find things that are NOT self-referential. Ultimately all of life is smoke and mirrors. "We see through a glass, darkly." We can reach through the mirror of Jesus and touch something that is subtly powerful but because He appears somewhat differently to each person--in accordance with that person's needs, but never deviating from the basic truth of His sacrifice for us--and that makes it hard to compare notes.
I don't talk much about my beliefs because I'd rather blend in. My faith looks pretty strange and I just don't want to have to justify myself to anyone else. I've been judged enough, by myself and by others. No, thanks.
Why write about it? Because out there in the world are more people like me, for whom the standard answers just don't work. As I've said before here, don't take my methods and ways as gospel. Only Jesus can save. From me, I hope people learn that God's ways are manifold. You have a need he can fulfil. You don't even have to ask nicely. Just go to Him in desperation even if you don't know what you need.
Sunshine enters the world reliably, predictably, somewhat understandably. Hydrogen atoms fuse in the hot heavy heart of a star and the energy liberated in that reaction eventually makes its way to a planet. Why is there a star? Where did it originate? Where did its matter originate? Reality fuzzes out somewhere around there. Take your pick of theories as you enjoy the apple made of sunshine and rock, while the light warms your shoulders. Facts are facts. They make a foundation for a castle that some think rises on air.
i am what I am
bundles of curdled starlight
thrown out across the lightyears
sung into being
landing in this strange world
How do we connect?
Do we share enough world-space and starlight between us
to understand each other's worlds?
Judgment isn't understanding
Judgment simply hedges one's world around with comprehensibility.
I want to move beyond judgment into sunshine.
I'm not sure I truly believe in sunshine
even if I am made of star-stuff
and hold the hand of One who made the light.
Too many disappointments hedge me around with known definitions.
God, Father, take me far beyond memory.
Friday, March 30, 2007
Masturing the Ergs
Layla started it for me, asking about sin and nature. She got it from Robert, who wrote a carefully inoffensive treatise that was hailed as being daring. Neither said anything new but still, sexuality is part of human experience and perhaps these little steps will add up to some new understanding. A few comments came their way and then died out. Not surprising, that.
So, that was one item. Add to that the book "West of Jesus," which purports to be about surfing and belief but turns out to be a long wanderingdithyramb around the subject of ecstatic experience. The thesis is that surfers morethan any other athletes get into "the Zone" where time slows down and every move is perfect. Why would that be? I hadn't thought about it that much, but as I read one answer came clear, even before the author got around to saying it: surfers have to interact with something that is always changing from second to second. No wave is like another, and the wave you catch now isn't the wave you'll be riding in a few seconds. What you have to do is manage a thousand inconstant factors just to keep your footing, and the conscious mind isn't fast enough to keep up. The conscious mind is pushed to the back seat and other parts of the mind take over.
It all reminded me of something. When I'm making a sand sculpture the sun somehow goes from east to west in about 23 minutes. There are days when I can do no wrong, just reaching out to carve away sand that doesn't need to be there. That hasn't happened for a while, though.
Western society has turned life into engineering, and Christians have followed this model. Even self-described "mystics" have codified and defined the mystical experience. Preachers constantly remind people not to turn their walk with Jesus into a search for religious experience. Nuts and bolts, folks. Engineering. Every question has a linear and step-by-step answer. Logic. Five hundred years back this attitude would have been incomprehensible. Every pin had at least one angel dancing on its head.
Is it any wonder Christians turn to masturbation? It's already illicit and shameful, so you can't be driven any lower. It's also private so any potential degradation won't show. People seem to need ecstatic experience, and here it is. You don't even need any fancy tools. It's quick, too, so you can soon get up and go about the rest of your life. The only reason people look down on it is that it's free. As soon as someone figures out a way to commercialize it, it'll become OK. Oh, and it also makes you feel good, which in our culture is the biggest sin of all. Especially Christians. We're supposed to worship suffering, and doing something purely for physical pleasure is proof that one is on Hell's doorstep.
In my usual way I think it's pretty simple. It hurts no one. If married people have a sexual outlet, why not an analogous operation for singles?
The last thread came to mind this morning. Where'd the pleasure go? Now that I'm a real follower of Jesus I'm supposed to be serious or else God will get pissed off and close the door. That would be intolerable, but life itself isn't all that tolerable and hasn't been. Even sand sculpture has been turned into a rationally justified act of artistic creation, and I avoid the ecstatic parts of the process by keeping a tight rational check on what I'm doing. Still, there are moments.
The tool touches the sand and tells me much. This is a good block of sand. I take away an extra inch of the lowest part, to make the top hang out more and accentuate the windblown look I want. Such overhangs have become routine in my sculptures, but this one is nicely shaped. More could have been done but the wind is just too much. As I walk away north my hair is blown straight back by the wind that coats my glasses with salt.
One can learn a lot about life from playing "Myst" and its follow-on games. If you're walking along, exploring, and find no way through, the chances are you've overlooked
the real exit. It's clear to me that most of modern Christianity doesn't work. I think we're missing the ecstatic part. Prayer is described at labor, to be scheduled. God is kept at a distance, replaced by rote performance of what others tell us are good works. I think it's time for each of us, including me, to ask God what He really
In any hairy situation the first thing to do is keep the wheels down, or the head up. When you're up to your armpits in alligators it really is hard to remember you intended to drain the swamp, but this is a situation analogous to surfing. Too many factors to track rationally. We followers of Jesus have a lot to learn, and some things are both harder and more important than others. It takes time, especially for those of us raised in a rational, time-limited, world, to appreciate the subtle sureness of God's guidance.
I'm not advocating turning life into a search for pleasure and ecstatic experience. I do advocate accepting such things when they show up. If prayer turns intoecstasy , why not enjoy it? Of course, you can't tell anyone else about it because they will lecture you on the dangers. Oh, yes, we should always seek the lowest common denominator, as no one judges people as a Christian can. The simple principle is that a life devoid of pleasure isn't... very pleasant. Tends to turn people bitter. Pleasure is one of God'sleavenings.
I think this may be what people mean when they talk about being barbarians invading the world. Barbarians live in the moment. It's another of those incongruities: well-dressed, well-behaved people sitting calmly in church listening to someone espouse barbarian ideas. If one of them actually started acting like a barbarian they'd be escorted from the premises, where they'd end up out in the rain with Jesus doing ecstatic dance.
This post is at least as much about my own limitations and frustrations as anything else. I have hedged myself about with boundaries I dare not overstep, and God keeps suggesting that I walk beyond. He knows all about transgressing other people's rules, and he also knows all about being raised inside a deadly religious system. He can guide me out. I wish there were a church or group of people I could trust to help me with this, but the whole process feels too fragile so I don't talk about it. I tend to knock things down all by myself, and don't need help.
I'm really tired of pressing the pleasure out of life. It's hard work, too. Uses energy that could be better used for... pleasure. I used to do things for pleasure, low-key activities that could be justified in other ways. Bicycling was for fitness, sculpture was for design exercise, making tools was for support of the sculpture, talking with people was to learn. I'd ignore the feelings of pleasure these engendered, and that left just one place, one activity for pleasure. You guessed it. Sanity requires pleasure, I think, wherever it comes from.
Monday, March 26, 2007
Walk Like Jesus
Jesus knew what was coming. He also knew where he came from and had his Father's complete, unconditional support. Support is too weak a word. Love is overused. Unconditional positive regard is a phrase designed by a committee with no heart. To know how this works you have to walk with Jesus.
Jesus knew his Father was with him, like sunshine on His heart. None of us questions gravity; take a misstep and we fall, boom. We know how that feels. The experience has been repeated often enough to make us careful going down stairs or just walking on slippery surfaces. Gravity has an internal reality with, well, real weight to it. Jesus had the same confidence in God.
We have a kind of sorta hope that God will occasionally look upon us with something other than disgust. Every once in a while God will remember me and come to the end of the dangling branch and give me a little cup of water or something before He's called away to someone else. Too many people, not enough time. "Sorry. Can't stay long. Many other demands, don't you know. Just hang in there and you'll be fine."
There can't be much confidence in that lifestyle. What if we were way behind reality? Keep in mind that our teaching comes from the world, and he who rules this world has no interest in having people learn that God wills them toward freedom. Free people are loose cannons, thinking and feeling and living, sparks in the darkness that could ignite full-honk flames.
Taking a step in freedom requires confidence. Jesus had the confidence to face down the Pharisees, the functional gods of Judaism, and they saw it in His face. They backed away.
Once a person turns to Jesus there is no more need for excuses. God no longer sees me as that dark and twisted result of a lifetime spent in the wrong world. He looks at me and sees a reflection of Jesus, through His own kindness. I awaken in the morning and see labor. God looks over the whole arch of a life and simply doesn't worry about it. One step at a time. When you live in all of time, the future just doesn't loom that large. For me it's a huge wave that could break and thrash me at any time. I lack confidence.
And yet, we who believe have died with Jesus, and been born again. "These are my beloved Sons, in whom I am well pleased." Through God's grace I can have confidence that the Holy Spirit wants to stay with me. It's not a grudging gift, but offered in graceful abandonment, with a smile.
The world being what it is, walking around with God's glow isn't the way to remain invisible. God and I still have some conflict over this. I've been very well trained. God isn't interested in training, but in teaching. Freedom doesn't come from training or any other rote process. Freedom comes from confidence, and confidence comes only from experience. Experience can also be a heavy lid on a life, which is why God has to work so hard to teach me. Memory is powerful. I remember every painful fall, and to avoid more pain I take pains never to fall again.
The experience may not be much fun but God still smiles. I no longer have only my own thin resources to kiss the wounds and make them better. God fills the voids, sets the broken bones, gently rubs on healing salve, and continues that genuine smile. He waits for me to get up, offering the help I can accept, and then smiles as I take another shaky step through this new world of generosity.
It is no cheap thing. God knows exactly what He's doing, and He is patient. Onward, with confidence. We need make no excuses.
Friday, March 23, 2007
The year started fairly normally. Well, sand sculpture is never really normal but the first half of the year didn't bring any major deviations. In July, however, I was hired to lead a team of people from a company called Continental Development in making a sculpture for the "Heal the Bay" sand sculpture contest. My equipment is designed to support sculptures smaller than most would use at a contest, so I made two. If you can't make big, make more. We won the contest, and the next year Heal the Bay put in a "no ringers" clause: everyone working on the sculpture had to be an employee. The sculptures suffered.
Anyway, this experience rekindled my interest in the multiple sculpture, the first of which I'd done in 1996 for the World Championships. I did one more for a contest in Santa Cruze and then left the idea alone. One sculpture is a lot of work. Two is nearly impossible.
Then conditions changed. I experimented with using coarser sand, which meant I didn't have to haul it from the low-tide line. This worked pretty well, so I used the energy for making more sculptures in a variety of settings. My main memory of this period, looking back at the end of the year, was of failure. None of the sculptures was really what I'd wanted it to be. Too many compromises. I compared the desire with the actuality and the latter fell far short.
I emailed the images to people and then mostly forgot them. Images stored on an an off-line hard drive aren't of much use. On a post-sculptural Sunday a while back I started looking for 2002 images and found them. It was a pretty easy step from there to get them onto Photobucket and into Blog pages. Wonder of wonders, 4 years of separation allowed the sculptures to speak for themslves, out from under memory and expectation. None of them is ugly and some are pretty good.
So, Lu is all twisted into a knot over the Big Purpose she thinks she should have. The thought has been at the back of my mind, too. I'm a follower of Jesus. If now isn't the time for big purposes, it will come eventually. When? And what will it be? There's not much I can do about it right now, but some time.
I asked God about this. It was hard to do so because the first thing that comes to my mind when I approach God is failure. He's going to point out all the things I've done wrong already. I've driven myself nearly crazy this way, coming and going like a newborn kitten who thinks he should be independent enough to move away from his mother, but his eyes aren't open and he has no teeth. So, I get away from God's warmth and start to die. I turn back to life but then get very frightened of asking for too much and doing nothing with what I've been given already. It's no wonder the last couple of years have worn me to a frazzle. Back and forth, trembling.
Well, OK, let's just have it out. "God, what do you expect? How do you judge success? How have I failed?" Well, I didn't need to ask that. I knew I'd failed. Everywhere. "What is my purpose, and how do I know I've succeeded?" He very calmly showed me an image of a white robe. "OK. What's that all about? I know my failures are covered, but... what about success?" The same white robe.
In other words, success or failure, the answer is yes. Neither matters, so long as I let God hold my hand. The main thing in God's sight is our relationship.
Think about that for a minute. Frazzled people don't accomplish much. If I can quit worrying about failure maybe I can actually settle down and enjoy being chewed on. God has a very sunny outlook on the process of new growth, which years of dour teaching has managed to cloud over. I am well and truly sick, literally, of it. I need an alternative. As usual, the answer is to listen to God instead of the people who think they know Him.
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
Lu wrote, in a comment, "You know, I meant the chew toy thing as kind of a slam, but you've taken it and turned it into something beautiful. I love this line: 'We bear God's toothmarks in direct relationship to how much we let him love us [...]' I like the idea of bearing God's teethmarks, I just wish they weren't always so sharp. I realize they have to be that way to fend off attackers and soul-stealers, but dang, sometimes their truth and wisdom can hurt."
Well, Lu, put yourself in God's place. You see this red-headed woman who hurts desperately. Her temptation is to go with band-aids, but you, as God, know that band-aids don't work. The wounds might feel better for a time but there's no real healing. You know, as God, what needs to be done.
Consider your restrictions. Because you're God you could just force the changes, but the creature left after that operation wouldn't be human. It would be an organic robot, unable to learn, to make choices, to delight you with creative surprises. You have to cure a being who is so steeped in sin that she doesn't recognize real life except occasionally. You have to bring her to seeing that real life, and seeking it, even when human beings resist change. There's good reason for that, because so many people in this world want us to change to suit them. In short, you have unlimited power that you can't use. You have to use wisdom, delicacy, subtlety and careful timing. How better to describe "sharp teeth?" You have to be very deft to bring about the desired change without killing the spirit of your child.
So, we have God working to change a moving target. I know that most of my own pain comes from twisting and turning to avoid contact with God, for all that I know his is the Voice of Life. It takes TIME to change all those old deadly ideas. If I feel the occasional nip of a God-tooth it's just the gentlest possible reminder that this is serious business. You invite God into your life, His very nature requires His best effort on your behalf.
Yah, it do hurt. We don't know where we're headed and have less idea of how we'll get there. We just have to trust that God knows us, knows our heart-needs, and even more, trust that he cares. This last is hard for me. The learning process has taken 36 years. So far. It's far easier, and safer, to believe that no one cares.
God expects skepticism. It's nothing new to him. He knows that he has to start at the very beginning in separating us from illusions. He knows that I don't really believe in success; the best I'll ever do is stave off failure for a time.
The key point here is that God isn't just a concept, but a genuine, real, Person Who is working to produce real change. Be glad of those nips you feel, because they mean that the God you follow is completely different from the fuzzy warm ideal of the New Age everything-is-wonderful. That's a god that is just sort of Valium. Our God has a real purpose in mind: whatever we learn here will be carried forward for eternity.
No less a heavy hitter than Thomas a Kempis agrees with me here. Well, I guess I agree with him, as he predated me by quite a bit. Aristotle, too. It's a hard path. Pain, confusion, anger accompany our introduction to God's reality, but the soul-thread pulls us onward. However long it takes our souls learn to recognize God's voice and life.
In other words, I think a lot of our pain is self-imposed. If we can learn to accept what God shows us we won't feel his teeth quite so sharply. Of course, that will open the door to further change. The key is to learn how to live with God on your own terms instead of accepting what you've been taught.
It could be, too, that churches are getting the point. Eric Bryant, he whom God encouraged to let me invade Mosaic, wrote about the missing ministry to intuitive types. Maybe I'll go back to church if this actually comes about. I just know people will never realize success when it's not success designed for them.
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
Sheep No. 103
I'm sure this seems nuts to some people. In particular, Lu might be less than sanguine. She writes with some asperity, and I'm sure that God's teeth didn't feel anything like rubber when both her parents died within a few days.
Still, we're all chew toys to someone or something. God is completely serious about making us able to live in His kingdom. Oh, the basic human being is made for the place but we've added on all this other stuff that makes us unsuited, starting with the plain old basic sin that it's so unfashionable to believe in. God is serious about rescue, too. He'll go after the 100th sheep, leaving the other 99 because they're better behaved. Then he'll go after Number 101, who's gotten himself even more lost. He will never quit.
If this had been a human enterprise, the insurance adjuster would have taken one look at me and said "Write it off. Totalled. Would cost more to repair than it's worth." I'd have been sent off to the junkyard. God isn't afraid of restoration work. He's single-minded about it and will let nothing get in his way.
Imagine this little scenario: Lu and I trade places. She has to look after the traffic communication system, and I have to do her job. Which of us panics more? Probably me, because Lu is technically savvy. Still, no matter how we enter the new situation, there will be time taken to learn. Lu won't be competent in my job for at least six months, and I'll probably never be competent in hers. The point of this? Chew toys. We seem to expect people to become instant Christians on the basis of a few Bible verses and some well-worn devotionals.
The truth is that each of us is an individual. God looks down and sees people, not organizations. Every last one of us is a special case. We bear God's toothmarks in direct relationship to how much we let him love us, and I suppose that starts with learning how much we need his love. Sometimes finding and picking up that stray sheep isn't a gentle process. I'm convinced that God makes it as gentle as possible, but I hang on to my old deadly ideas with a death grip that only loosens with time and experience. Maybe it's God's saliva dripping over me that dissolves the old ways of living and seeing and thinking.
I find this to be a strangely comforting image. Dogs always have favorite old chew toys, the one they always go back to until it gets all rounded off and thoroughly soaked. I've been bashed around by the world and lost in the hot wind of endless sand with no water. Can you imagine anything more horrible to a sand sculptor? I know difficult and I know deadly. What I don't know is hope. Maybe that's what God's drool is: distilled hope that transforms the internal desert I made to model the outer one I've always felt.
It's still a struggle. I don't want hope. It's a deadly, death-dealing lie. Always has been. And then I feel those rubber teeth with their implacable grip, and my drooled-on heart wants to hope. Can it possibly be real this time? How long does it have to go on before I believe? Well, none of it is new to God, and he doesn't know the meaning of quit. He has walked this road himself and is intimately acquainted with deserts.
If this story seems odd it might have something to do with not getting any sleep. Hope does odd things. It's two in the morning. Still, if God were handing out lightning to the irreverent I'd have been ash years ago. The point here is not that I'm some super-wonderful follower of Jesus with a special connection to God. Nor is it that everyone else should walk the path I'm using. The point is that God is kind and tolerant, and will do anything, including picking me up by the scruff of my dying neck, to save one of us. Throw out the rule book and ask God to teach you who He really is. It's better to be chewed on by God than by anyone else, and once you're God's chew toy he becomes very jealous in his guardianship, just as any dog is of its favorite. No one else gets the privilege of chewing on you unless they have God's sanction.
And, ultimately, it's quite simple. God chewstises those whom he loves.
Saturday, March 17, 2007
I dreamed last night that I was in my family's cabin outside of Estes Park, Colorado. I've spent many days there: hiking, sitting on the porch balustrade with my back against a pillar, watching the light play on the high mountains. I've watched rain and shivered. I've sought the shade on hot days when sunlight bakes scent from the sage and ponderosas. I've had birds land nearby, mistaking my stillness for something vegetative. I've walked in two feet of snow and gotten caught in fast-moving rainstorms a bit short of shelter.
In the dream the cabin was shaking. Long breakers came in from a dark sea and hammered the foundation. I questioned this. An ocean outside of the cabin? I sought their origin but it was just black out there, some kind of short horizon out which the waves were born. I could taste the salt. I wondered if each hit would be the last.
It doesn't take a psychoanalyst to figure this one out. Anyone who has read much on this blog has a pretty good idea that I have, um, "issues" with safety. Short of suicide the cabin has represented shelter. I used to live an hour or so away and I'd go up there for the weekends to get away from the noise of the city.
Yesterday I wrote about bjk's fishbowl analogy. If we live in fishbowls the answer isn't to leap out; that particular sanctuary is a life-support system no less intimate than an astronaut's space suit. So, I asked God what was going on here.
I'm so eager to tell God what his business is. If I judge myself then He won't have to. The truth is, though, that he's the least likely to judge me of anyone I know. Still, I live in a psychologic bowl. I'm well adapted to being there. I interpret God's efforts at changing the situation as an attack on the core of my being.
Well, there's no way to disguise that, as it's exactly what God is doing. I tried fitting other ideas around that image of waves against the foundation. I tried changing the cabin into a cage, but it was no less uncomfortable. I tried imagining God's hand there instead of the cabin walls, but that didn't fit either. God's own imagery was more sophisticated, and gentler. It still implies the need to change but also brings in the idea that I'm not alone. His image is more like two people working on rebuilding the cabin, making it less rigid. This part is rather hazy. I don't know what it will be like.
Sanctuary or cage? A matter of how it's built? Or how it's used? Be prepared for the truth.
The Christian world is full to overflowing with metaphors that do, I think, more harm than good. They are oversimplifications that get used in place of God. People are scared of God, which isn't too surprising given how He has been presented to us as vindictive, angry, easily upset and very touchy. He can be angry, obviously, but if He were as prickly as He's made out to be He'd have written off the universe a long time back. We'd have been cinders, and he'd have walked away saying "That's no more than they deserved." We do deserve to be cratered out of existence. That's what we've earned, but that's not what God has given us. He gave us His Son, and that's what we need to concentrate on. That great gift enables a new approach to sanctuary that's nearly impossible to understand. Seek life instead of rules. Seek a sanctuary Who lives and has open windows... that He will close when necessary.
God's goal isn't to kill me. That He has to kill off some aspects of my being is a problem, but I'm gradually learning to separate the good core from the damaging superstructure. Sometimes, though, my quaking soul interprets things a bit off and feels like a sand sculpture against the rising tide. If that were God's goal he wouldn't have to work very hard.
Friday, March 16, 2007
You know what you call a fish that has jumped out of the bowl? Dead. Fish require water as we require air. What constitutes freedom for a fish? Untrammelled motion through their three-dimensional medium, in pursuit of fishy beingness? I don't like seeing any animal in a cage or tank.
God does call us to escape, and the world he calls us to is as strange as our atmosphere would be to a fish. His world is a kind one, motivated by love. We live in a matrix of hard-edged bitterness, self-recrimination, do unto others before they do unto you thought and emotion. It's how we're raised and it's how this world works. It's the very opposite of what God wants.
Can fish wear spacesuits? If an astronaut wants to take a walk she'd better be careful. She can't just open the door up there or she'd be in the same state as the fish out of the bowl. How does a Christian learn to live in the very strange world of God's presence? Perhaps it's quite simple. Just quit trying to talk God into the bowl along with you.
The bowl we live in is made of our own expectations. God teaches us to see accurately and guides us by heart and by hand. It's no less a shock to leave the place for being imaginary because imagination makes our worlds.
Where does hope come from? I've tried to leave my own cage many, many times. I've always failed. Hoping in momentum, hoping in hope, hoping that maybe this time... but no matter how hard I hit those elastic walls they always just stretched until I ran out of steam and then snapped me back to where I'd been, and in the process removed more hope. Eventually I quit trying.
Hope has to have a real object. There has to be something real in it, or it's just another salesman's cheat. Those who sell Jesus will promise anything so that people will convert, or say the right words. Then they move on and we're left with another person who just knows Jesus' name but nothing about how to approach Him. Hope can easily die again, as mine did.
God knows all of this. He knows us inside and out. He knows that just as the sun is ultimately the source for all physical life on hear, He is the source of hope. Everything else is human strength. Some people are prodigiously strong. Many aren't. I heard a guy on the bus the other day saying "My mama didn't raise no weak children. You have to be strong." That's fine, for those who are strong. What about those of us who aren't? In what can I hope? How can I achieve escape velocity from the daily familiar round?
Momentum and step-by-step programs aren't the answer. The only hope I have is that God won't drop me.
Getting out of the cage isn't really the hard part. The door is imaginary anyway. The world outside, in all its strangeness, is real. How do I live out there? I've gone one-on-one with the tigers out there and lost every time. What makes me think that I can win this time?
The Holy Spirit. He breathes on my worn-out spirit and asks me to take one more step. If I'm too tired to make a step he lets me hide in some music or a book. I've been doing a lot of that lately. I'm a fraidy-cat. I've lost too many battles to be sanguine about my chances. I decided that the world was compassed about by my own limitations, and I've simply squatted there, awaiting the eventual end. I've never looked forward to the coming day.
How many years can one live without hope? Some hang on their whole lives. I'd have given up long ago but for life being easy. I read some of the stories and think "If that had been me, I'd have simply killed myself." That was always my final answer: if this just gets too tiresome, I'll quit.
God kept dropping little things into my life to keep me going, little bridges over the problems. And here I am, still walking, and learning to live with hope. God is stronger than the world outside the cage. It's a very strange place. It ought to be horrible. It's a hard way of life, facing my fears and learning new ways. Every day.
Jesus has been there before. Unlike human examples, he's not asking me to do things alone, and he's guiding me through places he has already visited. He knows me. And he still smiles.
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
The Spirit of Slavery
As with most things involving God this concept has gotten buried in all kinds of fluff and scree, falling from the great edifices people build around simple ideas. God said to me last night, when I was thinking about this, "How can you be a slave when you've never been free?"
Good question. What is freedom? Certainly not the hell I've lived in squashing myself to fit my own expectations of the world. My intent is to stay the hell out of sight, but that's like a tree living under a sidewalk. Neither of them comes out of the experience very well. Bent tree, busted concrete. Yet it looks normal to me. Normal, familiar, comfortable, no challenge. When one is running close to the limit, challenges are the last thing desired. The next one might be the straw that breaks everything.
God is still himself. He remains constant, unchanging in his care. It's interesting. With that kind of constant regard, the Lord of the Universe smiling on my shaking shoulders, I begin to become something like confident.
Hope is a real tease. I've had hope before and it just precedes a longer fall. Up and down, growing and then dropping rocks. Turns out that I'm the main dropper of rocks, being well trained by this world in what's expected of a normal stable individual. Certainly talking personally with God isn't in the script. Still, silent or no, He is always there.
This in itself is kind of alarming. Am I too dependent upon God? What would happen to me if He were to withdraw his presence from my life, as I've heard has happened to others? That scares me. God says that's not my story, as Aslan constantly reminded the children in Narnia. Live my own story. This is what I've been given.
Names and stories. People are quite willing to impose their own stories and names on us, which is what I've been trying to avoid all my life. Live my own story, find my own name... but doing that while trying to look as if I fit the names given me is a tough practice. God calls me to my own name. He has no interest in forcing an ill-fitting name, nor the wrong story, on me. I'm a slave to death-dealing practices right now and God is working to free me from that. The new story is a challenge, and we already know how much I like those.
He still calls. Patient. Radical. Implacable. "Be prepared for the truth."
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
Daring to Hope?
Keith Le called the other night. We hadn't talked for a while, so we caught up a little bit. Somehow that lunch in the Thai place where I got the "Be prepared for the truth" fortune came out of my cookie. Keith said "I wish God spoke that directly to me."
I've been thinking about that since. There have been times in the last year or two when I'd have gladly traded places with anyone who struggled to hear God's voice. His voice keeps me alive but also calls me forward into impossible things. I'd rather just stay in my nice familiar hole in the ground. I know where everything is and there are no challenges. I have enough of a challenge just getting through the day.
My guess about Keith is that God has different ways of reaching him. My practice is based on pure need. Keith is looking ahead. He has a plan. God says "Go for it." And smiles.
He smiles at me too, but I resist smiling back. I remember the touches of hope in a bleak world, and that hope always turned to ashes. God is the only person who has stayed with me all these years, perhaps because he's the only one who shook me hard enough and then held on. People give up after a while, as do I, and no surprise.
I really know very little about being a real human being. This isn't a problem for God. He knows all about being a human being. He has been there. He is an irresistible force for change, no matter how slowly I respond.
God never forgets any of us. He works in people's lives to the degree that he's allowed. Desperation, staring oblivion in the eye, makes for strong motivation toward allowing God's hand free rein. Still... let me sleep and wake me up when it's over, please.
Sunday, March 04, 2007
"Yeah. We don't have eternity, you know."
Everyone at the table groans. "Now we know why the Father invented time. So that eventually, Gabriel, you'll have to quit repeating that worn-out joke."
"Yeah, Gabe. Even angels can, um... well, better not to say."
Jesus looks at Michael, and raises an eyebrow. That's all he needs to do. "So, what's the scoop, folks?"
If angels could dance on the head of a pin, how long could they keep it up? What does time look like to an eternal being?
"OK, Next item."
"Can we take a break, phone out for pizza or something?"
"We had pizza last time. How about Chinese?"
"Ever since you helped bail them out after that flood..."
"Oh, yes. Next item."
There's a rustling of wings and a settling of robes. The slide changes on the overhead projector.
"Remember this guy?"
"Oh, yes. Your Beach Missionary, and that sand dude."
"Yah. Haven't heard much about him. What happened?"
"He's still around. Interesting how ideas change over time. God gave him the nose. He keeps following the scent."
Jesus is looking intent. "Hmmm... I wish more people would get it."
"What's that, Lord?"
"Well... No noose is good noose."