Saturday, April 28, 2007


Cage of a Million Names

Names exert a pull on us. Layla wrote "I think there is some value in these "temperament" tests when taken in a work or team environment to assist people in understanding why one form of communication (or appreciation or instruction or whatever) works for some but not others." I agree, so long as the temptation to pigeonhole people is strongly resisted. Any tool can be misused.

The problem is that this one is easy to misuse. The temptation is to think that when your co-worker comes out as "Type AEQM" you know everything about her. This is as absurd as astrology and the planets, or the Chinese zodiac assigning us to niches based on birth year. I was born in the year of the Dragon. It's easy to find characteristics of the dragon in me, but there are many others.

Alfred Korzybski delineated a lot of this, and then got stuck in a pigeonhole of his own. People who want to appear erudite quote Korzybski and entirely miss the point.

People are complex. There are many threads in the individual tapestry and no one is the same as anyone else. Yes, I have some dragonish characteristics, but many others and our sets overlap those of others. The problem with the Myers-Briggs and other such instruments is that they exert a pull of definition that makes like similar to walking a plain of holes. The flat area between holes is narrow and footsteps have to be made carefully, as I've done.

Yes, I'm Intuitive... but not only intuitive. I like the sensing of the sand under my fingertips as I carve. I tend to leap from crag to crag instead of climbing down, across and back up. This is good and bad, just as any other characteristic is.

And then Lu comes up with this little bomb: "And [hearing God] seems to be tied more to hearing the difficult than doing it.... I know lots of people willing to "go the distance" for God, so-to-speak who don't hear His voice no matter how much they cry out. But after knowing them I realize they aren't really willing to hear difficult things; things that challenge their paradigms about themselves or the world or God." Read that again and realize how radical an idea it is. The general culture and especially that of most evangelical churches would turn it around: deeds are critical, no matter what you say about your relationship with God. Love is shown in doing.

I guess it really is. If there isn't any doing how does anyone know anything? I can talk about and imagine all kinds of sculptures but how do you know unless I make them? Still, the emphasis on doing above all can be the worst distraction of all.

God started singing our names before the creation of the world and hasn't stopped yet. You're going to try to fit that Name into four positions with two symbols each? Sixteen combinations, sixteen pigeonholes for people. No wonder we're all angry. No matter whose assignment you take on, you won't fit the niche. I'd expect this kind of thing in the world but it's shameful that followers of Jesus follow the same model. Jesus himself has been assigned to a niche: savior who lived 2000 years ago. I wonder how He'd come out on a Myers-Briggs. "Mr Jesus, I think you'd fit in with our futures evaluation team."

And yes, I'm angry too. This is one of the unpleasant truths I'm having to deal with. I got my share of niche assignments and dutifully made myself fit. I'm tired of it. My lack of patience with churches is an outgrowth of my anger coming from wasted years of acquiescence. I don't trust anyone to help me find my name so I just do it myself, as I've done with everything else important to me.

How important is reality? I think it's critically important, and I also dare to believe that, with the help of the Holy Spirit, reality can be known even as it moves around. The ocean appears chaotic and yet surfers regularly catch and ride its waves. I'll bet surfers are intuitive.

I wonder if intuitive skills can be learned. I see people taking surfing lessons, and I wonder how well the students' training in verbal learning works in learning something that changes so fast that it can't be known in detail but only in passing feeling. I see following Jesus as similar. He changes me, which changes my place in the world, and that leads to more changes in me.

Lu wrote "I think this is what Jesus meant when He said, 'those who have ears to hear, let them hear.' " I'd always wondered about that. Hearing has always been important to me; I seek out quiet places where I can hear the real world's voice. Birds, water, wind, each of them true. There is no lie on the tongue of the wind in a pine tree. It is what it is. I can listen in trust.

Sooner or later listening will lead to action, just as the gentle fall of rain will eventually cause a whole hillside to slide. My hill is very, very dry.

Resist the naming others would apply. Especially resist the million names of judgment that you apply to yourself, having learned how the world works. God doesn't work that way. He calls your true name and, while it's flaming and alive and frightening it is also fragrant beyond compare and oh, so attractive. Perhaps that's why we keep ourselves so busy. Just like the wolves in "Wolf's Rain," senses deadened by living in the cities. The Flower Child comes, and suddenly they wake up and smell the Call of the True Name.

From a logical point of view, Jesus got killed because he refused to let the Jews, the Romans or anyone else define him. The view from the heart shows the reality of Jesus giving up his live by his own choice. Walking your own way, hearing God's call, won't make any points for you in the logical world at large. If it does make you points, look out. You're being set up by someone else. It's a heart process, folks, learning as we go, tired footsteps taken on the path Jesus knows and feels.

Last paragraph rewritten because Lu pointed out a problem.

Friday, April 27, 2007


One to a Pigeonhole, Please

Eric Bryant, he of the life-changing invitation to visit Mosaic, wrote an interesting post about how churches don't reach out to intuitive people. This is based on something called the Myers-Briggs something or other. I took it once, years ago, but have forgotten the details. It's a sort of inventory of personal characteristics, and apparently most folks come out as "sensing." A quarter of the general population is "intuitive." I suspect I'm in that subset because I seldom fit in anywhere.

Eric says that 95% of churches are set up to reach the "sensing" folks. I'd believe that, too, because if I don't fit in the world at large I really don't fit in churches.

Still, I have a hard time buying the whole concept. As a culture we are far too eager to assign people to pigeonholes and God's hardest task is winkling us out of those assigned niches. It starts the moment one is born. Well, now it happens even before you're born: "Are you having a girl or a boy?" "Oh, it's a boy. The ultrasound showed that clearly." So, the baby room gets done up in blue and the parents stock up on toy trucks and baseball mitts. What if the child really likes yellow? Or, God forbid, purple?

I'm sick of the whole thing. How much potential in our society is simply thrown away, cut off by institutional biases?

Churches probably do need intuitive people. The way I see this, sensing people walk up and down the valleys and mountains, treading each rock. If you need detail this is the way to go. Intuitives, however, seem to get the patterns, and simply leap from one spot to the next, kind of like a spiritual hyperspace.

Perhaps it's like sand sculpture. I have to embody both detail and pattern: detail in the engineering enables the overall pattern to remain standing at the end of the day. A church built of detailed words is sturdy, but what of the ones who want to fly?

All I really know is that churches feel like a straitjacket to me. God has a name for me, and that's the name I want. Its first syllable is "forgiven," and this is something that most churches seem not to get; they crucify Jesus anew each Sunday, quaking in fear that this time they'll be thrown away. Folks, it won't happen. One who is in Christ is forgiven. Done.

Perhaps it's the intuitive point of view: I know, I feel, the gulf between God and me that Jesus bridged. I see it below my feet, between God's fingers. I like God's name for me. The process of learning it is difficult but doable because He cares. How do you put caring on an intellectually justified basis? I don't know. It's irrational, at least in human terms. Fortunately God's rationality is something else.

So, I guess the real question is, how do you make a church for people who don't fit and don't really want to fit? It'll be interesting to see if Eric and his church-planting friends come up with an answer for this. I have no idea. First Church of Jesus, Intuitive, anyone?

Thursday, April 26, 2007


Rain of Kindness

I told my boss that Friday would be an emergency sand sculpture day. He's used to it. I got up that morning to clouds and damp. Rain had passed through, and storms often have trailers. I got the mountain bike out of the garage and headed north instead of the beach.

Offshore were clouds in many layers with some patches of blue visible. Little tufts here and there caught attenuated dawn light. Yah, chance of rain but slight. I quit thinking about it.

Of course, I hoped. We're way short on rain for the year. I haven't been able to take a single walk in the rain. I thought of my standard offer: "OK, God, you make it rain, I don't mind getting wet. I want rain."

North along the beach, into a mild offshore breeze. Then east up the canyon to various back roads. Pedestrian bridge over the creek and then a short spin along Sunset. Then I walked partway up the road to Will Rogers Park because it's pretty. I drank some water at the fountain by the parking lot and rode on.

It's a nice, simple ride. Having been a while since my last long ride I've been sort of easing my way back into it. I had new tires on the bike, hoping for better grip than the FireXC Pros it came with. I went the steep way and liked the way the tires hung on but not the way the rear picked up sand and tossed it into the heels of my sandals. Well, yes, I shouldn't be riding in sandals but it's irresistible.

Eventually I got to the top of the local maximum, a little hillock standing out from the rest of the ridge. Off to the east Los Angeles was getting rained on. Through clear air I could see all of Santa Catalina, 40 miles away across the water. It looked huge. Straight west was the same layered cloud. I sat on the picnic table and listened to the birds.

Distraction. I suppose the main reason I haven't been riding very much is that it's too much quiet time. Nothing to do out there but keep the pedals going, and the mind freewheels. That means it usually lands someplace near God, and He still scares me. He should be the first I run to when hurt, but I still have the habit of running away from everyone. People, yes; they love to kick the down player. God never does that. Still, I know what a failure I am as a follower of Jesus and don't want to hear about that from God. He has never done so, but still. Some day my number will come up and I just don't want to know about it. So, I sat on the picnic table and thought around the issues, sometimes going to their heart in a quick pass. Calming. I definitely needed the time up there, alone.

After a time I moved on. I decided on a whim to ride partway up the Backbone Trail, singletrack that leads to the farthest ridge, a few miles up. I didn't want to go that far, but wanted some practice.

Shortly after starting up the trail I got a feeling. Turn around. Hmmm. Makes no sense. I kept going, but the feeling wouldn't go away. Definitely a sign of God's quiet voice. So, I turned around. I'd been quiet enough to actually hear Him. Back down to the park entrance, for some more water, and then on down the hill. I retraced the route over the ped bridge and down the canyon to the beach. Under PCH through the ped culvert and then I had a chance to look around.

Oh, my. The western horizon was gone. Just a grey wall out there, and I know from experience what that means. This storm was rolling right down the alley. A few miles away the hills near Malibu faded into the rain. I worked my way south into the storm-brought opposing wind and felt the first few drops as I approached the Santa Monica Pier.

I still had time to run a quick errand and then go on home. Five minutes later the rain hit, and kept going for three hours. It was nice. Everything smelled good. I like rain.

Well, naturally, my first thought was "Why me?" There are people out there far more deserving of hearing God's voice, and they're doing things more important than mountain biking. There are people out there begging God to make Himself known to them, and here I get this casual comment that basically keeps me from getting wet.

I've been wet before. I've ridden in snow, rain, wind and 20-below-0 cold. I raced a thunderstorm in Nebraska and barely got home in time, uphill and against the wind. The answer seems to be that I listen. God speaks to everyone but I pay attention.

Then I got into the wider implications. What would I do if God told me to do something I didn't want to do, like Ananias being told to meet Paul? The thought that came to mind is one I've heard a few times in military history: a commander who gives commands that won't be followed doesn't stay in command for very long. God could dragoon me. He has the power. He just doesn't use it.

He waits to melt my heart. I can feel it changing.

Friday, April 20, 2007


Losers, Seeking

heaven's not enough
if when you get there..
just another blue
and heaven's not enough
you think you've found it
and it loses you

They're a bunch of wolves, hated by all, hating the city they are forced to live in. They catch a scent of something and it calls them. Out of the city, into the snow, toward something one of them calls Paradise.

you've thought of all there is
but not enough
and it loses you in a cloud

The others are skeptical. "What's paradise?" they ask. "How do you know it's real?"
"I feel it," Kiba says. "I smell it."
"I can smell something too," Toboe says, ever eager to make an impression on the older ones. Tsume is, as usual, distant, scoffing. Still, they keep going.

"there" most everything is nothin'
that it seems
"where" you see the things you only wanna see

They pass through other cities, each uglier and more desperate than the last. They escape by working, albeit reluctantly, together. Overhead pass the ships of the Nobles. Who are they? What do they want, other than the destruction that seems to go wherever they do? Smoke and lightning.

I'd fly away
to a higher plane
to say words I resist
to float away
to sigh
to breathe.... forget

They dream... flowers... lakes...
They find a tunnel and go on. Others find them and shoot. They end up at a city on a crag and see the Flower Maden, Cheza. Hers is the scent they've been following. She is taken away by one of the violent Nobles. The wolves follow.

and heaven's not enough
if when I'm there I don't remember you
and heaven does enough
you think you know it
and it uses you

They pass through the dead forest into desert that alternates rock and snow. They meet strangers who seem to understand, but can't come with them. The quest is the wolves' and it leads to the last redoubt where the last of the Nobles has laid a trap in the heart of his dead city.

I saw so many things
but like a dream
always losing me in a cloud

Everything is lost. The Noble escapes. The wolves, having no choice, follow. On the final mountain, one by one, they die.

cause I couldn't cry
cause I turned away
couldn't see the score
didn't know the pain
of leaving yesterday really far behind
in another life
in another dream
by a different name
gave it all away
for a memory
and a quiet lie
and I felt the face
of a cold tonight
still don't know the score
but I know the pain
of leaving everything really far behind
and if I could cry
and if I could live what truth I did then take me there
heaven goodbye

Ultimately, all die. Even the Flower Maiden, but her green blood poisons the last Noble. He dies. Kiba dies beside him, but then... the rain starts. Paradise blooms, empty.

Those of us who follow Jesus are promised heaven. To me it's just something out there, not real. It doesn't matter anyway. I believe in what's in front of me, tangible. Faith is for people who know no reality.

What am I looking for? All of my life I've been drawn on by something and I'm still here, still not caring very much for the world around me. Surely there is something better. So, I'm no better than those faith-besotted storytime wolves: take it away, kill me on the road, no matter. Hope refuses to die. Perhaps that's the real voice of the Holy Spirit in me: hang on. Better times really are coming.

"Heaven's Not Enough," by Yoko Kanno
from the soundtrack to "Wolf's Rain"

Saturday, April 07, 2007


Daylight in the Swamp

I've been described as "brutal and transparent," or at least my Blog has. All I'm really trying to do is escape from the God built of words and find some real life within the system of Christianity.

It's an odd mix, the power of God and the decisions of a beaten-down middle aged man. One decision was to be content with barely making it over the threshold of Heaven. Leave the high honors for those with more motivation. I just want truth. I have no big dreams. Leave me with John, perhaps offending others with the intimacy and familiarity of leaning back against Jesus' breast, but knowing that my Savior's heart still beats.

I've had it. I'm just plain done with verbiage, platitudes, phrases so often exchanged that all the meaning has long since been squeezed out. They make the rounds and we're supposed to feel comforted. The preacher thunders for more action and builds fancy castles in the air but conveniently leaves out all the construction details. I'm just plain fucking done with it.

In the early stages I expected to get soundly thrashed by God. Who is this guy who dares to ask me questions directly? Blasphemy! I could see him charging up the capacitor banks and taking aim. That, however, was my vision, not his. His vision was "Be prepared for the truth." Jesus said "You don't have because you don't ask." Well, yes, beware of asking because answers change the world. But my world needed changing, so, having little to lose, I asked.

I learned in that process that, yes, I do have something to lose. Self-confidence, knowledge of how the world works and my place within it. Jesus calls me to a different world. Unlike the preachers, though, and the platitude-spewers, he takes every step with me and holds my hand. He's not content to just lay out the answer in words, but to demonstrate what needs to be done and repeat that as often as necessary. The real wonder is that each time I fail to understand, I'm greeted with the same grace, the very same kindness, with which he first welcomed me in 1971. Some of these paths are very well trodden. My human teachers have given up with far less provocation.

I just want to understand. Our world is one that tends to prove things by bamboozlement. If don't have facts then just dazzle everyone with elegant words and actions. It's just smoke-grinding, but if it's a good show you'll sell the product. The problem is that I, following Jesus, need more to eat than smoke, mirrors and words. If I want myths and self-help I can listen to politicians.

If Jesus came to save us by giving his life, then he will do anything else necessary to keep us. He has proven his care. Why are we taught that it's too much to ask that God would pay attention to us and our needs? Why do we tiptoe around issues of personal destruction, assuming that God won't want to soil his hands with our messes? He has already done the hardest part: his arms are open wide for us to run to. Am I daring for so running? I don't think so. I think it's just basic need. I'm desperate enough to try anything.

I believe that God will let me know if I do something wrong. So far, he seems much more interested in what I do right. This, to me, is the core nature of sin: twisting the truth just enough to turn it into a lie, putting truth in a mirror so it comes out the same, but backward. Judgment landed on Jesus, not me. I no longer need to walk in the corners, cowering, expecting the lash and the lightning. Jesus caught all that. I face a new land and a new era. Sometimes I'd rather have the lash because it's comprehensible.

God's love is irrational. My rational foundation-stones are looking for a building.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007


Visible Sand, Invisible Granite

"Master, come quickly!"
The morning was pleasant. A few wisps of fog carried far, whispering of the sea. Golden light on the old land. I'd stopped, even though it was early, in accordance with the old principle that you're never lost with a full water bottle.
"Yes? What is it?"
"My house, master! Oh, please come."
"All right." I dipped up another bucket of water from the roadside well, filled the bottle, put the bucket back and then stood up. "What seems to be the problem?"
The man led me away, around a curve in the road. "I took your advice, sir. 'Build on solid rock,' you said. 'Don't build on sand or it will be washed away.' That's just what I did. Now, look!"

Ahead I saw a small, neat house. It was built upon a well laid stone foundation. "Good craftsmanship," I said.
"But, Sir, don't you see?"
I hid a smile. "Of course, I see. I see a solid hillside, and three courses of dressed stone, and then your house. Beyond I see an olive orchard, and some more hills..."
"But... There's nothing there!" The man wailed, very distraught.
"What do you mean? The house is there."
"But underneath! I built on rock, and when I came here today all I see is daylight under there!"
"The house is still there."
"Yes, but..."
"Have you gone inside?"
"Are you cra... oh, sorry, Lord. Ah... no."
"Go on inside. I'll wait."

The man walks to the doorway. Looks under the house. Looks at his feet. Looks inside, where morning sunlight is marking the new wooden floor. Sawdust and shavings remain in the corners. Gingerly he sets a foot on the threshold and then, closing his eyes, steps up. He walks into the house. After a time, I join him.

"See? Nothing to worry about. Solid as a rock. Good builders."
"Well, yes, you'd know carpentry. But..."
I jumped up and landed with a thud. Again, and again. "Come on, man. Quit telling yourself what is real, and believe what's here. I will never deceive you. Yes, I know carpentry but I also know foundations and cornerstones." I jumped again. "Enjoy it. It's well made."
"But... it's not there."
"You don't see it. You have other senses, though."

He does a little bunny-hop, tentatively, ready to crash. Nothing happens. The house remains foursquare and level. I looked around. "It's a nice house."

I looked out the window. The tendrils of fog had turned into clouds.
"Looks like a storm coming."
"At this time of year?"
"Again... what do you see?"
He went to the door. "I'm ruined!"

The clouds rapidly built. Lightning stabbed the hilltop, and thunder echoed. Wind drove a cloud of dust and then the rain arrived. The man was crestfallen.
"All that work..."
Rain fell in buckets. It was a great storm. The house didn't move. Wind and lightning passed on, typical fast-moving spring squall.
"You can open your eyes now.

"We're still here."
"Yep. Seeing isn't always believing."

Sunday, April 01, 2007


Fences in the Fog

Last night was late. I recorded my friend Rich's concert. He's in a community choir and this was their big spring concert. They did a lovely program of French music which culminated with Gabriel Faure's "Requiem" with a chamber ensemble. Beautiful.

Music dislodges thought, kicking me off into some strange place. Or perhaps it's more of an invitation to go in an unusual direction, a way unfamiliar to the land of concrete and square edges. After I got home I started thinking about relationships.

I've had more failures than successes in relationships and those failures have come to define me. So, why failure? In that late night unhinged state God could make some suggestions, in a kind of guided words-and-images process.

I tend to get angry. Why? I had an image of a lid over my life, getting closer as I approach people. Freedom. I want freedom and can't have it when I'm around others.

A new relationship is full of promise. Anything could happen. But then the training takes over and I become very alert for hints of what the other person expects. You could liken it to walking in a foggy field. Anything could be out there, pots of gold, deep holes, land mines, elephants, pussycats or pissed-off jaguars. You don't know until you run into one. Until you discover what's going on in that other person it's all a mystery. Land mines are unpleasant so I've tended to draw a universal map that avoids the site of anything that even hinted at blowing up. Naturally this doesn't leave much room for living, nor self-expression, and I become just a reflection of I think the other person expects.

This isn't the way to build a relationship but it is safe. Can I learn another way? Can I walk beyond the fences and trust that if something blows up God will keep it from destroying me? Why would he care? I have no idea. All I know is that he has demonstrated his care in the most direct ways. I'm still here.

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