Saturday, July 14, 2007
What I Want
Stories can start anywhere. I, as the writer, dictate the starting point for this one: a seven-year-old boy looking around and suddenly realizing that on top of the living earth, amid the glowing air, under the shining clouds, people have built lives of lies. Somehow this boy was left out when the instruction books were handed out, so he quite naturally wondered why things were this way. In his mind he conjured a dream: Find a way to be real. Ignore the holy relics, the traditions, the rules stated and unstated, and be whole.
A seven-year-old boy starts on such a quest with some major disadvantages, especially when starting from Kansas. He had one advantage: no one listened to him anyway, so he had the freedom to explore. That advantage, though, was built on top of what he'd already learned and even at the tender age of 7 assumptions have grown up like weeds.
Survival dictates conformance, at least on the outside. Outside conformance eventually works its way inside due to the sheer amount of work living split takes. All around me I could see what happened to those whose rebellions were more obvious than mine. It was rarely pretty. Oh, they got some approbation from their friends but the act looked pretty thin to me. I was looking for the heart. Of what I wasn't sure. Just... I knew there was more.
The signs were out there. What was music if not an all-too-brief visitor from the land I wanted to live in? What of the sparkle of water in a mountain stream and the scent of pines? There was magic in those but even those who walked out there rarely saw it. I was navigating by feel in a sighted world.
College was even worse. Although I can accurately translate from words into the language I use inside for thinking about things it takes time. College allows no time for thinking; you must simply absorb. That's what they'd been wanting me to do all my life but I couldn't see the difference between that and any more formal brainwashing. I dug in my heels, fell behind and got kicked out. All that was left of that year was Craig and a hint of Jesus.
Craig sent me his spoken plea. The burning question was: Could I become a Christian with any kind of honesty? The debate raged furiously for a couple of weeks, which didn't help my work habits.
Could I really give my life to Jesus? How is this even done? Just a few words?
We'd always gone to church but I felt no reality there. It was all a duty, and part of my core belief was that there had to be more to life than duty and obligation. What could it be? Craig was the first person I'd ever met for whom Jesus seemed to be real. Ultimately I wanted to be like him. He seemed better connected to the world of the heart than anyone else I knew. Was that due to Jesus?
It was like taking the first step into a foreign country. I already knew how language affected conceptualization and my first forays to churches after I finally made the decision--more to end the debate than for any selfless devotion--showed me that they had the same problem of people outside. The basic idea of Christianity is that Jesus died to remove my sins, and yet here was everyone in the church, every Sunday, praying for God's forgiveness.
I solved the problem in my own way. I packed up everything that would fit, gave away the rest, and headed west. Craig was in Greeley. He was a little surprised when I showed up. It turned out that his church was no closer to reality than the more formal outfits I'd attended, so the search went on.
Still, I was in a strange land, not knowing the rules. I put on my protective coloration again and gradually a new set of weeds grew up around me. God spoke to me--yes, to insignificant me--but I decided the voice couldn't really be Him as I was too young.
I ran into another group that seemed more real. Not really a church, but a kind of teaching ministry whose core concept was that of relationships. This was close enough to my original dream of human reality that I signed on and went to work. If God wouldn't make me a real relational human being, I'd do it myself.
Year later I walked out of the psychiatrist's office for the last time. It wasn't working. I was stronger than she was, and her tools didn't reach deep enough. I could predict where we were going and stay off the path. Eventually I got tired of paying for silence and quit going.
That left me with the problem of what to do with myself. The relationship idea was dead, the idea of being human was even deader. I just dropped the whole thing and lived day by day, one sand sculpture at a time, one bike ride, a day of work, an evening of music.
It takes time for a lifelong dream to truly die. Nine years went by and I began to wonder if I'd get over the next bump. I no longer really cared, and that scared me. I smacked up the motorcycle by not caring, so started riding the bus to work. Then Jesus stepped back into my life. I didn't care very much, so told him to do anything he wanted.
IV: Skirting the Edge
I expected wholesale replacement. Clearly I'd failed and needed everything new. I quit thinking about it. God could reach deeply enough and I expected him to just take handfuls and toss them. Another kind of end.
It has not been that way. Assumptions have power. God is even more adamant in resisting assumptions than I am. Forgiveness turns out to be a powerful push toward changed ideas.
Still, that old dream was hanging around. Last September a friend I'd met on-line (playing Uru) started talking with me. There were no built-in limits. By January it was over with, me trapped in old fears, she frustrated with my silence. In June the whole thing came back in my face; what was over with intellectually was far from over emotionally.
It had nothing, really, to do with her. It was God's work, and I was angrier than I have ever been before. Especially the timing: I'd just gotten over some fighting, finally beginning to feel that God's way of leading wasn't to erase me. And then this all blows up. Suddenly the "progress" I'd made in relating to others just seemed like what it really was: a bunch of empty tricks, tolerated by others because... ah, who knows. It was a feeling I knew well: being on the outside, looking in from the cold to a room warm with light and people. I'd never be in there.
I told God to take a hike. He tried to get through to me but I refused to listen. I told myself that God cared no more than anyone else did, which was nil.
I learned therefrom that lying to myself is dangerous. I knew that God cared. Jesus is the most direct showing of His caring. I told myself not to believe any of it; God was just another manipulator. I could feel the distance growing, and the edge of oblivion got closer.
How do you heal something like that? I have no idea. God started it by asking me to forgive him. The God of the Universe, humbly approaching me and asking. Just as Jesus did all those years ago, allowing himself to be crucified as a low-order criminal. With my toes hanging over the edge, and thinking about blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, I knew I was in danger. That got through to me; cut off from God's voice there really wasn't much point to living.
It still wasn't very good. I had dreams: one of my house being invaded by people with guns, coming in all the windows, finding me alone. Another one of me finding a cop on the street and beating him to pieces. And one of me being on a road someplace and coming upon a dead cougar lying there. It doesn't take a trained analyst to figure any of that out: I was being invaded, wanted to beat the crap out of God for making me hurt, and could see the future: I and all I held beautiful would die.
It's interesting how I can know things and yet not really know them. I've written here before of God's gentleness, of how he's not interested in turning me into a robot, that he has gone to great effort to make me what I am and there'd be no point in trying to make me something I'm not designed for. Between belief and reality there is a wide gulf, when it comes to actually doing something with the belief. God is, however, patient and will just keep working on the lesson until it really takes hold.
Self-judgment is deadly. I signed on to a real dream but allowed it to be derailed years ago. There's only so much one person can do against a hostile world. I judged myself for how closely I was adhering to my ideas of truth, but those ideas were founded on the same set of lies that I'd rebelled against. All God was trying to do was give me back the original dream.
A friend asked a while back: "Larry, what do you want?" It's not a trick question, but I can't answer it. All I know is what I don't want. The question always gets tangled with another: "What am I allowed to want?" This is why God and I collided so hard: I'm supposed to want what God wants, but how do I know that without talking with him? And what is there left of me if I'm supposed to be a shadow of God?
V: The Future
Another friend made me see that I've not done all that badly. While I felt I was nowhere near the dream I'd started to chase all those years ago, I'd still ended up in a decent place. Her comment has stayed with me in a curious way. It's true, but not true. Self-judgment versus reality. What I am versus what I want to be, but how can the comparison be made when the want to be part is a feeling rather than a hard destination?
God's will, as expressed in my life, is aimed in the same direction that seven-year-old's dream was, it seems. It's not supposed to be this way. I'm supposed to be a soldier taking orders; when God says "Go" I'm just supposed to start walking.
I wonder, though. All around us are churches and Christian groups falling apart due to rancor and argument. I wonder what would happen if everyone there started looking, open-mindedly, at their assumptions about God.
How am I supposed to serve God? I'm commanded to, but the shape of that service seems to be something other than what I expected. Will I enjoy that service? I haven't much so far, but that's due more to self-judgment and argument than anything else. There are aspects of this story that I just don't want to know because it seems that part of being whole is having emotions.
One night I was lying in bed thinking about this. I saw the mountain ahead with this steep road going up it, and thought "Ah, just bag it. It's too much of a problem for me. I'll live without it." Jesus said at that point "What are we going to do about it?" We? My thoughts changed course. We. I always judge what I can do based on being alone. I see the impossible and just turn aside. God, however, calls me toward that impossible emotional life, and says "We can do it." He's crazy. I've become crazy enough to believe him.
I'll save my comments for later.