Tuesday, August 28, 2007
Three years. Upward of 400 posts on this Blog. People told me I'd be a natural blogger due to the stories I sent around. I'm still not convinced; there are others much more active here than I am. Amazingly, as with other things I'm still here.
Reasons for blogging: sorting out thoughts, presenting an alternative view (to the two or three people who still read this), marking the waypoints on the strange trail God has walked with me through the wilderness of the unlearned soul.
I'm not presenting myself as being right. God is right. I walk and hope these stories from the edge encourage others to also walk with Him. Our paths differ but God and his love are the same. This fascinates me, in a world that so stresses standardization and one-size-fits-all unisex.
I make no promises for the coming year. It'll probably be the same fits and starts.
Monday, August 27, 2007
Friday, August 24, 2007
A while back I ran into one that seemed to go into more depth. Based on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, it uses various theories built on Carl Jung's research to make an inventory that gives a kind of broad outline of one's personality. I first ran into this in 1981, when I was meeting with my first psychotherapist and we were considering what kind of job I should look for.
I didn't pay much attention then. When the subject came up again at Mosaic I was even more resistant to being pigeonholed so, although one person described me as either INFP or INFJ, I ignored it.
The only way to find out what a person is like is to do things with them. Work. Take a long car trip. Go camping. Spend some evenings drinking beer and talking. Play an on-line game with them. Each person is unique, and once you get that label attached it's hard to shake off the name. "Oh, you're an XTPM? Wow. So's my uncle's father's second cousin twice removed. Amazing coincidence." And they think they know everything about you. Well, there's a lot of me that won't fit into four letters.
Now, hold on here a minute. Outlines are useful. I use them myself. So long as it's recognized that the summary isn't the story, nor the map the territory, types can be useful in helping folks find a place to belong. You wouldn't want an INFP to do your accounting, no sir.
Lu mentioned the same site I'd looked at earlier. Normally I'd have ignored this, but something very interesting came out: Lu is changing. I thought types stayed types. Years ago she was INFJ but now is solidly on the INFP side of the graph. The open question: "Is this due to God leading her to be more herself?" Interesting.
Last night I followed the link to the site, thinking just to look it over. It didn't seem overblown. "Use this, and other things, as tools." Signing up was easy. I looked over the material and got another surprise.
I'd assumed that types were assigned in roughly equal proportions. There are 16 types, so about 6% of the population ought to fall into each socket. Wrong-O, Buzzard-breath. Some have more, some less. Some have much less.
I took the test. The choices are binary, and I often found the distinction artificial. I know I have traits on both sides. Well, there are only two choices. Makes it simple to take the test. Post-processing provides the detail: 2^72 different responses possible, which is a lot of people. I hit the "Finish Test" button and waited for the results. According to this I'm an INFP.
INFPs are rare. Overall, 2% of the population. Among men, even rarer: 1.5% The only type more scarce is the INFJ. I guess this explains why I've given up on having anyone understand me.
This got me thinking. Lu is in the INFP camp, So am I. We're very different, underneath the obvious. Does this bring into question the validity of the whole idea? Depends on how wide your generality brush is, and how thickly you lay on the paint. I could question why we're so eager to generalize in the first place. Who am I like? No one... and everyone. No one is like me, but we all have similar needs.
I have a very strong anti-herd tendency. I learned long ago that the main result of following the herd is that everyone goes over the cliff together. Whoever is leading is usually no better at it than I am, and I'm a far better troubleshooter than most so I can see disaster before it arrives.
This is good and bad. Keeps me out of trouble, but also keeps me from doing things that have led Lu to be more outgoing: her missionary experiences, moving to Nashville to plant a church that never really got started. It was rough for a time but now she likes being in Nashville. When life hands people lemons God can make lemonade.
The joke is pretty much on me. One thing the notes for INFP say is that they can masquerade as other types, at great cost in energy. I'm working very hard to make sure God changes nothing that I don't want changed. I suspect everyone, and God has the connections and power to do anything. I can't hide from him.
In the beginning there was desperation. "God, do whatever it takes." Emergency measures. Now we seem to be moving into a different part of the land, where desperation is no longer a good enough reason. God respectfully asks for permission, it seems, and won't move until I'm fully in agreement with what he intends. I believe it intellectually but my feelings lag far behind. I have a hard time trusting anyone. It has to be earned every day, and if something doesn't look right I bolt. A feather's touch in the wrong place is enough to send me running for days or weeks.
The only new garment I fully accept at the moment is the new robe Jesus gave me. I thought I was out of that a few days ago, when I realized I really didn't want to go the way I thought he led. I love no one, and want nothing to do with love. That attitude comes from way back and is reinforced by my assumed manipulation. Who's doing the manipulating, though? I ascribe it to God, but it's really me trying to hide just about everything important in me from him.
Honesty is a place to start. God knows I don't trust him. If I truly am an INFP then that's either the way he made me or the resultant of the vector he gave me and all the additional vectors I've applied in the process of surviving a hostile world.
In 1980 this information was more useful. I had time for a meaningful choice in a career but didn't look into it. Now I'm pretty well stuck where I am. At least I'm still here. What choice, really, has the failed man? Well, God never quits and his truth is always surprising.
Monday, August 13, 2007
The Blood of the Lamb
As part of the absolute idea we talked about Jesus and the Cross. One of the people said "I believe God is love. He couldn't possibly have required Jesus' death." I pointed out that the Jewish leaders were after His blood and pretty much forced the Romans to follow along.
There was also an echo with my past. Years ago, when I was still alone, a Christian friend called me. We naturally talked about Jesus because we'd met before I did my filtering work and decided God wasn't around. Steve asked me what I thought about Jesus. I told him that the idea of blood sacrifice was abhorrent to me.
I had no better answer when the question came up Saturday. When God picked me up a few years back I got to the point where I just had to agree. I didn't understand the requirement for a blood sacrifice--"without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin"--but if I wanted God's hand in my life I had to agree.
Agreement isn't belief. Here's more proof if you want it, from someone who has a lot more experience following Jesus than I have. So, God reopened the question. We looked at the Cross again.
Why? One way I got around this question a few years ago is that Jesus is God's son. God wouldn't have sent Jesus to death if there had been any other way to bring us back to Himself. Given that, then I had to look in the Garden. We were made for eternity, and we used to walk in the Garden, in the cool of the day, with God. Think about that. Walking beside God in the cool shade below damp green plants and bright flowers. That's what God wants.
We lost it due to believing lies. God said "You will surely die." Satan said "You will not surely die. You will become as gods." He was half right. Only God can bear the burden of separating good from evil. We break down under the constant load of decisions. The conflict kills us. We've become blind to the idea that life could be any other way.
God, being who He is, wouldn't take this as the final answer. How could he get our attention? We're good at ignoring anything.
Read just about any book and somewhere in it you'll find someone's dream of immortality. Dreams of afterlife, past lives. Past-life regression. The soul lives on, even if in a cockroach, so you get another chance to try pushing that impossible rock up a hill. Life can't just... end. Yep. That'll get our attention.
One way or another everyone respects death. It's serious business. The blank wall beyond which no one knows. That doesn't stop endless speculation and the invention of religions to enshrine the speculation.
God got Abraham's attention on a mountaintop. Abraham was a man of faith, following instructions, and had Isaac ready to go when a ram showed up. Isaac got to live another day.
I don't know how I'd have felt there. I doubt I'd have had enough faith to think ahead to God's provision of a ram. Not my decision. Abraham got it, and God got his attention. Abraham became the father of a race.
So, we look at the cross... and see a decoration on the side of a church. Maybe in lovely stained glass. We gloss over the whole thing but the stains should really be, as Lu writes, "Every last one of our names has been personally carved into the cross by Jesus Himself and if we were to look closely at it we would see our own name carved into the wood and covered in blood, forever marking our redemption.." Many people look at the Cross and feel intense guilt. "I killed Jesus," they think. Not really. The Cross is the beginning of our celebration. Jesus' sacrifice tore the Temple veil so that we could, for the first time since the Garden, meet God face to face. A common reaction is "No, thanks. I'd rather do it myself."
Put your shoulder to that rock and push. Good luck.
I suppose there's room for some pride in the do-it-yourself camp. You can keep that burden. I'd rather be free, even if the freedom terrifies me because I simply can't conceive of where the path will take me. I'm used to planning and organizing and predicting every step. Personal safety required this. Jesus says "Quit worrying. Come play with me. When you get hurt, let me hold you."
This isn't the whole story. Everything is still moving around in my mind. I'm sort of getting used to how God holds the loose bits together with His gentle hands.
Monday, August 06, 2007
I Would Do Anything...
Gratitude... debt... placation, sacrifice and knowledge. If Jesus lets go I'm toast anyway no matter how I try to hang onto those rocks. Trust the rope? Fat chance. Oh, I know he CAN hang on, but what if he doesn't want to any more? What if whatever tolerance he has shown until now runs out?
As you start so shall you continue. God picked me up and I knew it was my last chance. It didn't really matter. Failure with God wouldn't be any worse than the solo failure I could see ahead. I had nothing to lose. At the time I suspected that the situation might change, and as time went on change accumulated. I knew there was a good chance of using my new-found strength to run again.
By the time that happened, though, I'd gotten a good whiff of God's fragrance, the music of his voice, the kindness of his touch. I'd never run into anything like it before, never experienced anything so attractive. I'd intentionally guided my life so as to avoid these attractions and I certainly didn't think it would happen with God. He was, after all, the ultimate task-master, interested only in productivity.
Well, now I was caught. Even if God wanted only productivity I was caught. I needed... ah, what terror that caused... needed His touch. Oh, I ran but it was like a baby running from the breast. Only God Himself attracted me. I tried to kill that part of myself but He wouldn't let that happen. We argued night and day. I wore myself to nothing. The proud mountain biker capable of 40-mile transmontane rides for lunch now thought 10 miles to a local molehill was just about right. We argued about guidance and slavery and what to live for.
Perhaps you fall in love with the one you can argue with. Perhaps I fell in love with Truth as an idea and then found the idea was attached inextricably to God. Arguing with God is safe in that he has no ego involved, but it's entirely unsafe in that he is the perfectly honest presenter of Light, and what that Light shows may be ugly but is still true and no relationship can work without truth.
So the years passed. I ranged as far as I could but still remained attached, becoming ever more tired.
There are things I just don't want to know. I decided years ago that I would just live in a way that didn't require knowing about needs and relationships and such. Use intellect to figure out what needed to be done, and do it. This actually works and kept me out of trouble. Where it utterly fails is in making life worth living; logic is no comfort at 1 in the morning, a need for something other than answers knocking on the soul's door. Why am I here? What do I want? I'd look in the box of answers and find nothing fitting those.
All through this the Holy Spirit continued His work. That gentle rain gradually dissolving the cold stone, His hand holding me as pieces fell off the years-old pile.
One big argument was over guidance. How much did I trust God's guidance? Was He thinking of my needs, or was His interest just in making me an adequately performing part of the Christian mechanism? Oh, intellectually I could see that the concept made little sense. I could look at what God had done already: he sacrificed His Son to bring me to him. So, how to explain the words of others, saying they'd never heard God's voice, never caught those whispers, were always feeling alone. Here I wanted to be alone but wasn't. Then some things happened and I wanted the whole thing to be a lie. I wanted to choose what to believe, and I chose to believe that God was lying about His guidance. He'd betrayed my trust. He had guided me only into more pain, forcing my nose into the gulf between myself and being a real person. I could imagine him laughing. I knew it was a lie. After a while I got really, really scared. I could do this. I could separate myself from God by continuing to force the lie. About that time God asked for forgiveness, not because he'd been wrong but because I'd been hurt so badly and the event awakened old dogs that had long been sleeping. I preferred leaving them there.
And yet... even facing those sleeping dogs was minor compared to losing God's touch. I couldn't bear that. I was really dying and there'd be no coming back. I was even more tired. I saw where the path led and I turned around.
Which eventually led to an even bigger problem. Gratitude... connections... needs... honesty. Where are we going? Does it really matter? I'm not sure. Just let me stay with you, Jesus. Paul rejoiced in jail. He knew where reality was and counted everything else loss.
Do I really want to let go of the rock? My whole life depending upon God's grip on the rope?
The way I relate to others is to give them what they seem to want. It works for the short term or in shallow relationships. I know no other way. God presents me with honesty and of course I panic. I'm grateful just about as long as He holds the rope. There's nothing attractive in me. Why wouldn't he just give it up as a bad job and let go?
Consider history. He never left me. I walked away, trying to find answers that would fit my logic and God's way. When the time came to choose, I chose logic. Jesus probably cried at that point, but he still held on... 1983... 1984... 1986... onward... 1993... 2002... 2007. How do you please someone who resolutely refuses to give any sign of what would please him, other than simply holding his hand? That one drove me crazy. Oh, yes, there are lots of things that are said to please God but I couldn't do a damned one of them. The real surprise in my first-principles approach to following Jesus is that it's exactly what He wanted. Work out your own salvation. Grab hold of God's coattail and hang on until answers are shaken out. From my point of view the answers come grudgingly; we see what we expect to see. From God's point of view... "Well, why didn't you ask that one earlier? Like... about 1974? Didn't I sing it to you? 'Come, let us reason together.' "
So, here's a relationship I'm learning is of my essence. Oh, how that makes my soul quake. I need God and there is nothing I can do to ensure His continued love. The thread feels delicate as last year's spider web.
I don't have an answer to the question of what makes life worth living. I've hidden from it. Better no answer than a bad answer. What if I finally open that box and it's empty? Worse yet, what if the answer looks like my family? There must be something better. What changes? Viewpoint or eyes or light? Probably all. God is an optimist. He assures me that all I have to do is keep walking, holding his hand. I need him. Is need enough to build a relationship? Maybe that's where we start.
If the thread were really that delicate I wouldn't be here to go on walking. I have no idea if the fear I feel really comes through these words. I've left fingerprints in those rocks. I'd rather trust my grip because... it's mine. I can't control God. I have never lived in a way that would allow anyone else to control that much; I've always reserved the option of running. Now, that would be cutting my own throat. Trapped by need. Cornered, ready to fight the last stand... but all I can do is look up into His confident face, the rope wrapped around his fingers, and they do look strong.
Saturday, August 04, 2007
The most recent re-evaluation is of my methods and meanings of relationship with God. The trigger here was the recent prayer incident with Barbara; I wrote then that I'd been pretty much a failure in the spiritual director role, which was a statement in response to another of her comments. She'd suggested I'd be a good spiritual director.
The problem is that those I've advised haven't done any better after the advice. Perhaps the advice is too dippy, or too out-there... or maybe it's just not true.
Maybe I've made this whole thing up from whole cloth. Maybe discipline and forcing myself to behave, and following rules really are the way. After all, far more people live that way than in mine, and if truth is defined statistically I'm way off the beam.
As usual, God has his own take on things and made sure I saw that. The signs are always subtle. Perhaps my direction of others hasn't led to significant change, but at the same time I see others coming closer on their own paths, led their own way.
So, as I walked up the back road to Will Rogers this morning, I thought about the complexity of life change and how long it takes, and how it has to be experienced. You can tell someone how to add; it's a clear-cut process that works for everyone except the politicians who sometimes get nutty ideas about legislating math. I wonder, though, if you can tell anyone how to be a Christian. Oh, I'm sure you can but the result won't be "a man after God's own heart."
Some people, I'm sure, see beyond the rules and rituals to God's heart. It's just too easy to communicate the rules and leave the heart behind so that the next generation knows rules only.
So, I find myself walking, holding Jesus' hand. Destination is unclear except in general terms: I am to become like Him. He has promised to make it so.
The big question is whether I will like the result. I don't know that one either. I dread the rules, the rote performance, the endless browbeating, sackcloth and ashes that seem to be the part of most Christian experience. But then, Paul rejoiced in jail. How'd he do that? Must have been seriously in love with Jesus, is all I can think. Rules don't lead to love except where they save a person's life long enough to get to more solid ground, where love can be learned and used to replace rules.
I don't know folks. Life with God this time started weird--asking God for help sorting out my thoughts--and has just stayed weird. Maybe it's just weird because I'm looking at holy things with old and tired eyes. But you know for sure that things are normally weird if Lu is considering similar ideas. She and I have always had this connection and similar timing.
Eventually maybe I'll trust God enough to quit worrying so much about the path. Survival has always depended upon prediction of where I was going, which is a lot of work. I'd like to rest.
Gratitude and Direction
We're taught, as Christians, to be thankful. I suppose this works for those who are glad to be alive but I, who never expected to live this long, am not all that glad. The impulse to remain alive is far stronger than I expected and, given that, I am glad that God chose to pick me up. If one has to live, it might as well be with God. The alternative is much, much worse: all the same pain with none of the offsetting pleasure.
Still, I found myself wondering if I said "Thank you" to God simply as a verbal talisman, a charm to assure His continued positive regard. The truth is that I really don't look forward to anything. Why be thankful?
Yet there is a thread of new optimism growing in me. I don't understand it. Rather than always assuming the roof is about to fall in, I'm more likely to look beyond the collapse. Things do fall apart. They can be rebuilt, God says. They will be rebuilt. All things will be made new. I doubt that having this happen depends in any way upon how much gratitude I express to God. Still... I guess I'm superstitious in some ways.
Or maybe it's just the social lubricant idea. The "Thank you " to the bus driver or the waiter might not really mean much, but it's better than nothing, and far better than a snarl.
I just don't know. Where is the meaning in life? I sat at the top of Inspiration Point this morning, looking at the mist-veiled dry hills, wondering what I wanted. I've pretty well abdicated this particular responsibility, which might have something to do with the fact that I live in a city I don't like, that constantly reminds me with noise and rudeness how much I don't like it. Where am I to go from here? Not only do I not know that, I don't even know how to find out. I never expected to need to know.
Maybe I still don't need to know. God is a good guide. Maybe that simple fact is what I'm grateful for. Not that his guiding is easy. It's a difficult walk, finding out who I am, but perhaps it will eventually pay off.