Friday, November 30, 2007


Prince of My Pieces

Well, sometimes my life
Just don't make sense at all
When the mountains look so big
And my faith just seems so small

1. On Becoming a Christian
When I received that cassette-letter from Craig, on the edge of begging me to turn to Jesus, I didn't know what to do. I'd been to church but no one around me turned to God for anything but judgment and a sort of distant comfort. Craig was different, one for whom Jesus was a real person. How could I get across that divide? Was God really real?

I thought about it for two or three weeks and got nowhere. I wasn't much good at work during that period, being heavily distracted.

I'd never made a real decision before. Oh, I designed and made things, but all the big stuff was like rolling downhill. My parents did all that and I didn't care very much. No one seemed to be very happy so what's the use of making decisions? Life dictates, I respond. How was I to respond to this invitation from God through Craig?

I imagined that this had to be decided once for all, and complete. God would expect that; the books told me so and I always read instruction manuals. It's amazing what you can learn from the manual; one counterintuitive line from the car manual enabled me to start cars at 8000 feet after they'd been flooded. (By the way... this comes from a misunderstanding of what the "gas pedal" does: it actually opens the air control in the carburetor, and the vacuum then draws in more fuel. In this fuel-injected age this information is of no further use.) There is no real manual for God, however, and most of what I'd been taught seemed to come from the standpoint that God is a nice comforting idea but no more real than Ahuramazda or any one of thousands of abstract ideas.

What was I to do? I didn't have enough information to make a real decision. Well, OK, when the rules don't work, break them. You'll never understand wetness by standing on the pool's edge. Jump in and let God figure out the details. On October 18, 1971, I stepped in.

So hold me Jesus, 'cause I'm shaking like a leaf
You have been King of my glory
Won't You be my Prince of Peace

2. Becoming Intellect
36 years later... well, I've learned, piece by piece. Change has to start somewhere even if it's not the best place to start. God takes his opportunities when they're offered and doesn't worry about perfection. Life's slope is slippery and it's a lot easier to fall away than to be drawn upward, so He offers any bit of traction that He can. It's a good thing God isn't as sensitive about heresy as people are, as this incomplete and misunderstood partial decision started me on the path that would save my life.

What becomes of the intuitive man in an intellectual world? In my case... I kept reading the manual and edged more and more into the intellectual realm, leaving emotion behind. The balance was always shaky but so long as there was little pressure it wasn't a problem. I could take the time to work out a balance that did no violence to myself and still allowed me to get along in this world. Now, however, I was taking a more direct role in managing my walk. Isn't this what God expected?

It's no wonder things blew up with regularity. Jesus says "A house divided against itself cannot stand." I knew no better way.

And I wake up in the night and feel the dark
It's so hot inside my soul
I swear there must be blisters on my heart

So hold me Jesus, 'cause I'm shaking like a leaf
You have been King of my glory
Won't You be my Prince of Peace

3. Becoming Desperate
When all roads lead to defeat there's little use in continuing. I never asked for much, just a bridge over the day at hand. String enough daily bridges together and you get a year, more years, a life. After a while the bridges seemed shorter and shakier, and I wondered why I should build them at all. If life was just a forever race against the oblivion gaining on me, why not quit now and save some time?

The sun shone on southern California beaches and their unlimited supply of borrowed sand and water. An interesting metaphor: life built on a foundation of sand sculpture. Building was fun and planning a way to keep going until the next one.

Still... there just didn't seem much point. Intellect still dogging my path, looking for a permanent solution and not finding it. So, what was the point?

Surrender don't come natural to me
I'd rather fight You for something
I don't really want
Than to take what You give that I need
And I've beat my head against so many walls
Now I'm falling down, I'm falling on my knees

And this Salvation Army band
Is playing this hymn
And Your grace rings out so deep
It makes my resistance seem so thin

4. Becoming Grace
Jack Fox asked "Can you at least consider the idea that God is real?"
I'd pretty well grown beyond that; God had long since resumed his mythical distant possibility. I was alone, and would always be alone. Jack's honest question--when was the last time you saw an evangelical be so open?--was as much of a shock as the social worker saying I should consider psychoanalysis. I went that route for a number of years and all that happened was that I got tougher. As with any other disease, if you don't kill it it comes back stronger.

So, how does real change happen? How does someone living on the edge of self-immolation turn away from that edge and make more life-oriented decisions? It doesn't happen by force; at various times, I've thought I'd solved the problems by becoming intellectual but then emotions would come back and crack the concrete. Even I knew that intellect wasn't the whole answer but I had ways no better than the child's well-learned drifting so as to avoid conflict. As long as my mind and feelings stayed in their prescribed areas things were OK, which is why sand sculpture worked so well. Intellect got its jollies from the engineering but there was no point to that if there weren't something to design and that was emotion. They didn't have to talk to each other. Kind of like two armies looking at each other across no-man's land.

I know this probably doesn't seem very real. Perhaps it does. Perhaps you know this kind of conflict but have never mentioned it because it sounds so absurd. How can a person be so badly divided? Our culture encourages half-people.

So, God laid a new path, away from the abyss, and asked "Remember Me?" Well, yes, I did. Rather freeing, this was: if God is still here after all those mistakes, then there must be something to this forgiveness stuff. I didn't put it in those terms in 2003 but the idea was close. I scrapped everything I "knew" about God and started over. It started with an invitation to help me understand something. Only desperation could have moved me to ask God to intervene in the sanctuary of my own mind and once knowledge caught up with events the arguments started. Who am I? Cheap copy of God or a real person?

What is a real person? The answer depends on who you ask. Everyone has an answer all polished up for you. Their common element is that the answer is never designed with your qualities in mind, but is designed for the comfort of the other. Perhaps they even mean well, as did Jack Fox.

I'm naive. Others have much more experience in life than I have; what I'm good at is being invisible. I don't have the resilience to deal with external conflict when the internal conflict is just waiting for a trigger to break out again.

So hold me Jesus, 'cause I'm shaking like a leaf
You have been King of my glory
Won't You be my Prince of Peace

You have been King of my glory
Won't You be my Prince of Peace

5. Becoming One
So, God had himself a task. How to reunite the parts of a shattered soul when those parts not only wanted nothing to do with each other but had learned through bitter experience that reunion was impossible?

First, he had to convince me that he was serious. Lots of people offer help but don't stick around longer than it takes to get the credit. I'm rightfully very suspicious. God probably was just going to trick me: as soon as I turned things over to him he'd turn me into a drone, some kind of mechanism to express his will. Although I had nothing to lose that path was unattractive. Naturally, I fought.

Fighting God, no matter what we're taught now, has a long history. Just ask Jacob. If you want to know truth you're going to end up fighting with God somewhere along the line, but fighting is just the first step. If you want to know the water you're going to have to get into the pool and float.

God made the universe and holds every atom together. At the same time, He is humble. The mix is fascinating: he's the One who serves and his only purpose is to make people whole. He knows how to do it, too. Fighting, and then not fighting. He camps in the castle courtyard, sitting there quietly. Every once in a while he extends a hand to prevent an internal explosion, with the clear knowledge that He's intervening. There's nothing sneaky. Well, there is, but the sneakiness has to be. I'm hard to trick so sneakiness is sometimes the only way to the larger goal: the saving of a life. This is God's goal: saving every life.

"Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them: 'Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall.'" This appears in three of the four gospels. Julius Caesar knew the concept: "Divide and conquer." World, nation, house, soul. I could never win the war, one side over the other. Jesus says "That's good."

There are attendant concepts. We need comfort. It's a hard walk. The Holy Spirit is called the Comforter for good reason. We need guidance. The Holy Spirit is called one who walks alongside.

Nothing good is easy. Seeking truth goes against the spirit of our age and there's a lot more fog out there than sunshine. The corollary is that we've not learned how to live with or even identify truth so God has to teach the whole thing from scratch. His patience knows no limits.

So, I'm held long enough that intellect and feelings can look at each other and not instantly start shooting. The final corollary is: where do we go from here? What can a unified man do that a divided one can't? I'm scared.

"Hold Me Jesus" by Rich Mullins

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