Friday, September 28, 2007
Bringing Peace, Making Peace
Oppress anyone and they fight back. It's natural. How else do we keep ourselves safe in this hostile world? If we don't fight we get run over. It has happened to all of us.
So, how do you bring about peace between opposed factions? The classic actions of warfare just act as oppression or cutting the tree out. The roots of the opposition are still there and will come back to the surface after they've gathered some strength, on down the years.
Jesus is known as the Prince of Peace. It'd be hard to tell from Christian history. The U.S. government is now beating on people who have themselves been beaten on through thousands of years. There is no win in wars of ideology. How can Jesus do it?
He took our beating. With that out of the way the serious business of peace can be approached, starting with the internal warfare that I suspect is waged inside each person. We all learn ways to damp the fighting well enough to get along, but the price is sensitivity. There's always the danger of a sensitive person following the signs down among the roots and finally touching the wrong thing. I've had enough situations blow up in my face to know this really happens. So, we all stand around and talk about the weather.
Jesus already knows the weather. Stormy. Big waves. Visible wind. Overwhelming. "Hold my hand," He says. One part of me reaches out, another part holds back, and yet another part judges the whole process. Jesus illuminates the process but doesn't judge. He took the judgment. Everyone else in here is justified. They can look at each other and lose the daggers and bombs. Emotions, intellect, judgment, creativity, whatever whoever else is sharing the physical premises. We're all tired of war but know nothing else. And can we trust God to not do what the British did to the Arabs in 1918 and sell the whole lot of us down the river? His ways are not my ways. Does this mean I will forever hate the way we go? Always being dragged into situations I can't stand? This seems to be prevailing Christian opinion: if you don't like it, it must be right.
If I like the path it must be wrong. And yet logic is on the side of enjoying the walk, except that happy people tend to be suspected of other problems. Happiness acts as a beacon. "Let your light shine." Do I want to be shiny? As peace spreads within me and everyone starts learning to work together, what will happen? Maybe that's when I'll get sold.
How did Paul accede to becoming a slave of Jesus? He didn't act the slave's part. I doubt that this happened by following 40 days of forgotten purpose or some such imposed by well-meaning leaders. I suspect that his path started with the sudden bringing of peace to a ravaged soul: he wanted reality and worked at following the rules he'd been told would take him there. Then he encountered the Maker of Rules and suddenly was blinded and freed. Would I give up my sight to become free? That would make it hard to go my separate way, which is one reason I always think God's about to lower the boom on me.
But everyone's story is different. God reaches people as he is permitted. What would a life of peace be like? Peace is different from suppressed war. I only know by experience the latter and don't much trust anything else. I've been disappointed too many times. Jesus has his ways, however, of reaching gently all the way down to the farthest end of the most delicate and scared roots, and... protecting them.
What is Prayer? (besides weird)
One could wonder why I should bother thinking about anything like this. Of what use is an intellectual Christian? We're just supposed to follow Jesus, right? "Stop thinking. Go out and do something." I could also ask "Of what use is an introverted Christian?" but I don't know the answer. I don't know the use of an intellectual, either, but that's the way I'm made. I can go against what I know of my nature and become angry, or I can follow this murky path behind God and see where we end up.
How much do I trust God? When He says "My burden is light" does he really mean it? Is the whole objective of niceness to put me off-guard so that the citadel of my soul will fall from the inside? Am I supposed to quit thinking about things and just believe? That has never been my way; those occasions where I've simply gone with the prevailing flow, I've been screwed. Whose responsibility is that?
God could have prevented such things. He could have painted a big sign on the car keys before I loaned them to my ex-neighbor before he smacked up the car and left me with a bunch of unpaid parking tickets. But He didn't offer a sign. I was nice and got the shaft. My fault. So, if it's up to me, it's up to me. How am I supposed to figure out which things are up to me and which are up to God?
Those who pray for world peace... what are they doing to bring it about? Those who pray for their friends... is God the Cosmic Computer and prayer the input program and if done just right or repeated often enough will produce just the desired results?
It seems to me the whole thing is more complicated than generally accepted. So, recycle the count to zero and start over. Who is God? We all thrown the phrases around: "God is Love." "Maker of heaven and earth." Etc, etc. Creeds, statements, fences built of brick and stone, containment structures. God is this and nothing else.
What if He is something else? What if He is someONE else? This is where I started four years ago: scrap the beliefs and ask God to teach. If He's real then teaching shouldn't be a problem. I prayed that he would help me understand. At the time I thought it was kind of a one-shot deal. Instead it was opening the first of a series of doors, one leading to the next and each less probable than the one that was opened last. If God were contained in creeds this would be impossible. If God is a person then what else could one expect? Especially a person who sees everything ahead.
So, God knows. He could bring about world peace. He could heal every sick person and heal our sick planet while he's at it. Why doesn't he? Perhaps we haven't asked in the right way. Perhaps we haven't treated God in the right way. The Cosmic Computer idea really doesn't fit. At least for me. Perhaps repetitions of the Prayer of Jabez really do help some people but I'd bet that it has little to do with God and much to do with placebos and self-hypnosis.
Psychologists call such cures "transference." The problem has been transferred to someone else and control goes with it. That person says "Everything is OK." and it's believed through authority. What if you no longer trust nor believe in authority? By standard Christian models you're in trouble. In God's terms, what else is new? All of my life I've looked for answers that work after the sun goes down. An answer isn't much use if it collapses the first time it's used; I've simply had my fill of transference even as I crave the easy way out. Especially now when everything seems like work.
So, prayer as I see it is a way of discovering who God is. Finding answers. Of course, those answers change perception. Answers move me along the path. I assume certain things about that path and get concerned: will I like where this ends up?
If I pray for God to remake my soul, what kind of soul will I end up with? Is introspection an externally applied veil? Do I want to find out? I resist, which makes the journey harder. I argue. I think about things, trying to make sure the way ahead is safe and reasonably comfortable. Others throw themselves into the challenge. All I want is peace and quiet. What am I doing in Los Angeles, capital of the police chase and helicopter-borne news crews? Paths lead in odd ways. God is interested in the whole person and I just want peace. Yes, there is some strain there.
Most of the thicket that blinds me is made of assumptions. Even I, long-time iconoclast, have beliefs about God and the rest of the world that may not match objective reality. Even I resist learning the reality as the foundation stones I've trusted begin to shake and move. I wonder how much of the trouble is self-made as I work to understand and control what we do. Yet, that's the way I work. Self-protection imposed over the years, or more basic? I don't know.
Understanding is basic to me because every time I do something without understanding, something breaks and I'm left lost. This works with electronic hardware. Does it work with spiritual vaporware? Can life really be made of moonbeams and dreams? Without dreams where does one go? Who leads? Does God really want to share the tiller with my hands? If I'm just a passenger then why am I there? Could it be that God gradually loosens his hold on the tiller as I gain skill in steering and seeing the course ahead?
Perhaps prayer is a unique personal response to God's presence in one's life. Perhaps God, rather than working to impose a one-plan-fits-all Purpose, is working to turn the monoculture of Earth into a garden of unique flowers. Getting there won't be easy. Our world is big on standardization. Reminds me the song about wildflowers... "I uprooted myself and left the garden..."
Ah, who knows. I think God wants to celebrate His people. I think we don't know how to celebrate, and, having been brought up in a world that denies the very possibility of celebration, how could we even think about it? And how to explain celebration to those whose lives are unremitting pain and toil? I don't know. I doubt that standardization is any kind of answer, and I also doubt rote prayers will make much difference. I think God wants people to dig in and ask deep questions. But then I'm biased. My guess--well, more than a guess--is there's a path for everyone, and that God if given the chance will teach us all how to ask and perceive.
Saturday, September 22, 2007
Laurel leaf sumac A week ago this was all covered with dust.
This is what I found when I came out from the PCH pedestrian tunnel.
Friday, September 21, 2007
Conquest vs Consensus
That, at least, is the initial image. Further perusal of the scene reveals betrayal: the castellan standing, guarding a door that is already open and the castle's gentle residents clustered around God where he stands. How could they?
How could they not? Who has betrayed whom? God found the unguarded door the castellan thought no one would ever use. Who, after all, would expect to meet truth in this world? After that, against whom has the defense been necessary?
God makes not a move against anyone. The gentle soul-fragments feel safe. They look over their shoulders, keeping a wary eye upon the castellan who has ever been as lightning and thunder in their lives, merely carrying on what was started years ago.
Conquest. Force. Beating. If you won't do this, well, do it anyway or we'll make you. No matter how big you are, we're bigger and you really have no choice.
Is God any different? He made the Universe and could certainly overwrite any soul He encountered. He has the power.
A lifetime's war is transferred to Him. "Here. You take it." Problem solved. Peace starts to break out. Then the real war starts, as the ancient foundation starts to crack.
No problem conquered is ever conquered. Conquering isn't the same as solving. You can beat them into submission but what happens afterward? Same war, new generation and new generation and new generation.
How do you really solve a problem? God humbled himself to start the process, incarnating as a man no one would look at who then gave up his life as a common criminal. After He did that, would he stop at anything else? There is no defense against that kind of truth except for pure obdurate stubbornness powered by fear. The traditional way to handle fear is to just toss the fearful one into the situation. "Sink or swim, Bud." Defeat after defeat, until accommodation is reached. I simply won't go there.
We're taught to pray for this and that. Trinkets. It's a layer of paint over the deeper idea that prayer is like pulling the "On" handle of a huge machine, or like crawling into the lap of a favored grandfather. Jesus didn't die just so he could give us goodies; what he really wants is to walk with us in the cool of the garden. Us. You. Me. All.
After I dreamed of God in that bare castle courtyard I dreamed "Justification." That brought up memories of Don Neilson's Bible studies in 1972. He talked about justification. It seemed a nice theory but what's that to me? After the dream I still had no real idea, but over the next few days, when I in an unguarded moment actually let God speak, He continued the theme.
I've lived with war all my life. The world seemed determined to stamp out as much of my soul as it could get ahold of, and none of the people I knew cared. "Oh, you'll learn eventually. It's not important. You're too sensitive anyway." I could have become like them. I could have become a screaming rebel. I could see far enough ahead to predict the outcome of both paths, and chose a third. Fake it when with others, be true when alone. I spent a lot of time alone. Even so... the suit changes the man. Get used to living underground and eventually light is just too much. Sensitivity is a burden when one lives in a big city. I got screwed regularly until I finally figured out what door that was using and closed it.
Defense is necessary. God comes along with new ideas, upsetting the long-achieved but delicate balance and things start coming apart. I can't live this way. God continues to call and I can't resist that, but inside I'm ever more strongly polarized. The castellan is trying his best to defend the place, but God is already there. And then the tender, sensitive parts of me just abandon the rest of the castle and cluster around God. Betrayal. They slip under the flails and guns.
What use has God for intellect? Justified, Larry. Why would He care? Long tradition, here. Thinking is always equated with trouble. Why should God be any different? Justified. I am just in God's eyes, as I am, fragments and all. No one has ever respected me for thinking, unless the thought is turned to the solution of an immediate problem. Maybe this is the common experience of people who think deeply about things. Well, part of the problem is always putting the thoughts into words: fleeting images, moving, trying to escape the trap of immobile verbiage.
Anyway, God declares me just. I can stand anywhere with no apology. I need not apologize for emotions, nor for intellect. Each side gained ascendancy for a time but there was never victory. Victory, for God, is something else. Both sides win.
How does one get there? It's not even necessary to believe in the idea of victory. Just keep walking. Well, yes, but I also need to be aware, and that's the really hard part. Most of the time I just don't want to know. I expect the worst. I know what's coming. God always surprises me.
In some ways the surprise is worse than the expectation. In other ways it's not nearly so bad; the fear makes it worse. I've always seen emotions as undermining intellect, like soft bricks in a stone foundation. But intellect is awfully hard on emotion, requiring justification that can't be made. Emotion is its own thing. God says all are justified. God says the lion castellan and the lamb emotions can look at each other, eye to eye, and neither quail nor lash out. What a dreamer He is.
Monday, September 03, 2007
Desert Wind, Desert Rain
Four years. Time enough to have changed the world? All I really have to show for it is that I'm still here.
Water beads up from dry ground and runs off. A little remains. Keep watering it and eventually it becomes less hydrophobic. It still takes time for the new water to seep slowly in among the dusty soil where nothing has grown for years. Who has patience to water dirt? People stand by their gardens thinking "Grow! You've had three days."
I decided at the outset that I wasn't going to repeat the Christian rituals that didn't seem to work; there was little point in throwing off one set of chains and then wrapping myself in another. I decided to be honest, and took Jacob's overnight wrestling match as my model. What did I have to lose? If God got angry and ended my life it wouldn't have mattered. I looked at it as a lottery ticket kind of thing: probably nothing will happen but if you don't try there's zero chance.
It's odd how the words "In God We Trust" are on the money we handle every day but those who expect God to do something are looked upon as being weird. I was more open-minded than that but still didn't see much evidence that God had anything to do with the running of the world, but this is a lot like trying to collect air samples with a fishnet. You look in the net, see nothing, and therefore air doesn't exist.
Change your mind, change your eyes, change your heart. The evidence is scattered all through my life, and I started to see this after banging on God's door and yelling for help.
Only God really believes that the sere desert can be watered into life. I've seen it happen and still have a hard time believing. What happens if he abandons me now? Trust is hard.
Autumn is approaching in its languid southern California way. The hills are desiccated, dusty, brown. Not a flower decorates the seared hillsides. We had little rain last season and none since early April. The deer come down and graze in the polo field because there's nothing else for them to eat; I watched them sample eucalyptus bark one day. I can't live on eucalyptus bark but it's what I'm used to. God is working on getting me to eat better things.
How long does it take to grow trust? How much water must be cast onto the lifeless ground before real growth begins? Is the growth that God envisions the growth that I want? How would I know? Four years on, and I still have only a hazy notion of what I'm hanging on for.