Tuesday, October 21, 2008


Dying to Self

"Then Jesus said to his disciples, 'If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.' " (Matthew 16:25,26, from Biblegateway.com)

Barbara wrote "I sometimes wonder what the purpose of life is. Does anyone know? If so please tell me. I never used to feel this way. I used to see the future as full of hope and possibilities, now I just wonder WHY life has to be so damn difficult so much of the time."

It's simple. Just die to yourself, as the church vernacular has it. We've all heard it said. Nobody ever explains what it means in the real world. I can understand that; it's a difficult concept to explain in words. I wonder if God feels frustration with the limited means of communication that most people allow. We're never taught to go any deeper, so people spin off onto their own mystic paths, trying desperately to put some living flesh on the dead bones of logical words.

How do you tell a modern person to listen to God? I have no idea, so I don't talk about it. But for the last couple of nights I've been intensively discussing-feeling-thinking-listening with God these concepts of life, trying to find a way through the intellectual tyranny of words. Still, words are an anchor; we've all seen what happens when people become too detached.

So, it seems to be that denying the self, or soul (the Greek word can be translated as either), means allowing all of my different voices to be heard. I can't speak for others but perhaps it's a route worth exploring.

No one likes tyranny. It's simple, though, and easy to enforce, so we end up with a lot of it. Intellect has always been the iron boot on top of me, but it has also been the steel frame that has allowed me to stand against hostile hot winds. What goes on for years becomes truth to the exclusion of anything else. Now it seems I need to deny that operational truth and become open to a more flexible way of building. Who holds those soft joints together? Who makes sense of all the different voices? The same One who quieted the clamor one night five years ago and let me out of the confusion.

It wasn't what I'd consider self-denial. It was a denial of my hard-edged management, but other parts of me were allowed to speak. For a time they gained confidence and were able to speak up, and life was more balanced, but then I got scared and tried to reimpose logic. Who could trust God? Didn't he always play tricks on people, and leave them stranded at critical moments? Aren't we all supposed to be independent? Where is the truth? I tried, much as I had in the late 1970s, to find the truth on my own terms. It's hard to trust anyone when they usually perpetuate, if not lies, at least the same old tired answers that even I know don't work.

God is different. Some of the most deeply buried voices in me turned to God as a sunflower does to the sun, and enjoyed his light and life. This was incomprehensible. What did it mean? Logic! We must understand!

Well, understanding comes, but it's not just words. That still small voice speaks in many ways, and my own quiet parts, once I deny logic complete control, resonate. Rain the desert, quietly penetrating the dust.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008


Setting the Captive Free

Jesus told people he had come to make the captives free. Who is captive? To what? The idea of freedom is intensely attractive to me but it also repels me, or impels me to build intellectual walls against it.

I used to do better. My life was an uneasy, dynamic balance between impossible and daily hiding of what's important. It's easy to hide from people, especially when they're as willfully self-deluded as I am.

Five years ago God showed himself to me again. Hiding would never be the same; how do you hide from someone who lives inside the walls? We played hide and seek amid the ruins and I ceded ever more territory to no-man's land as I burrowed deeper.

Love is a bludgeon. I have seen the word used to wrap people in ever tighter bands of rules. "If you love God you will want to..." and there comes a long list of practices. If Jesus came to set the captive free, then what's with all the rules? Framing of reference, for one thing.

Five years ago I asked God to show me the truth. I expected rules, as rules are how I frame reality. Rules are like bricks that can be used to build just about anything. They're comprehensible and can be held and looked at. They don't change. Put one down today it'll still be there in a year or so. What I got instead was love, given by example.

This wasn't comprehensible to me so I translated it into rules. God became very creative in avoiding the traps I built of rules. He never did what I expected so after a while I started avoiding him. He'd answer any question I asked except those that led anywhere near containment.

Five years ago God promised rain in the desert, a feast for the prodigal, a celebration. I don't believe in love even when it's demonstrated, mainly because most of my experience of love is as a way of cloaking selfish lies whose ultimate design is to reduce me to a pale copy of someone else. I'd like to be loved, but even more I want to be myself. I have given up love in order to remain free.

God is love... and he came to make me free, five years ago. I've spent roughly four years of that time dodging, and getting tired. Is it possible to be both loved, and free? Words on one side, reality on the other. God Himself doesn't fit inside the words so I work to ignore everything that I can't comprehend. That's a lot of work. No wonder I'm tired.

The alternative seems worse. If I really leave myself open to God's thoughts, what horrible things might happen? What might I get dragged into? There was a time when I didn't worry so much about these things; I drifted along and life just sort of worked itself out. Life worked better then than it did after I put my hand on the tiller and started trying to steer. Perhaps
God had been at the helm before then.

Where did my directing lead? To the last place on earth I ever wanted to live: Los Angeles. Freedom comes in different flavors, and at least now I'm free of needing to worry about where the rent will come from. Freedom can be made, too, and in that I've just pretty much given up. It's just too wild an idea that God is really interested in freedom. Church history is not at all kind to this idea, but I think it's essential for me.

How does a rule-bound 56 year old bureaucrat learn freedom? The same way a pianist learns to play: practice, with a very patient teacher. God never gives up. A day, a year, a decade after the last contact, if I turn back in His direction He is there to continue the lesson where we left off, or to step back a few ideas and go over the ground again. This is the reality I have experienced many times. I'm not a trusting soul. I have been burned far too many times to be anything but closely guarded. God doesn't take advantage of my naivete, but waits, impossibly, sitting there in the desert waiting for me to put away the umbrella.

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