Friday, August 23, 2013


Toward Freedom XIX

Not I, but Christ

In the wide range of stereo equipment prices, what I just spent for a set of speakers, an amplifier and cables is toward the low end in absolute terms. Compared to the average paid by most music consumers, however, I went about 5 standard deviations over the top.
    The project has been running at least since 1970, when I discovered Boulder's Howard Sound shop. Maybe the idea originated when I put a small transistor radio inside a wooden box and noticed that it now sounded better.
    Any time I moved, the first thing to be assembled was the stereo. Until about 1980 my goal was perfection in the sound but I realized that no stereo system would reproduce music as it is live so I just wanted good enough.
    Notice there's not too much mention of music so far. I sort of lost sight of the music amidst the equipment. I started correcting this in 1985, after I bought my first CD player. At first I used it with headphones. In 1988 I bypassed the whole speaker search process by buying, sound unheard, "good enough" speakers from Cambridge Soundworks. The money I saved in buying a demo amp and the mail-order speakers went to Tower Records, Wherehouse and various used-CD stores.
    The next revolution took root in about 2002, when I discovered that my computer could copy CD tracks and play them back. In 2005 I bought a silent PC and started copying whole CDs. It sounded even better when connected to a separate digital-to-analog converter and a good set of headphones.
    There are times when headphones don't work very well. At the back of my mind I kept thinking about speakers. I looked around in a rather desultory fashion, really hoping for another Cambridge Soundworks. The search was complicated by no longer having a good amplifier. I'd have to buy both. Speakers with built-in amps seemed a better choice until I actually went out and listened to some.
    I ended up walking into a local high-end stereo dealer. I expected the visit to be brief due to prices but the proprietor showed me some speakers that easily fit my budget.
    How much does good sound cost? As much as you care to spend; for me, the key point is to find equipment at the point where the cost and quality balance. If spending $X gets you 90% of what you want, it'll probably take $2X to get 95%. How good are your ears and your training? I'd learned a lot in all those years of listening to music systems.

        “For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. I have been
        crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now
        live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself
        for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained
        through the law, Christ died for nothing!” (Galatians 2:19-21, NIV)
And yet, I describe myself as a Christian, a follower of Jesus. How does expensive stereo equipment fit into his plans? I've been inculcated with a set of expectations for Christian behavior. Call them laws. We know what Jesus thought about misapplied laws but that doesn't stop people from handing them down the generations.
    I lay in bed one night and the phrase "Not I, but Christ" came to mind. It's often repeated and written about. I'd never heard of anyone asking God what he thought about this, so I did. Then and there. His answer was very gracious.
    Not for the first time, but I forget easily. Well, not so much forget as allow the voice of judgment to override God's voice. God's answer in this case was to continue as I have been, following his voice and scent rather than the laws, no matter what. Jesus has always led me in a direction that makes life better, yet I still obstruct him. He asks that I not obstruct. The equipment will be delivered in about three weeks. All is grace.

2013 August 23

Thursday, August 15, 2013


Toward Freedom XVIII

A Story of the Cross

I was 19. Having no real alternative, I assumed I knew--or could figure out--everything I needed to know. How does one prepare for a meeting with the Living God? How does an almost-man who trusts only his intellect come to any kind of understanding of the spirit? I thought I could see something out there, beyond the fog of daily life, represented in the early spring shoots of dark green daffodil leaves against late snow, the rainbow of mist around a mountain waterfall, the feel of a long wind through my fingers. All of these marvels whispered of another reality.
    There were other hints, seen even more dimly. People could transcend the hard-edged intellectual understanding and allow more fluid feelings. I'd seen it occasionally and longed for it.
    I quit wrestling with the philosophy of becoming a Christian on October 18, after chasing my figurative tail round and round for two weeks. I'd been presented with Christianity as a package. You open it up and poof. I couldn't do that, with any honesty, which is what I said to God. Logic aided me here. God is said to be omnipresent so he could hear me anywhere. "Except you come as a child..." I told God what was on my mind and he seemed to accept the deal. "God, I don't know if you're out there, but the only way I'm going to find out is to look."
    Who knows, when they set out, what they will find? Leading up to that start was a confusing summer. I'd been excused from further attendance at Colorado University--good autodidact, lousy student--but went to Europe that summer with my brother for a foreign-study program in Vienna. I had no idea what would happen when I got back; being there pretty much drove everything else out. My grandfather died while we were over there and we went straight to Salina for the service. I went on to Colorado to pick up my grandfather's car, so I could drive it to Nebraska for my brother.
    Weather intervened. I invited Craig up while I got things sorted out in Estes Park and he arrived at the beginning of a surprise late-September snowstorm. It was the kind with lots of big slow flakes, hour after hour, warm snow that built up. Craig had intended to stay for a day but we were hilariously snowbound. We ran around outside or sat inside by the fire, marvelling. No cars could move. After a couple of days the snow stopped and autumn reasserted itself. One day we were able to get Craig's car out, and he drove away.
    I'm familiar with emotions in the abstract. The last time I cried I was 12 years old, after my father died, which surprised me and really distressed everyone else. I was told to stop it. I stood in the warming snow, watching Craig's old white car fade into the white world, and nearly cried. Nearly. Control.
    By that time I had forgotten that my father cried as we left the house one day. I don't remember why I was in the car, but he was on his way to Texas and heart surgery. and I didn't understand what he was showing. It was so strange I thought it was a joke. Only much later, after he died during recovery, did I make the connection.
    What happens when control no longer works? How can one learn who God is while being so controlled? The question wouldn't leave me, which is why I made the deal with God. Teach me. I'll do my best to follow.
    What is the essence of obedience to God? I'm leery of book answers, having been lied to too many times for me to trust anyone. Go and find out for myself. The next day I sent off a casette-letter to Craig in which I told him of my sort-of conversion. Nascent conversion, perhaps; we are, after all, said to be reborn.
    Craig's vocal response was nearly ecstatic. Included with his cassette was a ring, black stone with a superimposed cross. I've never worn jewellery; it seems to be something one gets used to and I'd never done it, so the few attempts I made just felt odd. I looked at this piece and noticed, inscribed inside the band, "The three of us." This piece, I wore.
    Turning to Jesus didn't really still the ferment in my mind. What is this all about? I bought a bible and attended a few church services. I hit a bump right away. Everyone in the church was asking God for forgiveness. My reading and understanding indicated that we're forgiven as soon as we turn to Jesus. Move on to other things. I decided the church Craig was attending in Colorado was a better bet, and a couple of weeks later I showed up on his doorstep.
    How much of this was emotion? How much was obedience to the Holy Spirit I didn't know at all? How much was just not wanting to be in Kansas on a job treadmill? I was 19. I wanted magic, even if I couldn't articulate it, and Craig was about as close to magic as I'd ever seen. However it was done, the decision was made and the smoke of burning bridges faded behind me.
    "The three of us." We moved into that old trailer. I got an idea and went at it straightforwardly. I bought a plate of silver and sawed a cross out of it. I used a fine file to smooth the edges, and then took it to a jeweller to have "The three of us" engraved. I also bought a chain, epoxied a loop to the top, and gave it to Craig. Anything was possible.
    Forty-one years later, there's a small package from Carol in my mailbox. The silver chimes in memory, "The three of us," and resonates with last year's heart-shaped stones. God is unafraid of emotion. I still tend to run but I go more slowly now. One person's obedience is to go to the mountains and raise a family. Another's might be to run and turn, run and turn. How else to prove truth to the untrusting and bring freedom to one who has no real idea nor feeling for freedom?
    What am I to do with this? I have no idea if Craig ever wore it. It's still a concentrated bit of memory. The chain does fit over my head.

2013 August 15

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