Friday, November 14, 2014
Toward Freedom XXXIV
God, who made the universe and all of its life, looks at people and sees... what? For him, all of time and space are spread out under his gaze and feel.
One day I was working on a sand sculpture. It was a busy day on the beach, and the place I'd chosen to build was right in the middle of the traffic. The sun was racing to the western sky and I had a sculpture to finish.
"Are you going to leave that rough place inside there?" a man passing by asked.
I looked at the place he indicated. "Yes."
"You should clean that up."
There was no time for a detailed answer. "It provides contrast. It stays that way." I went back to work.
"I would have to smooth it out," the man said as he turned and walked away.
"That's why I'm doing the sculpture, and you're walking," I thought.
I do understand what he saw. My own training was in the same direction: one flaw in the middle of the almost-perfect shouts its presence. Much has been written about the intentional imperfection left in some craftsmanship. Concentrate on the mistakes, ignore what's right about something.
Define "perfection," please. While you're thinking about that, I'll tell you about sand sculpture, at least as I practice it.
The day begins with light, the most basic of requirements. I have to see what I'm doing.
After light, there are sand and tide. High tide covers the good sand, so I start when the tide is dropping, and this has to happen early enough in the day that there's enough light to finish the sculpture. After I get my equipment to the building site, i spend a couple of hours building a pile of wet sand. The rest of the day goes into designing, carving, polishing, clean-up and base smoothing. When all of that is done I sign it.
Like light, energy is a limited resource. A sculpture involves all of me: thinking, feeling, moving, and some very heavy lifting. Time and energy spent on one part of the sculpture can't be spent on another part.
Design is essential. If the shape isn't beautiful, I'm not satisfied. The carving has to bring the design out. Polish removes ambiguities, unless the ambiguity is desired. The clues are subtle and surprising, and sometimes my hand is stayed to leave a happy accident.
Ideally, sunlight, tide and energy all run out at about the same time, leaving just enough for me to get some photographs. The day's last act is to get home, something like 10 hours after I started.
In the day's torrent of decisions there is much opportunity for mistakes. A slip of the carving tool, momentary distraction of a pelican flying by, a decision based on one idea that promptly proves to have been suboptimal for the design. In sand there is no taking it back; the mistake becomes part of the design unless it's the occasional fatal one that puts the whole sculpture on the ground.
What is a "mistake?" Some are clear, written in lumps of sand scattered across the beach. Others are questionable; no sculpture comes out of the design cloud with more than a passing resemblance to the mental image. I can't model all of the details.
So, the sculpture emerges from that design fog as a process along a winding path with many forks. Decide. Decide now, because the sun isn't waiting.
Have you figured out what perfection is? Yes? Well, let me make it more complicated. Today's skills enable today's learning, but today's learning enables tomorrow's new skills. Today's sculpture might be perfect, but if I repeated it precisely would it still be perfect? Should I suppress the new learning in order to retain perfection?
God never changes. "Be perfect, even as your father in heaven is perfect." Fortunately, in Jesus I am perfect. He looks at me and sees not the flaws that everyone else points to, but his Son's perfection wrapped around my shattered soul.
So, yes, I left the places inside the sculpture rough. Roughness does provide some contrast with the sculpture's smooth exterior. Roughness is also less obvious when it's shaded by the smooth panels outside. This is both a design decision and necessity; if I were to polish every surface equally I'd be here for three days.
The key is in vision. Finding imperfection is easy. Everything has flaws. If you don't find flaws, change the standards so that flaws become apparent. This happens to all of us. I'd really like to break this habit and see as Jesus sees.
Wednesday, November 12, 2014
Toward Freedom XXXIII
"If you love me, do the things that I command you."
"If you love me, you'll buy a diamond ring for me."
The statements are equivalent. Choose to love, choose to give up freedom. I'd like to think it doesn't have to be this way, but I'm swimming against a very strong current. I got tired a while back and quit trying.
Of course, I couldn't discuss this with God. He is, after all, the one talking about love and commandments. There comes a time, however, when not asking the question hurts less than the damage done by imitating a rock inside a desolate garden. Waiting for the storm to pass is a survival strategy only when there's enough energy left at the end to stop being a rock. When rock becomes the default, well, years go by in there.
For what? Why is survival so important? Don't go there, as a cliff is just beyond.
I'm fascinated by God's techniques. It's best to be an invisible rock, because something about a rock invites the hammer. "Break you out of there. It'll be good for you." Look at the history of revolutions in our world and you'll see just how effective that tactic is. Force is met with more force until something breaks, and as soon as the broken one heals enough that side takes a hammer to the others. God's way doesn't involve a hammer; his is more the way of flowing water, sunlight and invitation. Maybe the invitation will be ignored. He doesn't give up. All it might take is a little more time.
I could have saved a lot of time by asking God first. That means I'd have had to listen, and with ears tuned to the sound of a coming hammer I can't hear love. God doesn't quit. My resistance makes no change in his approach. He continues his movement and planning as if the outcome is certain. "There is no shadow of turning with you." But... I wasn't able to hear back then.
Life continues. Cells divide and make energy. Blood flows, breath blows, fingernails grow, time passes. What happens in these times when it seems nothing is happening? Something changes. Truth becomes more visible, or audible, or sensible, maybe all three and more.
I was in a half-dream, half-awake state and got to half-thinking about Jesus. "We love because he first loved us." And yet, he is Himself. No mistaking him for anyone else. Look at his encounters with people and there is no sign of him being anyone else and quite comfortable in being that. Enjoying, even.
"If you love me, do the things that I command you." There is no lack of people willing to tell me what God commands me to do. What does God, Himself, say to me? "Don't quit. Please don't quit." More recently, "Please don't go back into that abyss." It's a short list, and these are things that I can do. With difficulty, at times, but still possible.
Note how these are phrased: it's "don't do something." Rescue starts with stopping the destructive act: talked down from the bridge, letting go of the gun, stop walking toward the train. God knows that I react violently to any attempt at making things better, which is why what might be a garden looks more like a desert. Determined to be myself, I have a definition to maintain. Self-concept is everything. Lose that, I lose myself. I am This Way. Anything else is Not Me. Coming from a lifetime of being under assault it's not a surprising attitude.
God's invitation continues, however, unchanged from the very first day. "I have come to set the captives free," and he is willing to teach them everything starting from first principles. No matter how long it takes. Eventually, even I with my determined self-determination, begin to see beyond my own assumptions and into what God offers.
Tyranny is easy. Victim or victimizer, the roles are defined. What is my role with this God who offers much and works a very long plan to lead things to his conclusion? Do I just bob along in the river, or am I allowed to swim? Row? Water-ski? Skip? Tyranny is the habit I face. Its grip is surprisingly durable.
Tuesday, November 11, 2014
Toward Freedom XXXII
Big locks on a strong door might as well be painted in day-glo orange, with an accompanying sign that reads "Valuable Stuff Inside." Save time and hand out engraved invitations to every thief, vandal and raider in the neighborhood. Big fancy tombs in Egypt were plundered before the concrete had set. The excavated materials landed on top of other tombs, hiding them so they could be dug up thousands of years later.
Sparrows know better. There is nothing obvious about a sparrow. If you aren't strong enough to win the fight, then blend in. You can also use subterfuge: paint phony locks on a door, light it up, sprinkle some tidbits around inside. "Nothing unusual here," people will say, and then they'll leave.
The real action is around the back. Nobody ever goes here. The grass grows thick, leaves gather in the corners, the windows are cobwebbed and dusty and the doors are all weathered wood with rust making it obvious that they haven't been opened. Just another forgotten alley. Putting guards here would be futile advertising. Nothing to see. Move along.
Not everyone is a walker of the main routes. Some notice narrow branching paths. Like cats, they wander behind, under, inside, on top of, following their noses or whims. Some believe that anything not expressly allowed is forbidden. A curious nose might pursue a scent, nudge a door, and find that not only is there no guard but there's not even a latch. Others take the approach that if it's not locked, it's open to all.
What do we do now? The nose is inside the door. Using force to push it out just increases the curiosity factor: what's in there that's being so obviously defended? The better answer is to cede the territory, absorb the blow, giving no obvious signs of alarm or distress. The curious nose finds only common plants, abandoned objects of no value, and turns around.
Attritional filtering accounts for only so many. Truly persistent explorers push on against the defenses in depth, be these the Amazon jungle, Antarctic glaciers, or artful misdirection scattered about a garden. What remains attractive in such a place? I don't know, but it shouts "Failure!" at the top of a voice that is heard only by the sensitive. Maybe that voice acts as an attractant for some.
The coco de mer, fallen from the tree into a hostile ocean, simply drifts, defenseless, tough and small enough to ignore the battering whims of the waves. It's easy to ignore. Eventually the storm subsides, the invader loses interest, and the hard kernel floats away.
Once in a while there's an extra-persistent one, tapping on the hard nut. "Hello? Is there anyone home?"
"Nope. Nobody here."
Eventually... bloom, or die. There is no such thing as stasis. As big as the Indian Ocean is, the coco de mer is likely to wash up on a shore someplace. Bloom, or rot. Is there a way to reach inside, without using a rock? Without shattering the nut, which is the usual response to obvious defenses?
Grow, or die. Those seem to be the choices. Growth is death, in a way; to a believer in stasis, change brings up all those cliches about caterpillars turning into butterflies. Does the caterpillar know what's going to happen as it makes a chrysalis? From the outside it appears to be following a program but no one can get inside its mind. Does it hurt? Does it experience the repeated disappointment of previous attempts to change that simply result in more battering between wave and stone? The caterpillar does it once for all. Humans die many times. The record of failure is long.
Yet the heart keeps beating. Simple animal life. Metabolism, movement, mentation as the sun goes around. Stuck inside the nut is... what? A tree? A human? A butterfly?
Who enters? Who can enter, when any attempt is seen as an attack? But... here's this little tendril, come through a tiny crack. The tendril brings life. It also brings change! Close the crack! It can't be closed; to do so is to die... again. Inevitable? The cost of closure is simply too high. I can't do it any more.
Fold up. Let it happen to someone else. I'm not really here. Nobody home but a simulacrum made of habits and mirrors grown up around with weeds and dust. Cede ever more territory to the God of the Universe, but he will never touch me! Wait... he already has. Back and forth.
The issue is forced, without force. Purely choice: stay with God, or turn my back on him. I know how that goes. With God in here, is there any room left for me? Do I have any right to my own soul? If I do, how do I express that? I never had that right; anything I discovered and enjoyed was likely to be taken away, so I learned to take it away from myself before someone else did it. When God entered I ceded everything to him, as per instructions. Given this lifeline I didn't ask questions.
Of whom would I ask? I know all the church answers. Ask God? That's asking for trouble, like asking the man with a rock if he likes coconut. God, however, seems to have no self-interest. At least, he doesn't put his interests before those of his people.
What of other seeming invaders? If they make it through three levels of defenses and are still interested, what can I do? I have no idea what of myself is inside the automation and shields. The only way to learn is to try being there, letting go of the programs and seeing what happens.