According to the Hebrew Bible, Solomon’s Temple, also known as the First Temple, was built in 10th Century in Jerusalem and dedicated by Solomon to Yahweh.  

One of the more fascinating historical notes about the construction stands out.

In building the temple, only blocks dressed at the quarry were used, and no hammer, chisel or any other iron tool was heard at the temple site while it was being built.

 1 Kings 6:7

God, our God, often builds his temples in quietness, because God, despite all the hollering from Christians about him, is a quiet God. 

God dresses blocks in one place, so he he can quietly place them in another.

I called my dad one day last year. I was missing him. 

I caught him up on us, then I asked him what he had been thinking about.

He had been thinking about the “quietness of God’s presence.”

I asked him, “Dad, what does that mean?”

He said, “I often can’t sleep at night. I wake up. I don’t know what to do so I just enter the quietness of his presence.” 

“I don’t say anything. I don’t pray. I just silently worship.” 

“I’m dumb before him.”

Years ago, as I was finishing up at the University, I felt far from God. Lonely. Confused. Uncertain of my future. I began reading the Bible. I was drawn to Isaiah 30:15. This became a very personal word from God to me, speaking to exactly my issue.  

“This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: ‘In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength …'”

Lately I’ve suffered some serious health problems. As a result I’ve experienced some very significant levels of pain. At times there have been a whole nursery of babies crying inside of me.

I’ve done a lot striving to connect to God to fix my situation, to move my health forward, to get back to normal. This is something all praying people do. Rightly so, we are told in the Bible to bring our sickness and problems to God, to seek, ask and knock, but too often our approach to God isn’t healthy or helpful. We don’t knock on his door. We bang on his door. We pound it down. We break in in our demands for the life and body and health and activities that we want. We want God to enable our plans and then — although we won’t admit it much — step politely out of our way so we can get on with our work.

This isn’t just a personal issue. A lot of churches are set up this way. They are on a mission to control God for their own good, to enlist Him to help them win the culture wars, to use him to hammer the deviant, to chisel at God’s words as a way of promoting its own political agenda. This kind of blunt-force approach to the way forward is motivated by our efforts to  move the church up and to the right on the field of public success. It’s ecclesiastical egotism. The agenda is to get more people, to take in more money and to promote politics of privilege that protect the church while not worrying if any ones else around the world is protected. It’s political stealth, physical health, a bunch of wealth and get some for myself.

I’m not saying the church shouldn’t want to do well, be excellent, succeed.  I’m not saying the church shouldn’t look to God to guide us and to make us well. I’m not saying I shouldn’t ask God to help me.

But a bunch of begging, a lot of trying to force an our agenda on God, the big push for the quick fix, the big push for the big fix, looking for the perfect road map that makes all  road blocks go away — perhaps that is a recipe for being disappointed in God. There are are some big moments in life where God comes though for us and his church in big ways, but that isn’t the whole story or even the typical story.

Perhaps what I need, and we need, the most is the sound of “sheer silence” as God builds his temples the way he wants. The American church has lived the loud Christian life of the hammer and the chisel. We’ve lived pound, pound, pound, push, push, push. It may have done some good, certainly the church is God’s chosen way to love the world, even the imperfect church, but wow! Our passions are too often too selfish.  

What we need now, and maybe more back when too  — and what I need now —  is not more begging, more controlling, more work, more progress, more pushing, more kingdom building or more empire building.  Perhaps what we need is simply this: A quiet resting before the divine. What does God want to do? How does God want to build? Can we quietly wait on God for his quiet language, his silent leading?

Thomas Keating has said that in “order to understand [God’s silent language] we ourselves must learn to be silent and to rest in God.”

Yes.

In God’s loving silence there is perhaps much more than we know or expect —  his presence, healing, rebuilding, affirmation, care, his a way forward, his love.

Recently, in my physical struggles my wife has been present for me, holding me, patting me, just being in the same room with me. She has said some sweet things, but nothing has meant as much as her presence, her quiet loving presence there in the room.

God silent, loving presence — we all could use more of that.

 

“Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”

John 5:6

This sick man had endured his condition a long time, but he was full of excuses as to why he couldn’t get treatment. 

So Jesus said to him, Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” 

John 5:8

Jesus was spot on.

To get better, we often need to do something.

Many times it is simply the the next thing the doctor, therapist, friend or family member tells us to do.

We have to get up from somewhere we have been lying a long time. Or we have to pick up something that we haven’t picked up before, or we have to go do something we haven’t done before that we may not want to do. This is relevant to social, financial, relational and medical problems.

Recently, I’ve taken medicines I didn’t want to take, had medical procedures I didn’t want to have, trusted doctors and nurses I had never met before, found myself submitting to experiences I had never imagined possible.

It hasn’t been easy, risking, trusting, making  decisions about problems I still don’t fully understand. Paralysis tends to set in quickly, apathy, excuses, denial. “I won’t go now. Someone else is ahead of me. This probably won’t work.”

But we must, we must embrace the here and now, make friends with the present no matter how hard, advocate for ourselves, ask that we be helped. And we are always responsible to stay in the game, that is choose between options, to say “yes” or “no” because no one else can or should fully decide for us.

Lots of us want attention, friends, guides, helpers, cures.

We best speak up.

We best get up.

We probably have to do something.  

We probably have to stop making excuses for not getting help. 

We may need to pick up an old mat.

“How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!”

Psalm 133:1

Good stuff, unity, but several times in life I have had a front row seat to how painful and unpleasant it is when God’s people live together in  disunity.

I have watched long-standing and loyal friendship fray, unravel and fall in pieces to the floor in a matter of a few weeks.

It happens. I’ve seen it in several forms. It happens all the time. High-minded, principled, moral people in government, church and business settings shred each other.  It’s probably happened to you. If not, get closely involved with good people. Be patient. Be honest. It will come.

What causes what’s good to get so bad, so fast?

The answers are simple, present for anyone who wants to see them.  We humans, even we so called good ones, we mature one, we are very fragile in ego and self-image, and when we perceive that someone is taking from us something that we want, when we feel that we are losing control of our property or earned status or long-fought for identity or social place, we get crazy inside — fast.

And crazy inside  goes crazy outside to try to get things back to our way. In a panic to be recognized, hyper-anxious to be valued, obsessed with preserving some gain, we say or write stuff that harms others.  Crazy to appear successful, crazy to be known, crazy to be on top blows up families and friendship and organization right and left. 

I watched Jobs last week, the story of Steve Jobs and Apple computer’s rise to success. There it is. What’s mine is mine, what I made is mine, and if you try to take it away from me you’ll pay for it. Jobs pretty much had the mindset that his success, Apple’s success was more important than his precious relationships.

This is true of many of us, although not all. Many of us carry a bit of  Steve Job’s selfishness inside, me too.  We want what we want and when we don’t get what we want we are tempted to sacrifice dear relationship in order to get what we want.

But, back to the Psalm.  When we do dwell in unity, man how good that is! It is peaceful, safe, good, the best! And it shines even brighter after we’ve seen how bad it is when we choose to  reside in darker and more harmful places.

The solutions? Again, they are simple, like the problem. Practice humility. Choose to love. Be willing to listen. Be open to solutions that both sides can live with. Promote unity. Have the wisdom to realize that our most precious relationships are far more valuable than our public successes.

Lately, my wife has been a good example of unifying love. She has loved me unselfishly and tirelessly.

Ah, how good and pleasant it is to dwell with her.

Theology and pain — there much to process here. Let’s put aside the questions of causality for the moment and consider our own reactions to pain. Let’s take a look at our side of it.

Paul, the great spiritual thinker, the consummate church founder, the exquisite theologian himself once wrote, and he wrote in the Bible, for God sake:

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself.”

2 Corinthians 1:8

Everybody can be broken, including the great ones. Paul broke. The pressure was beyond his ability to bear. Paul was human. He was like the rest of us.

Pressure, physical pain, emotional pain or relational difficulty is always rough to take. It creates fear in us, sometimes it creates the fear that a time will come when we may think and feel: “I am broken and in pain beyond what I can endure. I can’t take it anymore.” We can all say or imagine saying that kind of thing if we arrive at a point where our soul is very eroded, where our spirit feels completely broken. I’ve been there several times in life. Most others too. But one of the promises of scripture is that God will save the crushed in spirit.

Psalm 34:17-20

The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them;

    he delivers them from all their troubles.

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted

    and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

The righteous person may have many troubles,

    but the Lord delivers him from them all;

he protects all his bones,

    not one of them will be broken.

What does that mean, “saves,” and “delivers”? It might mean many things? It could mean solutions, it could mean healing, or even mean strength to endure when there is no physical or emotional or relational healing. It might mean heaven. I would think it is case specific, but for all believers an ultimate saving and delivering will be heaven.

But what if we aren’t delivered in the here and now, at least not in the way we want? How are we to think about lasting hardship and pain? Well, we need to acknowledge that lasting pain is not necessarily ennobling. It doesn’t always get better or make everything eventually intrinsically better. Pain isn’t something we should minimize or deny the terribleness of. Paul didn’t; Paul despaired. Jesus didn’t minimize his pain. In great spiritual and psychological pain, Jesus wept.

But lately, I have noticed that my pain — at times — has clarified my mind, helping me to see what’s important, what’s not, helping me to the correct reading of others — adding empathy and understanding of their pain — and helping me to know what’s true. I have recently had opportunities to speak very truthfully and lovingly about some very complicated issues to some empowered people, and I found that they were able to accept what I said, the truth, in part because it came from a place hacked out in me by pain, a place of gentleness, tenderness and understanding of both my own pain and theirs.

In pain, we may — not always — get some clarity, some proximity to truth. Yes, suffering and broken-heartedness can sometimes leads us to the wrong conclusions, and can cause us to be angry, pessimistic or negative or inpatient or unkind, but not always. What I am learning is that sometimes pain and difficulty refines us, makes us more mature, give us a perspective, may clarify what’s of value and what’s not and may give us fresh, helpful language to talk about old experiences and ideas.

Sometimes our pain helps us take the mash of life and ferment it, distill it, and produce some good, clear, strong stuff. Pain, like a still used to make strong whiskey, may drip best things out of the bottom of heat and loss.

And when it does, we must also say that this too may be from God. This is sometimes part of God’s saving and delivering. He saves and delivers us and our neighbors not from pain, but from untruth.

Lately I’ve had to let go of some things, things in the past, and I’ve been thinking about how we do this.

My mom passed away a few years ago so I had to let go of my mom. My oldest daughter recently moved out of the house to a perfect place for her, so I needed to let go of her. My youngest daughter got married a year ago and so there was a new letting go of her and also an including of my new son-in-law.

It’s not that I’m not still connected to the girls anymore, or even my mom, but that I’m okay with these relationships being different. I think what helps me is to realize that everything changes over time, nothing stays the same, relationships morph with the different stages of life and that the best thing to do is to accept that, and to flow with that.

I find the need for this in other areas of my life too. This year I let go of my career; I let go of the bigger house — we sold it — I let go of being a public figure. I’ve even let go of having a normal routine because of some chronic pain.

I think that moving forward in a healthy way involves simply being realistic. We have to make friends with new realities. It isn’t like it was. It’s different. And wishing it were back to what it was tends to forget the things that we didn’t like about the way it was. Reality is reality. Not accepting changes increases pain. Flowing with what is real is the only sane and safe way to proceed.

All this relates to old conflicts, old hurts, old broken relationships too. It’s not like we just get over old relational drama, but we find different places to put it. We put it in perspective. We put it in more gentle places of non-judgment. And by doing so we heal, realize that we’re going to be okay, realize how much we have learned from our mistakes — and from the mistakes of others.

Bob Dylan is now passé; he’s part of history, but his good lines and honest truths aren’t. The “times — they are [still] a changin’.” Wise ones change with them.

There is a sense of “moving on“ for all of us, and a healthy perspective of “gettin’ on down the road.” But I’ve certainly realized that I never move on without bringing everything from the past with me. Really, it all comes along, but the thing is how do I pack it to go with us on the ride? I’m thinking I pack it, we pack it, and we repack it gently. I’m thinking that it works best if we are willing to rearrange our views of the past as needed in light of new information and new realities, and that we always need to keep learning from the past because the past is such an excellent teacher, and the past just keeps on giving; its lessons are ever-giving, like a good orange tree.

Finally, there’s so much present and future still to live, to motivate us, to invest in that this best becomes our healthy focus. Really, moving on means embracing the possibilities with in the present and future in an excited, energized, hopeful way. Letting go means engaging the present, trained by the past, but energized by the next great adventure.

I’m currently finishing my third novel. How? Why? Because I quit doing a bunch of stuff that was taking up all my time, and I’ve started doing something that’s taking up all my heart. It is something that’s always been mine to do. But to do it I had it stop doing a bunch of other things.

Moving on means not being stuck, afraid of change, overly atavistic, traditional, all status quo and old school, predictable and safe. Moving on means being adventurous, free, modern, hip, avant-garde, steezy, cool and with it.

So get over it — by getting with it!

Abraham left everything he owned to Isaac.

Genesis 25:5

For Isaac, everything was given. He was given all his father’s wealth; he was provided with a home, a bride, a relationship with God, a place in history — all he had to do was receive.

This is so God! We are all Isaac.

Every good thing on earth and in the far flung universe is from God.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.

James 1:17

Einstein, his intelligence, come from God.

Mark Chagall, his brilliant and magical creativity, from God.

Bill gates, his generosity, from God.

Elon musk, his innovative spirit, from God.

Abraham Lincoln, his masterful leadership and brilliant use of language, from God.

Your good things — all God. We do play a part in acting out these things, and so sometimes we think that they come from us. Even the life and body and strength to act them out is from him.

Many complain about not seeing God’s goodness. It’s everywhere. If God were to remove his goodness from the universe, all matter and all civilization would collapse into a black hole.

Never doubt that God is alive and present in our world. Every single good thing in your life is straight from him.

Praise him!

Words for each other, where do we find them? How do we craft them? 

As a leader, and as a writer, and husband and father and friend, I’ve had no end of agony attempting to answer those questions in specific cases, especially involving conflict. It’s been hard to find the right words for the other person.

But it really matters, what we say and how we say it. 

Recently a fellow leader sent me an email expressing strong emotions and reactions concerning another leader. He asked if the content was okay and if the message should be sent. I  wrote back that the content was salient — it was actually right on the money —  but the emotion-laden conversation that needed to happen could not be handled by an email. It could only be well-handled face-to-face, with dialogue, with a back-and-forth. By the time the fellow leader got my response, however, he himself had decided not to send it.

Wise.

What we think, what is going on inside of us, what we want to communicate to others, it always needs time — like a finely prepared dessert —  to bake, cool, set, mingle flavors and receive the final drippings and toppings essential for good presentation and excellent consumption. Writing out our thoughts and feelings, not sending them, ruminating a while on content, living a little, editing, this produces the best product.  By taking our time we find words and feelings mingling wisely within; by waiting we find verbal toppings and relational dollops of tastiness to add to the our eventual expressions.

What are we saying?

When you feel strongly, pause wisely. What may not be heard with one set of words, may be heard with another. What polarizes in print may soften in dialogue. And what might be not heard at one time, by one person, may be heard at another time by another person. 

I just finished a novel. It’s a dysbiopian fantasy, but it unveils modern, relevant reality. We struggle to accept those different from ourselves.  I started wiring this novel for my children 35 years ago. Yesterday, as I added some final lines to the wrenching conflict at the end of the story, I was aware that the word I wrote would have been impossible for me to write years ago. I had not yet lived the  life experiences that extruded them out of me. My novel needed words, that needed time, to come into being. 

At the end of the novel one of the main characters — following a devastating conflict that uproots and destroys a whole community says, “Fear designed and built the first wall; love crafted the first door — and opened it.”

The antagonist to this point of view refutes this strongly saying, “No, different from each other crafted the first wall. It had to in order to survive! Love just made that fine wall higher — for protection. It’s the same as it has always been. Mind your own business, keep to your own kind, except when attacked, that’s the deal — period, exclamation point, done.”

The response? “No, that’s not right. There are no end stops here — not with this devastation in front of us — no simplistic formulae, no pithy morals for our paltry fable, no superheroes to protect us now, no perfect symbionts present, no borders that end all our disputes, no furious, final family fixes. Advocating that we open the door to each other is a simple gesture, a clumsy nod toward sane knowing, a small hopeful sun to shine over this disaster, something —  just perhaps something —  to help us blunder painfully forward to better times.”

If I had tried to write the closing dialogue between the main conflicting characters 35 years ago, I would not have come up with that. I think I would have come up with something much more more categorical, more judgmental, more arrogant, more moralistic than advocating opening a door to each other as a “clumsy nod toward knowing.” I was able to write that now because I know so much less now than I used to. 

Some words need to get knocked out of us, by life. Other words can only be knocked into us by experience. Time and patience, resulting in a bit of humility, craft our best speaches.

I just hope I can remember that the next time I get upset. 

I have stories — about animals. I have more than stories; I have realities shared with animals. I exist beside and within non-human entities. I have corporate, enmeshed-buddy realties and sensibilities with companion species.  

The animals and I are co-shaping each others lives because I choose this, and so do they. We, me, me and the animals are becoming something together. This is holy, Edenic, eucharistic.

My experience is not Derrida’s — the modern French philosopher and semiotician — with his famous cat, the mystery behind the cat looking back at him, the possibility of his own shame. It is my thought that the shame we humans feel, and the shame the animals may feel — is simply fear, turned inward. Shame is the fear of ones self, the fear of ones own fear, the fear of ones own perceived or real judgements of oneself, that have their roots in the postures and actions and stances of the other.   

But fear is demolished by respect.

Take Red for example. Red was a big, old, striped tomcat who I found when I was a young boy, I found him down by our barn, wandering around looking lost, and I carried him home. He hung off me, not afraid, not one bit. And at home, Red found me, and I hung off him, and he helped me make the kind of childhood I fondly remember: warm, soft, safe, befriended — and powered by a purr. Red and I lived with each other, fearless.  

Then there was Peaches, another of my safe-soft, sane-boyhood companion species, sitting in the living room with my family, licking my head from the back of the coach, a kind of perpetual mother, bearing babies in the closet, cleaning them and us, a long-living licker, and mentor, a teacher of what good within the good within the perfectly effectual good looks like. It doesn’t look like human exceptionalism, us taking a privileged and dominant role.  It looks like us living with the companion species who we love and respect. 

And there was Patches, my guard dog, my confidant when I was sad, my good playmate, until the adults decided she guarded my brothers and I too closely, and then she was gone — fear ruined it. And then there was Angelina, and Nina and Megan. Each one of these cats helped me raise our two girls. They helped sooth our family pain and calm our anxieties. They made us laugh, and they taught us that work could be play. Nina as a kitten, loved to jump on and ride on the broom and vacuum cleaner when we were using it. That super-affectionate, fear-nothing, animated little fuzz ball taught us to make fun out of what was already there. 

Then there is Megan, my current feline friend. The other morning I snapped her soft, felt whip toy at her. It landed on her head, draped off her ear and then fell to the floor in a rumpled heap. She put a paw on it. I pulled. She held. Then seeing that this stalemate was going nowhere, she let up, and we played the cat and felt game again. We were taking turns, taking control. 

At lunch time I went out and sat by my pond, but left the sliding patio door ajar. Megan popped through the door, gingerly crossed the grass, hopped up on the retaining wall where I was sitting and sat down beside me. I fed her part of my lunch. She was my lunch buddy. We were what postmodernist, feminist, scientist Donna Haraway has called “messmates in mortal play.” Check out Donna’s book, When Species Meet. Along this line, Paul Shepherd had a good book too, The Others: How Animals Made us Human, but he isn’t high on pets. I love the wild ones too, the rabbit born in my hedge, feeding from my front lawn, the doves drinking from my back yard pond, the lizards that run magically along my walls and fences, the microbes living in my stomach, helping me digest my food. 

It goes like that. Animals, companion species, the wild animals who live with us, we are beginning to understand them better, how much a part of us they are, of our health and happiness and meaningfulness. They are in us and we in them. As Haraway says, we are entwined with them; we are their semiotic partners. We are over-lapping enmities.

Megan sits on my lap every morning. We hang out, I pet her ears, she purrs, so do I. This feels to me as it was meant to be. 

In the evening she sits by her bowl waiting for dinner. I bring her food. In doing so I feel kind, provisional, a servant, her buddy.

Later she brings her soft, stuffed whale to me, calling all the way, drops it on the floor at my feet and looks up into my face. Maybe she thinks I’m hungry; certainly she has decided that she wants more interaction. 

I reach down. She has initiated. I respond. I put my finger tips in her soft fur, stroke her back and sides, run over her ears, rub the top of her nose just the way she likes it. 

Megan and I have taught each other things, things about play, eating, hanging out, being close, the value of it, the health in it. Her purr is my purr.  I think that God gave us the creatures to help us recover from the other humans. Megan and I have set up a multi-species collective. I don’t dominate her; she doesn’t dominate me. 

This is what it means to live well. It is to honor each other, to be kind, to be symbiotically kind and to form for ourselves and the other species that live with us respectful, loving biomes.

A trifle consoles us, for a trifle distresses us.

— Blaise Pascal

We’re fragile.

Trifles mess with us  — things break, people make remarks, inconveniences throw us into a fit, expectations arise, and we easily get caught up in negative mental loops.

Trifles toy with us, they torture us — comments, accidents, unfulfilled expectations, petty comparisons — and we are often ashamed of them, ashamed of losing our calm, ashamed of getting upset. And, of course, we also suffer shame from the significances that bother us — health issues, broken relationships, debt, jealousies, all manner of losses.

But under duress, I think we are too quick to tell ourselves, “This is not normal,” or “I shouldn’t be so upset,” or “I can’t believe this happened,” or “I can’t believe this is effecting me so much!”

I’m changing my views on us, on our reactions, our emotions, and I am developing an acute tolerance for upset, in myself, and in others.

We are fragile, but that’s good. We were made that way, for a reason.

To be fragile is also to be sensitive, attuned, aware, sentient — and those are not bad human traits. The opposite is to be hard, insensitive, out of touch, unaware, numb. But that doesn’t work, not for human beings, not for good relationships, not for anybody.

The way to maturity, the path to good relationships, the way to a healthy sense of self in a  frustrating world is to begin to understand our frailties, our sensitivities, our upsets, and  to listen to them, to listen to our bodies, to listen to our emotions, and to learn from them.

Recently, one of my daughters was jealous of the other. It came to tears. It was heartbreaking. We had to talk it out.

My response?

I told my daughters, “Jealousy is normal. I’ve been jealous. It’s painful, I know, but jealousy is a normal human emotion, something we all experience, and hide, and suffer over, and have shame over.”  Jealousy — it is that one piece of clothing that we all have in the closet and just can’t bring ourselves to wear out in public — or to throw away.

But jealousy, admitted, confessed, attended to, can teach us so much about ourselves. It can teach us that we are hungry for approval, and that we all want to star, be noticed, be attractive, succeed, be loved.

I’m learning — and trying to help my family learn — that we can talk about such things, things we may tend to hide, our feelings, our “trifles,” and we can process them, we can admit our hidden shame, and we can help each other by normalizing this stuff.

In fact, I don’t think we can do a better thing for those we love than to normalize them being human, to normalize them being fragile, to normalize our universal need for love and care for our bodies, our emotions and our sense of self.

Openness, acknowledgment or our humanity, acknowledgment of weakness  — that is good for the soul. It’s truth!

Pascal was correct. It actually only takes small doses of openness and acceptance to calm us. Mere minutes of openness, of transparency, of empathy, mere moments of talking and connecting can calm the many various and sundry squalls of the human spirit.

Do this: take seriously your inner emotional tides and waves — and other people’s too — no matter how small they may seem, or how shameful, and hear them, honor them, learn from them, and by doing so, recover from them too.