Posts Tagged ‘god’

We Americans have a penchant for authenticity, but in reality most of us (me too!) copy, mimic and ape each other constantly. We are  surrounded by each other’s appeals for the authentic (“Get real!”), but we keep selecting the same  cliches, smart phone emojis, Frappuccino drinks, cool Blazers from H&M, semi-serious “Oh my God’s” and binge-watched TV shows as each other.

We tend to fall in line.

What is authenticity? It is psychological and social congruency — a robust personal consistency — between what is inside us and what comes out of us. Authentic people are what they profess to be. They are true to themselves, and they are open, real and honest with others. They buy, say, offer and proffer what they truly value.

Lately I’m wanting more and more authenticity — from myself and others. To get that, I’ve been talking to myself, admitting to myself what is true about me, and others, especially being open to admitting my fears, fumblings, successes and regresses so that I can admit them to others.

I like coffee, cars, cats, books, fixing things, staff teams, history, literature, cold cereal and all manner of high-quality verbage. I am afraid of diseases, extremists and old age. I love my job as a pastor. I am so glad I have a resourcer-wife and two lovely daughters. I worry that they will not always be safe. I adore God. I also love myself — sometimes too much. I love to talk to people and make new friends. I love being alone.

To grow in desired authenticity, I’ve also been talking to others without editing as much as I used to. Instead I am trying to tap into what is really going on when I am with them, what I am feeling, what they are feeling, what we are intuiting, what we are apprehending. I am aiming at nothing less than the freedom to say what is semi-true and quasi-tolerable at any given moment, but in ways that are modest, gentle and even loving. Being authentic is no excuse for being cruel, or rude.

Saturday I encougaged a friend to go to counseling. I recently had a conflict with someone who is judgmental. It ended well.  I was patient with a person with memory loss, and I was patient with myself when I locked my keys in my office.

I can be deep; I am capable of crass superficiality. Today I bought a new casual-style blazer at H&M. I too am a member of the fast-fashion herd. At some level, I too am a copycat. Sometimes I buy clothes so that I won’t have to go around naked; sometimes I buy them so that I just might — to some other materialistic person like me — look cool, acceptable, maybe, kind of, like I (perhaps) used to?

The new blazer will look good with my blue and white checked shirt, (the one I used lighter fluid on today to get the gum out out the pocket), my Guess jeans that I bought because I couldn’t fit in my favorite Ring of Fire pair, and my black wingtips that I just had to have last Christmas because my other semi-dressy black shoe had a hole in the sole and someone might see that when I crossed my legs at an event.

I am trying, to live out me, with a modicum of honesty mixed with a preferred style. I drive a high-performance sports car because I really, really, really honestly and truly love to go very fast surrounded by eleven Bose speakers cranked up to full volume, the air conditioner blasting my face off, the mirrors vibrating to the bass, the exhaust growling at the cars I am blowing past and the curbs flying by like party streamers. I’m a resolute car sinner.

I also follow God as hard as I can, reveling in the nonpareil salvation God has offered me in the inimitable Christ and telling everybody I can that God absolutely adores them. At my core I an exhilarated by my everyday experience of God’s super-fast empowerment, his luxurious love, his bright streaming grace and his cranked up favor! God is so cool to me!

What do I recommend to you, you pop culture fanatics, you want-a-be coolios, you flawed authentics, you semi-valid truthers, you fellow hopeful reality-mongers — all you my godly and quasi-godly lovelies?

Be you; no less.

Unperson; you’ll worsen.

Sync, with God — and yourself.

Recently, my office manger, Tasia, and I were chatting in my office when we looked over at the couch and saw a giant cockroach sitting there, watching us.

Apparently he had come in for counseling. We have said the door of REFINERY Church is open to everyone.

What to do with this expectant cockroach?

Tasia went to the supply closet, got out a can of the aerosol spray used to dust off computer keyboards, turned it upside down so that only the cold aerosol would come up and fired it off at our en-couched counselee.

He turned white; he was literally white, with frost — frozen. We put his little frozen body in the trash.

Tasia  — or as I now think of now, Elsa, the ice queen — retell the story and just laugh.Why did God make cockroaches anyway, in such numbers? It has been noted that he seems to have an “inordinate fondness for beetles.”

Maybe he gets a laugh out of watching our reaction to them.

Which brings up the question: Is God funny? Does God have a sense of humor? Did he laugh,  when he made cockroaches, when he made us?

Alfred North Whitehead, the esteemed British mathematician, logician and philosopher once wrote, “the total absence of humour in the Bible is one of the most singular things in all of literature”

Alfred was wrong. The Bible is full of humor.

Maybe it was Alfred who wasn’t funny.

Humor is fundamental to God’s character.

In the Bible we see God engaging in an abundance of wit, sarcasm and irony. The Old Testament is full of funny stories and crazy situations.

A woman who has gets pregnant at 90, a country overrun by frogs, a donkey that talks, a prophet barfed up by a whale — the Bible is funny

Ecclesiastes 3:4 confirms humor’s esteemed place in God’s design saying, There is a “a time to laugh …”

The Bible weeps; it also laughs. God takes time to laugh.

To see God’s humor, begin at the beginning. Creatures are the first proof that God laughs.

The Pygmy Seahorse, the Blob fish, the Aye-Aye, us — you can’t look at some of the faces of creation, and not think God has a sense of humor.

Think of how he must chuckle, guffaw, even howl over you and me.

Secondly, God’s humor shows surprising enough, shows up in his discipline of us, his designer corrections to get us back on track.

The great theme of the Bible is that God loves people, and that after they are lost from him, he will do anything to get them back.

So God engages in ironic correction. We may be corrected in the same way we sinned.

At the command of the Pharaoh, the Egyptians drown the Hebrew children in the Nile, but Moses is spared and then God drowns the Egyptians in the Red sea.

Take that.

Haman, the villain in the book of Esther, builds a gallows for a good man name Mordecai, and then when Haman’s evil is exposed, he is hung on his own execution machine.

God corrects with ironic solutions, he defeats with mocking punishments, and He leads his sweet ones back to himself with wry tactics.

The Israelites whine in the desert that the manna he gave them was not enough. They demand meat from God, and so he gives them meat until it is coming out of their noses. They get so much meat it makes them sick.

Beware what you want. God might give you that, and that ironically will be your correction.

Psalm 37 reports,  “The wicked plot against the righteous, and gnash their teeth at them; but the Lord laughs … for he sees that their day [the day of the ironic lesson) is coming.”

The divine sardonic chuckle — you want to live in such a way that you don’t hear that.

Take for instance, the day I shot my older brother Steve. It was his divinely ordained correction.

I aimed the gun, squeezed the trigger, and fired.

Now what you need to know is that he  asked for it. Literally. He said: ” I wonder what it feels like to be shot with a BB gun.”

“Let’s find out,” I said. “I’ll shoot.”

So by plan, I aimed at his blue-jeaned butt. But the shot carried high, guided, I’d say, by the hand of God, and hit him square in the middle of the back — which was to me divine punishment for all the times he had hit me and tortured me.

So there you have it. The ironic wrath of God on my brother. I myself witnesses it, and then I started running.

I heard his footsteps behind me. I believe he wanted to thank me. But I was humble, and wanted no credit, and I kept running.

So,  we see God’s humor in the creation (the blob fish; we see his humor in his discipline, (my brother) and thirdly we see God’s humor in his delight in us.

Zephaniah 3:17, “He will take great delight in you … he will rejoice over you with singing.”

God laughs in a happy, appreciative, celebratory way over us.

Consider Genesis 18:10, where God informs Abraham (who is about 100 years old) and Sarah (who is about 90) that they will have a son by “this time next year.”

God must have gotten a kick out of that announcement.

And they sure did. When Sarah is told, she openly laughs. Hebrews says at this point, Abraham was “as good as dead.”

Sarah was thinking, if we do it, at this age, the old guy will probably have a heart attack, and she laughs, and God’s laughs with her, because this is ridiculous and delightful and crazy  and good.

Sex, at 100, and a baby — they all laugh and God with them.

Zephaniah 3:17. He will take great delight in you.

God is not a far off, uptight, angry, he is not a humorless tyrant. God is funny, he is clever, he is wry, he has tricks up his sleeve.

His humor draws us close to him.

How could we ever relate to a stern, humorless patrician-God who never jokes around?

But a funny God who tells his man Abraham to name his soon-to-be-born son, Isaac, or in Hebrew, Yit-zhak — because that Hebrew word means laughed, that we can relate to.

Laughter — it is divine, it is so good for us.

Poking fun, is a way of dealing with brokenness, normalizing difficulty, a way of coping.

What are you upset about? Try laughing at it.

The Bible says a merry heart is good like a medicine. Humor is the antidote of life. It is God’s survival medicine.

Ever wonder what heaven will be like? The disciples wanted to sit by Jesus, at his right hand. That would scare the heck out of me. What would I say? What if Iused the wrong fork, or language, at dinner.

Besides, sitting around the throne, listening to harp music, I prefer electric guitars. I think Jesus might too.

In heaven I think, I’ll be down at the river with the other people who barely got in, partying and telling jokes and laughing hilariously and whooping it up.

And perhaps the serious ones, around the throne, will cast an envious eye toward us, that wild bunch, down at the river and want to come down.

It is a great mystery. It is a great mystery of the OT.

We live within the mystery of a God who laughs and sings and hoots and hollers over us, and when we too laugh, this brings us closer to God.

 

P1030619When I was little, I found a safe place high up in a tree near my house.

The first time I climb that tree I saw that above me, higher up and near the top, were grape vines tangled in the branches. I climbed higher, and I saw that the vines formed a kind of roof over me, and so I poked my hands and then head through the leaves and netted vines,  and there found a kind of vine nest, a skyfort — hidden in an upper world.

“Cool!”

I climbed up, and into it, and I laid back, and I floated on my back far off the ground, and I put my hands behind my head, and I looked up at the blue sky, and no one walking by knew I was there lounging above.

That place has stayed with me. Last year, I had the chance to go  back to where I grew up. The skyfort isn’t there any more, but my need for it remains. I still find myself ferreting out somewhere where I might be alone and feel safe for a moment and watch the world pass by below. I need such a place. We all do and if we don’t find it, we go crazy looking for it.

My office, at my work, is a bit of this  kind or place for me, where I meet with people and help them. My bedroom, at home, is such a place for me, where I write and play my guitar and talk to my wife. These places are good, but they are not enough, nor will they ever be.

I spoke to someone recently who isn’t okay —  no skyfort, no place up above it all, where they can go and feel okay. This person has a home, but there is still no place to get away from what he has done and especially what he has not done and fundamentally and intrinsically from the rejection of himself by himself.

“Hold me,” my daughter said to me recently, and so I held her, my own flesh and blood, close, safe, in the arms that have no harm in them but only want to protect and comfort and rescue. And then she let down and rested.  She was safe there, leaning back into her nest of  not-aloneness that exists within the not-aloneness of my care, where she can lounge and  watch the world go by and be okay.

We’re all looking for that kind of okay, but most of us don’t find enough of it. I know I don’t. My daughter either.

Life for all of us is less that we hope for in our moments of hoping and dreaming and imagining what might yet be there somewhere above us.

Needy, we tend to climb life, unrested, looking for a vine-net of affirmation, but usually all we get is a bunch of criticism, a pack of rules and a parcel of lies. They tend to shove us  back, away from each other, and toward the ground. We experience the “not good enough” in the very places we hoped for “your all I ever hoped for.” Even in the places we expected to find the web of understanding, places like marriage, home, church and school, we meet the cool eyes of distancing disapproval.  And then in anger and stubbornness we retreat and sniff out alternate places, dangerous and harmful places of escape and avoidance and brain numbing stultification. Yet these places are not nearly strong enough to hold off the harsh judgments of our peers and of ourselves.

There seems to be no place, to make us okay, because in no place do we find unconditional acceptance.

Except one.

Where is that?

It is in God.

God only, Christ only, accepts the unacceptable heart when it comes to him broken and unacceptable and self-rejected and allows itself to be forgiven, lifted up and held close. There is no other place to go to be okay. No human arms, no social success, no known substance, no  wealth, no hidden tree fort, nothing on the planet or in the universe that can erase the loneliness incumbent in our own failure to love and be loved. This only happens  in God.

God.

One place.

God is the one place in which we unacceptable persons may  begin to be acceptable again. He is a safe place in which  a new okayness can be found,  from which we can begin to recover and look out and gather strength and live and love ourselves and others once again.

God.

He is a skyfort.

The sun rotates every 28 days. Not being solid, it should be slightly flattened by its rotation. But an international team of scientists using the Solar Dynamics Observatory have have determined how perfectly round it is.

If scaled to the size of a beach ball, it would be so round that the difference between the widest and narrowest diameters would be much less than the width of a human hair.

Other subsurface forces must be exerting more of an effect than expected. Such is the nature of reality. Things have a shape. Unexpected forces are at work to maintains that.

Cool! It’s incredible! I love it. Like Cezanne I love a sphere. God work.

I have a daughter with brain damage. I suffer the pain of chronic nerve damage, and my heart has been broken too. I once had a very close friend turn on me.

I could have been flattened by such rotations. I haven’t been. I have had a charmed life. So much good has come my way.

I have been educated in literature, linguistics, history and pain.

I am married to woman who specializes in discovering information.

I am a writer.

I live to make geometric sense out of reality.

Unexpected forces have done this. God work.

As a result of all this and everyday realities that round me out, I am becoming more and more of the kind of round I was always intended to be.

The unvarnished truth is that each one of us is a sun. Each of our lives is a shape, and internal and external forces are at work to persist into forming us into something extremely beautiful.

It’s round light.

It’s the kind of round that is within a hairs breadth of being perfect.

It is the work of God.

When I was eight years old, I kicked a rock down a road in anguish that I was going straight and very fast to hell. I saw myself as a muscle car on a straight road with the gas pedal stomped – tires burning and screaming, hood rising, trunk hunkering down, speedometer needle swinging hard to the right, the road blurring on either side, the focus narrowing down to a small, tiny bit of hard hot asphalt ahead that was going to rip me apart when I flipped at 130 miles per hour.

Someone’s life was going to end in a gruesome crash of punishment because someone was pressing foolishly on an evil gas pedal — me. Anxiety was among my earliest theologically inspired emotions.  When I thought of a force in the world greater than myself, I had a decidedly ancient Greco-Southern-Baptist response. God judged failures; large fire bolts were aimed at me.

It’s odd, my fear of the divine wrath, because in actuality my early life was filed with the small and the safe.  When my brothers and I were little, we liked to play outside at night in the summer in the large field in front of the house. On warm night, in the field, I remember tiny fire flies blinked on and off. Their tiny yellow lights flashed here and there, like Christmas lights moving in the air. In between one soft blink and another there was their flight, but we only saw the pulse and in that was the beauty of the thing. There was something there, alive, magically small, miniature light houses that could fly. It was astonishing to me. This was no thunderbolt; it was safe fire. There were also other things which I remember from the field that were small and fun, and we took charge of some of those.

In the summer the cow were allowed into the field to graze on the grass, and there were  tiny flies that buzzed around the cow paddies. And on their soft, steamy piles, the flies landed, which provided great sport for us. Out we came with our B-B guns, and the fun began. Each shot made a splash and left a gashing crater. If the shiny copper B-B’s were on the mark, then the fly disappeared into the goop, with perhaps a wing left flopping on the surface to signal the kill. “Hit” said the softly waving wing. There was no tragedy in this, only the hunt and the hit and the yell of victory over our small combatants. I remember one fly hit and seemingly sunk in the muck who rose and flew again, and in that moment I celebrated his escape and told his heroic story to my brothers. “He was down, in the B-B tunnel, and he crawled out, and he flew off!” We  loved the bold, triumphal comeback of the other side.

Small boys love to wage war on small things, and live happily in the diminutive world of small victories and small defeats and they do so without fear. Small boys, even ones who fear punishments, take dominion over fields and flies and wild strawberries and such . My brothers and I loved the tiny, wild strawberries as we did the flies and gamed for them too. They hid from us in low leaves and grass, but we found them everywhere.

I still remember the spots where they grew, the field were we played baseball out behind the grade school and the ditch along the highway, right in front of the shop where we painted my first car. They were different than store-bought strawberries in that they were much smaller, about the size of a little finger nail, but they were the same in that they were bright red with little brown seed dots and green leaf hats and tasty. The fun was in the hunt, and in the find, and the reward was immediate because we ate them unwashed, on the spot. The ripe ones were ambrosia, juicy and sweet, the ones with a bit of white or green on them were tart and tangy in the mouth. We learned quickly which to pick and which to not. Sometimes we piled the bright red ones high in discarded tin cans or in paper cups and carried them home with us, an attempt to save the manna for another day. But God wasn’t angry in the ditches; there was always more manna.

And when we went to school, there too, life was experienced small, and safe and approachable. One page in the encyclopedia housed a tree full of birds and another a field full of flowers, and the book told their names. The terrible “Tyrannosaurus” took up only a part of a page and was so small and smooth that I never remember being afraid of his open mouth. The saber toothed tiger with long teeth and sharp claws was glossy and flat. The vast ocean that looked so wet and wild was dry and calm, and the fearsome war heroes and their horrific battles were silent.

School books made life small, fly-like, quiet, safe — one dimensional. Life was presented to us flat, of course, for our safety and for the preservation of our teachers. No physical harm could come to us, even from our powerful teachers, because they were, by law, unarmed. Jonathan Swift pointed out, while on another educational errand, that we were delicious children, and so care had been taken. And we never took field trips to Jurassic Park, but we were taught that the terrible lizards were real, or that they had been somewhere at some time. Just because we only saw them in books, that didn’t make us doubt the fundamentally dangerous reality in any way, but the danger hadn’t come close to us.

In school, the hunt and the find and the shot and the hit were all confined to the quiet of the page and so even international conflicts ended not in blood baths but in tiny back dots at the end of paragraphs. It was there on the page and at the desk and under the press of the pen that the huge and dangerous universals became the small and safe particulars. The small became the safe-large by virtue of repetition and the large became the small again by the example at hand. In short, we discovered the knowledge of the largest things in the knowledge of the smallest things. We found math in two plus two.  We found art in Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers.” And we found war in George Washington crossing the Delaware at night. And this was our way of life, as we discovered it, and though such a childhood full of just this kind of page turning  I gradually came to change my metaphysics.

Today, I ate at piece of toast with my strong coffee. I put milk in the coffee to bring it to just the right light brown and smooth flavor that I like. I smeared homemade strawberry jam on my bread, covering my toast, my small field of wheat in bright fruit, my childhood on a plate. The strawberries were tamed a bit by all the added sugar, but they came through for me as they always have. The rosy sweetness kissed the buds on my tongue awake. In just moments, I could feel the sugar and caffeine hit my brain, that familiar ready-for-more, bring-on-whatever-is-next feeling. It is so fine. Small things have such powerful effects, suggesting the larger things of life to us with nod and hint and a semiotic gesture.

The bread of life has so little harm in it. It is eloquent of the love and patience and safety that surrounds me. Every bite is communion, and every day I eat it. My life is bludgeoned with soft bread. I crunched Special K for breakfast today. I had some frosted mini-wheats for a snack. In the evening, I tore small pieces of French bread off a loaf and dipped them in a creamy spinach dip. The evidence is overwhelming.

Before lunch today I went to Costco. I shopped, then before leaving, I picked up a Hebrew National hot dog and diet Coke. I covered the inside of the bun with relish, mustard, catsup and fresh onions. Then I found a seat on the strawberry red and white picnic tables and looked out over the store. Costco, like the bread I eat everyday is the absence of scarcity. It is a fragile shell around a substantial pile of food. If a tornado hit a Costco, the big, thin box of wall and roof and ducts and pipes would fly away, but the food would remain, on the medal shelves, stacked four pallets high. It is the food that makes the store. It is head-high everywhere, and in most places it towers twenty feet above the shoppers. It comes in such large quantities that the issue in choosing  things comes down to, “Can we eat that much before we die?” I considered the lemon juice recently, but the deal was two huge bottles linked together by a plastic strip. I passed it up. It was an excellent price, but only for a younger person with more time. I don’t want my children to go through my stuff after I die and say things like, “Wow, Dad was weirder that we thought. Look at all this lemon juice. What was he thinking?”

Not everyone can shop at Costco. I know that. It’s painful for me. Not everyone has enough. I read recently that an estimated 800 million people don’t have enough to eat each day. The information was flat on the page, but there is a terrible reality to this and it is one to grieve. There is enough land to produce the needed food, the amount of food, an abundance of food. And there is enough muscle and money to produce the food. But, what we do with this is our business and our responsibility, and what we have not done about this is to our shame, but the facts still stand. The world has been well-stocked. We have done each other wrong, but what we need has been provided. The gods are not simply angry. The smallest bits and pieces of good that we receive each day point eloquently to a profound compassion. The good just keeps showing up, even in the tragic, and my theology is leaning hard in a different direction now than when I was eight.

It comes to a basic bit of logic, really. There is so much that is good and beautiful in life –  the varieties of bread, the glowing fire flies, the red strawberries, the dark brown caffeine, the familiar people we forage besides, the potential to provide for everyone. And if there is an original source that all these fine and excellent things come from, a divine and amazingly creative source, and I have come to believe that there is, then all the good things come to my hands and my mouth and my mind from that source,  and as a result, I just can‘t stop thinking lately that I am loved, not punished, and that I will not be punished in the future. And I just can’t stop noticing that I am safe today, for the moment, and that all around me things signal, good. Despite the mess the world is in, it is massive really, the evidence of good.

This evening my wife and I lay on the bed in our room as the sun set, debriefing the day. I noticed a warm block of yellow light on the northwest facing wall. Odd, how did the sun get on this surface considering it was setting almost directly behind it? We looked around. I got up and walked over to the southwest facing window and put my hand in front of the glass to see where the sun was entering. My hand shadowed the bright sun patch on the wall, and then I noticed the mirror on the southeast wall. The sun was passing through the window, hitting the mirror and reflecting onto the northwest wall. The evidence of a loving warmth, at the close of day, was present, cleverly cast into our room, in the form of light. Something in me wanted to clap and not stop.

Fireflies, glitter paths, candles, light bulbs, lightening, computer screens, headlights, stop lights glittering on the pavement in the rain, luminescent fish and every other small patch or spot or gleam of light in the universe shouts, “Life, illuminated, good, safe, more!” Small lights gesture toward the presence of large lights. Radiance is a gift and it reminds us that we are loved. I no longer fear that the future will be lightning bolts frying me; I now feel it will be an evening sky warming me and charming me and seducing me to more starry light still.

I am thinking more and more this way now. This matters greatly, and it helps me move forward in the best way possible. This is no mere dabbling in metaphysics for temporary reassurance. This is no intellectual dilettantism, no spiritual reductionism, no oversimplification, no facile claim that the divine universal is only spoken in the trivial positive.  No, it’s bigger than that; everything implies the divine, the whole of life, the horror too.

Take war. Boyhood battles with flies pass, and boys turn into men and this turns into hitting in high school’s hallways,  shouting in family living spaces and ego thrashing in glass windowed offices. And young men go to war and send smart bombs rushing to do collateral damage, which is a euphemism for brain damage, which ends with unending weeping because the destruction can’t be fixed by any means that we know of once the mission is accomplished. Conflict may be flat history on a thin page for young school children, but it in reality it is three-dimensional, scary and bloody ugly. We contend, and we will contend, with each other, seemingly forever. Nothing is more certain than the changes that will come from the battles we will wage against nature and against each other and against the source. There will be more B-B guns fired at flies and there will be more concussive explosions on the human battle fields and more arms will fly off and more heads will spin across the dirt and family will rise up against family and nation against nation and more hearts will be broken and minds twisted into fear and unending hate before this is all done.  

And more children will starve to death. They did today. And some of us will be drowned in the excrement of others, and it couldn’t be uglier than it is and than it will be. Before it is over, too many of us will flop a wing in the excreta of hate and revenge, and we will grimace with mouths full of filth and pain and we will again be so broken and fouled that we won’t want bread, and we will put our heads in our arms and close our eyes so that we won’t see the yellow patch of fading light on the wall of the bedroom.

Do we understand this? We must. Everything communicates something. In the small dose of violence that it has been our lot to witness comes to us the larger, more universal issues of systemic violence and racial hate and recurring wars. It is the same as the good. The small speaks of the large, both in the good and the evil. But the evil is from us, not from above, and this I have come to be sure of. This much is true. And this is where we too have some measure of comfort and hope. I believe that what is above is working to turn evil to good.

I have seen something bad turn out for some good. I have felt like pain wouldn’t end, but it did. Yes. I now know something I knew so much less at eight years old. In what is worse, I have a chance to see some of what is best. Just because my world is stupidly violent, doesn’t mean that the source of all that is good and right is so. That source is not. Instead the source of life is steeped in the politics of redemption and the passion for renewal.

I have come to believe that evil things can be recovered from, and to believe that the small good can defeat the large bad. Good has a way of leaking back in when one is open to it and the end doesn’t have to be dark. I have come to believe in redemption. We can be down, hit, mucking about in the goop with only one wing free, and yet fly again. Once, one who was strong kneeled close to one who was weak, and lifted up what was broken and carried it to a place where it became strong again.

This  happened, and it has happened to me; it has happened to me again and again. I remember my junior year in college so well. All the loneliness of growing up and living apart from my family and studying nihilistic philosophies and fuzzy-edged literatures and not having safe friends and family that I could disclose myself too and looking for refuge in stupid-brain experiences with immature friends, it caught up with me, and I was so hungry for soft bread and warm light and something tender and good and loving to believe in and to believe in me. I wrote in my journal too much that year. Writing in journals is sometimes eloquent of missing relationships, ones that offer safe places for transparency and truth.

And it culminated in me standing in a park in the city at cool night on a hill looking at the sky and shouting, “If you are there, do something!”

“Do something,” which means something like, “Don’t hate me, don’t condemn me, don’t make war on me, do not, not understand me, don’t leave me alone like this, don’t not pursue me, don’t not make right what I have made wrong, don’t be a distant and judgmental father, and don’t above all things, don’t leave me unchanged.”

I remember reading something in that time that tasted like good bread and shone like yellow light winging through the dark and felt like holy war on untruth. It was from the prophet Isaiah. “In returning and rest shall you be saved and in quietness and confidence will be your strength.”

These words weren’t frozen in print as I read them, they weren’t dead on the page, but instead they were as alive and real as they came off the flat, thin page and they formulated into something three-dimensional and sharp that entered me square between the eyes and proceeded into my frontal lobe at high speed. These words pierced my thoughts like an arrow fired from a bow pulled all the way back at close range, and they knocked back something that I hated and wanted to be rid of –  scary religious noise. The words struck me quiet, and they created a space inside for silent confidence to begin again.

The specialists of the heart call this redemption. It means that something lost is retrieved, something sold is bought back and something ruined is restored. And this is that way that redemption happens, like it happened to me, in a shout into the night and bit of truth on a page. It came to me as one bite of soft bread, one small light flashing in a field and one small line of truth struck deep.

What is it? It is God.

The religious sing, “Great is our God.” I have no quarrel with that. But I found him first and I find him most in what is small and safe.

I found him that way yesterday as my wife and I lay on the bed together and talked over our day, as we always do. And as I held my wife’s hand I knew that her small hand in mine was from him, from his Costco-style plenty for me and that it was such a perfect picture of his larger safe grip on me.

I found him today as my daughter Rosalind and I drove away from the house. She is learning disabled, and this has been hard for her and for me, but in the car, we talked about how many times we had ridden together in the morning, her off to school, me off to work, buddies shoving off together, from kindergarten to college, holding hands in the car, starting the day connected, and then going our own ways, knowing we would see each other again at night to sit, safe again, and watch TV and eat and talk and go to bed at peace with each other and life. This ride, this shared ride, slow not furious and fast, ending in safety, speaks books to me of the compassion of God that I have come to hold on to.

I have found the largest thing in the smallest things. And these things have been made small for me out of compassion for me. A loving maker is suggested, hinted at, gestured to and present in, the smooth, slow ride to school, in the small tasty bite at noon, in the warm rectangular glow on the wall as he day closes, in the next page turned and in the tender hand in my hand on each one of the very particular days of my life.

 

Main-Thing Talk

Posted: February 16, 2010 in people
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We talk about everything but the main thing.

Not talking directly and openly about the main thing is like not eating enough protein. It is like not getting enough sleep.

What is the main thing? Well, if I say it you might disagree and there we go, not talking main-thing stuff again.

Recently, I talked with my daughter about sex. Now there is a main thing. Ads talk about it a lot and radio songs gush about it all over the place, and so she should know all about it, right? Not really. She’s been saturated with ads and songs and singing ads all her life, but it hasn’t gotten it, and she still didn’t know some very simple and of-the-first-order things about sex. Why? We just don’t talk about it; we let our fear of awkwardness keep us from becoming not awkward with life. So my college-aged daughter and I got down to some honest, simple, raw questions and answers. I know what she doesn’t know, and I’m the safest person in the world to let her know. Dang!

It is so easy to be honest if we just get started and so refreshing too. It’s like leaving a crowded restaurant where there is a constant din of undecipherable noise and moving to a park bench under a quiet tree and sitting close and hearing every nuance of meaning and expression in each other’s voices.

I had a conversation with some one recently about God. Who hasn’t heard of God? But there is a constant din of puzzlement about him too, and silence here too. It’s too weird. People say they can’t talk with certain people about politics or religion. So they don’t. Fine. Who need arguments? But really now? God is arguably a main thing. And he is so main he is integrated with everything else that we talk about or don’t talk about, like sex and violence and pets and movies and the weather. And not bringing him up is bizarre. He is the ultimate elephant in the room. Why wouldn’t we in our role as parent and friend and lover and consumer speak directly and personally about God.

We know stuff and kids have questions and friends have concerns. It is long past time to break the silence and say what we think to each other!  Come on now. We are letting moments pass when we should be jumping on the opportunities to teach and learn and lean while we teach as we just get honest and real and verbal.

The main thing is always the thing below the surface of the thing we have chosen to talk about. To get down to it, we need only look further to the larger structure: what is the branch that is holding this leaf, the trunk that is holding this branch, the root that is holding the trunk, the earth that is  holding this root, the solar system that is holding this earth, the universe that is holding this solar system, the force that is holding this universe? Questions get us deeper, closer to the main things that are so interesting and refreshing and empowering to talk about.

Main stuff needs attention. This is ridiculous. We are shutting up way too much. We are acting like we don’t know about what we do know about. Just go there. Fearlessly dive to the next level.  Admit what you don’t know; say what you do know. Say it plainly, honestly and directly.  People who you love need you to say it, now.

Change The World

Posted: August 17, 2009 in thriving
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\child 5  child 3child 4

 

 

 

Let The Children Change the World

I love kids and teens and young adults. Kids are smart. Young people are resilient.  Young people rock, even when life is hard.

 Rodney Dangerfield, remarking on childhood trauma said,  “When I was a kid my parents moved a lot, but I always found them.”

Rodney Dangerfield and the Bible and have something in common; they both narrate accounts of tough childhoods. But the Bible goes further than Mr. Dangerfield. It finishes the childhood narratives with fine endings.

Moses was abandoned in a basket in a river, but he became the ruler of Egypt. David, a mere boy, faced an abusive adult, and using simple technology, defeated him.  Young Ruth’s husband died, but Ruth found another man to love her, and she had a baby boy, an ancestor of Jesus.

 Mary, pregnant and unmarried, suffered the social judgment of her community, but she gave birth to Jesus.  Paul had a narrow, legalistic childhood education, but he wrote a lion’s share of a very radical and liberating text, the New Testament.

 Kids survive tough stuff and thrive! Many people in history and today are proof of that. Many of us have enter adulthood as survivors, having overcome illness, dislocation, abandonment,  losses of all kinds.

 Once my brothers and I were playing baseball with a golf ball. We thought it was a good idea. It wasn’t. A golf ball goes hard when hit with a wooden bat.   I hit a line drive. It hit my brother in the mouth. He is still sending me the dental bills. I still regret the mistake.

 Early years can be tough; but young people can be tougher.

Childhood resilience? Our modern, cultural narratives often celebrate it.  In Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events,Count Olaf is trying to kill the three Baudelaire orphans for their inheritance. The villain, Olaf, played by Jim Carrey, leaves the children in a car on the railroad tracks. Young Violet makes a spring loaded, bobble-headed track switcher and the children escape harm with ingenuity and resolve. Fiction? Consider this. 

Laurence Gonzales, in his well-researched book Deep Survival, asks the question:  Who has most chance of surviving in a wilderness crisis, exposed to the elements? Answer: Children six and under have one of the highest survival rates. Gonzales writes, “They often survive in the same conditions better than experienced hunters, better than physically fit hikers, better than former members of the military or skilled sailors. “If they get cold, reports Gonzales,  they find a warm place. If they tire, they rest. “They try to make themselves comfortable, and staying comfortable helps keep the alive.”

Jesus himself thought so highly of kids, he put them up as the world’s top model! 

 The people brought children to Jesus, hoping he might touch them. The disciples shooed them off. 

 But Jesus was irate and let them know it: “Don’t push these children away. Don’t ever get between them and me. These children are at the very center of life in the kingdom.

 Mark this: Unless you accept God’s kingdom in the simplicity of a child, you’ll never get in.” Then, gathering the children up in his arms, he laid his hands of blessing on them.

 Jesus was crazy about children! Jesus bragged on children. Jesus said children owned the kingdom! Jesus said we should learn from children. Learn what? We should learn to be simple, receptive and open.   

 Life is hard. People hurt people.  They make bad decisions. Then, too often, a parent-like voice within a person’s pschye chides:  “What is wrong with you? Grow up. Pull yourself together. Your future is up to you.”

 But Jesus says, “Don’t grow up in every way. Remain like the children in their simple trust. They know they need help. They know they can’t control and fix everything. They come near for help. Children model appropriate and wise dependence; it is with a simple childlike faith that we come into God’s peaceable kingdom.

 Robert Coles, Harvard Child psychiatrist, in his studies, Children of Crisis, shows us that children in difficult circumstances — poverty, loss,  family break-up — often exhibit “authority, dignity, fragility, and rock-bottom strength.”  And there is frequently a trust in God present.

Ruby Bridges, was the first African-American child to attend an all-white school in the South in 1960. In the face of violent, resistance, little Ruby stood up, and marched to class each day. She helped bring about school desegregation in New Orleans. Her mother told Robert Coles, Ruby’s counselor, that Ruby prayed for those in the mob who threatened and harassed her.

 Ruby had an inner moral compass. She looked to God to deal with evil. This is not untypical. Children, as Coles showed in his book The Spiritual Life of Children, often try to figure out life by tapping into spirituality.

 Again, we see this reality portrayed in our culture’s popular stories. In the movie, Bridge to Terabithia, a young girl named Leslie goes to church for the first time with her friend Jeff. On the ride home in the back of a pickup, Leslie grapples with  deep theological issues. Jess and his little sister have grown up in church, but they focus on the fearful prospect of God damning people to hell.  Leslie is just hearing the spiritual narrative for the first time, and she sees the vibrant life in it. She thinks the Jesus narrative is beautiful. She revels in the goodness of God surrounding her; she lifts her hands to the trees and sun as the children in the back of the truck glide home through the splendor!

 Kids think about God, and not just in movie life. Many children, like adults, try to make sense out of the idea of a loving God in an evil world. Children need adults to teach them and to dialogue with them, but adults should also encourage children to think, wonder, ask questions and try to make their own expressions of wonder and faith. By opening a discussion with children, adults are helping develop thinkers and doers. Remember again, that Jesus himself made children the model of true spirituality.

 And let’s take it further than talk. Life rcries out for collaboration and action.  We need, and the children need, to struggle together over what to do with tough issues, issues that touch deeply,  like poverty and loss of parents. Really, sitting at the core of all this,  is the truth that we need to include children in helping us solve life’s big problems.

 When five thousand people needed to be fed, who offered a loaf of bread and five fish to Jesus disciples? A child did! Only a child had the good sense to bring a lunch that day, and give it away.

In my community, last Easter, children from several churches helped make almost 300 Easter baskets for homeless children and under-resourced children. In the spring these children helped make 150 birthday boxes for foster children. Then in the summer they helped put together 200 backpacks, full of school supplies, for foster and refugee children. Children in our community, are changing the world.

 A teacher in our preschool lost her mom this year. One of her three year olds, Taylor, asked her: “Did your mommy die?”

 “Yes, she did,” answered the teacher.

 Then three-year old Taylor said, “I have a mommy. And my mommy can be your mommy too.”

 Children get it right. Children want to be part of the solution. Children will share their lunch, their mommy, with others.

 There is extreme value in children serving children.

 It exposes children to the needs of their peers.

 My daughter just got back from a mission’s trip to La Paz. She told me, “Now I have a place in my heat for Mexico.”

 It expands their confidence that needs can be met.

 Ruby Bridges is now chairwoman of her foundation that promotes toleration of differences.

  It shapes them into future world changers.

 After David killed Goliath, he went on to become king.

 I have a friend, Rich, who is a highway patrol officer. He is also a fantastic volley ball player. Rich just got back from a Volley Ball tournament in Vancouver. He took his two grade school daughters, and they did a mountain climb. The climbed up a couple miles of switch backs. Rich is in good shape, but he was panting at the top. Then Rich bragged to me, “My littlest daughter, skinny little Kristin, she never broke a sweat. She never even breathed hard!”

 Children have energy! We tout the energy in wind power. We know the potential of solar power. We keep tapping the polluting energy of fossil fuel power.

 What about kid power? Jesus believed in it. So should we. Let the children change the world!

does God care?

Posted: January 21, 2008 in spirituality
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I think about God a lot. Sometimes I feel like I’m connected to him, sometimes I don’t feel it, but I know he is still there.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about people who have issues that make them feel far off from God.  I don’t like that — people feeling like God doesn’t care about them. It’s not true. God cares.

If a person’s issues have social shame, then that person may be transferring society’s judgement of their problem to God. They may think that God sees them in the same way society does.

If a person attends religious services, that person may look around, and seeing a bunch of “together” people, think, “I don’t fit here. I bet no one here has my issue.”  It’s so easy to get isolated, from other people and God.

But the New Testament says that God has so much love for us that even when we were all messed up, God sent Jesus to give his life for us. That a wildly different and attractive kind of love.

I believe that. And I believe that God totally adores you right now and wants to be a part of your life, even if you don’t have it together. What do you think?

Pain

Posted: January 17, 2008 in difficulty
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clouds1.jpg        Pain Gain

By Randy Hasper

If you are acquainted with pain, trouble, and loss you are in good company.  So are most people. Even  great spiritual heroes like Moses, Esther, Jesus, Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa — all ached and burned with pain and disappointment. Pain is the norm.

The jab and ache of pain, our whole species knows it well. We open the morning newspaper to kidnapped children, disease, terrorism, and war. We live in families aching with accidents, disabilities, conflicts,  illnesses and stigmatized issues.

We humans know “ouch!” So does God. Think about it. Perhaps we need to formulate an ouch theology.  

Apparently, God already has one.  When God created us, he obviously hard wired us to respond to pain. The hand jerking back from the thorn,  that ability to feel pain is God’s brilliant biological safety gear. Fragile bodies warn of harm through the nerves. Pain is protective and preventative. It keeps the hand from the fire. Safety pain was built into the creation.  But it is also built into God. God has experienced pain.

The prophet Isaiah, exploring the profound connection between God and pain wrote, “In all their distress, [Israel]  he [God] was distressed.” (Isaiah 63:9) This is an amazing claim. God, chose to feel distress. God entered in, by his own choice, to “all” the distress of his people. “All” of it says Isaiah. His people were distressed for centuries. They still are. God feels it.

Scripture records God as having feelings. It records anger, love, compassion, and jealousy. Each of these emotions contains some psychological pain. The painful feelings are in God and from God.   Yet we hear people say, “You can’t trust your feelings.” Actually we can trust them to tell us a lot about what is going on with us. It’s true that our feelings can lead us into bad choices. And yet, so can our thoughts lead us the wrong way. This hasn’t caused most of us to abandon thinking. We should not stigmatize our strongest feelings. They are a gift, a divine richness.

The life of Jesus is most eloquent of God’s willingness to feel. Matthew records the events of the crucifixion writing, “Again and again they struck him [Jesus] on the head with a staff.” (Matthew 15:19) This is our experience too. “Again and again,” life serves up the stunning “again and again.” Pain stutters, and God allows the terrible repetition. Allows? For Christ, we are told that He even intended it. It fit his purpose. “Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer.”

We would rather not hear this. His will to crush? A crushing we don’t want, for Christ, our friends, our selves, our children, no one. And yet, a crushing we will have. This is recorded in the Bible. “In this world you will have trouble,” claimed Jesus.  It is affirmed in our experience. One of my close friends, an excellent  musician, is experiencing hearing loss. Another has MS. Another a bipolar disorder. Another has a painfully failed marriage.

We sometimes want to pull away from such difficult experiences. We manage our lives to insulate ourselves from pain. We touch but we don’t embrace such trying times in others. We all jerk back at some point, from of our world’s pain – the AIDS sufferers, the mentally ill, those who have divorced, the addicts, this dispossessed, the poor, the socially stigmatized.  It is not easy for a human to readily or willingly put out a hand to chronic suffering. We recoil. The jerk-back response rules. We may even mildly despise the suffering one. “The poor thing,” we sympathize, “not realizing the “thing” may be more enriched than us, in our sanitized encapsulated insulation.

We work hard to sanitize our responses to people with “issues.” We may ask God to heal them.  Nothing wrong with that. We may tell people, “I hope you are feeling better.”  Shared hope is excellent, and yet, when the “stricken” ones don’t heal, haven’t  healed, can’t change, then what? At times, do our ongoing prayers and our euphemisms of wishful health become screens that we construct to distance ourselves from the suffering person, polite ways of putting our hands over our noses, of holding off their unpleasant reality?

If so we should bravely ask ourselves, why are we praying? To avoid reality? To avoid empathy?  Are we praying and yet not calling them, emailing, visiting them? Are we praying for healing and not accepting the reality of a loss?  If so, then we must mature in response. We must enter more deeply into the person’s experience. At some point we must accept the condition and refocus on supporting them.  Acceptance is crucial. It can even lessen  pain.  We must move with our friend, seeing more than a “sick” person, engage the rest of the experience. We must get beyond looking at the wheel chair, the walker, the diagnosis, the label. We must see the rest of the person.

Surely God doesn’t move closer or further from us depending on if he heals us or changes us or not. Even when he doesn’t heal or change, he doesn’t jerk back. His silence doesn’t mean he pulls himself away. We may be most comfortable with recovery, but in this world God obvious sees it differently.  God looks the most brutal distress of the world in the eye and doesn’t blink. Instead, God steps into our pain. God’s face is seen in the sick person’s face, in the distressed face. His eyes are present in the hurt child’s fearful eyes. He is close to the  grimace of the lonely. Christ must have grimaced on the cross. It is not a sin to grimace.

 The apostle Paul felt overwhelmed. And he felt no shame in writing it down, penning his darkest moments as if writing in his private journal, “we despaired even of life.” 2 Corinthians 1:8  And what posture did God take toward this admission of despair? Paul himself says God was allowing the suffering so that he, Paul, would look to God for deliverance. It is true. God hovered over Paul’s worst moments – to help. Psalm 22:24 records just such a hover, declaring, “For he has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.”

I believe that God always crosses the skin barrier to participate in, to make himself known in our experiences. David writes,” When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul.” Psalm 94:19  Note that the psalmist does not write, “When anxiety was  great within me, you filled me with conviction of sin.” No, we don’t see God condemning. Instead we see God tending to the anxiety attack, consoling the person, helping. How did God do this? Not by removing the source of anxiety, but by bringing consolation in the thick of it.

The Bible is a catalogue of God’s gentleness with our emotions. God is the father of gentleness. His gentleness is the essence of his love, and he wants us to become like him in this. Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. 2 Corinthians 1:3.

“Joy and woe are woven fine, a clothing for the soul divine,” wrote William Blake. And God is the master clothier.  God knows your “ouch.”