Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Fight Club Philosophy

“I wasn’t the only slave to my nesting instinct. The people I know who used to sit in the bathroom with pornography, now they sit in the bathroom with their IKEA furniture catalog.”

I used to worship the IKEA catalog—that is, before they built a store in Portland so I could actually go worship on site. But I don’t care so much anymore. Maybe it’s because I have my sofa issue handled. Maybe it’s because I’m not a slave anymore. Either way, when I heard that line from the opening of the movie Fight Club I knew I was going to love this movie. I just saw it this week and I can’t stop thinking about it. I keep asking people if they’ve seen it so we can discuss it. But I’m a little late—most people saw it eight years ago and got it out of their system, so I decided I’d just write about it. I don’t know if I can recommend it because it’s completely raunchy, but I loved it still. And the thing I loved about it (besides it being totally trippy) was that it showed the meaninglessness of stuff, of success, of achievement—of all the things we put our hope in that fail. It’s all going to burn. Very Ecclessiastes-esque. Having been a slave to consumerism and image myself, I appreciated the premise—the call to let go, to surrender, to not be slave anymore to stuff, to things that bring false security.

Here’s a taste for the basic philosophical footing of the movie (minus the f-bomb):

“You buy furniture. You tell yourself, this is the last sofa I will ever need in my life. Buy the sofa, then for a couple years you're satisfied that no matter what goes wrong, at least you've got your sofa issue handled. Then the right set of dishes. Then the perfect bed. The drapes. The rug. Then you're trapped in your lovely nest, and the things you used to own, now they own you.”

“We're consumers. We are by-products of a lifestyle obsession. Murder, crime, poverty, these things don't conce
rn me. What concerns me are celebrity magazines, television with 500 channels, some guy's name on my underwear. Rogaine, Viagra, Olestra… Martha Stewart.”

“You're not your job. You're not how much money you have in the bank. You're not the car you drive. You're not the contents of your wallet. You're not your … khakis.”

“Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy [stuff] we don't need. We're the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War's a spiritual war... our Great Depression is our lives. We've all been raised on television to believe that one day we'd all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won't. A
nd we're slowly learning that fact. And we're very, very pissed off.”

“I say never be complete, I say stop being perfect…”

Kinda biblical I think. At least in some sense. In fact, one line reminded me of something I read in the book of James very recently. In the movie Tyler, the main character, says, in reference to Martha Stewart, “Martha's polishing the brass on the Titanic. It's all going down, man.” I thought of James 4:5, “You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter.” When I read that in James it really made me think. In what ways am I fattening myself with things that don’t matter? What am I wasting my time and money on? It made me think again about the kingdom of God and the idea that it’s not about me and it’s not about now.

Almost reminds me of Jesus’ own words in Luke 6,
Looking at his disciples, he said:
“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed
are you who hunger now,
for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when men hate you,
when they exclude you and insult you
and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.
Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their fathers treated the prophets.

But woe to you who are rich,

for you have already received your comfort.
Woe to you who are well fed now,
for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
for you will m
ourn and weep
Woe to you when all men speak well of you,
for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets.”

This is Christ’s reminder to us that there is a spiritual reality that is far more important than the material reality around us. It’s gonna burn, but the kingdom of God is eternal. Best cling to what is lasting. In one of my conversations about the movie this week, my friend shared with me a poem he wrote that includes quotes from the book Fight Club. I like this one, “Only after disaster can we be resurrected.” It's a common literary theme. Sounds like the Gospel to me. Die to self and be raised to new life.

Of course, Fight Club doesn’t quite draw the same conclusions about God and new life, nor does he see anything as lasting or meaningful. Tyler recognizes the futility of maintaining image and holding on to things, but he becomes totally masochistic about it. He promotes accepting failure and giving up control (which are Christian concepts), but he doesn’t identify anything or anyone to surrender to (“…God does not like you”), so it all becomes very hopeless and abysmally self-destructive. He just wants everyone to recognize their own worthlessness, and he destroys things to show the vulnerability of it all. But with Christ, there’s hope when we come face to face with our worthlessness—he offers more (because he does like us—he loves us). A friend’s blog just reminded me that God is more concerned with our character than our comfort. So, will God do whatever it takes to bring us to the end of ourselves, the end of false-security to show us our need for him? To give us true hope? To show us our value in him? To reveal what really matters?

I don’t know… it’s got me thinking about my view of God again. Is God like this? In a way, is Tyler a Christ-like figure? Would God burn us with lye to free us from fear? Would God frighten us at gunpoint so we move forward with our lives? Would God destroy our homes to show us what really matters? One of my friends says God is not that manipulative, but I wonder if manipulative and sovereign could be synonymous when it comes to God. Tyler, though, he destroyed for no other purpose but to show something’s meaninglessness and to shake people up, whereas God destroys to bring life. It’s always for our good. Like the phoenix rising out of ashes. The more we lose, the more we live. Really living comes through surrender. But that’s only when we surrender to something, to Christ.

I guess it comes down to the question that all of philosophy asks: what is the good life? What is truly living? Luke 6 seems to indicate it’s not what we thought. But that’s for another post…

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Advent Conspiracy II

Christmas has changed since I entered the story. I guess I've changed. I’m starting to get it. I’m learning to worship Christ at Christmas instead of bowing to the gods of consumerism. I heard someone say recently that consumerism is individualism on steroids. And we tend to build our individual kingdoms of self most at the very time of year we ought to celebrate Christ’s kingdom. If Christmas is really a Christian holiday, why does it look so much like bowing at this culture’s high places of idolatry? Even efforts to “Christianize” Christmas seem to be no more than the same old thing with a Christian veneer — we pad the pockets of Christian retailers or really take a stand for Christ by having the audacity to only buy from retailers who will use the word Christmas to promote consumerism. (Using Christ’s name in vain? Hmm…)

I heard on a Christian radio station recently a plug for a book about how to keep Christ in Christmas. I expected something new, but I was appalled that the strategy seemed to center around innocuous decorating ideas—using more nativity scenes and spelling out Christian words with lights. Is that what entering the Christ story looks like? If so, I’d rather bask in my own brand of debauchery! (Which, I think, is the attitude of many in my generation, and is why so many are opting out of a Christian religion that only seems to offer platitude and pretense—but that’s a whole other post…)


But there’s a way of celebrating Christmas that doesn’t just include Christ, it is Christ-centered and Kingdom-oriented. It involves acknowledging the advent, or arrival, of God incarnate coming to earth to rescue us from ourselves, to redeem our brokenness, to set us free from captivity, to transform our warped ways of living, to give us life, and to bring his righteousness, peace, and joy. That is a story worth entering.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Advent Conspiracy

I'm remembering today how my past efforts to include Christ in Christmas fell sadly short because it was no more than an obligatory inclusion. Like, oh yeah, isn’t this materialistic orgy supposed to be all about him? We better read the Christmas story before we indulge in this gluttony of gifts. I knew it wasn’t supposed to be all about me, but didn’t know how to make it all about him without giving up the me, me, me part. Getting (and of course giving) was what Christmas was all about. All the anticipation built up to that moment. All of the talk was about getting and giving… stuff. To give that up and change the focus, that would be a little over the top, a little fanatic. It wouldn’t be Christmas.

So a few years ago my pastor asked, “What if Christmas could change the world?” Of course this appealed to my sense of idealism and the wannabe-radical within was alerted to the potential opportunity. Then the realist chimed in with, “You’ve heard this before. It can’t happen. Do you know what kind of fanatical living it takes to change the world?” Still I knew the way I had always done Christmas was not fitting in with my new understanding of Christ and what he was all about when he came to earth. If he was a homeless revolutionary who told us to give up everything and who himself gave his life for us, how does giving an X-Box celebrate this? How could it be that stampedes in retail stores and consumer debt and overspending is a way of honoring Christ’s coming to earth to save us from ourselves? Isn’t this, in fact, what he came to save us from?

My pastor asked—what would it look like if we resisted the pressures of consumerism? What if we made Christmas more meaningful and less cheap? What if we made it about relationships? What if we entered the Christ story? Christ brought redemption and new life. Christ became poor so that we could be rich. That year, Advent Conspiracy was born. That year, I entered the story...

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Far From Home

Only a remnant of our royalty remains.
Now daughters of the King
roam like desperate beggars
in a foreign land.
Homesick—
forgetting who we are.
Searching for sustenance
in a wasteland.
Impatient in hope
for the palace prepared.
Frustrated from futility
brought by the bondage of decay.
Drawn to doubt the glorious freedom
the King’s children receive.
Wait, O daughters!
Persist, you sisters in slavery!
For our betrothed nears,
and he will cleanse the stains of vagrancy.
He will clothe us anew
with splendor profound.
We will feast with him,
feast from the guarded tree
on the day of our new song,
the day of completion.

Hosea 6:3 "Let us acknowledge the LORD; let us press on to acknowledge him. As surely as the sun rises, he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth."

Thursday, December 4, 2008

It's Not About Me: Spiritual Eating Disorders

Most of my life I’ve had spiritual anorexia. Recently I started to swing toward obesity. Both are killers. My friend Hannah spoke at church a couple of weeks ago on consumerism. I’ve been thinking about it ever since. She was talking about it in the context of Christian consumerism, and she gave this metaphor: if all we’re doing is taking in, feeding on God, receiving from the Lord, we will become spiritually obese. But if all we’re doing is giving, constantly active, doing things for the Lord and others but never feeding, we will become spiritually anorexic. We must be receiving and giving to be healthy spiritually.

She made me think about what I have received from God—faith, hope, love, acceptance, freedom, forgiveness—and think about how I am giving it away. By giving it away we are proclaiming Christ, bringing the Kingdom to our families, our jobs, our neighborhoods and all of our interactions. I just read the same concept in a book that deals with forgiveness, The Peacemaker. He compared it to breathing—we breathe in God’s forgiveness and then breathe it out to others. It reminded me of the necessity of abiding in the Vine, feeding on Christ—daily—in order to be able to give, to proclaim Christ in all of life. And it reminded me to give intentionally instead of just receiving from God.

It also reminded me of something David Benner wrote in his book Surrender to Love. He says that our focus should not be so much on obedience as on knowing God’s love because once we get that, obedience begins to take care of itself. Obedience is our response to God’s love. If it is not, it is anorexia. They must go together. Receiving and giving.

Again, the idea that “it’s not about me” surfaces here. God doesn’t give me love, faith, joy, and all his blessings just so I can get fat. He wants to make me his instrument of righteousness, a display of his splendor and beauty so I can give it away—so others can be healthy.

On the other hand, if I’m just giving, but not receiving from God, what store am I really giving from? It must be from the store of people-pleasing or image-bolstering because that’s what’s in me. But spiritually, I’m starving.


John 6:56-57
Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

It's Not About Me: Truth Recycled

I know I keep writing about my capacity to forget, but I’ve been thinking about it again… I went down to Florida this week and had a great time enjoying family, sun, and a slow pace. It was beautiful, sunny weather there, but I packed all wrong. I couldn’t fathom wearing short sleeved shirts there while snow was looming here. Then as I was sitting on the warm beach watching the sun sparkle on the water (and sweating in my long sleeves) I was trying to remember the cold. I couldn’t. Made me think again about how much I forget—especially as seasons pass. Or how something I’ve known before can seem like a new lesson. Like forgetting how to drive in the snow, or how much a sunburn hurts, or that overeating on Thanksgiving makes me miserable, or that short haircuts don’t suit me, or that buying popcorn at the movies is not worth it. I forget and have to learn all over again. Like recycled Truth.

God is the Great Recycler. He will reprocess, redistribute, repackage, and rephrase Truth for us in so many ways until it finally connects. It seems that Truth pierces deeper and binds tighter each time it spirals and reruns. And then it suddenly makes sense and appears so obvious. And then I forget it again.

The one lesson I keep seeming to forget: “It’s not about me…” See, even when I forget all else, I still remember me. I’m a constant, so it’s easy to think it’s all for me and all about me. When I first started considering this phrase several years ago it was a mantra to slow down my selfishness. Then I read the book by Max Lucado, and it became a campaign to remember that God is the center. Since then, it has morphed and returned over and over again to permeate my thought processes and modes of existence in specific areas of life. God is showing me what it looks like when recycled and integrated into the way I think about things like…

Christmas
Church
Marriage & Family
Money & Work
Gospel & Salvation
Ministry

Writing helps me remember (or at least I can look back and read that I learned it before when I think I’m learning it for the first time), so I’m thinking of writing about some of the things God has been teaching me in these areas—how they’re not about me or for me. I need this Truth to be recycled in me. I wish writing about it sealed it and finished the work, but maybe it will at least pierce a new layer and go a little deeper…

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Alive and Incomplete:Ode to Truth

We forget March by May,
and by August
who can recall the lingering frost?
Truth, so like the seasons,
fades from memory,
then arrives again like a stunning new discovery,
wearing familiar, worn traces
that I almost recollect.


Like trying to store a snowball,
I tried to protect you safely in a poem,
where I thought you could not escape.
But you can’t be contained
within my meter or rhyme.
There you wane.
Like an infant
who dies when he’s not held,
you must be constantly embraced.

I wished for your work in me to be complete
with the conclusion of my poem.
I thought my words would seal you,
like a final decree.
Or perhaps I could preserve you,
like a masterpiece,
to gaze upon your beauty and admire the finished work.
But you’re more than just a tour de force;
you live and move and breath,
and this completion I seek would be your death,
then symbiotically, I’d cease.

So grow, mature, evolve.
Rephrase, revise, amend.
Return, expand, and live.
For your life gives me freedom;
and freedom gives me life.
Since life and completion
cannot coexist,
arrive again like a season,
that we both may live.

Friday, July 25, 2008

On the Road to God, Self, and Transformation: Part II

Lesson Three: Get Still.
“It is by losing our self in God that we discover our true identity.” David Benner

Some months back, I came to the understanding that my transformation is not up to me. I’m still learning this one (and all of this, for that matter). I guess I’ve been under the false assumption for a long time that this spiritual process is more about what I do than what God does. Then I worry about not doing enough to move forward. But is God the first mover or am I? He is the one that begins it and He sees it through. I don’t have to answer my own prayers for transformation—He revealed the need I’m praying for in the first place! I can offer them, let go of them, and wait for Him to reveal what He wants me to do in His time. No striving or arranging on my own is necessary. He’s not going to forget what He was doing. He’s not going to let me forget for long if I stay with Him. So, I can rest as I commune with Him and let Him dredge up the muck of my soul. He’ll show me what’s next on the road to transformation, and He’ll wait until I’m ready for it. Good plan.

Of course, this does require me listening to Him. Communing with Him hasn’t come easily for me. It means I have to stop medicating myself with distractions. I’ve had to get comfortable being alone with God. I had such a difficult time “entering” His presence, or really just being aware of His presence and His voice. I’m just now remembering a poem I wrote back in March about trying to “ascend to where God is” and not being able to find Him here through the clutter of life. Then earlier this summer I remember the dread I felt going home to a quiet and empty apartment, knowing God wanted to meet me there. Just Him and me. But now I’ve come to delight in His presence. For it is there that I come discover the imago Dei that has been placed within me, and it is there that God reveals Himself and His purposes. Novem te, novem me.

On the Road to God, Self, and Transformation

“We do not find our true self by seeking it. Rather, we find it by seeking God.” David Benner

Sometimes I’m amazed at how I can miss something so essential. The lessons I have been learning in the last year seem so apparent to me now that I wonder what took me so long. Why didn’t I get it? I guess it’s because I have a tendency to view through for-your-information lenses instead of viewing for my transformation. Truth wasn’t moving from my head to my heart. Pride blinded me to my need. I was comfortable with status-quo, good but not best. The list goes on… In spite of my blind ignorance and rebellion, God has wooed me through desperation and pain so that I could finally hear His Voice and let Him reveal truth and reality. What a beautiful Voice! I’m seeing now that the pieces are taking me on a journey to know Him and to know myself. “Novem te, novem me.” –St. Augustine

I assumed I knew me. I think of me all the time. I live with me. I am my priority most of the time. I must know me. It’s funny how you can go through life assuming you know yourself, and then one day realize that the image you’ve created isn’t really you at all, but because you’ve been pretending to be that person for so long, you don’t really even know who you are. The road that leads to true knowing of self isn’t what I thought. It’s not about figuring out who you want to be. It’s not about creating an image that you want to project. It’s not about letting others tell you who you are or who you should be. It’s not even about introspection and self-improvement plans. I saw a piece of flair on Facebook that read, “Life isn’t about finding yourself. It’s about creating yourself.” But that is the surest road to a false and inauthentic self. The path God is taking me down looks a little different…

Lesson One: Get Real.
“People who are afraid to look deeply at themselves will of course be equally afraid to look deeply at God. For such persons, ideas about God provide a substitute for direct experience of God.” David Benner

So, honesty is where this journey always begins, from my perspective. I started moving forward when I started being real. I had to stop lying to myself and pretending with God (as if He doesn’t know). I wasn’t prepared to let all the ugliness that is part of me rise to the surface. But nothing can happen to transform all the hidden parts as long as they stay hidden. I wrote this poem back in January about my thoughts on this—though at the time, I had no idea God was speaking to me or taking me anywhere in particular. My fear was keeping me from being honest—that much I knew. I’d been hiding from God, myself, and anyone else who cared to look my way. I was comfortable with my false self. And I thought I was safe, but safety is a prison.

Naked
My instinct is to cover up.
My fear tells me to hide.
What if You see me as I am?
How can I let You try?
If I invite You to my bed,
I dread You may find out.
You might see through my pious gown,
You might look underneath,
and find unlovely all that’s there,
then toss me to the street.

Have I confused you with myself
and all who’ve come before?
Can I fail You and yet be Yours
and can I disappoint?
Then find your tender arms still there
not turned away in scorn?
I want to hide in Your Cocoon,
not lodged inside of mine.
But trapped within my shame, my pride
disclosure is a curse.

I need You to undo, unleash,
I need You to reverse.
Free me from this captivity,
enthrall me with your force.
Throw aside my beloved dress,
strip me down to bare
to let You see my nakedness
and let You love me there.


I don’t know when I started being vulnerable and honest with God. But the more I spoke freely to God, the easier it became—and the more He was honest with me. And it was ugly.


Lesson Two: Accept It.
“Our knowing of ourselves will remain superficial until we are willing to accept ourselves as God accepts us—fully and unconditionally, just as we are.” David Benner


Once I took my hands off my eyes, God has been faithful to reveal the depravity in me that I couldn’t see, and continues to do so daily. I’m often shocked by how blind I’ve been when my sin seems so obvious now. But accepting that I am that person is my constant ego-battle. I don’t like who I am, when it comes down to it. But when acceptance comes, freedom comes—I’m released from my safety prison and the pretend self becomes less cumbersome. For so long, I’d only embraced the sin I could spin. Receiving it all as mine now allows me to release it to God. And that allows Christ to do His transformational redeeming work in me. But it has been difficult sitting in my shame as the spotlight of God’s truth shines on me. The taste of freedom urges me forward. And I’m a little closer to knowing my true self, and knowing God. Novem te, novem me.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Surrender and Freedom

“We do not become free of God by a disregard of Divine will. Instead, by such disregard we forge the chains of our bondage.” David Benner

I’ve been trying to understand how freedom comes through surrender. It’s another beautiful paradox that reveals our foolishness. Here we thought our independence would give us freedom. Like our predecessors Adam and Eve, we want to be like God without God’s help, and it leads to our ruin. But God wants to rescue us and give us life. It’s a running theme throughout His story. Truly living comes through freedom. Freedom comes through our death. So we cannot truly live unless we die. We cannot experience freedom except through our destruction—the destruction of our self-made godlikeness in exchange for the God-given likeness that sets us free to be the self He has created us to be, an exchange made possible through the death of Christ. But we are so unwilling to die that we don’t experience this life and freedom. Ours is a story full of irony and delusion.

John Donne understood this. This poem of his has held its place as my favorite for many years because he so masterfully reveals this paradox, this battle between the forfeit that he knows will bring freedom versus his will to persist in captivity. We need God to break in and set us free—by Divine imprisonment.

HOLY SONNET XIV
Batter my heart, three-person'd God ; for you
As yet but knock; breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend
Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp'd town, to another due,
Labour to admit you, but O, to no end.
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
But am betroth'd unto your enemy;
Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

“Imprison me, for I, except you enthrall me, never shall be free.” Allowing God to be the warden of my life frees me. And it reveals the reality of my delusion. Batter my heart so I can see!

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 1 Corinithians 1:18


Saturday, July 5, 2008

Book Review: The Journey of Desire

"We are never living, but hoping to live; and whilst we are always preparing to be happy, it is certain, we never shall be so, if we aspire to no other happiness than what can be enjoyed in this life." Blaise Pascal


Even before I started reading The Journey of Desire, I had earnestly begun my own journey of desire. For the first time, perhaps, I was admitting my desires to God and asking what to do with them. I even wrote a poem about it back in February and a blog about it in March. I included the first half of the poem in that blog post, but here is the poem in its entirety:

Desire


In the Garden
To women came a curse
But pain is not the worst
Desire is your curse
For it is now directed
Toward the image
Of the man
That God has made
And not the God
Who beckons
From a home
We’ve never known

Desire
You are the flame
That can start a fire
Spreading quickly
Leaving scars
And open wounds
But when you die
You leave us cold
And looking for a new
Desire
You’re misdirected and confused
What do I do with you?

In the book The Journey of Desire, John Eldredge speaks to those who, like me, don’t know what to do with their desire. They have, perhaps, found themselves looking to idols to satisfy or have lost touch with desire altogether. He points out that our disillusionment after repeated heartbreak often results in denying our desires and setting up walls around them because we don’t want to be disappointed and hurt again. Sometimes we’re not even sure if it is OK to have desire—we think maybe we should kill it completely in order to live a holy life. We weigh whether we ought to be feeling this or that—whether it is OK to feel the way we do. So we bury our feelings because we don’t know what to do with them. But they’re still there, often feeding on idolatry. And frequently the message we hear in the Church is that we should fight against desire because it leads to sin. But living the Christian life isn’t about denying or burying the longings of our heart. The Christian life should be defined by passionate obsession.

“When we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak.” C.S. Lewis

Eldredge places each of us in one of three categories. We are either:
1) longing—hungry and thirsty, alive
2) dead—having denied our desires or given up after so many disappointments
3) addicted—seeking temporary pleasures to fulfill our desires

My journey had taken me through categories 2 and 3. In the book, he describes the danger and subtlety in each of these—killing desire or giving ourselves over to false desire. He beautifully scatters quotes, Scripture, and poetry throughout the book to show this timeless and universal dilemma of desire, and how it is a result of the fact that this world is not our home—things aren’t as they were meant to be. We cannot find fulfillment in the things the world offers because we were made for something more. “What we have sought, what we have tasted in part with our earthly lovers, we will come face to face with in our True Love. For the incompleteness that we seek to relieve in the deep embrace of our earthly love is never fully healed.” But we all desire. Pretending we don’t desire results in “loss of soul, of communion with God, a loss of direction, and a loss of hope.”

Category 1 is where we need to be. Eldredge says we should embrace our desire—ask what is it that I want? “Don’t minimize it; don’t try to make sure it sounds spiritual; don’t worry about whether or not you can obtain it. Just stay with the question until you begin to get an answer. This is the way we keep current with our hearts.” I must admit, I did not know my heart—I’d been living out a script, acting on other’s expectations, disconnected with my own desires. The vulnerability of acknowledging my desires openly was a new reality for me. Trusting God with them, even more novel. “To live with desire is to choose vulnerability over self-protection; to admit our desire and seek help beyond ourselves is even more vulnerable. It is an act of trust.”


Based on different ideas from the book, I’ve begun a daily (and sometimes hourly) practice:
1) I acknowledge my desires to God as they arise,
2) I recognize they cannot ultimately be fulfilled in this life,
3) I remember that only God can provide true satisfaction and contentment,
4) I surrender the desire to God and ask Him to redirect it,
5) I stop striving and arranging,
6) I grieve,
7) I wait—for Home. And my hope grows in the waiting
.


The results for me have been a new intimacy with God as I open up the hidden places of my heart to him and trust Him to satisfy me. The grieving restores my soul and brings healing. Also, I have experienced a shift in my desires and an increased hope for the coming wedding banquet with Christ that will bring ultimate fulfillment of the desire He has placed within me. I have less need to control and strive, knowing that the only One who can meet my needs is taking care of it. Lastly, I have a better sense of my own heart, without the baggage of oughts and expectations—I am free to feel for the first time in my life.

I’m reminded of the song “Lovesick” by Misty Edwards that I’ve been listening to over and over while reading this book, “And happy am I, to live a hungry life / And blessed am I, to thirst / Disillusionment, it is my gift within / I am blessed, I am blessed among men! … Try as I may to chase another Lover, / I find there is, there is no other / All the other Lovers fade away / Only YOU can satisfy.” Disillusionment with idols and all the things that don’t satisfy brings us to this place where we finally see “Only YOU can satisfy” and we long for what is real—what really satisfies. Disillusionment is my gift!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Dragonflies and Bears

Today I hosted a potluck meal for a dragonfly and watched a black bear stretch her legs. It was a good day.
My sister planned this girl’s weekend with our friends from high school. In fact, we’ve known these friends ever since I can remember. Together, we soaked up the sun as we floated down a river on inner-tubes surrounded by the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee. I told Charis that I think today will be my best memory of the summer. One of the pleasures in life that I treasure is being on the water under a beautiful blue sky. The weather has been perfect, despite the prediction of rain.

For some reason, as we drifted downstream, I was a Mecca for dragonflies--they all seemed to be drawn to me. I had as many as five at a time resting on me once. One even brought an insect to feast on while perched on my arm. Apparently, insect-wings are not tasty, as he left those behind. Dragonflies are one of the few bugs that do not come around to bite or annoy, so I enjoyed watching these beautiful little creatures as they fluttered on my arms and legs.

Then this evening we took a drive through Cade’s Cove. In several places, cars were stopped as people gawked at feeding deer. At one point, we saw a couple of wild boar chasing each other through a field. That was unique, but I told the girls that I have been on a quest for the past three summers to see the elusive bear. Although I did not think it likely that I would see one today, I made my desire known amidst assurances from my friends that it was not likely and quite uncommon there.

I’ve been to Yellowstone twice now—each time hoping to catch a glimpse of a bear. We saw elk, deer, antelope, eagles, bison, foxes, and even a bull moose, but no bear, despite all the signs and warnings that created fear and anticipation. (By the way, did you know that the population of elk in Wyoming is higher than the population of people?) On both trips to Yellowstone, we camped in the area where a grizzly had been spotted, we heard reports from people all day long of bear sightings, and we fervently scanned the woods along the road for a momentary glance at a bear. Not a close encounter, but a distant observation, of course. But I never saw a bear. Until today.


As we drove around Cade’s Cove to see the beautiful scenery, we were annoyed by the cars slowing down and blocking the road when they spotted an animal. We were almost through the cove when others said they were watching a bear, but we didn’t see anything and didn’t want to waste our time staring at a black shadow by a tree that may or may not be a bear (as we had done earlier). Yet I rolled down my window and stuck my body outside the car with a fleeting hope, when suddenly she rose on her back legs, stretched her body out to its full length, and then took a stroll to find a more comfortable spot to lie. It was thrilling to finally see a wild bear. Everyone around was awed at this rare sight. I know black bears are fairly harmless, especially compared to a grizzly, but all wild animals demand a degree of respect—even those who are "more afraid of you than you are of them."

It made me think, once again, of our true home. A place without fear where the lion lays down with the lamb, where we will be able to pet the bear’s oily fur and admire his teeth and claws up close. What an amazing world God has given us to enjoy. I look forward to the day when we can truly take pleasure in it as we were meant to, when there will be no enmity between us and the rest of creation, when a prowling bear causes us no more trepidation than a perching dragonfly.

The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
and a little child will lead them.
The cow will feed with the bear,
their young will lie down together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
The infant will play near the hole of the cobra,
and the young child put his hand into the viper's nest.
They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea.
Isaiah 11:6-9

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Plastic Fruit Shortcuts

"Healthy things grow. Growing things change. Change challenges us. Challenges cause us to trust God. Trust leads to obedience. Obedience makes us healthy. And healthy things grow." James Ryle


Do you ever get fruit envy? You see the fruit of the Spirit alive in someone else and you want it? I do. Someone recently pointed this out in me and reminded me that those people have the fruit because they’ve gone through the hard work in their spiritual journey to get there—the hard work which I have habitually avoided. It made me think of something I just read—that some people seek the fruit, not the Spirit. They look for peace, joy, love, etc., but they don’t want to make the necessary sacrifices to get there. So, we look for easier ways to get at it or we imitate the fruit to make it seem like we’re there. We may even fool ourselves. It’s like that fake fruit my grandmother always had in a bowl that looked so tasty, but was plastic. (What’s up with that anyway? Are they trying to appear healthy or is it some sort of decorating fashion statement?) It’s not really fruit at all.

I’m learning (or should I say relearning?) there are no shortcuts to the real thing. The fruit of the Spirit isn’t natural and instinctive. It comes from a life surrendered fully to God. It comes from daily submission to the Holy Spirit’s work. It takes time to work out all the rotten stuff that has accumulated. It requires paying attention and getting rid of distractions so that God can do the work He wants to do and develop the imago Dei that is within us. I would much rather reflect the image of God in me than my self-created image. I am especially aware of this lately as the Spirit has exposed all kinds of debauched things in me that I’ve never seen before. I had myself fooled with plastic fruit. But only as I recognize the repugnance of my own fallen image do I see the beauty of His. His image is everything that is good, right, and true. I want to be beautiful. Only He can make me beautiful as I spend time in His presence, letting Him change me into His image (2 Corinthians 3:17-18).

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them." Ephesians 5:8-11

Friday, May 30, 2008

It's Not You, It's Me

You chased me to myself and left
me here alone
with me
and Him
The Jealous One

You chased me near to Him then left
me to face Him
by myself
without your help
Just Him
and me

I wanted you to be my guide to Him
and me
but not to leave
me here alone
with me
and Him
The Jealous One

I wanted you to be my ally against them
and not to leave
me here alone
to love them
by myself
alone
with Him

I wanted you to be my hope
for better days

But you won’t

So it’s just me
alone
with Him
foolishly waiting for you
while I’m with Him
The Jealous One
my Hope
my Guide
my Ally

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Book Review: Searching for God Knows What

I wrote this at the end of last summer. I wasn’t blogging at the time, but God was speaking so much to me through this book that I wanted to write it all down. I’ve enjoyed looking back on what God started then and how he is continuing to move me into an intimate relationship with him that I honestly didn’t even think was possible…

I just finished Searching for God Knows What and just started Shattered Dreams. Both books clearly make sense of what is going on in my life right now—God pursuing a love affair with me. Again, these books have revolutionized my thinking about myself, about God, and about hope. They help make sense of life in general, and I want to send copies to everyone. Doesn’t everyone struggle to make sense of life?

I’ve been referencing Searching for God Knows What in discussions about life all summer. I owned it for a while before I ever opened it. I bought it because I heard it was even better than Blue Like Jazz (also by Don Miller) and because I love books. I own more books than I can read—it’s like putting too much on your plate at an all-you-can-eat buffet. It sat on my shelf for a while. I picked it up after finishing the last book in the Harry Potter saga. I felt really empty after reading the 7th Potter book, knowing my journey with Harry and his friends was over. Since I was pretty recently divorced, in a new city, not working, and utterly alone, I was escaping all this by reading—diving into the lives of the characters, and when they were gone I was even more aware of my dissatisfaction and hopelessness. I laughed at myself for being depressed over missing fictional characters, but then I realized that it was more than their loss that was affecting me. At the time I didn’t have a TV or computer to turn to. So I saw Searching for God Knows What on my shelf and started searching.

In the book, Miller draws on wisdom from an alien, a lifeboat theory, and Romeo and Juliet to explain God and life and how we got it all wrong. I was thinking it’s kind of like apologetics for the post-modern thinker, and then, he said as much in the afterword. So, he writes about this human need to feel important and valuable—that the deepest needs of man are relational. But we’ve been living out our spirituality like it’s a formula, jumping through hoops for God instead of entering a relationship, a romance even.

He writes about how God fulfilled completely the deepest needs of man before the fall—so there was no insecurity, jealousy, shame, fear of intimacy, broken-heartedness, and all the other ailments of humanity. I can’t imagine a world without those things. In fact, I heard recently that the most serious threat to intimate relationships is low self-esteem or insecurity, which makes people defensive, cautious, needy, emotionally-protective and leads to real rejection. That’s why there are so many broken relationships—because after our relationship with God was severed in the Garden of Eden, we no longer had our deepest needs met by our Creator, and we began searching for someone or something else to meet those needs, and that can’t be done.

So, in the book he shows me that I was reading my Bible as a text book or self-help guide to find the formulas to live by, but not as a story. I love stories. I find meaning in stories—that’s why I love to teach literature. I even feel like I have a relationship with Harry Potter because I’ve entered so deeply into his story for so many years now. I find beautiful truths about loyalty, the duality of man, forgiveness, and sacrifice in his story. I love Harry. What if I found the beauty in God’s story? What if I entered so deeply into His story that I fell in love with Him? Only, He’s real, and He loves me and wants a love relationship. When I realized I didn’t have that real love relationship with God, I felt even emptier because I’ve been a Christian since I can remember, and if I didn’t have that by now, maybe I never would. I didn’t feel satisfied by God. I felt stronger toward Harry Potter than I did toward Jesus. I didn’t feel significant, important, fulfilled, or secure even though I was a Christian, and God was supposed to fill those needs, right? I felt a big gaping hole in my life. The formula wasn’t working for me.

He writes about what an alien might think of humans if he came to visit. The alien might think it strange how much we compare ourselves to others. He might recognize our obsession with having the right clothes, listening to the right music, driving a certain kind of car—all in order to be higher on some invisible hierarchy. We’re looking for other people to tell us we’re smart, or beautiful, or successful, or funny, or good. We’re looking to a jury of our peers. He says, “It is as though the voice God used to have has been taken up by less credible voices.” Other people’s opinions have become very important since the fall. The problem is we’re all looking for validation from other humans, which inhibits our ability to give validation to others.

That’s where the lifeboat theory comes in. He poses a question that his teacher asked during a values-clarification lesson, “If there were a lifeboat adrift at sea, and in the lifeboat were a male lawyer, a female doctor, a crippled child, a stay-at-home mom, and a garbage man, and one person had to be thrown overboard to save the others, which person would you choose?” After reading this part of the book earlier, I asked the students in my classes this very same question, and just as predicted, they did not hesitate in deciding who was most and least valuable. There were debates on each person’s merit and what they had to offer. No one brought up the idea that all people are equal—just like in his class. He says we live our lives as if we’re in this lifeboat, like we have to fight to prove our own value so we don’t get thrown overboard by everyone else. We look for allies—others to defend our importance. We constantly compare ourselves and get very upset when we’re disrespected or when someone says they’re better than us, as if it is a threat to our existence, like there’s some sort of penalty. Isn’t that the context of many of our reality shows? They mirror life.

It reminded me of Walk the Line, the story about Johnny Cash. I’ve never read his biography, but it seemed to me from the movie that he wanted so badly to prove his worth and value ever since his dad had said that the wrong son died after Johnny’s brother’s death. So he found his identity as a musician and looked for his significance in that, but after he became famous and so many people “valued” him, it still wasn’t enough. His father still didn’t treat him like he was worth anything. I guess the feelings of worthlessness draw people to do all sorts of things—addictions, affairs, climbing the ladder of success, jumping off, or throwing others off the lifeboat. But ultimately, all of it still leaves us unfulfilled.

Miller writes, “God wired us so that He told us who we were, and outside that relationship, the relationship that said we were loved and valuable and beautiful, we didn’t have any worth at all.” We need this love from God so that we can love others. How can we love other people purely without selfish motives, stop hating ourselves, and quit comparing ourselves to others unless we are already fulfilled? How can we see them as equals until we know the value God places on them and us? How can we be authentic and sincere unless we recognize we aren’t in a lifeboat? We need someone who loves us so much that we don’t have to worry about being disrespected, how to dress, getting older, feeling lonely, and all those other things that could get us thrown overboard by others. We need to be told who we are by the One who knows, our Creator.

He explains how God did the most selfless thing a perfect and loving Being could do by coming to get us, trying to save us, so that we can know and enjoy Him, as Adam and Eve did. He offers redemption though a relationship with himself. This may be more appealing to those who are marginalized—those whose place on the lifeboat is most threatened. That’s who Christ spent his time with, but He said the rich will have trouble coming to Him.

Miller spends some time in the book revealing how Christians don’t always represent Christ accurately. We tend to want to kick out of the lifeboat those who don’t share our political leanings or our morality instead of showing them their value, as Christ did. Instead of imitating Christ, we’ve tended to just want to defend the church and justify ourselves to the culture. My perspective on this particular topic was changed through two other books: one by Rick McKinley appropriately called Jesus in the Margins and the other also by Donald Miller called Blue Like Jazz. They reveal the Christ of the Bible, and disassociate him from our modern-day, political, right-wing, yuppie, patriotic Jesus who wants us to display anti-gay bumper stickers for His name’s sake. I, for one, am glad to leave that Jesus behind.

I have often questioned and struggled with what our motivations should be for following moral law. There are the obvious reasons that even those who don’t know Christ have for following moral law. I have posed this question to my students many times, usually with unsatisfying results. To earn God’s favor? To get to heaven? To avoid bad consequences? To feel superior to others? I believe Miller gives the answer I’ve not been able to articulate. He states, “…moral law is not our path to heaven; our duty involves knowing and being known by Christ. Positive morality, then, the stuff of natural law, is but an offering, a sweet-tasting fruit in the mouth of God. It is obedience and imitation of our pure and holy Maker; and immorality—the act of ignoring the conscience and the precepts of goodness—is a dagger in God’s heart.”

Morality flows naturally out of a relationship with Christ. I think for me morality has often been about meeting a person or group’s expectations, or it’s been about exercising my freedom or “right” to do something. But now it’s about bringing a pure offering to the Lover of my soul, and not hurting Him. I want to know Him and know the sweetness of His love. Just like the image in Ephesians 5, a woman who submits to her husband, not out of obligation but out of love because she knows that he loves her even as he loves his own life, and he will only do the best for her.
This marriage imagery is used throughout the Bible to compare Christ as the bridegroom waiting for his union with the bride, His church. It is so beautiful in spite of, or because of, the flawed state of human marriage. The purity and perfection of a union with Christ, His faithfulness, His love, inspires me to honor Him, to be pure. We miss out on this by breaking the Gospel down to bullet points, acronyms, and formulas.

Miller claims Shakespeare revealed this image of a selfless, spiritual marriage with Christ as the bridegroom in the balcony scene of Romeo and Juliet. The baptism imagery is stated explicitly, yet I never picked up on it. Juliet tells Romeo to deny his name and be baptized new. The idea of giving up who you are to be united with another—with Christ—is the kind of passionate love affair I seek, yet I don’t know if I’ll ever get there because of my family name, my broken humanity. At least, I’m not there yet. It’s a tragic love story. But it is unfinished.

By the time I read the end of Miller’s book, my heart was ready for it. I’d been asking God to satisfy me, to make my desire be for Him if it was possible. I told Him I felt lost, without purpose, and empty. He’d been doing the work in me without my awareness. I started to notice that I cared about people more; much of my fear and insecurity was gone; I wanted to worship; I was no longer worried about finding someone to love me; I was more aware of my motivations; and my critical spirit was melting away. It all happened so imperceptibly, I didn’t see the transformation happening. It’s still happening. A deep, satisfying relationship with God is possible, and I’m going to have a taste of it now, and will experience it’s fullness in eternity, where my hope now lies.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Voices

Carried along
By voices that tell me who to be,
What to think, how to feel,
But is that me?

Content to float
On this torrent of expectation,
Never slowing to consider
My identity

Instead I heed
This test, this degree, this book
This city, this status, this group
This image, this store, this look
This music, this cause, this pursuit
This scholar, this church, this career
This love, this sage, this leader
This duty, this formula, this fear

These voices
This noise
This noise

All the lies about me
And the flattery too
Have become the cushion where I lay my head
Amid the din of carnival clamor
But I’m waking
And searching for a mirror
Away from the funhouse distortion
Away from this sound pollution
These voices
This noise

Let me hear One Clear Voice
Above the whispers, murmurs, and yells
Merge Your voice with mine
Until I don’t hear anything else
Let my mirror reflect what You see
Your image in me

Your image
Your voice

Your voice


Your quiet
Quiet voice
Your gentle
Gentle breath
Whispers
Whispers to me
“You’re mine
Now rest”

Friday, March 28, 2008

Truth at a Slant

I was reminded today of this poem by Emily Dickinson:
Tell all the Truth but tell it slant --
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth's superb surprise

As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind --
I was thinking about how God is constantly at work revealing truth as we are ready for it. This poem gives me the image of truth coming to us gradually, dazzling us as it is revealed. But if it came all at once, it would overwhelm. God knows what we can handle, and He is so patient with us. He has been dazzling me lately--giving glimpses of truth, then widening the light little by little as I'm able to take it in. Truth at a slant.

I've heard my sister try to explain to her 8 year old son (Karston) that her 5 year old son (Josiah) is not yet ready to understand an idea or concept because of his age and development. We're all like that. God waits. He holds on to it for us. Waiting. I always want to rush ahead and reach for what I'm not ready for. I want to run when I've just learned to walk, and I fall on my face. But I'm learning to slow down and trust God to give me truth at a slant, so I eagerly wait to be dazzled (and sometimes humbled by my ignorance when I thought I had it figured out already).

"In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." Philippians 1:4-6

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Aftermath

As we view the bloodstained memories scattered across the battlefield
Too late we see the tragedy, the futility.

Why? Why couldn’t we see this war coming?
And when did we build barricades and take up arms?

The secret skirmishes in our minds provoked our true but unseen enemies
to wage the Three Year War.
In this war
there were no winners,
only casualties—
the Dreams, the Devotion, the Innocence, the Intimacy we shared
lay slain
by our faceless foes—
the Silence, the Apathy, the Resentment, the Fear we unveiled
too late.
Preoccupied by the grass on the other side, we didn’t notice as they flanked and surrounded.
They snuck in and mercilessly lay siege our existence,
once beautifully fused as One,
now brutally severed in Two.

Why? Why didn’t I see this war coming?
And when did you become too broken and bruised to fight?
I had only begun raising your flag
when you retreated, battle-weary.
Did you even realize I was on your side?
Too late I found you, playing dead to avoid a fatal blow.
You gave up long before I was ready to surrender.
So I fought
alone
too late
until finally forced to admit defeat.
Now I will fight no more forever and breathe a sigh of relief.
At last I’ll recover the wreckage and tend to the wounded in peace.

Why? Why don’t you see the war is over?
And when will you allow your blood-soaked face to be washed?
Released from my yoke as your Savior,
while prisoner of war you remain—hostage to Guilt and Shame.
Content as a captive, you avoid facing the raw ache of devastation,
rejecting the ransom that has been paid.
Overwhelmed with the arduous task of reconstruction,
you prefer to persist
in ruins,
a remnant of what used to be.
So I grieve the loss of my lover, who once I adored and enjoyed,
and I pray that his relic will find
that out of the ashes more beauty can rise
than that which I helped to destroy.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Balance

Confine passion
Restrain freedom
Tame obsession
Repress desire
Indulge moderation
Create Balance
If I were Home I would not need you


Far from Home my
Boundaries become barricades
Vulnerability prostitution
Humility heresy
Certainty pedantic
Holiness dichotomous
Contentment status quo
Failed Balance
When I get Home I will not need you


Love without fear
Commit without caution
Find the Pearl in the Field
Give all to possess it
Scorn Balance
As I glimpse Home I do not want you