Monday, February 15, 2010

Made to Rule

So, we all long for control. That is no surprise. But to consider that it is our destiny and design to rule and reign is something that I have not thought much about. Though I recognize that Christ came to rescue us from prisons of fear and insecurity that rob us of our freedom of choice, I’ve not really considered the idea that God wants us to have sovereignty. I’ve spent more time thinking of how I should defer to God’s rule—how I should surrender choice and control to God. And I should.

Yet Willard says that “The deepest longings of our heart confirm our original calling.” So, if our desire for control and sovereignty is part of our imago Dei—what makes us persons, then maybe it is not all bad. We desire to accomplish and create good things, to influence and impact.

And yet, our vision and will is distorted. In our fallenness, apart from harmony with God, our longings have gone awry. Like Chaucer’s knight, we dominate and demand from others—robbing them of their personal sovereignty. And we struggle against domination from others in order to try to maintain our own personhood.

There’s so much to who we are that we can’t appreciate because we’re perverts. We have distorted and perverted love and pleasure and power. And that is what makes redemption so beautiful. All is being restored. Christ has made it possible for us to reclaim our personhood—because he made union with God possible. Willard points out that “God equipped us for this task [of ruling] by framing our nature to function in a conscious, personal relationship of interactive responsibility with him. We are meant to exercise our ‘rule’ only in union with God, as he acts with us.” We need him to enlarge our imagination of what can be done “acting in union with God himself.” We need him to redeem our rule.

And here is where surrender makes sense, “When we submit what and where we are to God, our rule or dominion then increases.” So, in a strange paradox, the more we surrender, the more freedom and control and sovereignty we have as we and God move in cooperative faithfulness to one another.

This all gets back to my disdain for goal-setting and self-improvement plans. Last year they were bad. This year they might be good. If redeemed. And I guess that’s the key I was looking for.

This seems so simple, like one of those things everybody else already gets, but it’s still sinking in for me. I’m going to have to sit with it, move it around the room a bit until I find a good place for it. And I’m only on page 28 of this book.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Ambition Redeemed

When it comes to telling a better story, questions of control and sovereignty and ambition tend to arise for me. So, starting to read Dallas Willard’s The Divine Conspiracy has been well-timed to allow the Truth to ease in and dazzle gradually. It’s helping me understand that striving isn’t all bad.

I often wonder how selfish I’m being when it comes to pursuing my desires and ambitions. To be honest, I prefer to call it selfish so I can defer and hand off responsibility and control. Then I can blame someone else (God) when disappointment and failure come. I can be passive and live safely and call it holiness—much easier.

I’m not a very ambitious person, really. I just want to change the world. Not much. So, I’ve been on this quest to figure out if world-changers just stumble upon it as they react to life as it comes (preferred) or if they actually set out with intention and ambition (more likely, dang it). It seems I might have to risk. All of this is wrapped up with complex ideas about expectations and limitations and grace and humanity and failure and fear and potential. I’ll write a book about it one day that will change the world…

For now, it’s enough to know I’m normal. Willard says so. We’re not intended to be ordinary. “Everyone, from the smallest child to the oldest adult, naturally wants in some way to be extraordinary, outstanding, making a unique contribution…” He says the drive to significance is “a signal of who we are and why we’re here.” But it is not the same as egotism, which is what I didn’t get. He describes egotism as “acute self-consciousness and can be prevented and healed only by the experience of being adequately loved.”

But egotism is often what striving and ambition has been for me. Striving without love is ugly. Brennan Manning painted this dirty little portrait of me, “When… the impostor is running amok, and I am thinking how well I have done and how necessary I am and how secure I feel in the affirmation of others and how remarkable that I have become a player in the religion thing and how deserving I am of an exotic vacation and how proud my family is of me and how glorious the future looks—suddenly, like mist rising from the fields, I am … afraid. I know that behind all my Christian slogans and conversations… there lurks a very frightened man… I have escaped into the fantasy of invincibility.”

But that egotism (and fear) is healed by the experience of being adequately loved. So, if I let God heal me with his love, then I have the freedom to dream and strive as I was meant to—to create a better story, to be ambitious, to change the world. I will risk when I’m loved.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Surrogates: It's the Church

Surrogates is my favorite kind of movie. I love films like Gattaca and The Island, and these sorts of films that make you ask “what if?” Not being a movie critic, I don’t know what you would classify them as—action/thriller/science-fiction/futuristic? But, in the tradition of Frankenstein, I love the subtle commentary they make about humanity and technology and society.

I just finished watching it and I can’t get it out of my head. The director said that the story is a metaphor for the digital age that we live in and explores themes having to do with our obsession with self-image and beauty. It shows the appeal of experiencing life from the comfort and safety of your own home through technology—but not really living. It also touches on themes of identity—living out of a false self instead of facing the discomfort and pain of our own humanity.

I guess I think of these kinds of films and novels as prophetic warnings in a way. “Here’s what can happen if you go down this road…” In Surrogates we see a couple who lost their son and have become completely disconnected—they’re connected to technology but very disconnected from themselves and each other. By living through surrogates, people don’t have to deal with wrinkles, weight, disease, acne, pain, difficulty. But they’re not living.

Not too far from reality in many cases. It makes me think of how often we hide behind false selves and technology so we don’t have to deal with the harsher realities of life in this world, and we settle for experiences of pseudo-pleasure instead. My own constructivist spin on it is that it could be a movie about modern Christianity and the Church.

But, of course, the conclusion is that living with our authentic humanity, in spite of the difficulty, discomfort, and hurt that comes with it, is the only way to truly live. Hiding behind a false image isn’t truly living. I see this as a theme of God’s kingdom too. Blessed are those who recognize their humanity and their need for God, for theirs is the kingdom…

Thursday, February 4, 2010

A Better Story

Last year at this time I refused to make New Year’s resolutions. I was pretty sure self-improvement plans and goal-setting were evil. Instead I was going to trust God with the plans.

But what I learned this year is that trusting God can be such a nice disguise for fear.

At one point this past year, when I was pushing back on goal-setting, my friend called me on it, “You don’t want to set goals because you fear failure.” In my head I was reaching for some holier motive having to do with trusting God, surrender, rest, or contentment. But he was right. I couldn’t deny it. I fear failure. I fear disappointment—disappointing myself or others. And so, I play it safe. And trust God.

I remember when I was getting ready one morning, looking in the mirror and thinking, “I am a one-dimensional character in my own story.” You remember from literature class—flat and round characters? Static and dynamic? The static, flat ones stay the same; they don’t change; they have no substance; they are usually peripheral characters. Round characters change; they have conflict and crises and adventure, and they’re worth reading about. I was craving the excitement and adventure of the round character, but living without a plot.

Then Don Miller stole my idea. He wrote this book about living a better story. A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. As I read it, I was confronted again with the idea that good stories involve conflict. I was going to have to face hardship and failure to tell a better story. Never mind then.

Perhaps I wanted God to write my story because I thought he would smooth the path. Remove the obstacles. Make it easy. But I know better. I wasn’t really letting him write the story at all. I was hiding behind him.

Maybe I needed that time of healing at the beginning of last year. Time without plans. Time to learn about grace and limitations. But I lingered too long like a bird that doesn’t want to leave the nest. Time to get the story moving.

Miller writes about needing an inciting incident to force our story along. “…humans naturally seek comfort and stability. Without an inciting incident that disrupts their comfort, they won’t enter into a story. They have to get fired from their job or be forced to sign up for a marathon.”

So I decided to sign up for a marathon this year.

It’s more of a symbolic gesture, really. A way to remind myself that my story isn’t over, that I can face my fears and my issues and create a beautiful story, that in spite of failure or disappointment or setbacks I can move forward and not settle for an easier story, that I will face resistance when trying to create something good but I can keep going. (Plus, I do enjoy running—I just gave it up when it got hard.)

Miller says that the great stories go to those who don’t give into fear. He describes the point at which we all want to give up on our stories and find something easier. We give up on marriages and dreams and goals because we are disappointed or tired or it’s taking too long to get where we want to go. Life is harder than we thought.

I agree with Miller’s reflection, “Part of me wonders if our stories aren’t being stolen by the easy life.” We live in a culture that says life should be easy and everything should work out for you and your God should help make your life trouble-free. And everything gets small and meaningless and easy. And one-dimensional.

Trusting God ≠ ease. Trusting God = rest. But rest and ease are not the same. There’s a difficult path to God’s rest. He’s going to let things get hard. He’s still good. He’s entrusted me with a story. A redemptive story. (Aren’t those the best?) A story full of conflict and difficulty and beauty and joy.

I need to sit with him. Let him enlarge my imagination. Make the big plans. Attempt the impossible. Risk falling on my face—expect it. Receive his grace. Fail. Learn. Grow. Give him my fear. Let him give the vision. Rest. And move. Live a better story—that’s the plan this year.