Pretending the Bloody Nose Doesn’t Hurt

I can remember before I learned how to drive.   There were some things that I did not know.  If I wanted to drive, I needed to learn these things.   I am not a very practical guy.  I love speculation and theoretical possibility.  I love thinking about thinking.  I love learning about other’s deep thoughts.  I love to share my own.

When it came time to learn to drive, I should have determined which one was the break and which one was the clutch and which one was the accelerator.  It was important for me to learn how to turn on the head lights.  At that stage in my life I lived in Southern California, so most likely figuring out how to turn on the wind shield wipers could wait; it wasn’t likely to rain any time soon.

Knowing the history of the automobile?  Even less relevant than operating the windshield wipers.  The kind-of guy I am, it is tempting, in situations like that, to want to explore thermodynamics.  I remember learning the term fitzgig around the time I learned to drive.  A fitzgig is a tiny explosive, the “spark” caused by the spark plug.  In the film “The Dark Crystal” they named a character fitzgig.  That animal is named after this concept.

Learning how to change a spark plug, that is not the sort of thing I get excited to learn.  I paid a lot of money to mechanics.  And I have had way more than my share of accidents.  I should have paid a lot more attention to these practical things.

I am learning that spiritually, I am not much different.  With the car I spent all this time contemplating theoretics.  I should have been practicing pushing down on the pedals.  And in my spiritual life, I have spent all this time arguing theology.  I have ventured to the edge of the sorts of things that can be expressed in words.   Probably, I have spent some time well beyond this point, trying to wrap my puny little human brain around stuff that I just won’t be able to explain or understand on this side of the grave.

I am in the midst of this strange time of transition.  Some of it is connected to my spiritual community at large.  Some of it is very personal to me.  Some of it I am in the center of.  Some of it I am on the peripherary.  And some of it I am only connected to indirectly…

I am feeling lead in a direction on this stuff.  I am learning so much important stuff.  In some sense it is so basic, just as the actual mechanics of driving a car are in some sense so very basic.  A way I can express this is to say that I am called to make peace through this turbulence.

I am learning that there aren’t any right words when people I love are suffering.  Explaining where I think God is can be callous.  Asserting that it doesn’t seem like God is there at all can feed into somebody’s struggles with faith.  Telling somebody that I know what their pain is like can belittle them and turn the focus on me.  Telling somebody that I can’t imagine what their pain is like can isolate them.

I am not saying that we should say nothing.  I am saying that all these words we have are not the important thing.

The important thing is that I am fully with someone who is angry or suffering or lost.   Right there, with them, in that moment.   Don’t we all know, when somebody is with us, in our pain?   For me, that is an incredible gift, when I know that somebody has stepped past their own baggage.  They are not thinking about how it is for them.  They are just with me.

I am probably not much good at this yet.  I am learning that in the past, the things I said to somebody else, they were at least mostly for me.  So often the words I have said to somebody else, they are motivated so very wrong.  When someone I love is hurting, it hurts me.  And I don’t like hurting.  And so in the past, too many times, I have found kind words.  It is less that I want my friend not to hurt because they are my friend, and more that I do not want my friend to hurt because there hurting hurts me.

Somewhere, we know it, when our pain is hurting someone else.  We know it when they are trying to stop our pain in order to stop their pain.  I remember when my youngest was tiny.  We used to wrestle-tickle.  Once (ok, twice, actually) he got his little fingers inside my nose.  His little toddler fingernails scratched up something good in there.  I bled all over the place and hurt quite a lot.

And he was really freaked out.  I found myself covering up the bleeding, covering up the pain.  And that is what a dad should do.

But there have been times in my life that I have been the toddler.  Times that people are hurting are greatly.  And me?  That hurt makes me hurt a little bit.  Perhaps the person hurting doesn’t want to see me hurting; they are avoiding some wierd and dysfunctional feed back loop.  At the minimum, they have enough on their plate.  They don’t need to wrestle with my pain, too.  So I offer up some stupid  plattitude, and they pretend it makes them feel better, and problem is solved.  (I am hoping the sarcasm in those last three words is duly noted.)

The first thing I am learning in this season of my life is that one of the things I am called to do is to walk toward pain, not away from it.  At this stage in my life, carrying my cross means that I put on my big boy pants.  I accept the idea that hurt is going to hurt.

I have been reminded that in this hurt, that is where Jesus dwells.  I have found him, as I have worked at being fully present to other’s pain.  Jesus was with me, waiting for a reason to manifest.  And he was in the other person, whether or not they follow Christ.  And also, he is in that space between us.

Peace Making, Self Esteem, and a bit of a tangent into the Death Penalty.

I think that too much has been said about self-esteem, and not nearly enough has been said about being a person who makes peace.

I was surpised, today, when I saw that these were connected so closely.

I think that the easy and obvious reason that a person might want to make peace is rooted in a regard for others: as the story goes, I don’t want to hurt you.   I don’t want to lash out at you.  I don’t want to fight you.

Of course, these are good things to think.  And caring for others?  That is a pretty good motivation.

But it’s not the best reason to be a maker of the peace.

The best reason to be a maker of the peace is because of what making peace does to me; put conversely, the best reason to avoid war (of every kind) is because of what it would do to me if I engage in it.

The “me” that I am speaking of, here, is not a lonely, solitary “me.”  It is a duo, a pair: there is my own, individual self.  And there is Christ in me, too.  When I choose peace, when I make peace, I am doing so because of what it does for me, and for the creator of the world, who, in his inexplicable, nearly offensive humility, chooses to reside within me.

I do not know that I am not always called to mindlessly submit to the assaults of others.   I know that an attacker can cause so much pain.  I know that it can hurt in unimaginably deep ways to have things stolen from us… Of course, it is the intangible things, when these are stolen from us, that we hurt the most.

And yet…   any attack, every attack, there is a part I can not control.  An evil person (and there are evil people!)  can only target things of this world, physical things… temporal things.

When I return violence for violence, when I lower myself to that level, suddenly then, I am jeapordizing things that are eternal and fundamental.

It is out of this deep self-esteem, this profound love for myself, for Jesus in me, that I must not give up my very self in exchange for that which is not part of the deepest me.

This is why I can not condone the death penalty.  I would rather be murdered than made into a murderer.  I will not let some one else turn me into the monster that they have become.

I am not good at this, making peace.  I do not always do what I see is right.  I do not always see what is right at all.  But I want to be better.  I am turning my eyes to making peace, trying to bring my heart there, too.   I am not good at this.  But I want to be better.

The Eye

Today, I raised up my hand and sang that Jesus conquered the grave.  I was crying while I did it.   If you had been there, you would have been tempted to cry, too, because my voice is not good.

Snarkiness aside, I am reeling right now with all this stuff.  Permit me this cliche, will you?  This whirlwind rages around me but I am in the eye of the storm.  It is scary, and sad, and frankly miserable.  But there is peace here, there is calm.

hurricane-eye-776145

It is Mother’s Day, as I write these words.  This is the first Mother’s Day I have had since my mom died.  Last week would have been her birthday.  Next week will be the anniversary of her death.

Fellowship Church, the community where I found Jesus, is ending.

A pair of my dearest friends, so integral to my faith and my life over this last decade, are leaving.

And yet…

I know that I will see my mom again.

And Fellowship?  It is becoming a campus of Next Level Church.  Representatives from our new affiliation were on hand today.  They seem good people.  And they have something pretty amazing going on.  It seems that they are doing what we, at Fellowship, have longed to do.

And this lovely, amazing couple, they are following God’s call on their lives.  I am so proud of them.

And there is more:

I continue to work on reconciliation and restoration of one of the most important relationships in my life.  And it is good.

And we had been car-less for nearly a year.  We had relied some on public transportation, some on ingenuity, and lots on selfless kindness from amazing people.  It was not easy, and it was often not fun.  And it is over.  Partially through the kindness of awesome people, we have a vehicle.  We were mobile this week end.  It was a joy to go grocery shopping with my wife.

After shopping we had this lovely meal.  We laughed together and nostalgi-cized.  (I don’t care that that word has the red underline telling me it is not a real word.  Don’t be so narrow-minded, spell check.)

I raised up my hands and I sang out this morning, and yes, it probably sounded terrible.  But I was just moved, struck, pierced by this idea that Jesus conquered the grave.

At it’s most basic, this means that we have a victory over our physical death.  But there is so much more!

There is this victory over my mother’s death, as there will be a victory over my own some day.

But also there is a necessary death of this community I love.   And there is victory over this death, too, as it becomes something new.

There is the death of the convenience of seeing my great friends all the time.  But the victory over this death is that these great friends are doing what God built them to do.

These deaths were the winds whirling all around me.  They were real, they were scary.

But there is more than that fear.

Reptiles, Dinosaurs, and Jesus.

I have a student who has an obsession with reptiles and dinosaurs.   If I asked for his perceptions about a movie, if it had much to do with reptiles or dinosaurs, this is most likely what he would tell me about.  If this was not intended to be a major part of the movie; if they did not get much in the way of screen time; if there were other, more important matters…  none of that would really matter.  If I asked him about it, he would tell me that it was about reptiles.

Particularly If I did not know about his predilections, his assessment would likely shape my understanding of the movie.  If I did not know the name of the film, perhaps I would ask for tickets to see “the reptile movie.”  As I sat there, waiting, I would be watching for the reptile-parts.  Probably, I would impart an extra importance to those parts that had it.  After all, reptiles and dinosaurs is what I went looking for.  I had expected them to be the best part.  Perhaps, for me, they even would be… but only because I was expecting that in the first place.

I am trying to ease into a subtle way of explaining that the above is a metaphor.  I hope you will forgive the lack of a smooth segue.  Here it is:  the boy with the thing for dinosaurs?  He is a bit like culture.  And the movie?  it is a world view.

In my case, the culture is European, suburban(ish) American, circa 2016.  The world view is Christianity.

jesus_dinosaur

I receive my Christianity via my culture, just as I might receive a summary of the movie via the student.   Just as I can go from hearing a summary to actually seeing the movie, I can similarly move on to participate directly in a life, relationship, walk (call it whatever you feel like; there are ways that all 3 are apt and other ways that none of those 3 do it justic) with Jesus.  But just as the summary will shape my experience of the movie, so to will my culture shape my experience of Jesus.

The metaphor probably does not do the reality justice, in that it is much easier to recognize and distance myself from the students assessment than it would be to see past my cultural predispositions.  I suspect that Jesus was, in fact, warning us about exactly these kind of things.

This is a part of what He means, I think, when he says that those of us with ears to hear should listen.  This is a part of what he means when he tells us about new wine and new wineskins.  This is a part of what he means when he asks people who they think he is; often the response is ‘well, so-and-so say…’ and inevitably, Jesus reposes the question.  It is as if he is saying, ‘yes, yes.  I know what the culture says.  But I want you to look past that.’

Go Ask Alice

I wrote some bits and pieces of a spiritual autobiography, recently.   I found myself wondering about the facts that I got wrong.

I am not a detail guy.  There are probably a good number of things that I did.

I thought about it a while.  I began to suspect that I didn’t much care about that.

I thought about it for a while, and I began to think I did care, again.  But for a completely different reason.

I don’t want to know about what facts I got wrong because I want to correct them.  I want to know about them because these might be the most interesting things in my writing… It is worth wondering: those things I remembered wrong, why did I remember them wrong?

The stories we have of Jesus, these are spiritual autobiographies, too.   I believe that the things that are reported actually happened…  But I suspect it doesn’t actually matter if they did.

Story is more important fact.  The subjective impact is more relevant than the objective reality.  I know that there are dangerous rabbit holes that we can fall into when we begin down this path… and yet I also suspect that Alice would tell us that sometimes we have to go down the rabbit hole, in order to understand what is really there.

Merciless as brain freeze

When I was little, we used to go to that icecream store.

Odd-shaped creations, long and narrow…

A closet stretched out on a torture rack.

 

Seats that looked stolen from a school room

turned their back to the windows that ran the length of the place.

They were inevitably inconsistently occupied by a recurring cast of characters:

 

The teen-aged couple, closed off to the rest of the world,

desperately trying to find some new way to open to each other.

They shared a large bowl.  But he took more than his share and she pretended not to mind.

 

A fish out of water father.

I don’t know then that perhaps he did not live with his kids.

Perhaps he did not like his kids.

They tried to smile and he looked sullen.

Or perhaps vice-versa.

 

A toddler who made me feel inexplicably queasy.

I do not know what flueroscent flavor was smeared across his cheeks and lips.

 

This all lived in the background of my mind.

 

Though the sign boasted only 31 flavors.

It seemed the forever freezer stretched back through the wall.

Out the end of the building.  Across city, state, and country borders.

 

Tub after endless tub.   Flavors familiar and exotic.

Barely a dent made in the chocolate.  Freezer-burned daquiri ice made my forehead wrinkle for reasons I could not explain.  Vanilla.  Sherberts.

 

My mother died a year ago.

And I am thinking about grief.

How it comes in all those flavors like icecream.

Surprising in their variety and depth,

As merciless as brain freeze

On a sweaty August day.

Easter, Take 2

Bah!  Sometimes I am jealous of actors for the stage.  It would be interesting to have your role grow and change, evolve over time.  I think I would like it if the things I created were dynamic and ever-changing.  As a writer, I know that I can re-write things.  I know that I should feel good about them before I decide I ought to share.  But somehow, this is not quite the same.

I was thinking about all this in connection with the blog I wrote yesterday.  It was a rather stuffy and intellectual approach to Easter.  I am going to try that topic again.  But this time, what I want to do is just share my joy about the fullness of Jesus rebirth, rather than getting hung up on everything that is wrong with Christianity today.

As I said yesterday, the idea that dying is not forever is a huge thing.  But I don’t have anything new to say about that aspect of Jesus’ rebirth.  Today, I am thinking about some other things:

The way things had always been?  They don’t need to be the way things always will be.  My stupid knee-jerk responses aren’t the final word.  My emotional baggage can get unpacked and I can be free of the weight of the sucky things that have happened to me, and the sucky things I have done.

The ways that the world seems to operate are not the ways the world will always operate.  In fact, this way of being is just a hiccup, just a burp.  That voice inside that cries, “This is not the way things were meant to be!”  That has more truth to it the strong preying on the weak, then the big dog eating the little dog.

The hopes that appeared to be lost forever, cut off as they were by a flaming sword, the glory we were intended for…  we are still headed for that glory.  And just as it seems like Adam and Eve were intended to be junior partners, co-participants with God in building this new thing, we are re-enrolled in the process to.

I re-read the accounts of Jesus’ death and resurection last night.  I was strike by two things related to this last point.  The first is that all four gospels specify that it was the first day of the week when they found the empty tomb.  It would have been easy enough for a reader to do the math and figure that out.  But for some reason, it was worth while for all four authors to mention this fact.

It seems like it is meant to echo the very beginnings of the bible: on the first day, God began creating the world.  And on the first day of Jesus’ rebirth, God began re-creating the world.   It is a sign, I think, that Jesus being reborn marks a new era: we are back on the road we were intended for.

Secondly, in each of the gospels the risen Christ enlists his followers in this new re-creation.  We are meant to go out and tell the world about this new possibility that began on the cross.   I think the temptation, with our modern concerns and understanding is to jump right to the part about how we won’t die.  And certainly this  is an important thing.

But there is so much more!  One part of this is just the mere fact that we get to be co-creators, junior partners, in the whole mission of bringing about this new kingdom.