A house made on the sand is great… during the low tide.

Some of the best people in my life are people who see potentials within myself that I did not know were there.  Recently somebody made an offer to me that I never would have considered before.  It involved taking on something of a new roll in my life.

The possibility that I might be able to do it had an interesting effect.  It lead to me acting more like I was capeable of this role.  There’s psychology to back this all up: A study was done many years ago in an elementary school class.  They took the most troubled kids and doctored their records.  The teachers thought that the most poorly-behaved students were the cream of the crop.  What they found was that the students conformed to the teachers’ expectations: the formely challenged students actually became the cream of the crop.

After noticing what a positive change the event had in me, I was bopping about my life mostly reflecting that this is a positive thing.

But then I read this account of someone talking about how they did not want their identity wrapped up in anything other than Christ.  They were headed to a new job, and they did not want this to impact who they were.

And I thought, “Yeah, that’s about right.”  If we allow ourselves to be brought up by the good events, then we are that tied into the challenging things.  If I say, “Wow, this really great thing, it’s a direct result of me, me, me.”  Then when something lousy happens I have to similarly assert that this too is all about me, me, me.

Building a house on the sand is fun when the weather is nice.

So now, I find myself wondering, what’s the wisest way to navigate this tension?


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The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

6 thoughts on “A house made on the sand is great… during the low tide.”

  1. I wonder if there is such a thing as a “Free-Will Calvinist” who believes that the good things are a result of our own “free-will” and obedience and that the bad things are are “purposed” by God to develop good things in us…

    I’m not saying that this is a solid or biblical theology, it just came into my head when I read this post and I’m wondering if people like that exist who think everything “good” comes from them and everything “bad” comes from God’s testing?


  2. Interesting points and questions. I don’t think too may of us agnowledge or admit to this inconsistency, but your point is an excellent one: we all nod our heads on Sunday when the pastor says that we owe everything to God, but then the work week happens, and things begin to threaten our possessions and we hunker down, defensively, almost sounding like the birds in finding nemo, “Mine! Mine! Mine!”


  3. One way in which we train children and even disciples of Jesus is to elevate them to a greater level of responsibility, in effect letting faith have a role in both us the trainers and in them the trainees. As the trainees are dealing with their new responsibilities, we encourage them by making the most of their successes and minimizing their failures, in effect saying, “I believe in you, you can do it.” This is not to put faith in humans, as it may appear on the surface; it is actually putting faith in God, on whom we depend for everything, for virtue in ourselves and in others, because apart from Him we can do nothing good.

    The experiment of taking “problem kids” and doctoring their records, then turning them over to a new batch of teachers who didn’t know them, and who teaching them with high expectations of their success, is a variation of this same method, except it was involuntary on the part of the teachers.

    We have been given the grace of God to be followers of Jesus because someone or several believed in us enough to pray for us, gently guide us into the life of salvation, helping us to rise to their expectations because, knowing they loved us so much, we thought, “How can I disappoint him?” This is my story, and the story of many others I personally know or have read about.

    Speaking of a promotion, “After noticing what a positive change the event had in me, I was bopping about my life mostly reflecting that this is a positive thing. But then I read this account of someone talking about how they did not want their identity wrapped up in anything other than Christ. They were headed to a new job, and they did not want this to impact who they were.”

    This person who did not want his new job to impact who he was, because he didn’t want his identity wrapped up in anything other than Christ, this is faulty thinking. The fact that he was given a new job or responsibility level has the significance of God personally assigning him a commandment which he alone can fulfill. The wrongness of his attitude comes itself from pride, and from trying to be more spiritual than God, who arranged his new job in the first place. Do you understand what I am getting at?

    Here is a story from the Desert Fathers that applies to this situation of rejecting the ordinary and pretending to a loftier call:

    It was said of Abba John the Dwarf, that one day he said to his elder brother, “I should like to be free of all care, like the angels who do not work, but ceaselessly offer worship to God.” So he took off his cloak and went away into the desert. After a week he came back to his brother. When he knocked on the door, he heard his brother say, before he opened it, “Who are you?” He said, “I am John, your brother.” But he replied, “John has become an angel, and henceforth he is no longer among men.” Then the other begged him saying, “It is I.” However, his brother did not let him in, but left him there in distress until morning. Then, opening the door, he said to him, “You are a man and you must once again work in order to eat.” Then John made a prostration before him, saying, “Forgive me.”


  4. Very interesting thoughts. Your references and stories of the desert fathers inspire me to want to know more. Back when I was a wanna-be Buddhists, the Zen folks had all these Koans that I could call my own. I’ve felt a little more limited, mostly in some pretty silly ways, since becoming a Christian as our cannon is much smaller than Budhists’ cannon.

    I would not have all expected your answer to take the form it did. I expected insight, but not in the direction you demonstrated it. Then idea that God is involved in the process of our promotions and what not is powerful and biblical. One of the things that I’m learning is that some times the ways that God seeks to grow us in these circumstances is not directly related to the specific responsibilities of the job, per se, so much as God is placing me in a position where I will now have extra acclaim, attention, potentials to abuse my power, etc.


  5. Perhaps, Jeff, despite external differences between us, we may be more alike than either of us would care to admit. I have actually felt this early on in our internet relationship, though sometimes bewildered by what seemed to be contrary evidence in later encounters.

    What you wrote in your comment above sounds exactly like my personal history, especially the zen koans and such. See if you don’t resonate with some sympathetic vibrations when you read this post of mine, in which I describe my migration from zen koans to the desert fathers:

    As for the desert fathers themselves, there are some links in the sidebar of my blog, or, if you would like some recommendations on the best books about them, here are two:
    The Desert Fathers, Helen Waddell http://www.amazon.com/Desert-Fathers-Helen-Waddell/dp/0375700196
    The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, Benedicta Ward http://www.amazon.com/Sayings-Desert-Fathers-Cistercian-studies/dp/0879079592/ref=pd_bxgy_b_img_b
    These two are the best, and the first book is definitely the one to start with. No one to whom I have recommended (or presented with) these two books has ever come back to me and said, “Dull and boring stuff.”

    The Desert Fathers are one of the greatest influences on my life, and why I know that in Orthodoxy, even within its structure, people like me will always have a home.


  6. I look foreward to perusing the latter links. I did read your post, and found it eerily familiar. Ironically, I also briefly lived in a commune, however I was only about 1-2 years old at the time. My father took me after my parents divorced. I suspect he too was ejected.

    On a more intellectual note, one of the things that struck me is in the importance hospitality. I am in the process of handing over the reigns of our intentional and strategic communites (we call them small groups or life groups) and have had reason to discuss these matters with a good friend, who will soon be at the helm. As we were discussing the importance of what we need to be looking for and nurturing in our leaders, he mentioned hospitality, and we both agreed that this may be the single most important characteristic. If we’d done a little more homework, perhaps we would have found this truth a little easier rather than formulating it ourselves.


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