Glory. Fall. Restoration. Repeat.

You. You are terrible. No good. Worthless. But hey, I can make everything perfect for you.
Does that make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside? Yeah. I kind-of thought it wouldn’t. Sadly, if you had to boil down the “good” news of my faith, it would seem like it would end up being something incredibly close to those words.
I don’t think this is the product of malice. Rather, it’s about skipping some steps.
We are operate as though the story begins in suckiness and ends in victory. Part of the reason that this is a tempting picture to buy into is that they are both steps in a process that repeats itself in all kinds of ways. But the thing is this: they are not the only steps.
Turning the process into a 2 step thing robs the picture of context. As a result, it is distorted.
I think what happens can be accurately boiled down to 4 steps. The 4 steps are Glory, Fall, Restoration, and Repetition. If you thought that only fall and restoration happened, you might want to rename them. You could fairly call them suckiness and victory, if you thought that they were the only steps in the process.
Perhaps you are asking “What process?” or simply, “Jeff, what in the crap are you talking about?” I am going to answer those questions by blessing you with an ear worm.
Let it Go.
You know, the song from Frozen? It was endlessly on tween lips not all that long ago. I am going to bet that it is bouncing around the inside of your skull now, as you read this. You are welcome.
Anyway, there is a great line in that song. No, I am not thinking about the endlessly repeated refrain/title. I risk my credibility as a poet when I tell you that I actually kind of love this turn of phrase, but anyway, there is a line: “My soul is spiraling in frozen fractals all around.”
In honesty, a part of the reason I love this line is probably a bit of snobiness. I am pretty sure that 95% of the people who sing this song have absolutely no idea what this word phrase means.
(Bare with me here, I promise I will be back to the main idea.)
A somewhat simplified explanation of what the term ‘fractal’ means is that it is an image that repeats at all sorts of different levels. Whatever the recurring picture is, you see it in tiny and huge ways… the larger images is might up of the smaller ones, but even the smaller ones are just tiny versions of the larger image.pfractal_star_04
I suspect the line in the song refers to the idea that a huge mound of snow looks like a tiny piece of snow, and further, that if you look at a single image of a snow flake you see little icecicle-like structures. If it turns out that I have this wrong, the basic thing I want to grab on to is the idea of a fractal.
The idea of a fractal is important. Because (thanks for your patience. Back to the main idea, now.) the 4-part pattern: Glory, fall, restoration, repeat… this is a fractal.
Once I would have called a motif. But a motif implies that there are a series of stories, all on the same level, that incorporate this idea. It’s more accurate to call this a fractal because it occurs on all kinds of scales.
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Over and over, it occurs as an anecdote, a short(ish) story. Consider the beginning of humanity: Adam and Eve are born in glory. They are built from God’s image, they walk on God’s garden. They fall from this place of communion with God. But God does not leave. There is a part of that image and relationship that is rebuilt within their own lives. God takes care of them, even outside the garden. Their is a restoration. Unfortunately, the whole thing is repeated, though. Cain had the possibility of walking this close with God. In a fit of jealousy he murders Able, falling…
Another anecdote: David, in glory, is called by God to lead Isreal. He falls various times, perhaps most notably as he commits adultery. But he repents, restoring this relationship.
Sometimes, this occurs on the level of entire book(s) of the bible, not just a handful of chapters. Joseph experiences a kind-of glory. He rises to the second most powerful position in Egypt, the most powerful country in the world. He creates a family reunion and helps his brothers to see the errors of his ways. But Joseph, and his brothers, their descendents fall into slavery. And Moses leads the hundreds of thousands of them out of Egypt. They are headed for a restoration in the land promised to them.
This occurs on an inter-book level, too. Consider the whole of what we Christians refer to as the New Testament. The glory of the chosen land has fallen away. The land promised to Moses’ people has become occupied. The people chosen as God’s special people have waited for saviors promised to them, and it had to feel as though this waiting was all in vain.
Those people promised turn out to be one person. He comes and sets them free in a manner much more important and fundamental than politics, geography, and ritual.
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This level is similar to the largest way that the bible can be seen. But there is a subtle difference. The whole bible, not just several books or a whole testament also fits this pattern. Because Adam and Eve did not find a restoration that was equal to what God had lost.
That restoration only came about through Jesus. And this is where scripture breaks from the fractal. Because all the ways that restorations lead to glory, and all the ways that glories lead to falls… They break, here, at the end. The restoration is forever, the record finally stops skipping. We move into the destiny we had been intended for, way back in the garden.
When I began writing this, I alluded to the idea that this view has some important impacts on how we view humanity and how we express the good news of Jesus birth, death, and resseruction. I find that I have rambled longer than I intended, though, so I am going to leave that for next time.

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jeffsdeepthoughts

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.

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