Tootsie Rolls, Projection, and a Stream I Had Been Missing

There is this old tootsie roll commercial.  In wonderful, 1970’s style these animated ragamuffins sing a sort-of ode to the candy.  The commercial-kids are clearly big fans of tootsie rolls.  As they look around, they see all kinds of random stuff like airplane bodies, trees, and trains suddenly turn into tootsie rolls.  Given that they maintain their shiny smiles through out, I gather that we are not meant to infer that this is some sort-of psychotic break from reality or bad acid trip.

I am perhaps overthinking things here, but to whatever extent we are supposed to think about it at all, it seems like the point is that these kids are projecting their much-loved candy into places that it simply isn’t there.

This commercial, in a silly and pop culture way, gets at a real thing that happens.  Sometimes, we get really into something, and suddenly that thing seems to be everywhere.  Perhaps it is a word or a phrase or an idea; a brand of clothing, a phrase, a little piece of body language.

When we see something recurring over and over again, it is an important question: are we projecting something that isn’t there?  Or is this pattern, whatever it is, something that really is there, and was there all along, and we just never noticed it.

I once had this great book on writing.  It included a bunch of really interesting exercises to help writers notice the world in new ways.  One of them was to pick a color or a shape.  Close your eyes, relax, and breathe for a while.  When you are ready, open your eyes and look around– or better yet, go for a walk.  And notice the color, or notice the shape.

As I am writing this now, I am thinking you ought to try this reader.  Will you humor me on that?  And maybe write a little something about what it was like in the comments below?  Don’t worry.  I will wait.

Done already?  Cool.  So, the thing is, that when you choose a color or a shape, you do notice that color or shape everywhere.  This is clearly not a case of projection.

Of course, there are these self-fufilling prophecies we create.  There are these stories that we tell ourselves that are not true.  But we cherry pick the evidence, and only grab on to stuff that confirms them.  The success of magic tricks and psychics can be built on this.  Also, this is the foundation of racism, sexism, homophobia.  It is no small thing.

Which brings us back to this question: When we stuff everywhere, is it actually lurking around, everywhere?  Or did we project it out?

The relevance to my life now is that I am looking at where I am spiritually.  I am discovering all these amazing ideas.  Some people are claiming that they have been sitting around, in holy books I am quite familiar with, but all this time I didn’t know what to look for, and I simply missed them.

More specifically, there are these ideas around a mature, second-half-of-life spirituality.  Ideas about embracing paradox, grey areas, and difficult truths.  Folks who identify themselves as Christians (like myself) point at our bible as a source for these beliefs.  Before now, I would have said Buddhism has lots to offer in these areas, secular philosophy or psychology.

But I am on this crazy journey where I am learning that these people might turn out to be right, after all.  My own Christian tradition has this really valuable knowledge about contemplation, embracing both sides of complicated reality, agnowodging that death sucks and life is hard.

I am growing increasingly convinced that I am not like one of those hippie kids, who projected the tootsie roll into places it clearly didn’t exist.  There is lots I want to write.  (And reader, there is so much I want to hear from you, so please please please leave a comment or thought below)  But this post is running long as it is, so I am thinking for now, I ought to take a little break.

 

 

Mindfulness in a “Good” World.

Like any good college student in Southern California, I spent a couple years as a Buddhist.

This was really the first time I was exposed to meditation.  It was a powerful thing.  Sometimes, too powerful.  Incredibly profound spiritual experiences while meditating kind-of scared me away from meditation.  That is a story for another time.

Despite those negatives, I found meditation powerful and helpful.  When I began following Jesus, I spent some time assessing these practices and my motivations for engaging in them.  I have had this on-again, off-again relationship with spiritual practices.  Sometimes, I have engaged in things very much like the old meditations I used to engage in.  Other times, I have pursued other more intentionally Christian disciplines…

If I were to be honest, I would say that most of the time, I haven’t done either.  Most of the time, I have just steered clear of all this stuff.  Some of my reasons relate to myself as a person: I am not sure that the reasons I would do these things are the right reasons.  Some of them are more collective: Christianity as a whole is quite split over what to do with these sort-of practices, particularly when they are borrowed from other religious traditions.  Perhaps an even more important reason is sheer laziness.  To do these things requires a sort-of effort.  Perhaps you are like me.  Even the things that have a pretty quick pay-off, sometimes it is hard to get myself to do them.

Meanwhile, the secular world is starting to grab on to the value of spiritual disciplines.  Mindfulness, for example, is a buzz word these days.   Ted Talks and  newspaper articles continue to list the benefits of creating times in our busy lives where we are not thinking, where we are just be-ing, just breathing.

benefits-of-meditation

I hate it when the Church is on the wrong side of things.

As a Christ-follower, I have always been open about how spiritual practices help me to get closer to God.  Mother Theresa had this mind-blowing description, of what prayer was like for her.  She said that sometimes, she listens to God.  The interviewer asked her what she was listening to.  She answered that she was listening to God listen to her.  I love that: sitting in silence, with God, listening to God listen to me.   Like those wonderful times when you are sitting on a blanket with a good friend, and maybe the sun is setting, or there is a breeze, or the scent of something lovely wafts to your nose, and you are not talking, and you are just filled with the conviction that everything is pretty o.k. in the world.

Budhist, and secular, and other forms of meditation speak a lot about another benefit of meditation.   This is one I continue to feel.  It is not one that my brothers and sisters in Christ are always on board with.  After I am engaged in prayerful meditation, I see the world differently.   It is not so much that they help me to see the world anew, it is something different.  The original, (way better) film version of Willy Wonka features one of his research prototypes.  It is a little piece of gum, or candy, or something, that replicates an entire meal.  The actress does this incredible job, as each course comes in, of helping us to see her joy and excitement as the flavor of each course strikes her taste buds.

Prayerful meditation is like that: I see things, and hear things, and smell things, and taste things in a way that is delightful and surprising.  I feel the surprised joy of the character from Willy Wonka.

I am beginning to suspect that the reason that we don’t want to talk about this benefit of prayerful meditation is that we have perverted the gospel.

I could ramble on for a dozen pages about ‘why’ it seems like this came to be.  I think maybe I will continue next post with this idea.  For now, I will try and be (uncharacteristically) brief.

Their was a conspiracy that broke the meaning of the gospel.  One member of the conspiracy was Greek understanding of the world.  The Greeks, through folks like Plato, idolized ideas and disdained the “dirty” world we live in.  The second conspiracy was a short-sightedness in theology.  We turned Jesus promise of the redemption of all things in to a ticket to some ethereal plane beyond the world.   The third was the political landscape.  It benefitted some people with a lot of influence to mantain their power, position, and prestige.  These folks wanted so spin Christianity in a way that lead to people focusing on the next world at the expense of this one.

The result of this conspiracy is a Christianity that is out-of-balance.  It tries to ignore that when Jesus came back, he did so in a body.  That body ate.  It could be felt by Thomas, who explored its wounds.  It has taken communion, which might have been a hearty carnival for the senses; a feast, and it has turned this into a chomping a flavor-less cracker and drinking a sip of water; it complicates the meaning of pretty straight foreward pronouncements, like the created world is good, and the kingdom of heaven is among us.

I have come to believe that we are born to be in the world.  (God had hoped it would not be broken, though.)  I have come to believe we will spend eternity on a restored and urgraded Earth.  I have come to believe that the biblical injunctions to enjoy the bounties of this world are to be taken at face value.

And when I connect with God he gives me new eyes to see the world around me.  He gives me new ears to hear it.  The world is good, the kingdom is among us, and eternity can began right here, right now.

A Theology of Life’s Suckiness

Matt Clinton National Hill-Climb Champion 2008
Matt Clinton National Hill-Climb Champion 2008 (Photo credit: Phil and Pam)

When we need Jesus the most, in some ways, that’s when he is so hard to find.

I have been rocked by all these challenges.   In these I cling to this truth that Jesus is closest to us when we are hurting.  I know that he is a savior he weeps with us.

But I cling to the truth because if I didn’t cling on to it, that truth will float away from me.   And I know that about Jesus in my head, only. 

It’s so hard to feel it right now.

In the middle of this terrible, terrible time, I am being tested in so many ways.  Intellectually, I get it, that we are not promised a life of roses and rainbows.  But I struggle with not being angry at Him.  It’s like, Lord, you have spent this time in such intimate contact with me.  And I have with you.  How could you do this to me?

I know it’s foolishness and wrong-headed.  The sun shines on the good and evil.  The rain falls on all of our heads.

It’s easy to lean on Jesus when it’s easy to believe that he loves me.  Right now, it’s like I am having to trust the beliefs that I had.  Because now, in the moment, it’s hard to believe that He has a plan, and he loves me.

One of the thing that carries me through is the practice and discipline I built up before, in easier times.  Practice and discipline in praying and reading the bible and believing in a powerful God who loves me. 

Another thing that carries me is the love and support of friends and families.  Their hugs and acts of kindness and reminders that they are there for us.  And also their example: they serve as reminders, through their actions, of the things I should be doing, the person I should be, even when I don’t want to.

These two things: discipline and friends, a pairing like law and love, like grace and obligation, these two things are what will carry me through.  I am assuming I will get through.  It is as though when times were easy, when things were good, I was building up speed, building up intertia.  Perhaps, I am on a bike, accelerating down a hill.

But now the slope has turned against me, and it up, and above, and I don’t know how high up it goes.  I just know that whatever I accumulated before I am spending now, desperately hoping it is enough to carry me through.

Starting with the Lunch

UK - Somerset - Bath: Roman Baths Museum - The...
UK – Somerset – Bath: Roman Baths Museum – The Altar (Photo credit: wallyg)

I understood something today.  I understood it suddenly and in a new way.

It was around how the Ancient Isrealites were expected to do these sacrifices.  Thier were pretty strict expectations about what animals would be sacrificed when.  And even more strict expectations about the conditions of these animals.  They were supposed to sacrifice the best.

We are freed of this expectation. 

But today, in church, I got it.

Church was awesome.  I don’t mean awesome in the 80’s surfer-sense of the word.  It wasn’t entirely pleasant.  It was, at times, so hard that I had to leave the sanctuary.   When I say that church was awesome, I mean that it quite literally inspired a sense of awe.  I suppose that this is one of the things church was supposed to do.

The gifted folks involved with the service are partly responsible for this experience.   They did a great– even exceptional– job.   But there have been other days when they were all doing an equally excellent job.  And yet, many of those times, it did not effect me.

There is some truth in talking about how the spirit moves where it wills.  Sometimes God makes himself known.

Yet…

This is also a cop-out and a ducking of responsibility.  They say that  we don’t have any control over where and when God shows up.   The problem is that this implies that God isn’t omnipresent.  It implies that there are some places where God is not.

What I am trying to say is that God is fully present in every service.  The thing that comes and goes is our own perception of him. 

Today, what I realized, is that one of the sacrifices’ values is that they smashed home, they made concrete a reality that it’s easy to lose track of.

That reality is that whatever we bring to a worship service is what we are going to get out of it.

Today I brought… a lot to the service.  It wouldn’t be wrong to call it baggage.  It wasn’t all kinds of warm fluffiness.  It was a whole dizzying array of conflicting emotions.  Pain, and anger, and hurt… Not just at life in general, but pain and anger and hurt directed right at God.  Those were all there.

God was happy to take it. 

It wasn’t a sacrifice worthy of him.  Even though there are all these descriptions about the sacrifice-victim be perfect and unblemished, I realized today, that being worthy was never the point at all.

The point is that whatever we bring to God is the material that God will work with.  He does his divine alchemy on what we bring.  He turns it into something else, something better.  Maybe he even enhances it, like Jesus beginning with the boy’s lunch and feeding thousands.  Despite the enhancements, there, though, the thing is that Jesus, did after all begin with boy’s lunch.

I could have shown up with nothing today.  God quite literally knows I have before.  Today I didn’t show up at the service empty handed.  And so… I didn’t leave empty handed, either.

Its Fleece Was Snow.

Lamb
Lamb (Photo credit: freefotouk)

Jesus did not speak in similes. 

You might remember your nerdy English teacher rambling on about similes, how they are a comparison between two unlike things, using the word “like” or “as.”  In the same breath, said nerdy English teacher, probably spoke about metaphor: a comparison between two unlike things not using the word “like” or “as.”

Even though English was a favorite of mine, and even though I’ve always been a poetic guy, it was lost on me: why was it so important that we have a different term for comparisons when they don’t have the word “like” or “as.”  I was unclear on how those little words might make much of a difference.

Maybe I’m slow.  It’s only as an adult I’ve come to see the huge difference between “Mary had a little lamb, and it’s fleece was white as snow.”  (A simile) and “Mary had a little lamb.  It’s fleece was snow.”  (A metaphor.)

The latter sentence invites us into a field to play with the meaning of words.  It flirts with us a little bit.  Perhaps it’s not a metaphor at all, but some sort of snow-lamb-creature.  Even if we decide not to take the words literally, we are left with some mystery, some room for interpretation.  In preceisely what ways was the fleece snow-like?

Jesus spoke in metaphor.

He does not use the words “like” or “as” when he compared himself to light, truth, bread, water, ways (as in a path; see last post for more on this) or ladders (see next post)

Though he sometimes enhances his meanings– usually at the request at his bumbling (like me!) disciples, Jesus’ words begin in mystery, they begin with this space for us to move around in and explore what it is he means.

When Jesus said he is the way, I take him to mean that he is the path toward God the father.   Further, I take him to mean that their is something holy not only in Him as our destination, but also in the process of seeking Him.    We, like Israel, wrestle with God himself and are blessed for this wrestling, even when it leaves us hurt…

Jesus’ metaphors (not similes!) themselves are an invitation to be with him, the path, as we figure out just what they all mean. 

It makes my brain hurt, a little.

 

We Choose the Method of Payment

Where Does It Hurt?
Where Does It Hurt? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And so I was hurt by this person.

Probably, my hurt was not different than the hurt I have caused others.

I was hurt, and mostly, I seemed like I was o.k.  We interacted, it would have appeared that we moved on.

It is only in the quietest times that I suspected that I wasn’t over it.  I hadn’t forgiven.  In fact, I was looking and waiting for payback.  I wanted to see this person hurt, just as they had hurt me.  In some way, if Iwas looking for revenge done with my own two hands, it would have been more honest.  I was really looking for an unfortunate turn of events to occur for them.  I was looking for God to be the enforcer of my own agenda.  I wanted something proportionally bad to befall the person who had hurt me.

Suddenly I got it tonight.   I got the whole thing, I think, about however we judge others, thats how we ourselves will be judged.

It’s not that God is running around and saying, “Ha!  This will be a poetic turn of events.  You judged them, now I get to judge you.”

If I go even deeper than the place I am still hurting, if I go deeper than the place that is looking for this person to be hurt in response, I realize that this is fundamentally about me.

It’s not only about me in the sense that I can only control what I do, how I react.  It’s about me because all the anger, deep down, isn’t at somebody else.

My desire to see this other person hurt… In some profound way, it’s an act of massochism.  It’s not about the other persons greed and hurtfulness at all.  Not at the deepest level.

The reason I react to the hurt in a vindictive way is about the greed and hurtfullness that live in me.  In some profound way, when I want the other person to be punished… really, I am wanting my own self to be punished.

Because I fear that I deserve it.  Because I struggle to accept God’s pardon for my sins.  Because it would be easier, sometimes, to keep paying the price than it would be to stop doing the hurtful things.

However I judge somebody else– at it’s most basic level, that is how I am judging myself.  That is what I am saying to the shadow parts of me, the aspects of who I am that I would much rather hide away. 

In the very act of saying “They deserve to have _____ done to them for their crimes” I am also saying at the same time “I deserve ______ … I will accept nothing other than ______ happening to me.”

We choose the payment method for mistakes.  It looks like we are going after for this form of payment, whatever it is.  But really, we are going after our own selves for it.

God is up to all kinds of things in this to.  There’s lots of interesting things to be explored about just how he feels and acts when we are unloving…  But we make a decision for Him, when we go looking for vengence.  The deed is already done once we delude ourself into thinking it’s the other person who we want to pay.

Man, it’s hard to let go of hurts.

Acts

English: folio 11 recto of the codex with the ...
English: folio 11 recto of the codex with the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve been reading through the book of Acts.   It seems that in the early church, there was a part of the community that was not getting a fair share of food to feed their widows and orphans.  The apostles said, to that community “We can’t stop what we’re doing to wait on tables, so you choose some men from your community to help distribute food.”

Sometimes I get hung up on how dismissive the apostles were toward the work of distributing the food.  But when I get past that, I can see so many important things going on here.

For example, the apostles were comfortable that they were working right where God wanted them.  They didn’t get guilted or manipulated into veering off their ministry.  Yet, when they saw a need they didn’t ignore it either; they walked a middle rode by facilitating others in getting it done.

Secondly, the went to the effected community and realized that the best support would come from within that community.  The seven men who they chose would know where the needs were.  They would be less open to the complaints of favortism.  It seems like this was a move to tear down the walls between the groups and help those who had been overlooked feel like part of the central community.

Thirdly, one of those men goes on to greatness.  Stephen was given this oppurtunity to participate.  I was suggest he learned leadership and about faith in action.  He was able to take this training and allow it to pay off in a huge way.

If things had ended differently, the apostles might have been distracted from thier mission.  The community they were serving would have still felt like outsiders and an after thought, and Stephen would have been robbed of the chance to develop his spiritual gifts.

I know that it’s a pretty common thing, for groups want to return to the acts-era church.  But even in these couple chapters, there is so much relevance for the ways we ought to be doing things.