Homunculus

This rib cage

pushing outward with the inhalation.

There is this vista within.

 

In my beating heart.

In that fist-sized pound of muscle.

There is a wide open field.

 

There is a wide open field!

See that figure, there.  Not in the center.

The grasses all dance at his knee caps.

 

The clouds roll by slowly so far above him.

In this vista within me.

Where my rib cage opens wide and closes narrow, like a bellows.

 

Zoom in on the man in the field within me.

Close in on the center of his chest.

Pass through the fabric of his shirt.

 

Slide within his chest.

He breathes too.

Find that vista within him.

 

There is a field

There, too.

I stand in that place.

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The Mission, Regardless of Whether I Choose to Accept It

Yesterday was a shitty day.

There are aspects of my life that I had this hope were moving in a certain direction.  Some of this sense of movement?  Wishful thinking.  Things have not come as far as I want them too.

A while later I was doing better.  Not a lot better.  But a little bit.

The thing I am learning about now is just sitting, and letting things be.  In the middle of this hard time yesterday I did not do that very well.

I am spending some time, every day, just sitting.  In a way I am praying at these times.  But I am using fewer words to pray every day.  In a way I am meditating.  But also I am not.  I am getting away from methods, a little bit.  Not so focused on this way of sitting or that way of calming my thoughts.

I am learning a lot during these times.  I lot about how the name of God is I am.  A lot about how in the garden, Eve and Adam were accepting every moment with God in an undefended, vulnerable state, they weren’t grasping after a brain-centered knowledge about the nature of things.  I am learning that when Jesus readied himself for the worst thing that ever happened, the knuckleheads who went with him, they just fell asleep: while Jesus was fully present to that moment of preparation, his followers were leaving him already, when they failed to experience that moment with him.

I let my hopes and delusions get in the way yesterday.  I suspect that this quiet time I am spending every day is a bit like a fire drill, a bit like batting practice.  I am teaching myself what to do in the quiet, calm, and easy times, so that perhaps it will be a little more natural to react in times when it is stressful, and important, and difficult, to react with openess, and emptiness and calm.

For the record?  I am not very good at it, just yet.  And I really don’t like it.  But that’s the mission, for me, right now, I think.

Jesus’ Hands

I have been haunted, recently.

This haunting began when I said something to a friend.  There was a group of us, mostly followers of Christ.  This friend was expressing some pain, hurt, and sadness.  I said something that was not unique or special, really.  I asked, “How can we be God’s hands and feet and take care of you?”

And then it hit me, this haunting image: If we really want to be God’s hands and feet, our appendages?  They will need to have holes in them.

It struck me like a brain freeze, like rock from a sling to my forehead.  This unshakeable image of mangled, bloody hands and pierced feet.   It struck me, I suppose, because we so easily talk about wanting to be God’s hands and feet.  But we can live in denial of how very hard it is to be God’s hands and feet.

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Don’t get me wrong.  I believe strongly that the contemporary evangelical church is a morbid beast.  I think that Passion movie was a glorified snuff film.  In short, I think our conversations about the death of Jesus need to be kept in a context with his life and his rebirth.

However, it also won’t do to pretend that the bible doesn’t speak about Jesus blood: on the one hand, dying wasn’t the only thing that Jesus did.  But on the other… it is something vitally important that he did do.

And so this image, of Jesus’ hands and feet, they serve as a brutal and terrible  and awe-inspiring reminder of the cost of loving people, a reminder of the sorts of things we are called to do.

As for me?  Well, I can’t say that I found a way to meaningfully and directly help this friend who was hurting.  Clearly I need to work at hard at heeding that call myself.

Hurt

Ponder an image with me:  A man puts his left hand, palm down, on a work bench.  With his right hand, he picks up a battered old hammer.  And then he brings the hammer down, hard.   I am wondering if metal on flesh would make a sound, moments before the man lets out a wail.    He grits his teeth.  Looks at the hammer.  And then, he does it again.

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In some sense, that is what we are called to do.  Smash our hand.  Take on the pain.  Wait a moment.  And then?  Do it again.

This has been on my mind recently.  I have been in several diffferent conversations about people who have been hurt.  One is a person who I know to be incredibly open, and kind, and brave.  He was hurt, and he said, “I don’t know if I will be able to trust people again.”  Two of the others have been hurt by people in the church.  It was said about one of them, “She’s fine with God, but she is having some trouble with God’s people.”

That last sentiment, it has practically become a cliche.  But like many clichés, it has become a cliche because there is truth dwelling in it: the armies of people who describe themselves as spiritual but not religious are a manifestation of this idea, too.  Sometimes, it is easier to deal with God than God’s people.  It is certainly less painful.

There is something in us that runs from pain.  I suppose that this is generally a good thing.  We learn not to touch the hot stove, we learn not to test a knife by running our fingers over the edge, we learn not to antagonize the kid who is stronger than us and quite willing to beat us to a pulp.

And yet, we are called to transcend this.   We are called to open ourselves to pain.

Perhaps it is familiarity that dulls us to this.  But a thing that I don’t think gets as much notice as it should, is how leads us by example in this.

For now, I will leave aside the example of Jesus’ crucifiction.  Consider the Garden of Eden.  There are all kinds of remarkable things in this story.  But maybe the most remarkable?  The creator of the universe was willing to allow himself to be vulnerable to these flawed, broken, fallible little creations of His.

In some sense, on some level, it must have been a choice.  God might have kept himself above the goings-on in the Garden.  He cast aside his invulnerability in allowing himself to care for Adam and Eve in a way that is, perhaps, echoed by Jesus casting off his divinity to enter the created world.

There must be some limits to this.  We are not expected to submit ourselves to the abuse of an abuser.  I think the beginning of these limits lays in love: it is not loving to allow an abuser to abuse us.  But I think more needs to be worked out, more needs to be said, about how we find the limits of what we should be willing to sacrifice.  (As always, reader, if you have some thoughts, I would love for you to comment below)

Regardless of what those limits are, regardless of how we ought to find them… we are called to do a very unnatural thing.  We are called to be open to pain.  This open-ness to pain, this vulnerability, this is a deep and mystical thing about the way that God works in the world.

Perhaps this is the meaning of Christ being in us:  He dwells in the very deepest parts, waiting.  And when we take pain into ourselves, when we bring it to those places, he waits there, transforming it into something bigger, better, glorious, triumphant.

Just a Cow, Chewing on Peace

Sometimes, I ponder on a thing and I start to make some headway, at least in my own mind.  Other times, though, I start to think on a thing, and what I realize first is how utterly clueless I am about the topic.

I have been thinking on peace, lately.  I filled with awe at what a bewildering topic this is.

This act of writing is an attempt to bring some order to my chaotically arrayed thoughts on the topic.  I could be wrong, in what I am writing here.  God knows I have lots to learn.  I hope you’ll drop a comment and throw some ideas around, and help me to make a little more sense about this stuff.

I think the place I want to begin is with a distinction between two different modes of peace.  Those modes are Shalom, or Godly peace, and Chill, or human peace.

Before I go very far in defining those two, I am going to suggest another distinction.  This is based on where peace lives.  Call them  internal peace and external peace.

I would like to suggest that man’s peace inevitably favors one habitat for peace or the other.   Protestors spend a lot of time and energy working for an external peace.  Mindfulness types seek after an internal peace.

Often times, there is not an explicit and obvious conflict that is going on at the surface level.  Between the protestors and the mindfulness types.  There are no rumbles between the occupy-ers and the meditate-ors.  One of the reasons for this, maybe, is that there is a fine line between avoiding conflict and avoiding violence.  I suspect we spend too much time and energy running away from all manner of conflict out of a fear that we engage in violence.  I think we ought to follow the example of Ghandi, Jesus, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela (at least in the second half of his life.)  and be willing to risk conflict.

I do think that for so may people, though, where you are going to focus your energy in working for peace is incredibly important.  A person who fights for peace in the outside world would be tempted to act dismissive, I think, toward some one who is working only on the internal.  Similarly, imagine a monk.  Feel free to choose his religion.   It seems that often, he might be dismissive toward somebody working at changing laws, fighting for human rights.

When I began writing this, the thing I was thinking about was that the difference between Shalom and Chill is that Shalom recognizes that peace is contagious.  Internal peace will spread to the external.  And external peace will spread to the internal.  Because, ultimately the world above is the world below; the world within us is the world outside of us.

But as I began writing that paragraph above, the one that began “often times” I had this realization.  I didn’t try to set this up.  I didn’t, in fact, even see this coming.   I found myself looking for examples of people who were unafraid of conflict though they resisted the urge to practice violence.  As you read, I came up with Ghandi, Jesus, Dr. King, Nelson Mandela.  The thing I am struck by, now, that I did not see coming is this: each of them had a profoundly spiritual bent to their practice of peace.

It seems to me then, that to practice Shalom is not only about a conviction that internal peace and external peace are opposite sides of the same coin.  Maybe more importantly, to practice Shalom is to be willing to navigate the difficult path separating conflict from violence.  It is to realize that peace with out conflict is impotence, and peace done with violence is self-defeating.

Lurking somewhere in the midst of all these thoughts is this picture I have in my heart about the Kingdom of Heaven.  I think the Kingdom of Heaven bursts out in these places where we engage in conflict with out violence, somewhere between the boundary of the internal and external.  I think I am going to be better able to articulate this if I spend some time with all these thoughts, chew them up, maybe even swallow them and regurgitate them back up.  So, I, a cow chewing his (err, her) cud, am going to end here, and leave you with that image.

there is blindness, and then there is Blindness

Here’s the the no-duh statement of the day:
Seeing stuff is important.
Further, the failure to see stuff is also important.
Yesterday, I blogged some thoughts about the blindness of Paul and Elmyas. Today, I want to take a step back from this specific case a little bit and cast a wider net.
Physical sight carries a metaphor with it that is so basic that it seems almost silly to mention it. The act of seeing with our eyes is very much like the act of thinking. We can physically close our eyes in much the same way we can choose not to think about a thing. We can act rashly on our first visual impressions much as we can act rashly on our first, sloppy thought.
This is so basic that our language is littered with metaphors connecting the two. “I can see what you mean.” We often say, when we mean, “I understand the thought you want me to have.” Or “I saw the light” we say when we mean that we had suddenly increase in understanding.
It is therefore fitting, perhaps even ironic, when Paul and Elmyas are stricken blind. The physical blindness is an outward manifestation of the thought blindness they both had. They were not mentally “seeing” things as they are… and as a result, they lost the ability to physically see things as they are.
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Paul, of course, regains his physical sight as he chooses to better use his mental “sight.” There is no indication that Elmyas ever changed his tune… by extension, it seems a safe assumption that he never lost his physical blindness. This is speculation, but I would wager that if Paul had not undergone a change of heart, he would have never regained his physical sight.
As I was pondering all this, I was reading Max Lucado’s excellent “And the Angels Were Silent.” This is an account of Jesus’ last week. He has some interesting things to say about the two blind men that Jesus heals outside the city gates.
These two men are obviously physically blind. They cry out for his healing. Some of Jesus’ disciples try to shut them down. But Jesus praises these two men.
It’s some times hard for me to wrap my brain around Jesus’ frequent praise of people who go beyond social norms and propriety to seek his healing out. In addition to those two guys, there is the woman who grabs at his cloak on the assumption that touching his cloak will heal her bleeding and the crippled man whose friends tear through a ceiling to lower the friend in.
There is a part of me that… chafes at these stories. Because it just doesn’t seem fair that the squeaky wheels are the ones that get the oil. I want to live in this world where Jesus praises us for being restrained and following the rules and procedures.
But wanting it does not make it so. And it is quite often that my vision of fairness does not coincide with God’s.
Lucado points out that there is a sense in which the blind men were the only people who could truly see, in that case. Jesus’ disciples were blind in an important sense, when they tried to shut down the two guys looking for His love, attention, and healing.
The relevance here is that those disciples were like Paul and Elmyas. The healing of their blindness is a testifies to this, the sudden ability to physically see an echo of the fact that they were the only ones who were rightly mentally seeing.
Paul and Elmyas are one side of a coin: when they fail to mentally see correctly, they lose the ability to physically see. The two blind men at the gate? When the correctly mentally see, they gain the ability to physically see.

“Hey, Look! It’s an elephant!”

“A personal relationship with Jesus.”
It’s the elephant in the room.
It’s a piece of theology requiring an explanation. It is seen as central to a whole arm of modern Christianity. It is, perhaps, the most single most important chunk of theology that the evangelicals have got.
It’s an elephant because it does not appear in the bible. Worse than that, the phrase is only something like 100 years old.
It’s easy to hear the “elephant in the room” thing as a cliché. But before over use robbed the words of their sting, it was quite a powerful statement. Perhaps this goes with out saying. But a person who pretends that an elephant isn’t in the room with them, that person would have to be pretty stupid. Or at least, deep, deep, deep in denial.
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So if we’re going to assert the importance of a personal relationship with Jesus, we owe an explanation to the skeptics, to the curious, to anybody who might not see this as valuable. There are a smattering of challenges that will have to be met when answering that question. Specifically:
1) How did the first 95% Christianity miss this important doctrine?
2) Why would God allow the first 95% of Christianity to miss this doctrine?
3) What makes us so special, that we would be among the few people who got it right?

I think that a satisfactory answer to these questions can be given. I think we can admit that there is an elephant in the room. I think we can explain why he is there. And then we can… I don’t know. Pretend it is a zoo and invite people to come see the elephant. (There’s no real metaphorical meaning there. I just wanted to say that we can explain this thing and then it will be better.)
I don’t think it’s helpful to address those 3 questions separately. I think they can all be addressed together.
I don’t actually think our ancestors, our mothers and fathers in the faith, needed this piece of doctrine. In many cases, it wasn’t necessary for them to have a personal relationship with Jesus.

Did I get your attention yet? I’m trying to be a little provacotive here. But bear with me for a minute.
It is all about that word, “personal.” The idea that we need to be engaged in a relationship with Jesus is thoroughly biblical. I don’t know if Jesus specifically said, “You need to have a relationship with me.” explicitly but I do know that he said we were his mother, brother, sisters, friends; he said that he was the vine and we were the branches, he said he was the way (i.e. path) and we are the journeyers.

I want to spend a little bit of time on that last one. Jesus said he was the way.
Usually, we quote Jesus on this one to people who aren’t following him. Usually, we make great importance of the implication that Jesus is the only way.
I am not interested, today, in debating whether or not their are other ways to salvation.

I am very interested in debating what Jesus meant when he said, “I am the way and the truth and the light.”
He had just mentioned that he was leaving. His followers were worried that they would not find him. Jesus said these words to them, his closest friends: I am the way. He didn’t say it to practioners of some other religion. He didn’t use it as a fear-tactic to scare people into converting to Christianity.
He offered it as an encouragement to those who already followed him. He was, in effect, saying, the very act of trying to find him, the very path which lead to him, was also a part of him.
It might seem that I have wandered away from my original thought, but here is where it all comes back together:

There are certain places I know intimately. I have visited them over the years and across the seasons. I have the joy of watching the ways they change, and of marveling at the ways they do not. In short, there are places that I have a relationship with.
It isn’t really a personal relationship. Because these places aren’t persons. But this does not make the relationship less valid or less valuable than my personal relationships.

In the modern era, I suspect we have narrowed down the list of things we might engage in relationship with. We have engaged in a kind of chauvinism, where our relationships with other people are assumed to be more important, to run deeper, to have more value.
The idea that we would qualify our relationship with Jesus as one which might be personal has some value. It is valuable because we are products of our age. It would be hard for us to value this relationship if it were not personal. It embraces the humanity of Jesus.

But I think that something is lost. Because the idea that Jesus was wholly and fully human is utterly true. And yet, at the same time, it is only half the story.
Jesus is so much more than a person. It follows that our relationship with him would be much more than merely a personal relationship.
At best, this idea that we must have a personal relationship with Jesus is a concession to our times. We moderns/post moderns can grab a hold of the idea of the importance of personal relationship. At worst, it is an act of heresy and idolatry. It limits The Unlimited and it attempts to tame That Which Can Not be Tamed. (Apologies to Ms. Rowling for any rhymes with her creations.)nc__elephant_in_the_room_by_bthomas64-d4s05d9