Sunday, December 30, 2007

Prayer Pictures

(I gave this picture away.)

I did a painting during the Christmas service last week (see previous post).

Painting isn’t exactly the right word. I didn’t use paint. I used ordinary, medium point Sharpies.

I wanted to say something about the banality of the world in which the Messiah entered... the mess, the smell, the conditions of where he was born. I wanted to emphasize the animals, put them in the foreground. A different sort of Nativity.

I created the image by writing with those variously colored Sharpies. I began with the nativity story in Luke (the face of the cow in the foreground), and put the lineage of Jesus in the walls of the building.

The rest of it was mostly prayers that came to me as I stood on the platform of the filled sanctuary of our church, tuning out the people around me.

When the second church service ended so did the picture. I moved quickly to a corner where I could avoid speaking to people.

Something wasn’t right about that picture.

While I did it my prayers were sincere, but they were dry. It was as if I was feeling the mundane part of the Nativity myself, not taking any joy in what was going on in the background. Just as I tuned out the congregation that morning, I was tuning out the joy of God incarnate.

Someone, a good friend, pointed out that there wasn’t the bright colors I often put in my images... no bright yellows, no golds, no emerald greens.

Lately I have had a dryness to my prayers, and it is showing in my art prayers as well.

I usually want nothing much to do with my prayer pictures after they are finished, but this was truer for this one.

So I gave it away this morning.

We have a prayer room at our church, and I often do such prayers on the walls in there. About once a year a friend paints it over for me (I sometimes help). He thinks of himself as my Etch-A-Sketch shaker.

I want to shake off all the pictures I have done. I’m looking for a way to do that.

There are three:

Infant Messiah - Infinite Messiah
Acrylics - The laughing infant Jesus (my deceased son as the model) bearing the marks of His crucifixion.
(I gave this picture away.)

Magnificat
Acrylics - Mary learning she will bear the Messiah, set in a modern, imposing cityscape.
(I tried to give this picture away. Shipping cost too mush.)

Shepherd in the Woods
Sharpies and watercolors -made up of prayers and scriptures.
(I gave this picture away.)

I’m not sure how to set them loose... Perhaps I can find folks who want them, perhaps they can make a donation to our church’s building fund or the food pantry or something. I don't know. We'll see.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Nativity

(Scroll down for pictures)

I did a picture during the service today. The watercolor pens I brought wouldn’t stick well enough to the canvass board, and the thin point Sharpies where to faint, so I did the whole thing with a limited range of colors, all in thick, regular tip Sharpies.

I was looking forward to praying through the picture. I no longer think about the congregation behind me. I just plugged the iPod into the sockets I call ears, and start praying.

There were a few key things I made sure was in there. I included Jesus’ lineage in the gray on the wall, and the nativity story from Luke is the primary layer on the cow in the front.

I wanted to do a picture that emphasized the baseness of where Christ was born. I wanted to make the animals center-most. I wanted folks to think a moment about the smells, the dirt, the actual filth of where God deigned to enter the world.

For many of us the idea of having a child in a place where feces litters the dirt floor is disgusting.

I would suggest that simply being born human was, for God, a greater step toward the crude than it would be for one of us to give birth in a stable.

My son Isaac, took some pictures and I share them here.












Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Fooled

I’ve a got a good friend fooled.

He thinks better of me than I am.

He sees the gifts I have been blessed with, creativity, love of science and literature, a knack for stringing words together on glowing screens, and thinks I’m special.

He’s pretty special himself. He has a great passion for his family, for nature, for teaching children.

If he sees my flaws he keeps it to himself.

I think that is what I fear, that people will know what is really wrong with me. It is probably what most of us fear.

I fear the flaws which caused me to say and do things which alienated my wife’s affections. I fear revealing my sins will rob me of the affections of all who I would have love me.

Despite what my friend thinks, I am flawed. More flawed than he knows.

I suppose he is flawed as well, though I do not know what those flaws are.

Why are we so desperate to hide our true selves?

I think for several reasons.

First, we absolutely need to belong.

The other night Brenda and I went out to a movie, I Am Legend with Will Smith. It is a post-apocalypse tale. The protagonist, immune to a deadly virus, has lived three years with no other companion than his dog.

A part of the story deals with his reactions in coming in contact with other people. He is borderline insane from his isolation.

Tom Hanks also displayed the symptoms of isolation in the movie Cast Away. He created a friend out of a soccer ball.

I once spent over two months without speaking, or even seeing, another person. I read a lot, satisfying a curiosity about world faiths. When I left that cave on Saddleback Mountain I was terribly awkward with people. I had trouble making simple conversation.

Such isolation turns us a little odd, it can create Ted Kaczynski’s.

We need people. We need people for our mental health We need people to give us a place in the world, a place with others. Without others we start unravelling.

A second reason we are so desperate to hide our true selves is because of our egos. We start our lives having every need cared for by others. As we become more independent we secretly wish to remain the center of all things.

Could people really love us, really want to be near us, if they knew we weren’t perfect?

You have probably guessed, I’m headed toward the point about how we question God’s love.

I’d like to take it a little further.

Imagine if we were perfect.

Imagine if we never sinned, never had dark secrets to keep from each other, from ourselves.

Our lives wouldn’t be the mess they are. We wouldn’t worry if people loved us or not. We would love everyone, never hurt them, never betray them, and they do be the same.

Sounds pretty nice.

Sounds wonderful.

Sounds like Heaven.

Sounds like the way God must feel.

His perspective must come from the absolute knowledge, the absolute experience, the absolute being that is thoroughly good.

If we were like that... if we were without sin, without the sense of failure and sorrow, we would be able to love so much more deeply. I would guess that if I were like that I would be able to see the goodness in souls which wanted to be different than they are, which longed to be free of sin. It wouldn’t be an affection for them out of pity, either. I would love them because I saw in their heart the desire to become better, to become pure. It would be a love for them simply because love is the center of being perfect.

I look at my life, at my failings, at the things I am which make me think that I am fooling my good friend, and I know that there is someone who does know all those things about me, and loves me anyway.

He loves me because that is who He is.

He loves me because he sees in me the spark of our soul, the part of me that is made in His image, which wants to love and be loved, and simple be love.

I’m a screwed up mess. But I am loved by perfection which stretches throughout time, beyond time, beyond the realm of physical matter, and simply wants me to stop hurting, to stop beating myself up, to simply pause and experience a little of what He feels for me.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Well Water

When I was a kid we lived in a house that had well water. Sort of. The well was running dry. The water was brownish and the pump once sucked air.


I don’t know if there was a drought or some subterranean dilemma causing my parents to promptly move to another house.

Sitting in church today I felt a little lift. Not a big one, just a little of my old self responding to the worship music. I shut my eyes, stood up, raised my hands. I was the only one standing.

I didn’t care.

For a moment I felt connected to God.

It was like the water pump in my well had gulped a small surge passing through the water table.

I was watching TV last night with Brenda and an ad came on for worship CDs. The faces in the commercial seemed completely transported by the music they were singing. The advertisement implied that purchasing these CDs would make me feel good too.

I didn’t say anything. But I was thinking about something.

I was thinking that faith isn’t like that for me right now. All joy for God's love, radiance beaming from my face.

I don’t feel enraptured by the relationship I have with God.

I feel something more... serious.

I don’t hold God responsible for the problems in my life. I understand how the choices people make, a natural result of free will, can create situations which harm me. I also understand how a living world, such as ours, will have disasters which hurt people as well... earthquakes which shrug mountains, volcanoes which vomit toxic gases.

I love God.

Not because of what He can do for me, healing me of my psoriasis (which is acting up again, splitting my skin), or leading people to come alongside my wife and encourage her... I love God because...

How can I explain this?

I am so very sad, so very tired. So much so that I have trouble praying.

But I pray, I still pray, sort of.

I have been having trouble asking God for things, even things that are very important to me. Instead I have been having conversations with Him. Just stating what is going on, what I am feeling, what I think.

I know He is listening.

More importantly, I know He is real, He exists, because I can sense Him in the wonders of the universe, the elegance of the balance of things great and things very small. I know He is real because of the odd gaps which continually appear as science pushes forward and our Lord smoothly maintains the space for faith, deftly sidestepping faith-destroying proof.

When I raised my hands in worship this morning it wasn’t because of the wonderful skills of the worship team or the inspired lyrics and melody of the song writers.

I raised my hands because I knew He was there, holding me close while He holds the universe together.

This isn’t to say the music had nothing to do with my response. In fact the lyrics of the song which opened and closed the service fit the sentiment I am awkwardly trying to express here:

"It Is You"

As we lift up our hands
Will You meet us here?
As we call on Your name
Will You meet us here?
We have come to this place
To worship You
God of mercy and grace

It is You
We adore
It is You
Praises are for
Only You
The heaven's declare
It is You
It is You

Holy, holy is our God Almighty
Holy, holy is His name alone, yeah
Holy, holy is our God Almighty
Holy, holy is His name alone

It is You
We adore
It is You
It is You

As we lift up our hands
As we call on Your name
Will You visit this place
By Your mercy and grace
Holy, Holy is His name alone

I love Him because He is God and I am not.

I have felt this low, this sad, only a few times in my life. I do not think my marriage is going to make it (I may be wrong). I have been thinking about divorce and that I won’t make a decision about it until after the holidays (no sense in creating that association for my children).

I do not despair or blame God, or think suicidal thoughts (though I couldn’t help staring at a policeman’s gun the other day, which was weird, thinking about that deadly tool hanging so casually from his hip).

I still feel God is near, though our conversations often begin with:

“Dear Heavenly Father, I DON'T KNOW WHAT TO DO!!!...”

My pump has been sucking air of late, the water is brown...

Still...

I am here, He is near, that is enough.

Fresh water will somehow flow again, I know it.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Death

Please bear with the literary analysis here, but Will S. put this rather well (reading the stuff in parenthesis will provide the condensed version of what the bard is saying):

To be, or not to be: that is the question:
(to exist, or not...)
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
(is it morally right to fight against all odds...)
And by opposing end them?
(even if it means my death...)
To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, 'tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish'd.
(This life is full of such troubles, wouldn’t it be better to end it, especially in fighting for what is right?)
To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
(The visions that sleep may bring when we shrug off this body which traps us...)
Must give us pause:
(But, since we don’t know what will come we cling to the troubles we have, the troubles we know...)
there's the respect
That makes calamity of so long life;
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,
The pangs of despised love, the law's delay,
The insolence of office and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
(And we just suck it up, all the crap of our lives, the health problems of aging, the trespasses of others against us, the sneer from the wealthy and sophisticated, the arrogance of those who govern but no longer care about those who suffer, the rejection and unfaithfulness of those who swore to love us, the imposition that we be patient to those who are not worthy but believe they are superior...)
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin?
(When we could end it all with a sharp knife...)
who would fardels bear,
(who would carry heavy burdens...)
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
(except that we fear that after death...)
The undiscover'd country from whose bourn
No traveller returns,
(the foreign land for which we have no maps and no one comes back from...)
puzzles the will
(saps our resolve...)
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
(and we suck all this crap up because we are afraid to step of what we do not know...)
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;
(and therefore, we stick with what we are, we are cowards...)
And thus the native hue of resolution
(and our resolve is colored...)
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,
(by the shadow of our weak minds...)
And enterprises of great pith and moment
(and our hopes to do great things, do the right thing...)
With this regard their currents turn awry,
(drift away...)
And lose the name of action.
(and we fail.)


Hamlet wasn’t suicidal. Neither am I.

He was torn between to world views. Anger and revenge versus love and forgiveness. Standing up to do the right thing would cost, cost him everything, perhaps his life. His pain was so great he would do almost anything to make it stop, and in fighting against all the resources of the king it might kill him, and wouldn’t that be a good thing too? Except... what is death?

There are all sorts of death. It is the natural result of life... at least life as we know it, based on entropy... in consuming the order created by plants and animals, and sucking a little energy from them before turning them into excrement.

Some deaths are easier to take than others, but most are at least a little hard.

A favorite pet, the loss of a good job, the chilling of a friendship.

Some deaths are not so easy.

Willy’s death was so hard I haven’t recovered yet. It will be fifteen years this Saturday since he died in my care.

His death wasn’t a single event. It was a spiked twisting thing which beat within my chest for over a year. It was a shattering of my identity, losing my fatherhood, losing my dreams of teaching him about science and art and literature.

It was a time of stumbling through days, a walking death of grief which made me a zombie to joy and love and beauty.

I did my best. I maintained straight A’s in college, studying art and literature. I dove into Shakespeare, Toni Morrison, and Philip K. Dick. I learned all I could about architecture, the development of art, the basics of color and design.

But it was all ashes in my mouth. Every bit of news about suffering in the world, every milestone of grief, every reminder of his time in my home, stabbed me, bent me, made me ache to fly to that “undiscover'd country from whose bourn no traveller returns.”

I contemplated suicide that year.

There was the death of hopes and dreams before that which echoed in his death. When we learned that Brenda could not have children there was the death in losing the promise of a family I had always hoped for.

In adopting my current children those dreams we reborn, and then died slowly as we became aware that they couldn’t fulfill my dreams of teaching them about science and art and literature.

I've some current troubles in my life. This isn't the place to go into them. But they feel like a death as well.

This death feels much like the pain of Willy’s death, except I no longer have the luxury of stumbling through my life. I have children who need me. I have a job which requires I pour the best of myself into my charges.

The sadness I feel has taken root and I need healing, spiritual cleansing, to drive it out.

Death is fearful because it is a door into the unknown, and perhaps because the deaths we know have taught us that it is often painful.

Shakespeare grieved over the death of his child, Hamnet, and his writing was steeped in that grief. That is one reason he touches us still.

But death is also the source of life. The energy mined from the life of plants and animals gives us life. Indeed, aside from the source of energy the sun provides plants, all life sucks at the decomposition death brings.

Likewise, there is a death I experience every time I sin. It is the loss of a tiny portion of my soul, of the goodness, the image of God created in me.

The decomposition of those small deaths I fling at the universe, at God, is absorbed by the cross.

I think the only true life I can glean is from the source of energy the son provides.

I am in a dark place today. I suppose I should seek Sonlight.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Dreaming?

Last night I had another strange dream. They are pretty common. From what I understand what is uncommon is my ability to recall them.

We were painting the inside of the house and some of our furniture was outside where it was starting to rain. There was a myna bird in a tree talking up a storm: “I can get you some money.” Then it went into a series of William Shatner imitations.

There was something I needed and I found myself racing along at over sixty MPH on a Segway and I was flying along the bed of a disused railway between old brick warehouses.


I passed Washington Irving’s headless horseman going the other way.


I traveled up and downstairs, through security check points, police stations, across the landscape of an Orange County, California of 40 years ago.

Weird.

Who knows what it all means? I once dreamt of Caterpillar tractors pulled by rhinoceri racing through mud, while Roseanne Barr stood beside me complaining about tenants in a house she was renting out.

Dreams can be pretty strange stuff. I suppose life itself is pretty strange. Especially if one looks at the quantum level, below the size of sub atomic particles. At that level things are completely random. Things do not need to be one way or another. In fact things don’t seem to be real at all. Effect can precede cause and we can find that the universe seems to be literally sung into existence by the vibrating chords of 12 dimensional strings harmonizing in parts divided by threes.

At that level it seems that the very act of looking at the way things work seems to change what they do. The act of observation constrains the universe to behave in new ways. It is almost as if the effect of a consciousness on the universe manipulates reality.

I have people close to me who wonder at the existence of God. He can seem capricious, even cruel, if one assumes that He is pulling all of the strings (especially the quantum ones).

It can be hard to imagine He exists when the universe we play in does not seem to even let us clearly see Him.

Ah, there’s the rub. The universe we play in is rather limited.

Humans are making great progress in understanding the complete strangeness of the true nature of reality.

If the reality of all things includes eight more dimensions than we can perceive (we are stuck in this reality of three physical and one time dimension), then how can we know what lies beyond the edge of the curtain of reality?

Here is an odd thought: what if we are the dream? What if the reality of being who we are is less real than the one that may lie just beyond the edge of what is real? From that perspective, beings of 12 dimensions might consider us as scribbles on a sheet of paper (since to us the reality of a drawing is less because it lacks just one dimension less than ours.

So... why would He create us at all? Of what value is there in creating beings in His image which are so narrowly defined?

Try to imagine a universe where beings of additional dimensions experience even one more dimension of time? With a second dimension of time such beings would be freed of the inexorable pull of time, dragging us all in the direction off entropy.

There would be no sense of aging... for all time is relative. Billions of years of experience would matter not at all. Even in a reality where all experience is filled with goodness, love, and community, as I believe the presence of the Almighty encompasses, there would be no texture to existence. No rough spots.

Perhaps the purpose for creatures such as ourselves is to form experiences in souls which include selfishness, sin, and the rejection of self, voluntary love.

In other words, might not our souls bring a certain variety and spice to the grand community of beings which inhabit the halls of the one true Holy Court?

One day I will wake up and find that the strangest dream I ever had was the one where I lived a few score years as a human being.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Advent Art

Our church is having an Advent Art show. The theme is: "Light and Life in Jesus."

I was asked to provide an item or two. I am providing three (what a ham!).

Since I haven't been posting much to my art blog, I thought I'd toss the pics of those three pieces onto that blog and include a post for each one.

I liberally borrowed text from posts I have written before to explain the images.

I thought I'd just let you fine folks know about their placement there so you might peruse them if it pleases you. You can find them here.

God bless.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Of Giants

My dad was a giant. He smelled of grain, sweat, and diesel. When he came home we played “horse bite.” He would chase us around the living room on his knees and and grab us and squeeze our legs in a horse chomp. Unless we had done something really naughty, then he would punish us.

That was never a good thing.

Disciplining a child should be good.

I have tried to discipline my children without being angry. Perhaps it was a conscious reaction to my experiences as a child. I choose to be different than my father.

I think men like action.

My father is a man of action. Today he lives in Thailand. He has a girlfriend or two. He has a bar on some island where some twenty girls work. He says he’ll fly me there if I ever want to visit.

Growing up in his fleeting shadow was interesting. There was always an adventure.

There was the time my brothers and I were exploring the 5th floor of an old hotel in Los Angeles when a wrecking ball went swinging through a room just as we were entering it. One moment there was a musty, moldy room with decaying furniture and the next there was dust and splintered timbers and blue sky. We raced laughing and screaming down the stairs and out of the crumbling building.

There was the time I watched a boulder break free of a cliff side and roll clear through a house, just like a cartoon. The homeowner was very upset. My brothers and I tried to hide our glee at watching the boulder race clear through his home, crashing into the street and splitting in two. The open halves of the four foot wide rock revealed a fossil dolphin curled in its fetal position of eternal sleep. The sale of that industrious and precocious ex-aquatic mammal funded the construction of a very nice home for the relieved property owner.

There were the many times when Dad's caterpillar tractor moved around a two or three story building, breaking its exterior walls so it teetered on straining interior walls, setting it up as the instrument of one of our favorite games: “Riding the Roof.” He’d lower the bucket of the loader, we’d scramble in and ride to the building eaves. We’d brace ourselves at the summit of the trembling ediface, give him a thumb’s up, and he’d smack the eaves with his metallic dinosaur. The interior walls snapped. We’d holler and jump and laugh as the roof rumbled downward, debris squirting out of windows, doors, and broken walls beneath us, jumping clear of the occasional board spearing through the roof.

There was the time when we watched his friend cut the metal clamps holding a giant coiled spring circumventing a nuclear missile silo. When there were too few clamps to hold back the potential energy of that compressed serpentine ring of giant wire we watched open mouthed as huge chunks of concrete, and my dad’s friend, were thrown far into the sky.

There was the time when he lifted my brother and I, hanging from the loader’s teeth, high into the air and then over the cliff where we saw the dance of sea gulls on distant surf below our feet. He shook the loader’s bucket, the momentary dark act of a drunk man. My brother and I clung on through the falling dirt, clutching to the cold metal teeth of the growling metal dragon until it retreated and set us down on the edge of that bluff in San Clemente, California.

There were so many pranks and adventures during those years when we would visit him and scheme and plot and play and experience the joys of being boys in an environment where destruction and danger were the context for making a living.

My father was a drunken John Wayne who loomed large in my mind, in my heart. He was the tamer of metallic monsters, king of destruction, a clever jokester of falling buildings and torn up landscapes. He was a giant to a book-loving, timid boy.

Even today, as he is reluctantly dragged into his 70s, he continues to attempt world speed records, flies about the globe for new sights, new adventures, new women.

I never quite fit into that world of dirt and grease and debris. Not like my brothers Mike and David. I wasn’t as skilled at being a heavy equipment operator as they. I didn’t soak up the views, the talents, of my father as they did.

I suppose that is why I haven’t been the same sort of father as he.

But I haven’t been the sort of father I think I should have been either.

I’m no Ward Cleaver. I didn't play ball with them, or teach them the skills many fathers teach their chilldren.

Being a father should be about doing the very best to provide the experiences and instruction that brings out the best in one’s children.

I’ve tried. But, looking back over the last decade and a half, I see that my talents and interests have not been things my children can do. They are not able to read and think and create the way I do.

I suppose that it is no wonder we all have such conflicting views of God. The Ultimate Father is as much like human fathers as a real dolphin is like that mineral echo of the mammal I watched swim through a house.

As I walk through the last years of parenting my own children, all I can do is try my best to set aside the formative impressions of fatherhood I gained from Dad, and seek to understand the father who parented me while He was creating the universe.

--------------

I thought I'd toss some recent pictures here just for the heck of it.

Jeremiah went in last week to have his four wisdom teeth pulled. It was awful. His howls didn't sound human. They gave up after three were pulled. We were astonished at how large they are. Look at this comparison between his and Brenda's!

Rocky
What a handsome dog!

Brenda and I have been shooting pool lately. Cheap way to get out and do something together!

Fall in Oregon

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Turning to Good

Today was the fourth Sunday in our new building.

It is pretty nice. It is comfortable, clean, very... nice.

I hear that there are a lot of new faces in the seats.

Somethings haven’t changed much. Many of us still sit in the same places, as if the chairs and the people in them hadn’t moved, while the building transformed itself around them.
My seat

I think people are moving after all. Perhaps the movement around us is helping us to move a little on the inside. Toward Him.

My wife and I have been pretty focussed on our own lives (more about that later). But between those myopic moments when I see nothing beyond my own yard, I see signs of promise in our new church.

For example, I got this in an email from a friend:

Though the new construction has been an immense source of pain for you, many people are finding the new facility a blessing. Over 300 attended the concert Monday pm. People raved about the acoustics of the room, including the 2 musicians who were enthusiastically impressed (sounds better in here than it did at Carnegie Hall after they hauled in $30,000 worth of extra sound equipment for our concert!). For the 1st time in my 20+ years here I have an office big enough to hold groups of people for leadership meetings, staff meetings, Bible studies, etc. For the 1st time ever people stick their head in the door, look around & say “wow, nice office.” I NEVER heard that before. It’s cool to see the youth in their new youth center Sunday mornings & evenings – they are jazzed. I could go on & on. Oh yeah, this is a big one, the new office area, big enough to hold all of us so we have a sense of community, 1st time for that as well. If Satan meant to inspire Jeremiah to do something bad, God has certainly turned it around for good for CAC.

That last part is interesting... “turning it around for good”...

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. --Romans 8:28

The old building, with the ancient wiring and undiscovered termite shelter is gone. In its place is a clean, safe, welcoming place. It’s modern enough that young families sit in a space which connects to their own sense of architecture and style. Comfortable enough that old timers feel a sense of invigorating freshness.

There is a reminder of the old sanctuary in the cross hanging on the wall. Large laminate beams supported the vaulted ceiling in the old building. A friend of mine, a craftsman wood worker, reshaped a beam or two into this cross. He selected beams which had been partially charred by the fire that swept through. The burn marks are centered, fading out at the arms’ ends. The symbolism is unmistakable.


The cross bears our sins. All of our sins. The heat and destruction of our selfish acts chars the intersection between God and man. But it does not overwhelm. All our sins fit easily upon the great symbol of God’s love and sacrifice.

That fire burned a lot more than a building of course.

It set a fire in my own home that chewed its way through us all. It affected all of us, but it hurt Brenda the most. She struggled to love Jeremiah. She read passages of love in the Bible; she kept finding new ways to let him know he was loved, half to convince herself.

She turned to me at one point to ask for help in starting a new project to help him. She wanted us to be involved in Special Olympics. I put her off.

To her it was more of a refusal. Perhaps it was.

Since the fire I had been trying to deal with that destruction in my own way. We committed to pledges toward the rebuilding fund which went beyond what we could logically afford. I prayed with and over both boys each night. I spoke with them each night, checking on their fears and anxieties and concerns. Especially Jeremiah. I did everything I could to help around the church, though the sight of the ruined building made me want to weep.

Brenda tried also. But she found herself withdrawing her emotions, her affections, from her family, from me. Her anger grew.

It feels like everything is pretty messed up in my life. That isn’t true of course; there are many things that are going well. But there isn’t any doubt that the heart of a home is the relationship between a man and a woman, and that is very messed up in my home.

In some ways I can see that this whole mess might allow us to see each other in a clearer light, see who we really are. It might allow us to have a marriage that is more honest and real than we could have ever had otherwise.

But it may be that it won’t last at all.

Sitting in the new sanctuary, where everything is clean and fresh and intentionally designed to assist us in connecting our mortal messes to eternal perfection I am glad that the Lord has found a way to bring such good out of such a mess.

It tears at my heart when I think of how close so many of us, myself, Brenda, Norm, Mel, and Tim, came to being terribly injured or killed that day. The image of my friend thrown onto the driveway by the unseen forces of explosive gases, and I believe, an angel, him standing up in the horizontal column of smoke blasting through the door of the old building... holds sharp and clear.

This new building which makes odd little turns to follow apparently senseless wiggles of a foundation designed for different structures seems intentional in the whole, though quirky and capricious in its details.

Those of us who knew the old place well can still see the echoes of the board room, the pastor’s office, the old entrance, the library, the sanctuary. But the younger faces sitting with their younger children see a mothers’ nursing room perfectly designed, fiiting a whole, in the section that was once the board room. They see a beautiful window, its central frame creating another beautiful cross, where the pastor’s office once rested.


I see all these reflections of the old here and there... On Sunday morns when I pray with our pastors, I note the youth pastor is sitting in nearly the exact spot where Jeremiah knelt to coax a flame onto a sheet of paper from a candle.

I hear echoes of the past which hurt my family, hurt me, and I see wonderfully good things.

Brenda thinks that God is capricious, perhaps cruel. That our desire for children was turned against us so that our first child would die, that our subsequent children would be so challenging. I see good. I see children who have had the evil of their homeland stripped away and the best possible lives given to them against the most improbable of odds.

There are many examples of being able to see the bad or the good in so many things which have happened in our lives.

I believe that passage in Romans. I don’t believe God caused the bad things, but I believe He works for good through all things, good and bad, for those who love Him.

I love Him.

Perhaps that is all that really matters.

Perhaps I don’t even need to be overly concerned to see the good in the things that hurt.

Perhaps praying and worshipping and reading scripture and pondering Him through my writing is enough.

I love Him.

Perhaps that is enough.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

The Ogress of Greenleaf Manor

It’s Halloween. I’m not feeling well, so I am in bed early, watching Young Frankenstein.


It is one of the funniest movies ever made. I might make watching it a Halloween tradition.

Today I went to a large electronics store to buy supplies for my tech program. It is a little odd speaking to a Hillbilly zombie about the advantages of one memory card reader over another.

Jeremiah had a costume party at school. He went as Darth Maul. His only real costume, but one he fixates on too much. I don’t like his fascination with powerful figures of evil. We let him hand out candy to kids who came to the door.

I let my misgivings about his costume slide and crawled into bed with this laptop and the funniest movie Mel Brooks ever made.


I tend to let things slide a bit in parenting. A sort of “Don’t sweat the little stuff” attitude. It probably comes from the nearly hands off approach my parents had in raising me.

Parenting styles are a natural source of conflict in a marriage.

Brenda tends to be firmer, stricter. I tend to be more laid back, more accepting of the ol’ “boys will be boys” philosophy.

She wanted me to become stricter. I wanted her to lighten up a little. We didn’t find a compromise. Instead she got stricter, angrier. I tried to lighten things up, joke her out of her mood.

I called her the Ogress of Greenleaf Manor.

You know, that didn’t amuse her as much as you might think.

When she was extremely upset I would back her up in silent tacit acquiescence, but not explicitly.

But, I worked on it. Became stricter.

As I tried to meet Brenda halfway she relaxed a little more.

I’m feeling pretty achy. The cough is deep enough, hurts enough, I wonder if I haven’t contracted a touch of pneumonia, an infection in the lungs. Brenda brought me hot chicken soup. Very hot. Hot enough to defend a castle. Sweet of her.

(I’m sorry about the ogress crack, Brenda.)

Discounting the vagaries of the modern calendar, Halloween marks an ancient cross-quarter day (half way between an equinox and a solstice; so does Ground Hog’s day). Perhaps my life is also at some sort of cross-quarter. My wife is still in my home. I’m lying here trying to eat scalding soup, and she is doing what she can to be kind and loving.

“You are talking about the nonsensical ravings of a lunatic mind,” Gene Wilder shouts at his visitor.


Sounds like one of my posts...

Happy All Hallow’s Eve.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Strange Dance

This Sunday our church is holding its first service in the new building.

Two and a half years ago my son found himself alone in our church. Other kids have trouble relating to a teen with an IQ of 46.

He heard voices.

He turned on the ovens and stoves in the kitchen.

He found a candle. He found a lighter. He went to a stairwell and played with fire.

We were in a meeting at the church. Our church elders were talking with folks about our youth program.

My youth was burning down the church.


Jeremiah was born in Haiti.

There are indicators he was abused.

Physically (there are scars on his head).

Psychologically (he thought we would withhold food from him).

Sexually (odd reactions when he was bathed).

Spiritually (he witnessed Voodoo rites).

Now we are moving into the $2 million building.

There is a beautiful cross going up in the new building. It is made of laminated beams from the old building, charred by the fire. The seared burns on the wood are centered, fading toward the ends, symbolic of the sins our Lord sacrificed Himself for two millennia ago.


There are a lot of mixed feelings about this new building which provides a superior place for worship, for our youth, for offering a resource to our community.

But it is just a building.

Though our family has a unique perspective on this I recognize how others see it. It is a wonderful improvement. It is an asset to our community. It is a place where people can more easily meet with our Lord.

This building will host concerts, and weddings, and baptisms, and services which will draw people together.

Still, it is only a building.

The real purpose of church isn’t a building. It is the relationship which springs between human beings (an odd little species on the edge of a rather ordinary spiral galaxy) and the Creator of the Universe.

That is a real mystery.

There was an interesting image recently on Astronomical Picture of the Day.

A survey of the galaxies which lie south of the axis of our galaxy of 100 billion stars shows 2 million other galaxies.

I’ll let that sink in a bit.

One direction from our galaxy we can easily count 2 million galaxies, which might comprise as many as 100 billion stars each.

We are clinging to a tiny ball of soil which dances about a rather ordinary star on an outer edge of a rather ordinary galaxy floating amid perhaps 500 billion galaxies.

I believe that our universe is is held together at the quantum level by an intelligent force. A force that appears to work in groupings of three. A force I have come to know... and love.

That is the real church.

This being, a being who works through trinities of the quarks within the depths of the fabric of atoms, is the Church.

I don’t understand the details of the strange dance my spirit has waltzed these past few years, but I know that the rebuilding of this church has at its core the growth of the Church.

Strange mystery.

The Creator of the Universe is interested enough in a soul among 6.8 billion to use his family to change the intersection of the souls in the community and Himself.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Character & Hope

I haven't forgotten this blog.

I have been busy with the usual stuff... work and family... and have had some added stress in my life.

I have been focusing on the latter.

In that pursuit I have been blogging quite a bit. Almost a post a day. Those are on another blog where a few have gathered around me to pray and follow how I am processing new challenges.

But I love this little blog, Job's Tale, which chronicles my weird life, and I need to give it a little attention now and then.

Lately I have been thinking about character.

My character, God's character, the character of those in my life.

I have been trying to be true to what I know is right, but that lends itself to narcissism, the idea that I can attain anything exemplary on my own.

It isn't true.

I, like every other human who has ever lived except one, am self-centered first.

It is not in our nature to readily accept our own failings, deny our own desires, and live the perfect life, following the example of our Lord.

We are born with the intrinsic belief that we are the center of the universe, demanding to be fed, demanding to be held, demanding the world conform.

I suppose that tends to reach its peak about age two when the world starts to put its foot down and say: "Wait your turn!"

However, there is something about being intentional.

There are folks who float along, their faith casual, their actions flow along the path of least resistance. Lately I have found that nearly every decision I make comes at a price.

It gets old.

Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. --Romans 5:3-5

Interesting progression...

Perseverance

Character

Hope

According to this passage character develops out of perseverance. It means that holding true develops its own reward, character.

I've hit some hard spots of late.

But out of those hard spots I emerge better able to... hit further hard spots.

And...

From that I develop hope.

That doesn't mean I will gain the rewards I want. It means that I will gain the inner space where I see possibilities of success when others may not.

That is good enough.

For without hope there isn't much point in riding this ball of dirt around and around as it dances circles about the sun for the three score and ten years of a human life.


Monday, October 01, 2007

Just a Dream

It was just a dream. Bits of flotsam and jetsam. Or is it jetsam and flotsam since that is the order they would happen? At any rate, dreams are often weird metaphors for what is going on in our lives, a way for the heart and spirit and mind and even the body to work together to keep us sane.

Still, I am going through my day with the emotional residue left by a strange dream.

I think the emotions of a dream are often stronger than their content. When we relate a dream it seems to carry no emotional impact to our listeners. They may find it odd, but they miss what the dream left behind in our hearts and minds.

I wrote a post last night, and I posted it this morning feeling the emotional residue of a dream crystalized in the post I had written.

The post was about the strange series of mechanical breakdowns in our home. How it laid stress on my fragile marriage and offered the fodder for theological debate between my wife and I on the goodness or even existence, of God.

Drifting off to a prescription drug aided sleep I found myself wading in deep dark water, a common dream metaphor for feeling overwhlemed.

There were things floating in the water.

Some were right on the surface, much of it floated at varying depths in strings and clumps.

They were fish hooks.

They were brightly colored bits of rubber and plastic imitating edible tidbits fish might enjoy, and each had hooks on them, some single, some triple, all brass.

I was moving to get people out of the water, my wife, my children. I could feel the hooks biting into my arms, legs, back, chest, sides.

When I emerged from the water the weight of those hooks, some of them clinging to dozens of others, pulled at my skin.

I got my family out. I pulled out a pair of wire cutters and clipped the barbs off the hooks that most hampered my movements and started going around, removing the brass snares from the flesh of my family.

A sense of horror rose in my heart. I snipped the tiny gaffs from my wife’s flesh, backing the curved metal pieces out of her skin.

Now and then I paused to remove a few from myself.

Snip. Off came the barbs. Then I’d tug at the bits of metal and nonsensical, nearly Dr. Seussical type rubber creatures with their impotent hooks stabbing out of their bellies, tossing them to lay beside the lapping water.

As the sun rose in my dream it rose outside my window. The alarm went off. I rolled out of bed.

I began my day with emotional gossamer threads of the strange dream clinging to my heart... Six hours later I still feel wrapped by tiny spider threads of emotional horror and pain and damaged flesh, it is clinging to the emotional reality of this new day.

At work I can accomplish clear goals. I almost wish I didn’t have to go home.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Good Grief


I’m one of those annoying morning persons.

I bounce out of bed, and bustle about making coffee, showering, scraping the fuzz on my cheeks (under the impression that a little facial scraping makes this ol’ mug of mine bearable).

Brenda shuffles about, trying to get her blood flowing and shake the resentment of being conscious after the bliss of sleep. I sing silly little songs, and if I am being especially insufferable, do a little dance. (I have most absurd dance moves, keeps my family in groans.)

I don’t really do a lot of groaning myself. There have been times when I groan internally and once in a while, when the heaviness in my heart makes it hard to step as lightly as I am normally wont, the groan slips out between my lips.

The year after Willy died that the internal groan slipped out quite a bit.

We had wanted children for so long. It was a constant ache. Every few weeks Brenda’s mood would let me know that her disappointment was fresh once again. That hasn’t ended.

We were talking quietly in the yard last night (I have been turning the weeds and vegetables over for Winter) and it came up again.

“I started my period today.”

I gave up on my portion of that dream long ago.

“I’m sorry.”

That longing for children has been carried in human hearts since before the first couple wandered out of The Garden.

That desire has dogged for over 27 years ago.

There were false joys. Twice she became pregnant. Each time she ended in the hospital, threatened by a tubal pregnancy.

On August 30th, 1992, on Brenda’s birthday, our first child was born. Though he was a touch fussy, we were very, very, very happy.

For three months and fifteen days.

I’ve talked with kids who have wondered how grownups gain their authority. What secret did their parents learn that made the mysteries of the adult world clear? What happened that changed them from ordinary people into grownups?

I tell such kids, every time I do a study skills program, that there was indeed such a moment, that there is a secret to being an adult. That someone did give them a special grownup secret. that I will tell them because they will not understand until it happens to them.

The secret to becoming a grownnnup is... them.

I tell them that there was a moment when their parents had someone walk up to them and hand them a baby and the whole universe shifted. They looked down at that baby and something clicked inside their heads and hearts. Suddenly they were no longer brother, or sister. They were no longer friend or son or daughter or employee or employer or any of the other appellations and roles they had carried for so long. All of that was shoved aside and they became... a parent. Their central identity was now mother or father.

I tell kids that their parents looked down at them, at their newborn bodies which were both so light and so heavy and saw a future of 18 or 20 years stretching out ahead in which they would have to help this tiny person who could not even work its hands enough to place food in its mouth, to become fully independent, fully able to go out into the world and find work and love and their own families.

It was a frightening moment when the fabric of the universe slipped out from under them and in the moment of internal vertigo they grasped a new identity.

I felt that joy. I have also felt its opposite.

That was a horrible moment in my life, that instant when I saw the blue lips of my child, when I frantically blew into his mouth and thumped emphatically yet gently at his little chest; that moment of three and a half months after the joy.


I walked numbly through the next few days. I was lost in confusion without sleep, without eating, without even the most basic responses to the needs of my body or reactions to the world outside of my breaking heart.

It was during year I learned a grief.

I felt destroyed inside.

I felt my life was empty, that I would never heal. I felt there wasn’t any point in looking forward to a future that no longer held the child whose entry into my life had changed my self image from an ordinary man to a father. My grief felt like a twisting spiky thing throbbing in my chest, all sharp edges, an odd shaped thing I could no longer bear to carry.

They pain was so deep I felt I could do anything, absolutely anything, to make the pain stop.

That lasted about a year.

I learned a lot of valuable lessons that year. Some right away, some are still coming to me.

One lesson came on the three month anniversary of Willy’s death. You can read about that here.

In general the year was painfully numbing, and oddly, painfully expansive.

Out of that experience with death I began to see the suffering in the world around me. I felt surges of emotion when I read about those who starve and weaken and die. There was a visceral reaction to news of famine and war and horrible diseases which cause so much suffering.

At the same time I felt greater joy than I had before. I was lifted by sunrises and rainbows and the life flowing throughout the world. I became ever more thrilled in the act of worship and in seeing the good that flows from the Hand of God.

It’s as if the emotional horizons of my heart were expanded. I felt greater sorrow and greater joy after the death of my first child.

Grief is a normal human experience. It surprises the adult who thinks he has felt all there is to feel.

Even our Lord, member of the Triune God, experienced the shock of grief:

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.

"Where have you laid him?" he asked.

"Come and see, Lord," they replied.

Jesus wept.

Then the Jews said, "See how he loved him!"

But some of them said, "Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?"
Jesus Raises Lazarus From the Dead

Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb.
--John 11:33-38

Beautiful mystery. Divinity constrained by flesh. What a wonder that the Lord God can feel grief just like His mortal servants.

I think in grief there is an element of the loss of dreams, of expected experience in coming to the realization that we are entering the Desert of Loss.

I felt grief over the realization my children are mentally handicapped and they are incapable of learning the things I had hoped to teach them.

I felt grief over my son burning down our church.

I feel grief over finding a satisfying place in the world for my children. Their disabilities limit them so.

I grieve over current troubles too personal to describe here.

A sad thing. A sad thing, for the vision was beautiful. But like all human visions it was a product of imagination, perhaps of hope and love and longing as well, but primarily a product of imagination.

Perhaps the state I find myself in is a healthy thing. I have no clear idea of what my future will be. I know there will be a lot of change in it from thevision I had. But everything adapts. Everything changes.

“Change is growth, and growth is painful.” --Albert Einstein

If I can protect my heart as I change, allow it to grow rather than wither, then it will be OK.

It is OK to have vision. It is OK to try and to fail. It is OK to grieve.

To love is to take a chance at being hurt.

But I can love anyway. Take the chance. Maybe the future will be better than I can imagine. Maybe I will be hurt.

Joy is its own reward.

Grief brings the blessing of growth.

I’ll keep running at that football, hoping it will be there when I kick with all my might. If it isn’t... well I guess I’ll just lay in the grass a little bit, catch my breath, and take joy in the quiet blue sky.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Suggestions?

Greetings!

I haven't been posting so much on this blog as I have been pretty busy. A lot of my blogging energy has been going elsewhere as many of you know.

Still, I love this little blog and want to keep it going.

The previous post was about a painting I did, an experiment in some new materials.

I want to do another, but the Spirit hasn't given me a lot of direction.

So...

I'm looking for inspiration.

I want to do another image relating to Advent, the beginning of the Christ Mass season.

The theme should be around "Light and Life" in Jesus.

So... how is this for an experiment...

Give me a suggestion. I will be open to anything which looks at the way that Jesus has brought light into this darkened world.

What images work for that? Space, dark woods, wilderness, a cityscape?

Drop me a note on an idea you have and I will see if something opens up the creative floodgates.

I will then post the stages as I create the picture.

Leave a comment and let's see where the Spirit leads!

Friday, September 14, 2007

Shepherd in the Woods

(Click to enlarge)

I bought some watercolor pens and have been experimenting with them. My control over the medium isn't very good yet, but it is an interesting result.

Once I had put the colors down with the pens, I washed them with water with a small brush. I then went over the whole thing with different colored fine point Sharpies, prayers about find a path through dark times. The colors were still a little garsish and varied, so I muted parts with colored pencils.

I am going to put it into an Advent art exhibit at our church. The theme is "Life and Light Through Jesus." If you look closely at the shepherd holding the torch you will see He is wearing a crown of thorns.

Any suggested titles?

(Click to enlarge)

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

For What It's Worth

I took this song of Buffalo Springfield's and put images of September 11th to remember the event.

God bless all those who still hurt, are still healing.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Shepherd

I’ve started a new prayer.

There will be an Advent art show at our church: “Life and Light Through Jesus.”

I’ve been doing artish prayers using Sharpies on the prayer room walls at church. Now I am trying something new. I bought some watercolor paper and water color pens. Last night I sketched out a picture of Jesus as a shepherd holding a torch on a darkening mountainous path. He is beckoning to a straggling member of his flock, coaxing it to follow the rocky path.



I anticipate using these new materials in new ways. A little bit of watercolor markers, then some water, and then prayers over it, and then a touch of acrylic paint here and there.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Another Angel

Last Friday was another 24 hours of prayer at our church. I was there at 5:00 a.m.

I prayed another angel.







Sunday, September 02, 2007

Super Man


Superman is like Jesus.

Consider how Superman is different than the other comic book heroes.

Bruce Wayne drops down into the Batcave and puts on a costume, hiding his identity and becoming the Dark Knight.

Peter Parker sets aside his camera, pulls on the spandex and flits among the skyscrapers as Spider-Man.

Steve Rogers dons his red, white and blue costume and is transformed into Captain America.

So many heros, all with a common trait. Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, and Robin all put on a hero persona to go out into the world and oppose the forces of darkness.

Not Superman.

Superman’s true identity is the hero. To move about in the world he dons a suit, puts on glasses, and acts the meek, mild-mannered reporter, Clark Kent. He pretends to be the wide-eyed innocent from Iowa when he is really the only son of Kal-El, from far beyond the Earth.

My Lord, Jesus the Messiah, has all the powers of the universe at His command. Yet he came to Earth and put on the disguise of an ordinary man. He allowed men to mistake Him for something very ordinary, a carpenter’s son from a back water village. He lived and He died and then did what no human can do... He rose from the dead, forever conquering the evil of the world.

Just a thought.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Masks (edited)

This is an edited version of a post I wrote.
You may know me as “Curious Servant.” It is a name I chose for myself when I first started blogging. I was afraid of letting those in the wide world of the World Wide Web know my true identity.

As if there is such a thing.

The name on my birth certificate, driver’s license, and sundry other documents is William David Greenleaf. When I was little I was “Bill." That lasted until my mid 20s when I shed that appellation for Will, thinking it was a better, stronger, more positive name.

To my students I am Mr. Greenleaf, a name that sums up my identity as a teacher, someone who does not exist outside of the school building (a fallacy which frequently brings shocked recognition at the grocery store or the library).

These names conceal more than they reveal. They provide me superficial identities for various situations. None of them are the true me.

A closer version of who I am comes out when I am with close friends, sharing hidden truths. My Moon Howlin’ buddies gather about once a month to sit around a camp fire and talk about anything that comes to mind, from family to faith, jokes to jobs, music to musings, fears to foolishness. We haven’t gotten together this summer. We need to do that. I need to do that.

There is the identity I have with my wife. It is a truer part of who I am, but still somewhat of a mask, an identity of being sure when I’m not, a touch of bravado, a touch of arrogance, a touch of the petulant child. Still, there is little that I can hide from her that she does not know after living for more than a quarter of a century with me.

I think people fall into roles they play for certain people. A common interest, a common joke, and the interactions tend to repeat. There are people I speak to about science, people I speak to about faith. There are those I talk politics with and others environmentalism.

Perhaps that is one reason I like to write these posts. Here I can say what I want, though... even here I tend to group everything around certain themes, certain ideas.

But I can tend to my own masks. I can be aware when I am putting on a facade. I can wear the superficial mask of the pleasant teacher when it is needed, and I can set it aside when I am with those I trust.

I can work to remove the masks I wear when I look at myself, telling myself I am who I am not, restoring a bruised ego with self-prescribed empty platitudes. (I have heard it said that there are few things as fragile as the male ego).

So who am I? I suppose I am Curious Servant, the blogger who puts a good face on his struggles and seeks to turn a clever phrase with parallelism and alliteration. I’m Will, the friend of my friends, the husband of Brenda, the father of Jeremiah and Isaac, and of Willy who lives with my King and Master. I suppose a part of me is still Bill, the boy who pretended to be a pirate and a spaceship captain and rode through magical fantasies springing from a childhood mind. I’m also the man who is self-centered and proud of things that are not of my making, or even of my possession, for all I have is merely lent to me (including my marriage).

So what do I do with the masks? They are useful things, politically useful in keeping a job, in being civil and civilized. But I should be careful of which ones I wear, and when I wear them.

Most importantly, I can remember to toss all the masks into a heap when I am praying to my King and try to see my life, my physical body, my mind, my eternal soul, the way He sees them and live up up to the great love He offers me, despite what I strap to this human visage.


Thursday, August 23, 2007

Angel

I've been doing a lot of praying lately.

A sweet lady in England has been interested in how I use Sharpies to pray and create an image that goes with the prayer, so I am posting this series of pictures to show the process.

All of the pictures can be enlarged in you click on them.

I am doing an angel on this one. I am seeking things from the Lord, mostly strength, wisdom, and protection, and the idea of an angel rushing to my aid seems to personfy exactly what I am seeking.

I have had a couple of experiences with angels. You can read about them in this post.

I like how the praying hands I did before are facing the coming angel.