Wednesday, April 30, 2008

An Hour of Peace

Friday is our monthly day of 24 hours of prayer at our church. I have the 5:00 a.m. slot.

Walking and praying is one thing, a time of personal reflection and talking with the lord, but setting aside time to be completely alone, in a quiet room dedicated for just that purpose, is a different thing.

When I go on those walks to pray I move about, contemplating, whisper thanks, praise, petitions for wisdom and serenity. Though I am in prayer, it is too often born of nervousness, anxiety, and that makes for poor prayers, restless contemplation.

When I set aside an hour or two for prayer in that quiet corner of our church, the walls contain my nervous pacing, slows my racing mind. Though I may begin by striding to and fro, the twenty some feet of the room turns me about, casts my vision back upon the table set for communion, the bookshelves, the candles, the writing table. I slow, and slow, and slow...

There is something about setting aside a time of prayer in such a place that is conducive to more than communication with God, more than an opening of my heart to the Holy Spirit. It is a balm for my mind, a sip of cool peace for a thirsty soul.

I have been distressed these last few months.

I’m looking forward to the quiet time I have set aside this week.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Fifty Two Laps

April 27, 1956, Santa Ana, California.

Today’s my birthday. I’m fifty-two years old. I once thought such an age was just short of decrepit, but it doesn’t seem as old now as it did then.

Still, it is a bit of time. More than a half century. I’ve ridden this green and blue ball of dirt around and around the sun, and that fiery hearth for earthly life has swum over 410 billion kilometers around the galaxy, a distance of approx. 0.04 light years, in that time.

When 52 seemed to be ancient I was young enough to be fairly certain I knew the truth about life. Now that I’ve spent a little time skating along this entropy-driven line through the fourth dimension (time), I feel I really don’t know much about anything.

I like playing with big ideas, trying to fit a crude lay knowledge of science with a crude lay knowledge of theology to the experiences filtered by five senses. It’s much like a dog chewing on the edge of a book. I like the way it feels in my teeth, but I really don’t have any idea what I’ve got ahold of.

I often sit at this glowing screen, tapping at the little squares of plastic that make up the symbols of written language, and expound on things I know nothing about.

My current appreciation of how right I am, about how smart or wise I am, hasn’t really improved too much from that 18 year old who started growing that thin beard.

I too often think I have a clue when I haven’t even begun to understand the question.

People keep mistaking me for someone who has a hint about what is going on. They too frequently make the mistake of thinking that because I read stuff like Scientific American and books by Stephen Hawkings (the lay stuff off course), and relate it to passages from the Bible or books exploring theology, that I might have some indication of what I’m talking about.

Of course it isn’t my fault people are foolish enough to take me seriously.

A good example about how clueless I am is the Sargasso Sea of confusion my ship of life is currently plying. I have the rudder of my faith to keep it steady, but I haven’t any charts or course set that I am aware of.

I just keep doing what seems to be the right thing each time a demand for a decision presents itself.

My wedding ring comes off, my wedding ring goes on. I brace myself for a divorce, I welcome my wife back home. I even offer my facial hair up for my students to reshape, and settle in on the look they give me. I facilitate a class at church to examine the theology of a novel, and I wing it each time I do so.


Fifty-two years old, and as confused as the day I was first thrust into the light of this world and didn’t even realize that the horrid sound I was hearing was my own birth wail.

I’ve received a number of birthday greetings from family and friends, folks from the blogosphere and acquaintances in town. It is nice to have their love and friendship.

I just wish I was a little more grownup than I am, that I understood what I am, what I am doing, where I am going, and what I should do next.

Of course...

...for an eternal being...

I’m still pretty young.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

GOSPEL of Jeremiah

“Are you, or have you ever been, a member of an organization which promotes violence, or terrorism?

Blank look.

The interviewer’s mouth creased in a small smile.

“Have you ever been a member of the communist party?”

Jeremiah looked confused.

I butted in.

“He doesn’t understand. The only organizations he’s been involved in are our church, Boy Scouts, and Special Olympics.”

“I understand,” the man across the desk said with a friendly smile. “These are just standard questions.”

Across the country April 15th is a day many of my fellow Americans are nervous about filing their taxes. My wife and I were wondering what the future would hold for Jeremiah.

We were in an office in the Federal Building in downtown Portland. We were all dressed nice. I had put my wedding ring back on for the day.

The man across the desk did not seem the sort to go to the extreme of deportation, but we feared he may feel required to deny Jeremiah many of the opportunities which accompany permanent residency, and then, citizenship.

But it wasn’t like that at all.

Brenda and Jeremiah had the two seat directly in front of the desk. I was pulled up behind and between them. Our attorney sat to the right of us.

The questions were generally routine, except perhaps the first few.

“Why have you waited so long to file for permanent residency?”

Brenda replied, “Because we didn’t know we had to. In all the people we dealt with, the attorneys, the home study people, social security, we were never told we had to do anything.”

He smiled.

Bottom line... the friendly man behind the desk was not a typical bureaucrat, or someone inexperienced with dealing with unusual immigration cases. He had enough experience, enough seniority, that his recommendations carried a lot of weight. And he was a man who saw the reality of the situation and what he could do to fix it.

Brenda had picked up a letter from the asst. district attorney of our county which explained the situation behind the fire at our church nearly three years ago. he too out a highlighter and marked three passages, out it in the file.

After the routine questions he said that he was inclined to approve the permanent residency application. It may take a little while to get his supervisor’s approval, but he would see if he was available right now.

Five minutes later he returned. Asked for Jeremiah’s work permit, saying he won’t need it anymore. He literal rubber stamped the whole thing.

He reached into a drawer, pulled out a huge rubber stamp with small letters describing some sort of bureaucratic approval, and began stamping papers and signing in the areas of the stamping. He stood up, shook our hands.

Tears welled up in our eyes.

The biggest hurdle for Jeremiah had been cleared. he has permission to be a permanent resident in the United Sates of America.

In five years he would be able to apply for citizenship.

I could hardly believe what had just happened.

on the steps leading out of the court house I stopped a stranger.

“Pardon me... We’ve just had a rather significant event of our lives happen. would you mind taking our picture?”

She smiled, stepped back to get us fully in the picture, and snapped the picture.

The word "gospel" is a translation of the Greek word "euangelion" meaning good news, news of victory. The modern words derives from the middle Engilsh words for "God's word". And what He says, happens.

So, that is The Gospel of Jeremiah, today's gospel.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Circle and Lines

I like circular plots. The sort of stories in which characters move out, go upon some sort of journey, and return again, changed.

Dorothy, tired of her life, dreams of going somewhere different, so her life can be different, only to find the things she really cherished were at home. Her journey changed her heart so it recognized what was important.

Ishmael tires of life on land, so he takes a job on a whaling vessel, and by the time he floats back to shore clinging to that coffin, his journey witnesses monomania and hubris, changing his views on faith, life, and humanity. His returns marks his deep change.

Ged saves his village with magic, and is sent to develop his powers at Roke... releasing an evil he discovers is really a part of himself. His journey takes him out, and returns him, scarred, yet wiser.

There is a pattern to such novels, a satisfaction in the circular, that rings true to my own experience of life. It seems I am always returning, yet never the same.

I like to write that way. Most of the posts on these blogs have that sort of pattern in the topics. I start out on one topic, get the reader used to the idea I’m exploring, and then I go off on a little journey. I head somewhere else. The journey may wind around a bit, but I usually bring it back and show how the journey ends where it began.

Perhaps it is because our lives are filled with cycles that we appreciate circular plots.

The moon waxes and wanes, crescent to gibbous, and the rhythm of that cycle beats in our hearts on a nearly genetic level.

The seasons roll, rebirth of life in the Spring, growth in the summer, harvest in the Fall, rest and fallowness of Winter, the slowing of the cycle in preparation of the rebirth of another Spring.

Hours of the day, seasons of the year, the rotation of generations, even the ebb and flow of wars seem to return again and again. Perhaps never exactly the same, but close enough for us to feel the familiarity.

“History never repeats itself, but it often rhymes.” -- Mark Twain

The other sort of journey is the line. I think most of us feel our lives are such stories. We are born, our lives wind around, events large and small mark the mileposts, and there is never any returning. If we do come back to where we had been once before, we feel that either we or the place has changed so much that it isn’t the same any more.

What is my story? What sort of plot am I living?

It has been a difficult journey, one that isn’t finished. I have tried to accept my faults, my failings, and that isn’t an easy honesty. I see clearly now.

Two things dominate my thoughts today. My children and my faith.

There is another side of the self esteem issue that is more healthy.

I know I am insignificant. I have a fair concept of the size of the universe, a fair handle on the the number of stars in galaxies, the way galaxies dance together, form clusters, reach toward each other in spinning motions that take millions of years, how some form groups... I know of the 10,000 year beat of the thrumming of galactic superclusters.

I know I am insignificant. A single life form on a small ball of dirt on the edge of a rather ordinary island of stars inhabiting a place in the universe that has no particular difference from any other place in the universe.


I feel something. I sense something.

I know I am significant...

to God.

That doesn’t necessarily make things easy.

As I have wrestled with the issues in my life I have turned, again and again, to what my faith tells me to do.

Sometimes, being a Christ follower is a lot tougher than one would guess. I think about Jesus, what He did, how He lived, and it makes my decisions more difficult.

I think about Christ, how He knew Judas would betray Him. Yet He loved Judas. He taught him and walked with him, and shared His life with him.

Could I do that? Could I offer trust, knowing I would betrayed?

This isn’t the trite teenage look at life, wondering “What would Jesus do?” This is my knowingly walking into a future that will hurt me, will harm me.

Looking at His life, trying to follow His example, is tough.

Perhaps the struggle is enough. Perhaps in examining my life, in seeing my faults and weaknesses, and hers as well, perhaps in the climbing over of rough terrain, I gain the strength, the spiritual muscle, which is enough for the lessons set before me.

I thought about Robert Frost’s poem about the road diverging in the woods, and I know I have such choices.

I share this choice, it is hers as well as mine, but I accept that this marriage has failed, that I have not been able to grasp onto it in a way that will save it. And I accept it. I accept my failures, own them.

I want to live my life to the end and feel I did it with as much integrity as I could.

I heard the echo my words are creating...

“...well done good and faithful servant...” (Matthew 25:21)

Some day I expect to live in grandeur greater than the most majestic chorus of beauty sung by dancing galaxies. Not because I will have earned it, for I cannot, but because someone has thought me significant enough to give that to me.

It isn’t the sort of love I long for in my heart today, but it is enough for me to do my best, my very best, in loving my children, loving my wife, making tough choices.

I’m unsure if I should see this as a lesson along a long road of life with many twists and turns and rough terrain... or perhaps it is the return of a journey, the coming home part of the circle plot that this small life has told in its living.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008


Captain Ahab commanded the Pequod to its doom, his monomania driving him to sacrifice everything, his money, his friendships, his ship, his crew. The madness of his powerful ego made his revenge against Moby Dick, a symbol of the power of all nature, more important than anything else in all the world.

His first mate on the other hand cared nothing of the killing of any particular whale. Starbuck was a whaler, willing to kill the white whale if it came within reach, but only as a part of his livelihood. He was in the business of getting whale oil, the stuff for lubricating machinery, lighting lamps, and anointing kings.

Ahab was mad, insane. His insanity more clearly revealed when reflected in the calm eyes of the man charged with carrying out his orders.

The literary term for characters which reflect qualities in another is a “foil,” as in a shiny metal used in the Renaissance to illuminate jewels.

Ahab himself was unable to see his madness though Starbuck tried to tell him, show him.

I think most people look at those around them to help them judge themselves, and the inability to see the norm in those we are near is a dangerous weakness, a step towards a hubris that leads to self destruction.

In short, being near others helps us remain humble, remain true to ourselves, to recognize where we differ and helps us to raise our standards for our own behavior.

That is but one of the benefits of friends.

The other day I wrote of Adam’s loneliness, though he was in the company of God. It is a mistake for us to claim that we find all we need in God, for even God Himself (Themself?) saw that Adam needed a mate, someone like him, in order to be happy.

I was at Starbucks today. I met with a friend. He cares for me, and I for him. He said he’d buy me a cup of coffee, and I told him I would repay him by mentioning him in my blog.

So, my friend, thank you for the coffee. I appreciate it. You are a hero.

Aside from the free dose of caffein, I got something more important from him.

I got to look in his eyes, talk about things in my life, things of importance and things of no import at all. And in the reflection of his eyes I could read myself. I could see the insanity I was feeling as I choked up in commenting about the loving elderly couple I had seen chatting sweetly with each other a few minutes before. I didn’t have to say how that affected me. He knew what it meant to me.

He looked at what I had been writing in my Moleskine and we chatted about the strange idea there.

(Hang on, sideways shift in topic here.)

Here is what I had jotted down:

A Divine Idea

Premise; Act of observation affects the object of observation (a quantum mechanics detail of modern physics).
?: What role does thought play in the universe? ?: Might powerful ideas be spread aside from communication? Independent of speech? They might present themselves to minds. Ex.: God is love. Love permeates the universe in the way that God sustains the existence of the universe, the atoms themselves. Might the concept of love be independent of minds, of thought? If a mind is constrained by the brain (which I believe it is, independent of the physical organ itself), might an idea be constrained by a mind? Could love, as an idea be a “living” thing?

He looked it over, smiled, asked if he could write a quote onto the page. (I’d share it with you, but it would reveal who my friend is, and I’m unsure if he would appreciate that much attention in my blog. No sense in giving him too much of the shadow of notoriety!)

What does all this mean?

Nothing in itself.

In sharing my notes with him I could better judge if what I was thinking made sense, or if I’m nuts. (Of course, that is supposing he isn’t nuts!)

What is more important is the time itself we spent together.

It didn’t matter what we spoke of. What mattered was we were together.

I think God intended for us to be with each other, to share our lives. It occurs to me that people must have people around them or they get strange.

Just as Ahab encapsulated himself in his obsession, in excluding all rational thought or input from others, those who eschew others become... odd.

Think of those we know who live apart from people. The hermits, the loners, the self-absorbed.

I once spent a couple of months alone in a cave, reading. When I rejoined society I had difficulty fitting in.

Is there an example of this in the Bible? Well, Jesus surrounded Himself with people, with friends, with disciples. The company of others is good, healthy I (though gettijng away to prayer is also immportn]ant.) Is there a loner in the stories there? Sure. John the Baptist, the wild man of the desert. Though John played a very important role in the gospels, it seems evident he was a little... odd. You know, eating bugs, wearing camel hair clothing and ranting and railing against the establishment.

One of the things I love about where I work are my coworkers. They are family to me.

I haven’t shared much with them of what has been happening in my life, yet it is clear they know something is up, that the are looking out for me, cutting me a little slack.

One of the things I love about where I worship are the members of my church family. Though I haven’t shared much with them of what has been happening in my life, yet the know something is up, and they tell me they are praying for me, the send me notes, they offer to bring food over.

One of the things I love about this blog are the readers who visit. They have prayed for me, sent me encouraging notes, told me I am not alone. And these are people I have never laid eyes upon.

Why do we need people so?

Because we are made in God’s image. Not only have we souls, eternal spirits, but we are built for community, just as God Themself is three individuals in a single being.

From the obvious importance we place on having a partner, to the examples of those who reject true companionship for omphaloskepsis.

It is clear that being with others is healthy, needful, and the way God made us.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

But Seriously, Folks...

I'm a little odd.

I can't seem to remember things my wife considers important, or at least worth remember (like what someone gave us for Christmas seven years ago, or what someone else was wearing at a particular social gathering), but I do seem to hang on to odd bits and pieces of things I have read in Scientific American, or National Geographic, or a conversation I had with a brain researcher while hiking in the Olympic National Forest.

I also recall my dreams as clearly as my waking life, and some of those date back to when I was only three or four!

I take these little bits of information and I make improbable leaps of logic. I toss ideas in the air and see if I can make them loop around in interesting patterns. Meme Juggling.

For example, there is a Sunday School class I am sort of helping out in (I’ll be the “sub” for a week or so, but my current role is being “the weird guy in the corner with the odd ideas”).

We were looking at chapter six of The Shack and the theological question of whether of not God abandoned Christ at the cross (having given up His part of the Godhead in order to bear the sins of mankind). The theology ran a little heavy, with scriptures and learned commentaries being consulted. That is until I threw in one of my too frequent odd ideas, which went something like this:

“Well, I might be wrong, in fact I probably am, but these thoughts occur to me...

“I’ve read that autistic children often swing their arms and legs about not because they lack control, but because in moving their bodies they are better able to distinguish who they are, where their body ends and the rest of the world begins. For most of us, we have a very clear idea of who we are, focussing on this physical body, and not really consider anything beyond it as being a part of “us.” We know exactly where our skin ends and clothing begins, and what is of us and what is of the room or the furniture.

“I’ve also read about a scientist who studies the mind and the brain, and he argues that the brain, the physical organ within the skull, is not the producer of the mind, but actually limits what the mind can express. His evidence is intriguing. In looking at folks with brain injuries, he notes how they are limited in the mind’s thought processes. If the injury is repaired, there appears to have continued the larger abilities though the brain was unable to express them. It seems that there is something beyond the organic brain which screens the mind and limits its capacity, its potential.

“Additionally, I have thought it interesting that all matter at the quantum level is an expression of six types of sub atomic particles called quarks, which may be “strings vibrating in 12 dimensions” and in those vibrations “sing” an expression of particles. It is interesting that these particle are “sung” into existence in quantities of thirds, as if there is a trinity behind the physical reality of the universe.

“Now, if that trinity which sings the universe into being is the same trinity we call “God”, then even though God is actively creating the universe, we still have free will, to be self-centered, which is the core of sin. God is not apart from us, though we sin.

“Now, consider, perhaps in becoming a man, in Jesus being born of a woman and living as a human being, He was sort of extruding Himself into the reality of our world, filtering Himself into this expression of himself in a way similar to how the brain might be limiting the mind. He was still, most of him, doing His part in the trinity in maintaining the existence of the universe, yet the part that was on Earth, was not only fully divine, but also completely expressed as a mortal being.

“And if sin is about being self-centered, in turning away from God and focussing on ourselves, then in opening Himself up to our sins, in grasping and turning to hold, to behold, to take in the self-centeredness of the world, His limited expression in being mortal was turned away from His Father. He turned away, and in doing so took His eyes, his human, physical, ordinary mortal eyes, away from the trinity, and He experienced the abandonment we all feel when we turn away from God.

The class sat stunned for a moment. Then a buddy I work with said: “This is the kind of stuff I have to put up with every morning!” and everyone laughed.

I have tackled all sorts of weird ideas this way, blending science and art and philosophy and theology and any other ology I can manage to fit in.

And here is the most important thing about this little habit of mine:

I'm wrong.

I am almost certainly wrong about everything I think about or know.

I perceive the universe with eyes that see only so far, ears that hear only so much (and less than they used to with my tinnitus), and most importantly, a mind that is constrained by a brain that works in a dubious fashion.

Don't take me too seriously.

: )