Tuesday, December 1, 2009

New Blog Site

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Monday, November 23, 2009

Clod

Sometimes I get worn away. Do you know the feeling? Every once in awhile I think, Oh please. Please. Oh no! Not again. Not that idea again.

I feel like dirt. Like a clod of dirt in the monsoon. Here comes the rain, all glad and everything. Happy to be bringing the possibility of life to the dry ground. To the dirt in this particular part of the world. And here I am, melting. Disintegrating. In the sudden torrent.

Have you ever felt like, Oh no. Not that funky idea again? Not my friends. No. They don’t give that funky idea the time of day, do they? Do they really? Have they really invited it into their homes and actually made it comfortable there? Allowed it to play with their children? Their defenseless children? Have they really given it a place in the family circle, where it sits like a toad, smiling like an idiot, belching, self-satisfied, wet-land smelling, balding, and rotund in the deep and brightly-upholstered chair by the fire, with a footstool and a warm glass of milk! And a platter of homemade chocolate chip cookies by its side! With a look on its face like, Ah! This is the life! This is more like it!

And it turns out they have. They do. They do think the idea that you think is funky is actually quite illuminating. Quite eye-opening. Quite insightful. Quite unfunky. And if it isn’t brilliant, at least it’s interesting.

And all you want to do is to run. All you want to do is to cover your head and find a place of shelter out of this rain that comes down hard as bits of metal from as far up as the moon.

I find all of us Christians have funky ideas.

Well, no. That isn’t exactly correct.

What I find is that all Christians outside the Bible except for me have funky ideas. I only have excellent and well-founded and well-thought-out and God-breathed ideas. Ideas that Jesus and the Apostle Paul and the Apostle Peter and the Apostle John and Moses and Elijah and Abraham would certainly agree with.

Because of course I consult with these seven on a routine basis and receive all of my ideas and inspirations from them. We have our own mountain hut, with a fire of our own. It’s really more of a lodge than a hut. Comfortable. Well stocked. Roomy. Arts & Crafts d├ęcor. Arts & Crafts style furniture, upholstered with leather. Wool throws everywhere with Native American designs. Plank floors. Tall ceilings. Monumental log walls. Wrought iron chandeliers. A boulder-fashioned fireplace you could drive a Ford F-150 pickup truck into, and the truck would seem small. Kind of like a toy.

Our lodge is somewhere between here and heaven. Up on a mountain side, at about seven thousand feet. Giant Sequoias tower over us. As the sun begins to set, we frequently gather here from our solitary walks among the huge, sweet-smelling, winter trees. As the cabin-size logs in the fireplace turn from red to lavender, and our faces brighten with the heat of the fire and the warmth of the conversation, they share their ideas. We discuss them back and forth. I play Socrates. I ask my questions. We discourse about their ideas like so many famous holy people enjoying one another’s company.

Finally, when they have proved the worth of any particular idea to my satisfaction, they then mystically transport me back to the actual world, and I convey the idea to you. My reader and my friend. That way you will get only the real gems. The real potentially sparkly items. Even though sometimes they’ll appear a little dull and dirty with what looks maybe like. Well, I don’t know what. Wet. Warty. Deceptively like a clod. That kind of thing.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Practicing

Every once in a while one hears something. One reads something. Or one finds oneself saying something that strikes one. Well. Like a ninety-mile-per-hour baseball. Smack dab into the forehead. Wow, that hurts.

This happened the other day. It echoed others. It may have been original once but was no longer original. It has become in certain circles a commonplace. And so I heard it reverberate in the hollow place between my ears. I heard it join with other similar statements I have heard from others and read in books. I heard it resonate and magnify.

And it was said by someone who does not normally indulge in commonplaces. So it was odd.

It went something like this, or I thought it did: We are practicing for heaven. Practicing for what we will be doing perfectly in heaven. We Christians. In expecting the Holy Spirit. In concert with the Holy Spirit. In doing what we think the Holy Spirit wants us to do. In trying to do this, even though we know that sometimes we’ll look a little foolish. A little silly. The important thing here is to be faithful. To do our best to respond faithfully to the leading of the Holy Spirit.

And so. Well. This idea of practicing. Oh. I guess I’m not. Maybe others are, but I am not. No. I’m not practicing for anything. Maybe I should be, but I’m not. Maybe I’d get better if I practiced, but I’m not.

Maybe, you’re thinking. Maybe this person meant practicing as a doctor practices medicine. Maybe practicing Christianity is like practicing medicine. One isn’t rehearsing. One is doing what one is asked to do. Taught to do. Employed to do. One isn’t looking forward to the day when one will do the thing. Perform the thing. One is doing this now. Just a different meaning of the word, and I misunderstood.

Maybe. Maybe I did misunderstand. Maybe what I heard was what I’d heard before several times and read several times because that is what was said before. Written before. But this time the person in question might have said something different. Something very different.

Ah, well. Could be. I make mistakes. And so I could have heard it wrong.

Maybe I did not hear what the person really said. Maybe what the person really said is that we are practitioners of our belief. We are practitioners of our Christian art, our Christian learning, our Christian discernment. We are healers, really. Or we bring the Holy Spirit’s own healing to a mistaken world. To an ailing world. To a diseased world.

I like that hearing better. The Kingdom is a place where we are all healers. Where we can all hope to be healers as John Woolman was a healer. Bringing the Holy Spirit forward to mend all that is broken here and now. Coming forward in the Spirit to create the Kingdom. Not later. No. Something that we can get fairly good at now. Not something that we are rehearsing. No. Something that we are doing for real. For keeps. Both seeking God and doing what he asks. Now. And now. And now, again.

Something like that. Maybe that is what I could have heard. Or might have heard. Or should have heard. But I don’t know.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Pure Opening

One reads. One lives. One writes one’s life as well as one may. And periodically something happens. One is transported. Lifted. Transformed. Translated. Inspired. And one is no longer oneself. One feels. Oh. Infused, maybe. One senses that one’s quotidian self has been set aside. Has been left behind. As a chrysalis is left behind. As the chaff is left behind by the germinating wheat. As the egg-shell is discarded by the new hatched Great Northern Loon.

But no. These are misleading. More like the wind. It rises. It falls. There is periodic stillness. Periodic storm. Not so much like the spring, but something like the spring. Not regular, so much. Not predictable so much. Not time sensitive so much. Sometimes, The Pure Opening comes when one asks. Sometimes not. Sometimes when one is looking, looking. And the leaves do stir. The new-made leaves do dance. Sometimes not.

John Woolman writes about being purified. About purification. About the Holy Spirit changing him. Changing us. In some fundamental way. Oh, there is something both true and not true in this, don’t you think? To the extent he means a permanence, he seems less accurate. To the extent he means a momentary change that one remembers and builds one’s life on, he seems more accurate.

The Holy Spirit comes and goes. As difficult to predict as the wind. As impermanent out here on the prairie as the wind. Oh, in places here, wind may be found that is dependable enough to plant a wind farm in, many millions of dollars worth of windmills. But we are dealing with probabilities, aren’t we. And probabilities have a habit of shifting around. Chaotic processes have a habit of surprising people, even those with advanced degrees in probability theory.

You find a person comes along every once in a while like John Woolman. A lovely man, from all accounts. A Holy Spirit inspired man, if ever there was one. But he is, after all, still a man. Still only a man. And he must work at it, mustn’t he? At opening himself to the work of the Holy Spirit. Opening himself purely. Momently. Every moment a new opening. To its work.

And he must allow it to work its will. Otherwise, what’s the point? A momentary thrill. A momentary rush of joy and gratitude and humility and vitality. And then what? And then where does one set oneself down? In what geography? What topography? What spiritual place? Will it be the Beautiful Land? Will it be the City of God? Or will it be Cleveland? Detroit?

One seeks Heaven, does one not? One seeks a Heaven here and now. One meekly tries to do one’s part in the Making. In God’s Making. But so much intrudes. So much distracts. And there is so much dirt and banality and sorrow and betrayal and death and cruelty and despair and anger and spitefulness and pride and arrogance and rottenness. There is so much that is at odds with one’s model. One’s desire. One’s God.

So much in one’s actual life.

And so. The Pure Opening is periodic. It is like so many words that come streaming from beneath God’s throne—crystalline, refractory, pellucid, sun-lit, moon-lit, lovely words. Words that are like Living Water. Ephemeral water. Water that when it comes refreshes, buoying us up, quenching our thirst, but then it also goes. Disappears from one’s own particular plot in the topography.

Our great blessing, however, is Scripture. This is indeed the Beautiful Land. Here the Living Water is created in abundance. When one is thirsty. When one’s life has slowed to a trickle of words. Has become a dry sandy place where the Living Water once ran strongly. One may travel to this first and last resort for the poor in spirit. This vast watershed where at the center is an inland sea. A sweet-water sea. And around the periphery are enormous rivers dropping in from high places and sun-dazzle down. And one may douse one’s head again. One may dive and submerge one’s entire being again. One may cannon-ball into God again and float as long as one likes, drink one’s fill of this Living Water as one bathes. As one washes oneself clean. Inside and out. Once again.

Monday, October 26, 2009

So for Example, Take John Woolman

So for example, take John Woolman. Born 1720. Died 1772. His Journal of John Woolman included in the Harvard Classics. Longest-published book in the history of North America, except for the Bible.

So who is this guy, you may ask. So who is this narcissist who writes about himself. Who makes so much of his own life that he thinks others must read about him. Makes so much of the importance of a single pseudo-random human life that others must need read of it to satisfy themselves. To vicariously partake of it. Make sense of it. Make it sensible to themselves. And perhaps draw themselves through Brother John closer to God.

And so it begins, thus: “I have often felt a motion of love to leave some hints in writing of my experience of the goodness of God, and now, in the thirty-sixth of my age, I begin this work.”

And it continues, thus: “From an inward purifying, and steadfast abiding under it springs a lively operative desire for the good of others. All the faithful are not called to the public ministry; but whoever are, are called to minister of that which they have tasted and handled spiritually. The outward modes of worship are various; but whenever any are true ministers of Jesus Christ, it is from the operation of his Spirit upon their hearts, first purifying them, and thus giving them a just sense of the conditions of others. This truth was early fixed in my mind, and I was taught to watch the pure opening, and to take heed lest, while I was standing to speak, my own will should get uppermost, and cause me to utter words from worldly wisdom, and depart from the channel of the true gospel ministry.”

And thus: “My mind, through the power of truth, was in a good degree weaned from the desire of outward greatness, and I was learning to be content with real conveniences, that were not costly, so that a way of life free from much entanglement appeared best for me, though the income might be small. I had several offers of business that appeared profitable, but I did not see my way clear to accept of them, believing they would be attended with more outward care and cumber than was required of me to engage in. I saw that an humble man, with the blessing of the Lord, might live on a little, and that where the heart was set on greatness, success in business did not satisfy the craving; but that commonly with an increase of wealth the desire of wealth increased. There was a care on my mind so to pass my time that nothing might hinder me from the most steady attention to the voice of the true Shepherd.”

And thus: “The prospect of a way being open to the same degeneracy, in some parts of this newly settled land of America, in respect to our conduct towards the negroes, hath deeply bowed my mind in this journey, and though briefly to relate how these people are treated is no agreeable work yet, after often reading over the notes I made as I travelled, I find my mind engaged to preserve them. Many of the white people in those provinces take little or no care of negro marriages; and when negroes marry after their own way, some make so little account of those marriages that with views of outward interest they often part men from their wives by selling them, far asunder, which is common when estates are sold by executors at vendue. Many whose labor is heavy being followed at their business in the field by a man with a whip, hired for that purpose, have in common little else allowed but one peck of Indian corn and some salt, for one week, with a few potatoes; the potatoes they commonly raise by their labor on the first day of the week. The correction ensuing on their disobedience to overseers, or slothfulness in business, is often very severe, and sometimes desperate.”

And thus: “Men and women have many times scarcely clothes sufficient to hide their nakedness, and boys and girls ten and twelve years old are often quite naked amongst their master's children. Some of our Society, and some of the society called Newlights, use some endeavors to instruct those they have in reading; but in common this is not only neglected, but disapproved. These are the people by whose labor the other inhabitants are in a great measure supported, and many of them in the luxuries of life. These are the people who have made no agreement to serve us, and who have not forfeited their liberty that we know of. These are the souls for whom Christ died, and for our conduct towards them we must answer before Him who is no respecter of persons. They who know the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom he hath sent, and are thus acquainted with the merciful, benevolent, gospel spirit, will therein perceive that the indignation of God is kindled against oppression and cruelty, and in beholding the great distress of so numerous a people will find cause for mourning.”

And thus: “Many Friends appeared to be deeply bowed under the weight of the work, and manifested much firmness in their love to the cause of truth and universal righteousness on the earth. And though none did openly justify the practice of slave-keeping in general, yet some appeared concerned lest the meeting should go into such measures as might give uneasiness to many brethren, alleging that if Friends patiently continued under the exercise the Lord in his time might open a way for the deliverance of these people. Finding an engagement to speak, I said, ‘My mind is often led to consider the purity of the Divine Being, and the justice of his judgments; and herein my soul is covered with awfulness. I cannot omit to hint of some cases where people have not been treated with the purity of justice, and the event hath been lamentable. Many slaves on this continent are oppressed, and their cries have reached the ears of the Most High. Such are the purity and certainty of his judgments, that he cannot be partial in our favor. In infinite love and goodness he hath opened our understanding from one time to another concerning our duty towards this people, and it is not a time for delay. Should we now be sensible of what he requires of us, and through a respect to the private interest of some persons, or through a regard to some friendships which do not stand on an immutable foundation, neglect to do our duty in firmness and constancy, still waiting for some extraordinary means to bring about their deliverance, God may by terrible things in righteousness answer us in this matter.’”

And thus: “Many faithful brethren labored with great firmness, and the love of truth in a good degree prevailed. Several who had negroes expressed their desire that a rule might be made to deal with such Friends as offenders who bought slaves in future. To this it was answered that the root of this evil would never be effectually struck at until a thorough search was made in the circumstances of such Friends as kept negroes, with respect to the righteousness of their motives in keeping them, that impartial justice might be administered throughout. Several Friends expressed their desire that a visit might be made to such Friends as kept slaves, and many others said that they believed liberty was the negro's right; to which, at length, no opposition was publicly made. A minute was made more full on that subject than any heretofore; and the names of several Friends entered who were free to join in a visit to such as kept slaves.”

And thus: “The natural man loveth eloquence, and many love to hear eloquent orations, and if there be not a careful attention to the gift, men who have once labored in the pure gospel ministry, growing weary of suffering, and ashamed of appearing weak, may kindle a fire, compass themselves about with sparks, and walk in the light, not of Christ, who is under suffering, but of that fire which they in departing from the gift have kindled, in order that those hearers who have left the meek, suffering state for worldly wisdom may be warmed with this fire and speak highly of their labors. That which is of God gathers to God, and that which is of the world is owned by the world.”

And it finally ends, thus: “In this journey a labor hath attended my mind, that the ministers among us may be preserved in the meek, feeling life of truth, where we may have no desire but to follow Christ and to be with him, that when he is under suffering, we may suffer with him, and never desire to rise up in dominion, but as he, by the virtue of his own spirit, may raise us.”

Friday, October 16, 2009

I Boast of My Immaturity

So now I boast of my immaturity. I boast of how young I am in this. I boast of my lack of probity. My lack of deliberateness. My ineptitude in judging. My complete astonishment and bewilderment in the courthouse. In the courtroom. In the jury room. In the judge’s chambers. In the prosecuting attorney’s office. On the judge’s bench. In the judge’s skin.

Now I congratulate myself on my bewilderment. On my confusion. On my stupidity before the question of who is in and who is out. Who is culpable and who is not. Who is evil and who is good. Who is suspect and who is blameless. Who is guilty and who is innocent. Who belongs and who does not. Who has been called and who has not. Who will go to heaven and who will go to hell. Whom God loves and whom God hates. Who is the greater sinner and who is the lesser sinner.

I boast that I do not know how God will judge when he chooses to put on his robe. I boast that I do not know what God’s own justice will be. Or is. Or has been. I boast that I am weak in mind and moral judgment. I boast that I have no convictions in these matters. That I convict no one in these matters. I boast that I have no zeal in the application of the law. That I have no facility with courtroom procedures.

I boast that I am a fumbler. A bumbler. That I have no particular insight. That I cannot be relied upon. That I am no leader of men and women. I boast that my moral sense is underdeveloped. I boast that I am a sinner through and through. I boast that I am a sheep, baaaing bathetically in the wilderland. I boast that I do not know my way. I boast that I do not have a plan. I boast that I am in control of nothing. I boast that I am dust, a bit of nothing with no consequence.

I boast that I am young in my faith. That I have no idea what it means. I boast that my moral sense is flawed. That my moral sense is deceptive. I boast that my moral compass spins and spins. I boast that I am lost and without direction. I boast that I whine and moan. I boast that I am a sniveling child in everything. I boast that I am an abject incompetent. An abject loser. An abject dependent. Infantile, really. A toddler who has no idea which end is up and which end is down. Who must be instructed. Who must be comforted and led. Whose nose must be wiped. Whose drool must be wiped.

Who thinks of nothing but play, really. Nothing but gamboling about. Under the great, wide universe of light. And dark. Under the great wide sky.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Immaturity

And so I think that immaturity is a blessing. A kind of blessing. Emotional immaturity. Intellectual immaturity. Moral immaturity. Because. Well. What does maturity mean, exactly? Doesn’t it mean probity? Doesn’t it mean deliberateness? Doesn’t it mean a measured approach to things? An unemotional, plodding, precise approach to questions of various kinds? Doesn’t it mean old men sitting around in leather chairs drinking brandy and smoking cigars? Doesn’t it mean old women sitting around in quiet rooms drinking tea, for example, and maybe doing embroidery or needlepoint? Maybe munching on some cookies?

And isn’t this sitting around business…. Isn’t this listening to some ponderous windup clock somewhere down the hall tick off the seconds, minutes, and hours. Isn’t this careful consideration of all things…. The floor creaking occasionally. Well. Isn’t this a moral dead-end? Isn’t this an emotional dead-end? Isn’t this an intellectual dead-end?

Don’t we mean judgment when we talk about mature Christians, for example? Don’t we mean that they make good judgments of people’s moral character? Don’t we mean that mature Christians are in the habit of judging others? Are in the habit of grinding forward like so many huge earth-moving machines that demolish mountains one scoop at a time? That demolish someone’s goodness one judgment at a time? Someone’s possibly good name one word at a time?

Oh, I don’t know. Maybe I’m over-reacting. Maybe I’m hyperbolic. Maybe I have a hyperbolic personality disorder. But sometimes I think I’d rather be immature than mature. Sometimes I think I’d rather have no idea what is going on. Whether what someone is doing is good or evil. Whether what someone is thinking is good or evil. Whether what someone is feeling is for good or evil. Whether what someone is saying or writing will tilt the world in one direction or another.

Because in the white light of eternity, I have no idea. I don’t live there. In the white light of eternity. No. I live here. On this particular planet in a particular galaxy. In this particular corner of the universe. So I don’t know. I don’t have the mind of God. I barely have my own mind, and I must say, this particular mind is not much to write home about. No sir. No way. No m’am. Very limited, you see. Very odd. For example, my wife calls me a moron. A lunatic. An idiot. And she knows my mind much better than I do, because she stands outside it. She has a better. A more comprehensive. A less involved. A less parochial. View of it. Than I do.

No. If maturity means judgment. If maturity means you sit around all day in some creaky place weighing the goodness or meanness of others. If maturity means becoming better and better at weighing very small things on very sensitive scales. Measuring grains of sand differences. And deciding who’s in and who’s out. What’s up and what’s not. Who wins and who doesn’t.

When I was still a teenager, still in boarding school, I remember thinking, “We all judge. Every single one of us. Old or young, rich or poor, smart or dumb, well read or illiterate, admitted to the club or excluded from the club. We all judge. The trick is to judge well. The trick is to judge correctly. I’ll be putting all my effort into doing that from now on.”

Ah but I was so much older then. I’m younger than that now.