Saturday, January 22


I can hardly wait to see what I am thinking.

I spoke with Robert Capon today, the author of the subversive book Between Noon and Three. He is the first author I have ever found who is willing to say publicly what I have only dared to half-imagine. Grace, as he sees it, really is a the free gift of God to the underserving, and the only possible way to avoid enjoying its benefits is to not believe it. Simple, I know, but profound in its implications...

I have wondered over the last few years why it is that I have always been attracted to the folks who exist on the fringes of cultural normality - the freaks, weirdos, oddballs and assorted socially not-quite-acceptable people. Normal people, while non-threating, tend to bore me. I don't know why I prefer the statistical outliers to the normal folks, but when I look at His creation, I find all sorts of analogues in the natural world. God apparently has a tremendous taste for the bizarre and the weird and the just plain not-normal. How else to explain the platypus, or the venus fly-trap, or tsunamis, tornadoes, earthquakes, volcanoes, cancer, Amos 3:6, crocodiles, dragons, giants, dwarves, the Loch Ness monster?

I know I am wandering back & forth between the nominally real and the nominally imaginary, but where exactly is the border between the two? Chesterton argues that myth is more real than reality, that the realm of the fantastic is where life really lives, and that the world we moderns and PoMos call "the real world" is really just a two-dimensional cardboard replica of the real thing. (Sorry, I don't remember if I got this idea from Orthodoxy or from The Everlasting Man.)

In light of my previous post, and in light of being cut off from the five most meaningful relationships in my life, (and thus losing my gravitational center), I find myself questioning my whole concept of God. It seems He is both far more terrible and far more wonderful than I thought before.

Well, maybe I have thought it before. I remember as a pre-adolescent reading The Chronicles of Narnia and tasting of something so much more wonderful and more awful than myself and my small, constrained little world, something I identified as God expressed through Christ, but the 30 intervening years have pretty well smashed the awe and wonder of that childlike vision out of me. I am so much more sophisticated, more worldly, more cosmopolitan - and yet somehow my world has become so much smaller.

But along comes Genesis and Job and Chesterton and Lewis and Capon and my world is turned inside out, or upside down or something I cannot explain in a straight-line intellect-only dimension. Poetry or song or art might better capture it.

I stumbled onto some poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay, (who is apparently no longer in vogue as a poet), and found a beauty and wistfulness there that I had all but forgotten. So I shall sit down with my poetry again, and seek to touch that long-lost chord that Lewis first struck in me when I was 11 or 12, that music which echoed in my soul for years but that the years have likewise silenced, that wonder and awe at the beauty and mystery woven into the very fabric of the universe.

I am alone tonight, as I have been for the last 16 nights, and probably will be for many more nights to come, yet in some undefinable way, I am NOT alone, maybe for the first time ever.

As Robert Capon reminded me on the phone today, there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, and if I am anywhere at all these days, it is in Him.

Thursday, January 20

A Disturbing God

What makes the Christian faith different from any other, from that of the Jew or the Mormon or the Jehovah's Witness or the Muslim or the Buddhist or the Sikh? Aren't all who fervently hold to their faith determined to be good people, to do good things, to be a positive influence on their world? Quite frankly, I know plenty of Christians who are simply nasty people. (I may be one.) And I know lots of extremely good people who are Jews and Mormons and JWs and Sikhs. So I cannot help but wonder if the behavior of the faithful is not really the distinguishing characteristic of Christianity.

We had a bible study at the office today and read Genesis 39-41 about Joseph, and the leader asked what the story taught us about how we should behave, (I think.) But it seems to me that is the wrong question. Rather than asking, "what does this story teach us about us", it seems to me the right question would be "what does this story teach us about God?" And quite frankly, I find it pretty darned disturbing. Here is a God who was apparently powerful enough to prosper Joseph as a slave and as a prisoner, wise enough to give him the interpretation of dreams, in control enough to cause them to come to pass, faithful enough to be with Joseph wherever he found himself, and yet this exact same God also allowed Joseph to be sold into slavery, allowed him to be cast into prison, allowed the baker to be hung, and allowed the famine to occur. It seems to me that such a God is utterly unlike anything we could imagine on our own. It seems He cares not one whit about pain - He certainly allowed, if not outright caused plenty of it. So the thought of us being "used by Christ" to be nice people in hard circumstances seems utterly laughable.

What kind of God allows a beloved son to suffer from cancer and die at the age of 9? What kind of God says "I am with you no matter what", and then allows or causes all hell to break loose in our lives? What kind of God allows over 100,000 people to be swept away in an instant by a tsunami He darn well could have prevented?

If our job as "believers" is to help people by being nice and not causing pain and helping relieve painful circumstances and bring comfort in pain, then why doesn't our God simply arrange things so that people don't experience hard circumstances? Why in the world would He need me to be a pain-reliever? What lunacy!

I don't know the answer to these questions, but I do know that the God I see in the scriptures is not the tame and kindly old grandfatherly figure much of Christendom seems to imagine and teach. The God in these stories is terrible and wild and utterly beyond our comprehension. He keeps the universe spinning, for pete's sake. Does He actually need us to be nice to other people? The sheer folly of such thinking simply overwhelms me. If He was incarnate in Christ, (and I believe with all my heart that He was), then what do all these things tell us about God? I just don't think it tells us to be nice people, to say nive things and think nice thoughts and be a postive influence. I'm really not sure what it tells us, but a God who names the stars, puts the planets in place, sets the galaxies spinning, builds an earth that wipes out people as if they were nothing more than kindling for a fire, presides over cancer and AIDS and divorce and alzheimers and even became a man and DIED a horrible, humiliating death, such a God certainly has absolutely no need of me for anything. The whole idea of "morality" utterly pales before such a God.

For some reason I keep thinking of that story where Jesus was teaching in somebody's house and these guys cut a hole in the roof and lowered their paralyzed friend through the hole right down in front of Him. Jesus looked at the paralyzed guy and said, "Your sins are forgiven you." And then, because He knew the Nice People, the Moral People, the Upright People, were all pissed off about that and saying to themselves, "who does He think He is", Jesus said to them, "I know you are offended that I granted this man forgiveness for sins. You concept of God does not allow me to do that. So just to show you that your concept of God is completely wrong…" and then He turns to the paralyzed guy and says, "Get up. Take your mat and go home." And the guy gets up. And takes his mat. And goes home.

Who is this God? And how could I dare imagine He needs anything from me? My intellect is not merely humbled, it is driven speechless to the ground where it wallows face down in the dirt. My emotions short circuit from the nearness of His overwhelming power. My very body wants to find a small, dark place to tremble in fear and hide.

This God is not what I would have imagined, not what I would choose, and certainly not what I have been taught.

But I want to know Him. Dear god, I want to know Him...

Wednesday, January 19

Old Friends, New Friends

Over the years, I have come to realize that I like weird people. I like the folks who fall outside the bell curve of "normality". Don't know why, all I know is that freaks never freaked me out. I always kinda enjoyed their weirdness. Some folks are weird just for the sake of being weird, and in my mind, they are just poseurs and are as ignorable as the 68% of the population that fits neatly inside the mouth of the bell. But other folks just genuinely look at life differently, and that makes them fun, interesting, intriguing. As the bumper sticker says, "why be normal?"

Alex is one of those people. I've known Alex for several years - we work in the same company and in fact I actually interviewed him when we were hiring. I've always liked him - he's really different. He is very ethnic looking - in actuality I think he is part cuban, part japanese, part I-dunno-what, but he could pass as any number of ethnicities or nationalities. He was raised in Europe, was recruited by the CIA right out of high school and quit his high-paying job as a QA manager for a big Fortune 500 company to become an entry-level programmer. Did I mention he is brilliant, gentle and interesting?

We had a drink together tonight, solved the problems of the world together, and I thought to myself, "why are we not better friends?" I honestly don't know the answer to that question. But I am determined to change that. Alex is an extraordinary man - he challenges my thinking in some ways, and agrees with me in others, but he is most of all his own person.

So tonight I give thanks for a new old friend. To Alex, who dares to be simply who he is. Next time, the drinks are on me.

Tuesday, January 11

Return to the Dark Ages?

Those who know what is happening in my life now may find it ironic that I link this article by Joe Sobran, but there it is. I agree with Sobran - the "bright new day" the Progressives envision for us is in practice a dark, dark night. Speaking as one who has been living in darkness for as long as I can remember, I ought to know.

I won't blame "Progressives" for all the societal ills from which we suffer, but they certainly bear significant responsibility for changing our societal paradigm from one which tolerates deviance to one which revels in it. Jonah Goldberg makes the case more clearly than I could.

I face an awful lot of fear now. I just wrote a note to my pastor and one of the elders describing all the things that scare me in my life: living alone, being barred from worship, the effects of this situation on my family... Panic lurks under the surface.

The really, really, really weird bit is that I have more of sense of being in God's hands and more sense that He is actively at work to do me good than I have had in a Very Long Time. Go figure.

Monday, January 10

More Thoughts on Mercy

Mercy comes in painful packages as well.

The last few days have been some of the most difficult, painful and strangely liberating of my life. A personal crisis has forced into the open some issues in my heart that I never recognized, and the recognition has been not merely a revelation but an epiphany. It is as though I had spent my entire life viewing the world through the wrong end of a telescope, always running into things and tripping over things, never really seeing or experiencing the world the way "normal" people do. And suddenly, I understand why.

Now, that doesn't mean the pathology is not still there. But what it does mean is that the first step to finding a solution is identifying the problem. I've been in the IT biz for a long time, and it is axiomatic that you cannot solve the problem if you cannot identify the problem.

Well, now I know the source of the problem.

It's a relief, really, even though my life externally appears to be in worse shape than ever. In reality, what might appear to an onlooker as the first day of a disaster was in reality the first day of healing. Although the metaphorical cancer is still inside me, at least I now know the nature of the problem.

I fight self-pity a lot, which is both self-indulgent and stupid. God is actively at work on my behalf, sorting out the mess that I have made of my life, redeeming that which seems irredeemable, making something beautiful out of something horrendous. I am not in control - He is. But the illusion of control is hard to relinquish.

My family suffers because of me. That is my excruciating reality. Yet they too are in God's more-than-capable hands. I do not understand His ways, but I have reached a point of desparation where I must entrust myself and my family to those ways, opaque though they may be. And in abandoning my delusion of control, I find freedom. Paradoxical, eh?

Friday, January 7

Mercy in a Strange Package

Today's morning Psalm was number 103. Among the mind-boggling things it says is this:

Bless the Lord, oh my soul, and forget not one of all His benefits -

Who forgives every one of all your iniquities
Who heals each one of all your diseases
Who redeems you life from the pit and corruption
Who beautifies, dignifies and crowns you with loving-kindness and tender mercy
Who satisfies your mouth, (your necessity and desire at your personal age and situation), with good so that your youth, renewed, is like the eagle's.

Sometimes the scripture seems so random, other times it seems as if God had something written specifically for me. This is an instance of the latter.

I am overcome by my own iniquities. I have climbed down into the pit and am trapped in my own corruptiom. My life is hideous, shameful and despicable. I deserve scorn and wrath. I am ever hungry and never filled.

God's mercy is displayed initially in allowing my shame and corruption to be exposed to the light. It is horrible to be exposed as a liar and a cheat. But I am hopeful - very hopeful - that He is faithfully dealing with me as son, cleansing me, forgiving me of my sin and changing my life into one that is an honor to His name.

Thursday, January 6

This is my Body

Consider the fact of your own bodily presence. What is undeniable about you - or about your body? Just this - no one but you can occupy that space at the same time. You can say with utter assurance, "this space is mine". No matter how confined or constrained others may make your space, God has given us our own space that belongs to no one else, and the borders of that space are defined by our own bodies. Silly? Perhaps. But for that person who has everything else stripped from him, there is comfort, however small, in the fact that the space occupied by their body can be occupied by no one else.

Small as this is, I think it speaks to a fundamental truth God has woven into creation. In spite of the virtual nature of so much of our work these days, we are still creatures, not merely consciousness. There is a physicallity to existence that makes each of us unique, no matter how unremarkable we may be. The constraints of space and the borders of our physical bodies both reinforces our alone-ness and our uniqueness.

And this also has implications for those who profess belief as Christians. Our physical presence - together as people - is the format through which Christ is manifested to the earth. Gotta have that body - and all the irritating realities that come with it - living, working, singing, laughing, crying. fighting, forgiving together to incarnate the Word of God in our communities.