Monday, June 19, 2017

I still seek understanding - Part three

I like, when they talk real loud try to tell you what they know
I like, when it blows real hard and it doesn't even show
They say: It's plain to see, life is not a mystery to me - I Like, Men Without Hats

It is the shifting and variability of thinking that scares me. Because I seek definition and understanding it is all rather frightening when someone thinks one thing and then, for whatever reason, either changes their mind or even refines their thinking. I would like to think that I am intelligent enough to:
  • Read a book by a particular thinker
  • Understand their perspective
  • Find what portions of their perspective applies to my life
  • Make the necessary changes in my life to conform to their truth claims
I mean, don't I do this every day? I see myself in the mirror and notice that my cowlick is sticking up a bit in the back so I wet it mashing it back down again. I get some feedback from my boss (either positive or negative) and I make adjustments to my work habits or product. I hear a different take on things from my wife or children and adjust my thinking or actions to address their concerns. Life is all about adjustments and becoming a bit more wise as a result. 

But each step in the process outlined above is fraught with peril:
  • Am I reading a book by someone who has correctly distilled reality? Do they seek my good? Do I know that for sure? Are they trying to deceive me?
  • Do I really understand what I am reading? Have I correctly ascertained what they are trying to say? Are there subtleties that I am missing?
  • Do I truly recognize what I need to apply to my life? Am I deceiving myself? Do I have enough insight into my life to understand the impact of their thinking?
  • Are the changes that I have made ones that they would have recommended based on what they have communicated? Are the changes a true reflection of their insights?
There are so many rocks in which to dash the bow of my ship. As I seek understanding from various men and women, as I truly look at how I acquire knowledge, I realize that sourcing my perspective in theirs (or a combination of "mine" and "theirs") is not really a foundation at all. This is where my perception of reality becomes rather relative.

It is like the position of a blade of grass as the wind blows. Can I be sure that the grass returns to the exact same spot, unaltered, after the breeze has stopped? Can I truly predict where it will move when the wind blows again? I am sure that someone, with the right amount of instrumentation, equipment and time could, but where would I find that person? Will I find them in time? Can I trust their measurements? Can I be assured that they seek the same knowledge as I? Are they here to build me up? Tear me down? Or are they simply apathetic?

And what of the answers to the questions that keep me up at night? It is one thing to observe the world and to answer the "what" of a particular event. Those questions are hard enough to answer. But we humans do not stop there. We want to know the "why", the "how", and some of us even get into the "who" of the phenomena.

And it is the shifting of the answers to these questions that scares me.

Monday, June 5, 2017

I still seek understanding - Part two

Isn't it strange, but isn't it just like me,
To change again? - Ban the Game, Men Without Hats

It is not at all strange that I should change. In fact, I am so used to change, so used to growth, that I expect it. The way I see things now is not nearly how I looked at them even 5 years ago. I have grown in knowledge and in understanding of the world, relationships...all of it. I would like to think that I have come to truer conclusions about the world as I have become a bit more rigid in the way that I approach it. I would like to think that my experience has given me some wisdom so much so that I am able to speak truth into other people's lives whether they have asked for it or not.

And it is simply there where I find the issue.

It is all so variable isn't it? So many shadows and not enough light. I still seek understanding but still find that it is not at all strange that what I knew to be true even last week is quite a bit different than it is today. I guess I should be happy that I have the ability to reflect on my life and make adjustments. Yet all of that should terrify me as well. There are ultimate questions about meaning (or meaninglessness) purpose (or purposelessness), and humanness that I have. That others have. The way I live and the words I say to people communicate what I believe, what I understand, about the world around me. And this is irrefutable: I have changed. I am different. I communicate something different to people about those ultimate questions by what I say, what I spend my money on, what I read, what I watch, who I relate to than I did in the recent past.

Now I highly doubt that anyone has said, "Thus sayeth Mark," and marched to a particular drumbeat because of something that I have communicated to them. But just the other day one of my boys said, "We were made to work." I know where he got that from: he got that from me. I said that. And I know plenty of authorities in their respective fields that I admire and follow subjecting myself to their understanding of how the world works. At a point in time they put a stake in the ground and saying "this is true." At a point in time they felt that their perceptive understanding of the world was complete enough to even codify and people have followed their lead.

It would not be at all strange if they were to change. I rather think that they are a bit, or maybe even just like me.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

I still seek understanding - Part one

Father, forgive me, I tried not to do it
Turned over a new leaf, then tore right through it
Whatever you taught me, I didn't believe it
Father, you fought me, 'cause I didn't care
And I still don't understand - It's a Sin, Pet Shop Boys

I have no idea how many parts this exploration of knowledge and understanding will encompass. 

This whole concept of understanding was brought back to my attention a couple of days ago in a conversation with a friend of mine and a perspective that I received from who knows where about the internet. Adam and Eve were commanded to not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Many scholars believe that this tree, and the designation of "good and evil" was something that would subject Adam and Eve to information that they would not know how to process and that they would, ultimately, abuse. Indeed, when their eyes were opened they realized that they were naked. 

Now being naked in front of the person that God had specially designed to complete you is not a bad thing at all. Spouses are regularly naked in front of each other even now and there is no shame in that. But Adam and Eve had no idea what to do with this new knowledge. They could not process it within their finiteness, their limited understanding of the world, their lack of perspective. So what did they do? They felt shame and sewed leaves together to cover themselves. That was their response to their acquisition of this knowledge. It was the wrong response to their nakedness. Would God have ever told them that they were naked? Maybe. It is hard to say, but I think it is safe to say that if God would have told them that they were naked he would have also told them that this is a "good" and "proper" thing. He would have given them that bit of knowledge coupled with direction concerning how they were to process what he had given them. But they would have none of that. They opened a door where they would subject knowledge to their own perspective and understanding. 

And now I sew fig leaves together in response to what I know.

Do I understand everything that God has asked me to do? No. I know what he wants me to do and what he wants me to refrain from. I am quite sure of a lot of things and usually know what the right thing is to do in the situations I find myself in. But I do not fully grasp the "why" he has asked me to do this thing rather than the other thing. I just don't. Now, believe me, I think that it is all right to wrestle with that. To seek understanding concerning his commands or his character or his creation is what makes us human and we need to pursue that.

Where the wheels came off for Adam and Eve is where the wheels come off for me. I set myself up as the one who "should" understand in order for me to obey. Now, the only rational position of a rational, created creature to its creator (me to God) is that of love manifested in obedience. There are no qualifications to that obedience at all. I cannot make that obedience dependent upon my understanding of the "why" I need to do it. I must simply obey with the full knowledge that this is the best (the only) position I can rationally occupy. 

But isn't knowledge that I have acquiesced to a fancy way of saying that it is something I understand? You could say that. In fact, that is exactly what it is. But more on that later.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

The glorification of humility

It would seem rather strange and even a little antithetical to glorify humility. I mean, isn't humility the exact opposite of  seeking glory? I would say yes. For me. But not for God. God is right to seek his own glory and he does this through humility. In fact, I find this on display in one of the most amazing scenes in the entire Bible:

And when he [the Son] had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people.

 And they sang a new song, saying: 

“You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. 

You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.”
Revelation 5:8-10, NIV (emphasis mine)

I find this to be such a remarkable passage because of why Jesus was worthy to receive the scroll which many believe is sort of like the deed to all of creation. He was worthy because he submitted himself to death. What? Shouldn't he have been so victorious that he would not have tasted it? No, the humiliation of Christ on the cross is one of the central tenants of the faith and is so complete that he is glorified through it. 

His humility brought him to the highest position in heaven next to that of the Father. Does anything or anyone of any repute point to an alternative for me? Should I escape my own, daily, hourly humiliation to achieve his desire for me: the full realization of my own creation; my ultimate conformity to the image of Christ?

It is through daily dying that I live. It is through humble submission that I am brought high.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

There is nothing that is ordinary

I have no idea how many breaths I have taken today. Now breathing is really quite normal to me. As is blinking and whole host of other voluntary and involuntary functions and activities. Most of these things I do every day: tooth brushing, lunch making, ear cleaning, coffee making.... There are classes of functions and activities that are not daily events: running, playing catch, reading, dinner making, blogging, volunteering, meditating.... 

Now, I tend to lump the non-daily events and functions into a special category and draw a particular strength from them. I anticipate them and cherish them because they are unique. They are so special that I may even prepare for them, order my life around them to the point that I accept and reject other opportunities that come my way so that I can engage in them. These are the things that bring particular meaning to me so much so that I can gauge my well-being against whether I have been able to engage in them to one degree or another. I can be in dismay at times as the "ordinary" things can be so voluminous that they can crowd out the non-ordinary. How often have I said, with mild sadness, that I have not had time to blog or meditate in a week or two? 

More difficult still is for me to see the extraordinary in the mundane. Now there are certain pieces of art that cause me to be still, to pause, and to reflect on what I thought was real. They are so profound that they cause me to re-define reality. Yet, these experiences are so few and far between. How much less is the art of the movement of my hands underneath the water of the faucet as I wash them? The cascade of the water splashing against them and into the sink as it swirls and dances down the drain? Does this need to be captured in slow motion video or in watercolor and hung on a wall in a gallery for it to ascend into the realm of the extraordinary or made into art?

Does the trace of my finger through my hair have less meaning than a Glass-Tharp ballet? Is the throbbing music more profound than the sound of the scratch that echoes through my skin and into my ears? Must it be relegated to a recording and available on iTunes or Vimeo for it to attain beauty? Must it be interpreted by a choreographer or realized by a composer for it to be recognized and contemplated?

The Artist has made nothing ordinary. The sound and stench of the wind as it touches my face is not vulgar. The rising and falling of my chest, as slight as it is, as I fuel my body brings me just as close to the nature of the Divine as any concerto. 

The spot I missed shaving today is pregnant with meaning. It is a living display. This is the live performance of a lifetime.

Friday, April 28, 2017

A friend's wounds

I have re-found my obsession with my friend death. 

This is due, largely, to my joining a writing group that meets on Thursday nights and the opportunity I have to really follow this journey that I began years ago. One of the challenges I have with befriending death is reconciling the invitation that Christ gives me to die with the inescapable reality that death has wounded me and, even more, has wounded others that I know and love. The staggering implications of the death of a loved one is inescapable as we try to mourn well. We really try. Clay that we are we don't often succeed when his unavoidable striking lands so close to our hearts.

I am not sure where it came from, but I thought of the wounds that friends of mine have inflicted upon me. Some have caught me off guard and have cut me so deeply I needed, literally, days to recover. Some so deep that I can still feel the warm blood on my hands as I breathlessly assessed the damage. These are my friends. These are their wounds. 

And each one of them saved me.

Faithful are the wounds of a friend, But deceitful are the kisses of an enemy. (Proverbs 27:6 NASB)

And there it was. The wounds of death save me. As they shake and stagger they do not destroy. As they send me reeling they do not break. As they cover me they do not bury. Rather, faithful friend that he is, his blows sting but they awaken, warm, and aid. They allow me to enter into the suffering of Christ. They remind me of my one time separation from God. They humble me in front of Him. They make my longing for heaven more acute. They paint a true picture of this life and even the life to come. They allow me to see the process of re-creation. They give me the opportunity to serve. 

His cold breath, his furrowed brow, his "no more", his blisters and cuts; these piercings have but one thing for me: they bid me to take up but one of my many thousand salvations. My Love offers me life through them.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

This is what I want, this is what I get

"Naked I came from my mother's womb, And naked I shall return there. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD." - Job 1:21

This is what you want
This is what you get
This is what you want
This is what you get
This is what you want
This is what you get - Bad Life, PiL

Though I incessantly seek it, I am not allowed to rest in certainty. My "why" questions are rarely answered and so much so that I try to invent reasons why my affairs are ordered in this way or that. I ask God, "Is this the solution?" only to have it be not only not the solution, but fuel for the random, dancing fire that has taken me over. Should I find comfort in the "No, not that. Well, not that anymore..." or the "This is as far as you go..." or the "I'm sorry but we're not doing that right now, or ever..."? 

I'll forever be the child asking the parent if they can go here, or spend that, or watch this, or stay up until this time. I know I want to give my children what they ask for. I really do and hurt a bit even when I hand down a wise decision. Does He? I know that their disappointment is often mine and I feel the sadness in their downward gaze as they say, "OK..." Not that it is OK but who are they and what do they have that I have not given them? Soon they'll move on but I never will. He is my lung filler and my heart constrictor. He can take those too and He will. Just not yet. Well, not right now.

There is no higher picture of Him than the one that gives and takes. There is no resistance. There is not even a downward gaze and an "OK". There is none of that. Not even a "Huh..." for He has taken in the middle of sleep and of whom does He ask permission?  He is the righteous Judge, Jury, and Executioner and there is no division to be found in Him. And there is no protest in all of His creation. 

What have I ever brought forth? What have I ever truly taken? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.