Photo: sunrise from the hotel room
Blessed be the Lord,
who daily bears us up;
God is our salvation.
Why do I avoid labels?
Because I have a closet full of clothes and nothing to wear.
Because I have been through so many paradigm shifts sometimes I feel like I’m wearing a peacenik swimsuit, a woolen toque and a tutu on a John Deere lawn mower tractor –whilst waddling in pink Crocs that ought to be on the other foots.
Because like the blind man, every time I think I have figured out what an elephant feels like God drags me around to the other side –or the other end– and tells me to try again.
Because the phrase that seems to pop out of my mouth most often lately is “On the one hand…” followed by, “But on the other hand…”
Am I indecisive? Well, maybe. I don’t know. I’ll get back to you on that one.
Photo: Mugwump. My Dad used to say a mugwump was a person who sat with his mug on one side of the fence and his wump on the other.
Maybe I’m just tired of making apologies.
This position may look humble, but dropping to the ground is sometimes the only safe posture when caught in the cross-fire between warring factions. I am so very aware of the quarrels among us.
Hymn and organ lovers ….vs….Chorus and drums lovers
Practically experienced….vs….Theoretically indoctrinated
Sinners saved by grace….vs…. Saints who reckon themselves dead to sin
Those who are working out their faith….vs…. Those who are saved by grace and not by works
Those who offer grace….vs…..Those who maintain standards
Those who are sure that God is grieved ….vs….Those who insist that God is in a good mood
“It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” ….vs….”Jesus said, ‘But I call you friends.’”
“May you prosper as your soul prospers”….vs…. “Rich men, camels & eyes of needles and all that.”
“He who will not work shall not eat”….vs….”He who shuts his ears to the cry of the poor shall cry himself and not be heard.”
“By His stripes we are healed”….vs….”Knowing Him and the fellowship of his sufferings.”
Reverential folk….vs…. “I got to move it, move it, move it!” folk
Church building builders.…vs….church building leavers
Seeing something from one particular viewpoint is called a paradigm. Oliver Sachs wrote about a middle-aged man who regained the sight he lost in childhood, but who then faced so many challenges he chose to ignore his new faculty after a while. A dog from the front looks completely different from a dog from the side, yet they are both dogs. Who knew?
A paradigm is our most comfortable default position. Things fit nicely and work well. We only have to deal with one construct at a time that way. For example, we assume a beloved nephew has been unfairly fired, and advocate for him — then we find out from the boss he embezzled a gazillion pencils. It was easier before we knew both sides of the story. We still love him and support him; we are proud of his brilliance, but now we are also ashamed of his stupidity.
Paradox greatly complicates things, but God’s ways seem to be more about paradox than paradigm. Jesus often spoke of two seemingly opposite concepts which are both true. The Bible is full of paradox like, “The first shall be last and the last shall be first,” “You need to lay down your life in order to live,” “You receive through giving,” “Rest under his yoke,” “You are strongest when you are weak,” “We see the unseen,” and many more.
Paradox is awkward. It feels unstable. We tend to want to gravitate to one end or the other. We polarize easily.
It struck me this week that the pole we choose to slide toward is often strongly influenced by which aspect of our soul dominates –mind, will or emotion.
Look at worship styles, for example. For some, worship means thinking, studying, discussing ideas about God, and listening to sermons which exegete the Bible with skill. For them, authentic worship is getting doctrine right.
For some, worship is an act of the will. These people love words like decide, purpose, endeavour, determine. Worship for them is a deed, whether it is signing up to commit to journaling for forty days, or volunteering for a new program , or inviting someone home for soup, or buying a plane ticket to The Gambia. For them, authentic worship means not only hearing but doing.
For some, worship must engage the emotions, whether it’s quiet contentment or raucous rejoicing; they desire an encounter with God that touches them deeply. For them authentic worship doesn’t ignore emotions forever; it connects and moves the heart.
At one point or another I have cycled and re-cycled through all three camps.
Here’s the thing. The mind, the will and the emotions are all fine, God-given, God-created parts of our souls –but they are all limited and, without the Holy Spirit sanctifying, refining and empowering them to operate from the perspective of the Kingdom of God, they remain, well, self-centered. Proof of self-centeredness is that we continue to engage in silly disputes over who is right and who Papa God likes best.
I was asking Papa God about this, after listening to yet another discussion of sovereignty vs. free will (which, as usual, produced more heat than light). Both sides could quote scriptures to back their positions. That night I dreamed I was playing on the floor like a child. A kind, gentle, patient person was helping me fit metal puzzle pieces together. (These puzzles drive me nuts. I hardly ever figure them out.) In the dream I actually got a couple of them to work. After quite a bit of effort we finished a complicated mat-like square of interconnecting puzzle pieces about a meter long and a meter wide. I was as happy as a toddler and clapped for myself with glee, although the man helping me had done nearly all of the work.
“Yay me! Me so smart!”
Then he started building upwards. He was making connections and building a solid cube about a meter long and wide AND a meter high.
I said, “You’ve got to be kidding!”
He smiled and said, “Quit thinking in two dimensions.”
I recognized him as Jesus.
I have been thinking about this for quite a while. Unity is about more than living with the tension of paradox. Paradox is not “this or this;” it’s ”this and this.” But paradox is also incomplete.
Building a solid structure also requires another dimension– another way of thinking –another viewpoint.
Without opening the door
the curious host
let the Teacher in.
Beside him the once-dead man,
having left his grave clothes on the stone,
reclined to dine.
Beside the calloused feet
of hungry men
the sister flitted
with bowls of ripened fruit,
slabs of risen bread,
platters of spiced meat,
pitchers of waiting wine.
In the doorway
the listening one,
emptied of darkness,
loosed her hair.
With no authority,
no priestly garments,
no holiness of her own,
she broke the box,
poured out her adoration,
the King of Kings.
(The story of this dinner party is told in John 12 and Mark 14)
But you are a chosen race,
a royal priesthood,
a holy nation,
a people for his own possession,
that you may proclaim
the excellencies of him who called you
out of darkness
into his marvelous light.
(1 Peter 2:9)
Christ Jesus said:
You pore over the scriptures for you imagine that you will find eternal life in them. And all the time they give their testimony to me! But you are not willing to come to me to have real life! (John 5:39)
While you say, ‘I am rich, I have prospered, and there is nothing that I need’, you have no eyes to see that you are wretched, pitiable, poverty-stricken, blind and naked. My advice to you is to buy from me that gold which is purified in the furnace so that you may be rich, and white garments to wear so that you may hide the shame of your nakedness, and salve to put on your eyes to make you see. All those whom I love I correct and discipline. Therefore, shake off your complacency and repent.
See, I stand knocking at the door. If anyone listens to my voice and opens the door, I will go into his house, and dine with him, and he with me. (Revelations 3:17-20)
Painting: Night Vision, acrylic on canvas
This poem goes with the painting “Night Vision” of a woman dreaming on a crystal sea under a night sky full of lights. It uses the imagery of the lovers in the Song of Solomon and also makes reference to the story in the book of Hosea of a man who keeps rescuing his unfaithful wife. Ishi is the old Hebrew word for husband/saviour/hero. Through the prophet Hosea God tells his people there will come a time when they will call him Ishi and not Baali (master). The ancient Hebraic written symbols for seer are a wall, a cutting implement and an eye. For kindness they are thorns, a cutting implement, and a door.
Come away with me,
her lover calls.
He peers through the lattice;
he tosses pebbles against her frosty window.
Arise, my love, my chosen one
and come, come away with me.
The winter is past; the sleet is gone; the flowers lift their heads.
The season for singing has come.
Leave your compass on the desk;I am the way.
Our secret place lies in the rock’s cleft.
She stares through the glass darkly.
Ice shatters her view.
Where are you, Beloved? Where are you?
She rises, lifts the bar
and crosses the threshold on freshly washed feet.
Behind her ears, the white wolf,
descended from the city’s seven mountains,
yelps as his howls
meet the linen fence.
With her newborn eye she cuts a hole
through the thinned place in the thorn wall
and climbs into greater truth.
A pillar of lilies awaits her.
With one look you have ravished my heart, he whispers.
See? I rend the curtain of heaven
and like a gazelle leap the hills for you.
Let us swim in the sky, fly under the sea.
Come dance with me, my bride.
We are like children spinning amid the galaxies’ swirling skirts.
Together, let us puzzle the pieces
adding breadth and width and depth and height
until you sit at my side,
the earth our footstool.
Your eyes will hear.
Your ears will see.
Your fingertips will taste and know that I am good,
and in the language of the Spirit
write of colors you’ve never seen before.
Her lips move gently with the mouth of sleepers.
Ishi, my breath, she breathes.
Ishi, my hero.
Photo: looking north
(Click on photo for larger version)
The far mountains in this photo are about an hour away.
We tend to measure distance in terms of time in this vast country. It will take an hour to drive to the village at the base of those farthest mountains. In one hour the time will be here and the place will be now –and the details will be much clearer.
We live in the present but have an awareness of the future lying just one step further ahead on this journey. God is present-future. When he forgives our past, it is forgiven. He sees who we will become as clearly as if it were today. He knows the plans he has for us and calls us by our future name. He desires us to see ourselves from his viewpoint so we will have the courage to walk in our new identity.
He remembers the future. He shows it to us by his words and allows us to say, “This is a picture of me when I was older.”
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2)
So let us know, let us press on to know the Lord.
We live in a valley running north/south that receives relatively little wind. Yesterday a mighty wind blew up from the south and hit our town hard. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of trees fell.
I know there are many places that have suffered much worse wind from tornadoes and hurricanes. I know there are cities that have much longer power outages and much more uncomfortable heat. I know there were places in the world this very week that suffered much worse violence and death.
I am overwhelmed by the news sometimes. I don’t know how to grieve for those places. I can volunteer to send aid, or even go pick up the pieces myself. I can weep with those who weep but I can’t honestly say “I know how you feel.” I don’t, not really. Every heart has its own pain.
Today I grieve for my town and for my own little garden. Is that selfish?
I loved my May tree. I never planted it. Someone who never saw it in its mature beauty had the foresight to put a skinny little stick with a couple of branches into a hole in a new subdivision. They moved away before it had the time to become the shade tree under which my sweet daughter and I had tea parties, or developed the strong limbs my boys pridefully climbed, waving at their nervous mother from a position higher than the roof of the house. The planter never knew how my little grandchildren loved to drag the blue inflatable pool into its shade on hot days and splashed each other or filled plastic ice cream pails with water from the elephant sprinkler to water the big shade tree. They never saw friends sitting in its shade, drinking ice tea, combing the grass with bare toes as they talked about things that really matter. They never saw handsome suited young men and their pretty sparkly prom dates posing for portraits beside its thick trunk. They never heard the songbirds that nested in its high branches praising their maker at the first sign of dawn. But they had faith to plant it, and I thank them.
Today instead of waking to the Saturday morning drone of lawn mowers, the people in our town woke to the sound of chain saws.
I walked around town photographing downed trees, downed wires, smashed carports, and debris and detritus caught in the most unusual places. The roads were blocked, the traffic signals hung by a cable and swung in the breeze. Everywhere people wandered about telling strangers their stories. “Where were you when the storm hit? Are you OK? Is your house OK? You think that’s bad? Why over on 14th…”
Eventually I wandered home no longer able to ignore the fact that the tree I loved buckled through the trunk and now tilted at a dangerous angle.
It had to come down.
Some friends arrived with chain saws. I covered my ears with music on earphones, or chatted loudly with friends we invited over for meals and to re-charge their phones and devices, since somehow our block still had power.
But it still sounded like a chain saw massacre in my garden.
Am I silly to grieve a tree?
I had to re-read my own post of a couple of days ago. Storms may come and storms may go. Wonder just how many storms it takes until I finally know you’re here always.
Yes He is here. We are safe. The tree fell away from the house. Our house is fine and still maintains its roof, and unlike many on our street, all of its shingles. We are still wealthier than most people in the world. The storm brought out the best in people. Neighbours came out into the street to check on each other and help each other. We laughed and joked with relief when we heard that, miraculously, no one was seriously hurt. We pooled our melting ice cream and partied.
But tonight I mourn.
Change is seldom easy, and rarely do we feel like we are ready for it, but things change. God is still in the restoration business and He is still good. I trust him to see the bigger picture. I praise Him and bless His Holy name.
Tonight I mourn.
Tomorrow we will start to clean up.
And then I shall plant a skinny two-branched shade tree to bless somebody’s grandchildren.
Photo: The shade tree after the storm