Monday, October 17, 2005

Surprise Me: Day 6

We had a birthday party to go to this morning. Trick was it was at Gameworks in Block E. I love the city, but over the past two years, I’ve become quite the suburbanite. So the trip downtown was a bigger deal for me, than it would be for most. But I wanted to be there. So we went. As we were leaving, the birthday boy gave me a hug and thanked me for coming; then he did likewise with my wife. And right there I realized something. This guy is family. Long story short, he and I were casual friends in high school nearly ten years ago. He’s a little younger than me, and was into sports while I was a drama guy, so our friendship wasn’t “close” by any means. But about a year ago we met again at an event we’d both been invited to. It was a gathering of friends known and to be known; many with varying issues with the “church” and asking questions about their “faith”. What a shock to meet again. We’ve renewed a friendship that was “casual” and found a friendship that is “real”. So how’s this relate to the hug and family? I felt great leaving that place. Friends were there; people I don’t see a lot, but I love hanging out with when I can. I have had friends for years that I struggle to find this connection with. But I know that it is there, and maybe I just haven’t been looking, the way I am now. Perhaps there’s a lesson to learn there.

We had lunch with another friend afterwards, and it was so great to just be with friends. (I’m including my wife in that list here) After lunch we met yet another friend. He and I threw the Frisbee around a bit. He talked about a church retreat; he talked about what was up with him lately. Our schedules make it so we don’t hang that much. It was awesome. He stayed the rest of the day, for a movie and a burger; didn’t leave ‘till nearly ten. It was a good day.

I burn out a lot. Friends can seem overwhelming. I’m starting to realize that that fact has a lot more to do with me, than it does with them. I want to thank my friends for the day. Thank you Zech, for being exactly who you are. Thank you Justin, for sitting around chewing the “fat” and the salad. Thank you Pete; I truly appreciate your friendship. Lastly, thank you Heidi, my friend every day; all the time. You are one sight I never tire of; your voice is the one thing that can calm the storm.

Mushy? Trust me these feelings are real. And too often neglected by a guy with deadlines and responsibilities. But not today.

Surprise Me: Day 5

Day 5 started with a trip to Northwestern College. My wife teaches oboe lessons there, and if I have nothing else to do, I go along. Gives me time to wander the campus. Time to think. That morning it gave me a chance to catch up on my journal entries for this experiment. I always seem to be a day behind; I hope that doesn’t throw off the curve.

After lessons we headed downtown. We were going to a wine tasting that afternoon, but first we grabbed some lunch. Moose and Sadies used to be a coffee house, and I went there now and then. Now it’s a café. It was strange to be there again; everything has changed so much. But they made a nice ham and apple sandwich, so no complaints there. Then it was off to a coffee house to work on my current theater project. But only after unloading all my stuff, and powering up my laptop, did I realize I’d forgotten some notes I needed. I discovered I didn’t have them with me, so the writing was not gonna happen. So we hit the wine tasting a littler earlier then planned. Did God have a surprise waiting for me at the wine tasting? In a way, yes. I was totally out of my element. This was a swirl and spit tasting, which I’ve never done. The purpose is to learn about different wines, without having to purchase the bottles yourself. Tried about twenty wines, and frankly I was amazed. The different flavors, the stories of the different vineyards told by the employees. I had reservations going in; but I was quite satisfied heading out. The evening was spent at home. Junk food, and the Family Guy movie; just the wife and I.

After four days of surprises, big ideas, and conversations, that was the break I needed. Just a relaxing day. No big “God” moments. But maybe sometimes rest is a God moment. Seventh day, and all that. I’ll take ‘em when I can get ‘em.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Surprise Me: Day 4

I finished out the week. Still shuddering from the experiences of the day before. I had a horrible day at work, with just everything going wrong. But then I had coffee afterwards with a co-worker. We're reading "Profiles in Courage" by JFK. We spent fifteen minutes discussing Henry Thomas Benton and his attitude towards slavery in Pre-Civil War Missouri before switching topics.

My question was "What is your perception of God?" Now I am not an evangelical, though I was raised in the chruch by evangelicals. What I mean is, I am not out to save the "lost" from "eternal damnation". My goal is not to steer my conversations to "Christ", mainly because I would have no clue how to do that, being that I barely understand Christ myself. All that is said to explain how my question was "safe". And my co-worker knows this. This question led to an hour long conversation about God. Why bad things happen to good people. How there is a balance between good and bad things happening to people. It was a Chinese proverb that she explained, about how a bad thing can bring about a good outcome, which then leads to another bad thing and on and on. The problem is that people tend to go to extremes. Praising God in times of blessing; cursing God when tragedy strikes. And we are called to somehow find the middle ground. I found all of that very interesting.

Then we talked creationism and evolution. She is of the same school of thought as I am, that evolution, if not used to invalidate God, is actually an amazing example of Intelligent Design. That perhaps Gods creation of the world was just to complex to easily explain to Moses, so a simpler story was adapted (7 day). Belief in this 7 day story is fine. And when Christian-Evolutionists belittle these 7 day thinkers, they are doing themselves and God a diservice. But the shoe seems to remain the same regardless of whose foot it's on, so 7 day creationists might find themselves doing the same to Intelligent Design Evolutionists. These are some "hot" issues here. Perhaps you're getting a little hot under the collar. "Challenging 7 Day Creation! What kind of christian are you?!"

I am the kind that believes it is more important to know where you are, than how you got there. To believe in chaos is one thing. But to believe in an intelligently designed evolution? I just don't see the harm. Though people shaking Genesis in my face now, certainly would. We're so comfortable with metaphor in the last book of the Bible, why are we so afraid of it in the first. Especially when both of these writers were attempting to explain things they were not experiencing first hand.

Back to the point, where we are is what matters. How we interact is what matters. Theology is good, and there is a place for it, but I believe it always comes second to our call to be known by our Love. Not kissy-mushy love. Love that stays constant no matter the storm. I say it so often, even I tire of it from time to time. But I know it's True. And though it is not missing in the Church, it is in short supply. Is it because the Church that is People has become an Institution of Similar Beliefs? Is it because when a "Christian Evolutionist" comes along, our first reaction is to tell them why their wrong, not try to understand what they think? Maybe it's because people like me, think that books have no power to change us. But that's just a lack of faith. And, for me, the tides are changing. Thus ends day 4.

Surprise Me: Day 3

Day 3 was indeed the turning point. When I got to work I was told that the 17 year old son of the employee I mentioned yesterday was brain dead and not expected to live. His mother was with him, and I would need to look after her responsibilities. To say I was crushed would be an understatement. I even went to the "super Evangelical" guy, who drives me crazy most of the time, and told him to pray. Well, sorta. I asked him if he was a praying man. He said he was. So I told him then it was time to do just that. He wanted to know why, but I wouldn't tell him. (it was still a secret at the time) I told him the name of the employee, and then told him that the prayers of the blind have great strength. He was shocked at how I was acting. I admit I was behaving pretty weird. He and I don't get along well. We're civil, but that's it. He know I claim to be a christian (though that's simplifying it; I actually don't claim that; I follow the One True God, and the teachings of the Christ), but he doesn't agree with how I "do" my faith. I told him I was being sincere, in asking him to pray; that there was sincerity in me, just deep down. He nodded, and I believe did his job. I believe in the power of intercession, though I have no clue how it works.

I was haunted all day. Now I knew why I'd stayed mum the day before. Was it coincidence? Cynics would say yes, and I am a cynic. But, even I was struggling with this one. It his me on two levels. One, if God shut me up the day before, it was because He knew what was coming. I am comfortable with the fact that God is way smarter than me, so when tragedy strikes and children die, He knows why and that has to be good enough, cause I ain't getting any further enlightenment. But, of course, we still ponder and puzzle and try to find the answer that will Always elude us; and that is perfectly understandable.

The second level, was suddenly I was surprised. A horrible surprise, I'll grant you; but a surprise none the less. I had a story. God was showing me something; and the interesting thing was what I think He was showing me. It wasn't a lesson in listening to that "still small voice". I have a scattered history of doing that. I think it was to tell me that books can open your eyes. That experiment can work for the reader as well as the writer. Does this belittle the tragedy that has struck. Hell know! It is tragedy, the worst kind of tragedy. But I learned a lesson somewhat unrelated to the events that were going to happen anyway. And there's value in that, I believe.

I didn't want a story. I wanted the experiment to fail. It's easy to dismiss something when you're getting nothing out of it. But now I had a story. Now I was surprised. Now my eyes are opened. Perhaps nothing else will happen in these thirty days. Will it all have been worth it, because of this lesson. I'd say so. But we'll shove on anyway and see what happens next.

Surprise Me: Day 2

Day 2 was a little more interesting. Got up, said the three word prayer (Surprise Me God) and headed to work. Again, nothing was really happening that was out of the ordinary. Late in the day I found we had an issue on the floor. I am on the operations support team the oversees manufacturing. There was an employee who had made some mistakes. The problemwas it wasn't the first time; there'd been a lot of mistakes made over the past few weeks. I felt it was time to take action; to bring this issue forward to my manager, which would seem a very big deal to the employee. It was my job to address this issue, but something told me not to. And so I didn't, the work day ended and went home. I puzzled the whole evening over this encounter. Why did I let it go? I guess I was trying to make as big of a deal of this as I could, seeing as Day 1 had brought up diddly-squat.

Was it patience that compelled me? Compassion? The knowledge that going to my boss as opposed to her boss might not be the "appropriate" action to take yet? I didn't know what to think. I just knew it was the right decision.

Surprise Me: Day 1

Surprise Me: The 30 Day Faith Experiment is a book written by Terry Esau. These blogs titled "Surprise Me" are my daily journal entries. Terry's challenge is to ask God to surprise you for thirty days. A simple three word prayer; Surprise Me God. I'm a bit of a cynic, but I'm giving this a whirl.

I started this "experiment" quite cynical. I've got my own version of "Purpose Driven Fears". The next "get god quick" scheme. I've always been one who saw the spiritual life as a slow one. Not "slow" meaning nothing happens in life, but "slow" as in the growing of strong roots taking a long time; and that you probably won't feel the strength you have until someone tries to tear you outta the ground. But I'm also one who believes in "life experimentation"; literally using yourself as a philosophical guinea pig. So this idea would seem right up my alley; and it would be, if it wasn't a "god" thing. But I decided to take the challenge on anyway.

Day 1 was uneventful. I don't know if I'm supposed to do this, but I'm reading each day of Esau's book as I go through the experiement. It adds an interesting element to the practice of looking out for surprises. I have his to compare mine to. And the first day left me frustrated. I thought about it while driving to work, but then I got work and it disappeared. I didn't think about it again, until I got back in my car to drive home. What kind of surprises was I gonna find if I only looked for them while in my car. A fender-bender perhaps, but that doesn't quite seem to be the "holy encounter" I'm looking for. Though I'm not so naive as to think that it couldn't be.

So I ended Day 1 by reading Esau's Day 2. The whole "chatted with the biker instead of cruising by" story. Now the cynic in me was confirmed. I thought back on other books I'd read that worked this way. The whole idea of how the author decided to do this "experiment" and WOW! did things start happening. Then you decide to do it too, and nothing. You can barely remember to think about it, let alone fully engage in the concept. I guess that speaks to the idea that you truly must engage the idea if it's to have any significance. To some degree, you can't expect to be getting tons out of something, if you're not really "into" the idea in the first place. I confess I'm not into it. But, you know what G.I. Joe said, "Knowing is half the battle". So with that I close the door on the day.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Shiny Guns and Spiritual Swordplay

I've got a new thought, but to understand the significance of it, I must first explain an older thought, by way of an allegory.

There was a civilization, not much different from our own. Except that everyone wore guns on their belts. These guns were their knowlege; these guns were their "brains". And into these guns were placed bullets. So as you grew, you attained more and more bullets to put into your guns. There was an unspoken policy in the community that the guns were never to be fired. The focus was to remain on the bullets of knowledge, not on the guns themselves.

Then one day someone had a revelation of sorts; a word just popped into his head. Truth. He began to think of his bullets, not as knowledge, but as truth. But as he explored these thoughts he found they conflicted with the knowledge of others. And while this confused him at first, eventually his confusion turned into frustration, which led to anger and action. While at a knowledge sharing event in the city, he unholstered his guns, took aim, and fired. His knowledge was truth, and all those who disagreed must see the light or be destroyed. The people of the community acted in the same way we would act, unholstering their guns and taking defensive positions, which led to a belief in their own knowledge as truth. Soon people walked the streets, guns in hand, ready to attack or be attacked at any moment. The schools that once spent their time sharing bullets of knowledge, began building weapons of Truth. The bullets remained the same, but the guns got much bigger. Soon armies were formed, made up of those who agreed on a certain truth, and the whole civilization was thrown into a civil war; not over borders, but over the definition of truth.

A small group saw something was wrong. They knew that any person raising their guns was not the right thing to do. So they ran. And out in the hills they found a cave. They descended into the depths of the cave, and after stumbling about in the darkness for some time, they came upon one of the Truths. They fashioned it into a weapon, since this was how they saw knowledge, and built a monastary in the cave to protect it.

After many years another group descended into the cave, and there, found the monastary. Around a fire, the monks told the story of where they came from and the Truth they had found, and now gaurded. They led the travelers back into the monastary, and showed them the Truth. It was a gun, with only one bullet. When asked what the gun represented, the Monks responded in unison. "The Greatest of These is Love". They could not explain further. What "these" were, they had no idea. But what their home had forgotten was this Truth. That Love will not raise its guns, no matter the cost.

At these words, the leader of the order threw off his cloak. His body showed the signs of the war. Scars all over his body; but that is not what shocked the travelers. It was his guns. They had never been used; never pulled from their holsters. Shiny. He told them how the greatest power is not found in your knowledge, but in your Love. To stand against bullets of false truth, and hatred. This is where True strength is found. And his word to them was, as they continued to explore the caves of Truth, to have Love be their weapon, and not their guns. For guns have no other purpose, but to destroy; where Love, has the power to do anything.

This is a story that has been in my head for some time. I've just never actually written it down. A new picture came into my head, by way of my ponderings on this story. Swords versus Guns. I have had many interesting talks and debates that played out like a sword fight. There is something elegant in swordplay; there is a control. Then I started thinking about Guns. There are very few similarities between a gun fight and a sword fight. But the biggest difference, for me, is you can't "practice" a gun fight. It's BANG!! And one of you is down. I started seeing my discussions as swordplay. Asserting my views without "going for the kill". A good offensive step there; an excellant block there. The two with the swords are both honing their skills. Of course, there must be an understanding between them, to keep the "foil tips" on. And that can be difficult, when the "mental" adreneline gets going.

But that's where I'm at. I still have Guns. And they have lots of bullets in there. And I must not use them no matter how much I'd like to some times. But I am allowed to fence. It is safe for us to fence. It is good for us to fence. We strengthen the things we believe; we find weakness in things we believe; we learn and grow through the act of spiritual swordplay.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

A quote to get stuck in the head

“Where oppression does not completely and permanently break the spirit, has it not the natural tendency to produce retaliatory pride and contempt? We reimburse ourselves for cuffs and toil by a double dose of self-esteem.” C.S. Lewis

I came across this quote while cleaning out some old files on my computer. I've been wrestling with these ideas of balance; with the idea that one person, or group, that thinks they have THE answer, is MISSING part of the answer. Now I find myself reading this quote again, and I just can't nail down what it's making me think. But it's making me think, and that's a good start. I thought I'd stick it in here, and see if it makes other people think.

Pride is always on the list of bad habits not to take up, but this quote is hinting at a new source of where Pride comes from; and that is what is currently intriguing me.