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Learning to be Micro

I want to go far.

Searching the Internet, looking at cities, and watching the news nightly it is amazing that there is so much happening at any one given point in time. Cars race by on a local highway, to or from where, I truly don’t know. In the nearby city of Chicago and the surrounding metropolitan area millions of people are working in some way to provide for themselves and give their life meaning. Strange.

I’m reading a book on a Tuesday afternoon in November wondering who I am and where is home. Also strange.

Reading can do that to us, especially if we connect in some way with the narrative. We aren’t particularly great at noticing how often what media we are taking in influences our thoughts, emotions, and desires, but it does, and we let it. Sometimes we force it to, reading and watching things to help us be or seem to be the people we think we are or ought to be. It’s kind of daft, kind of brilliant.

I read to escape, to go somewhere else. My favorite books are of the fantasy genre, Lord of the Rings and the like. I love being transported to a new world, some place where all my expectations are completely blown away and where good always wins. I love how strong and brave the heroes can be, how utterly evil the bad guys are. It isn’t that way in real life, but when you read a fantasy book the bad guys are bad and the good guys are good and there isn’t always a lot of in between.

What I really love about reading is that it takes you to a big, open, far away new place, but it takes you there small. What I mean is, it doesn’t take you to a macro view of this new world, but takes you to an intimate and close relationship with a core group of characters whose actions impact the macro-narrative but whose thoughts, feelings, and desires you read and contend with in real time.

Reading brings me into a pre-built community. It’s small. I love it.

There are so many big things out there, so many places where you can get lost in a crowd. While I have been trying to figure myself out and learn where I fit, I’ve often looked at crowds of people in big spaces and wondered where I belong, how do I fit? Looking at things that way I have felt that I should pack up and leave, let go of society, and move to somewhere away from where I am.

I want to go far.

While I want to go far, travel far away to find some lost, mysterious thing that I am looking for, what I really want is to move small. I want to move into a closer community of folks who all know each other and see each other regularly, spending time at each others houses and living in communion through good times and challenges. I long for the small-town America feel of mom-and-pop shops, corner stores, local ice cream and knowing everyones names.

Reading about macro worlds in fantasy novels piques my curiosity for how these people continue to struggle together, work together, grow and learn together, and ultimately stay together in all things. Although I am transported to an entirely new fiction, a world created from the head of an author, what transfixes me in this world is the micro relationships, the smallness of the story.

In my mind, you just have to escape this world to get that. Utterly false, but I’ve taught myself to believe that by reading fantasy books for years.

What I truly need is to move small. To find a community to settle into, to care about, and to focus on. It’s necessary and good to travel, to expand our horizons and learn about other cultures. I believe that, and want to travel. On the other hand, what I really want is roots in one place, with one people, making a difference in a small way, in close relationships with those around me.

Perhaps we aren’t all this way, but I believe there is something inherent in human nature that makes us desire to create spaces for people. We don’t have villages and towns and cities and homes because we want to be alone. There aren’t many who want to live by themselves in the middle of nowhere, no, what we want is groups of people who are our people, and while that leads to trouble in many ways, it is the beating of our hearts to know that we belong. We have a place, a space, a group that is ours.

It’s hard to do that big, hard for us to feel belonging while looking at the macro. We need to zoom in, to get close, to get small, and to let our lives be micro. Wherever we find ourselves, we need groups of people in our proximity who care for us, are invested in us, and want to see us grow.

It’s taken me a long time to realize I don’t need to be somewhere else, but to focus smaller on where I am.

My Shame and God’s Love

Deep down I believe that nobody should be nice to me, and that includes God. I don’t deserve it.

Sitting in my chair, staring, and utterly upset with everything in my life, an inner voice echoes in the recess of my soul, as Job’s wife did, “Curse God and die!”

Oh, how I wish I could, inner voice echoing in the recess of my soul, I wish I could die.

This is one of those days where I want to give up, to let go and give in to the pain, hurt, frustration, and envy of eternal life. Letting this broken world go and ushering to a new place with no tears and glorious presence. I desperately want to not be alive here in this world, where all my own trying does no good. If I can’t make it better, I might as well die.

But I can’t die. If the decision was made with wants I’d been dead a long time past, and there have been times I’ve been far closer to physically committing myself to suicide, but not tonight. I don’t want to take my life, simply to not have it. I hate it, but I don’t hate me. It’s an interesting dichotomy.

Thinking further about my life, I just get upset. I thought that becoming a Christian would solve my problems, but all it really did was reveal how broken I am, how utterly hopeless I am, and how lost I am. And, somehow, as I feel I am making my way towards greater health, God does not help me up to the summit but pull me back towards the valley. Beginning to realize something about myself, I proceed to try conquering it and find God showing me another stone I am carrying that I do not need. I think to myself, “Can’t you just let it be for one day? Lord, let it be and let me be for one day!”

He is not content to let us be. Love loves unto perfection.

I severely dislike God for it. I’m sure some evangelicals aren’t comfortable with negative feelings towards God, but they happen. We aren’t perfect, and He isn’t expecting us to not get upset with Him, he knows our frames, knows we are made of dust, it could be understood that he expects us to get mad at him. Job, though upset, did not sin because while He wanted to know, “Why, God?” He did not say, “You are at fault,” he simply asked, “Why?” And wished he hadn’t been born.

I relate to that.

In the depth of my soul there is a brokenness so debilitating and heart breaking that I wish it didn’t even exist. I wish it wasn’t an aspect of who I am, and I honestly can’t believe that I actually think this way! I became a Christian and Christ became my mentor, my friend, my confidant, my Lord, and my God, but deep down, I really don’t want his salvation.

When I pray, I don’t want to admit that I can’t do what I need to do. I don’t want God’s help getting me out of my mess of a life, and I certainly don’t want another person to help! Just considering a person helping me with something puts my back straight and makes me want to punch something. “How dare you HELP me? Who told you to BE NICE?!?!” It’s infuriating. Deep down I believe that nobody should be nice to me, and that includes God. I don’t deserve it.

An utterly false claim, sure, but completely true for me. In my heart I believe that I am not worthy to be assisted, helped, saved, redeemed, made whole or well, or healed in any way. I don’t prefer to stay this way, but I refuse to allow another to assist me, definitely God and especially humans.

I work with a campus ministry, and as a funded missionary who fundraises support I am obviously face-to-face with a huge fear. Even looking back at my first push towards funding and the support I received, while I was happy to get it and thankful for it, receiving support shamed me greatly. In some way I feel that I should not receive those gifts. It does not surprise me when people say no, and I have gotten to the point that I hardly ask for new support (though greatly needed) because I don’t feel myself as worthy, and I am sure that whoever I ask will say “no” anyway.

Ten minutes ago I broke down crying just imagining a fellow staff helping me, taking their time and resources to benefit me. In my heart I can’t take it and don’t want it, but in my head I can take it and do want it. I’m not sure how, but I feel so surely that I need the help, and equally as sure that it would be the end of me if I received that help.

Somehow, I also feel that I need to come across to those I ask to support me as confident and sure, and that if I show my fears and insecurities they will not support me. I’ve adopted this super business-like way of asking for support and it’s not me at all. It is unthinkable to me to let people know of my need. I cannot even consider saying, “my ministry is in need of another 15,000-20,000 to be completely funded and for me to be supported at the level I should be.”

And the crux of it is, I’m being paid the least I possibly could be paid because of my support situation and I like it because I don’t feel I deserve any more.

Isn’t that terrible?

I don’t want to ask for any more money because in my mind this confirms the worth that I feel I have. It’s become so twisted that I am doing something terrible to myself to confirm to myself what I believe about myself, and feeling that way I do something terrible to myself. Terrible.

But it isn’t just that I don’t feel I deserve any more pay, but actually feel so strongly that I don’t deserve anything, and that I need to contribute somehow or get out, that I want to leave society. My dream is to live on my own in the middle of nowhere, doing my own thing and being self-sufficient. It isn’t actually my dream, it’s just what I think I’d like because I can’t stand the shame of being so terrible, so worthless, bringing so little to society, producing so little, and being so terrible at so many things. None of those things are true, but I deal with all of those thoughts every day and I’ve convinced myself the only way to escape that is to run away from everything and everyone.

But it won’t get any better, and Love loves unto perfection.

I can’t get away from God and it upsets me so very much. I truly wish He would leave me to rot as the slimy, smelly garbage the I think I am, instead of wrapping me in white and calling me a new creation. New creation, Lord? Not if my broken brain can help it! My brain will convince me I’m the same kid who was told that if he didn’t do it right he shouldn’t even try. Still living that truth 20 years later. What a mess?

So I just cried over how much I don’t want help. I told God to go away, and he nudged me and let me know he isn’t going anywhere.

How desperately I wish He would leave me alone, the shame of it all is overwhelming.

Patience of the Father

God is so much more concerned with who we are than what we do.

Looking through the front window, the young man worried over what his father would say when he arrived home. This had been the third time that he had gotten into an accident in his fathers car, and he could not imagine that his father was well pleased. Father had been kind and forgiving the first two times, but this time the young man was sure that his father would be upset. He expected anger.

He considered how he might have changed the circumstances; paying more attention, not driving today and having a friend drive instead, not going at all. It was no use, he couldn’t change the past, but he knew his father could no longer hold back the anger must be coming.

He continued to fret, worry, and watch out the window. His father had to be home soon, but he couldn’t face him. Pacing the living room having not calmed his nerves at all, the young man decided to head to his bedroom and lay down. “Father will arrive when he arrives,” the young man thought wryly, “pacing won’t change that.”

After laying down in his bed, he waited. It seemed like hours, but it could have been minutes for all the young man knew, he wasn’t paying attention to the time, waiting until his father came to bite off his head. He only knew that he waited in fear and uncertainty of the future, yet certain his father would finally give him the what for. “Third time is the charm, as they say. Normally that’s a good thing, funny how for me it’s terrible.”

He heard the sound of the garage, of his father parking another new car, getting out and walking into the house. It was time, he knew, to face his maker. He had worried so much before his father had returned that it surprised him how calm he felt about it all. His father’s voice carried through the house, calling to him, asking him to come to the kitchen.

The young man hurried downstairs, he hurried doing most things, honestly. It led to mistakes but he could not contain his excitement most of the time. He had so much energy that he simply had to do things. He couldn’t help if sometimes that meant he didn’t do a good job, or wrecked a car. Taking the stairs two at a time and bounding around the corner, he reached his father in mere moments. Looking up at his father’s face, he waited for the dressing down he knew he deserved.

“How are you feeling, my son?” His father asked him, walking over to put a hand on the young man’s shoulder. “Are you OK?”

“Yes,” the young man said hurriedly, “I’m fine. How did it go?”

“Splendidly! Come and see the new car!” His father’s reply did nothing to assuage the fear within the young man. As his father led him to the garage, where a shining new car sat, a deep blue colored sedan with all the bells and whistles, he knew his father was only biding time. Surely, soon, he had to loose his temper. He simply had to. This was the third time this had happened!

“My son,” his father began, and the young man began to feel fear well up in the base of his belly, a knot forming and twisting until he felt it was so tight he might break. “My son.” He said again, looking at the young man with a face soft, the face he had always known in his father, not a face of anger but a face of love.

“You certainly did a number on the old car!” he said, laughing, “luckily it had great safety features, and you are all right. This car has even more! Side airbags, parking assist, and warnings when you leave the lane or drive too closely, or if someone follows too closely. I knew I needed that because I want to know you are safe. It would destroy me if anything happened to you, my son.”

The young man stood there, dumbfounded, as his father continued.

“We will have to go out together tomorrow to continue working on your driving skills, I’m sure you will be a great driver with practice! And, we can’t control everything in life. Sometimes accidents happen, and all I can be thankful for is that you are still here, still well, still alive.”

Somehow, for the young man, he had thought his father had a reserve of anger that would eventually come up, he didn’t realize his patience was so great. It must only be that the next time he wrecks a car that his father will loose his temper.

“Your mother and I are so proud of you, my son. We love you and want the best for you. We want you to know how loved you are, that no matter what, you are loved. All of the things in life are not as important as you are.”


 

So often, we believe that God will be upset with us for mistakes we make. That somehow what we do is more important to God than who we are. We believe this because we have been taught this. Even reading the story above, you may have been surprised that the young man was on his third accident, with the father forgiving even the first. I remember the first accident I had, my parents were very upset, and I was to blame. It seems natural and normal for us to consider fault when accidents happen, or when mistakes are made.

God does not act like our parents, and it’s more accurate to say that our parents do not act like God. It’s not their fault, they can’t live up to that, but they still fall short in that comparison. Where our parents and those around us will blame us for things we do, God is more concerned with who we are, and specifically that we are his sons and daughters. Sure, he wants us to not wreck the car, but he isn’t going to punish us with fear or anger, he spent all his anger on the cross. All he has left for us is love, even in correction.

The young man’s father took responsibility for continuing to teach the young man to drive, and this is how God behaves towards us. He lovingly continues with us until we “get it”, and even then he continues still, simply because he loves being with us. Too often we see God as distant when we are “bad”, instead of realizing that he is near in all things, again, simply because he loves being with us.

He isn’t expecting us to be perfect, the father knew the young man was not perfect, and in my mind this is because the father knew his own shortcomings. The father was aware of his reckless nature during his teenage years, or that he rushed his son to get a driving license without helping him best learn to drive in safety and care. Knowing his own shortcomings, the father extends love and grace to his son, caring more for the son’s being than his action.

God is so much more concerned with who we are than what we do. Many times, who we are is hurt and afraid, fearing our heavenly Father and mistrusting him. We see God as strict, as a disciplinarian, as upset or angry, yet we do not see how he sees our hurt, pain, and brokenness and loves us. He is looking into our souls and knowing why we do what we do far more than we know why we do what we do, and for that reason he forgives freely because he is binding up wounds not correcting actions.

We really get it wrong when we think we have to do certain things as Christians, Jesus came to mend and heal, “Those who are well have no need for a physician,” he said. The interesting thing is that no one is well. We are all hurt, all broken, all needing healing and redemption. It amazes God that we, like the Pharisees, focus so much on actions and not on God’s healing touch.

His resources are unlimited, his patience is unlimited, his love is unlimited. Our heavenly Father does not run out of what he needs to love us. He comes home with another new chance, and invites us back into learning and growing and being healed in him.

I’d like to think the father in the story is far more concerned with the young man’s view of his father than of how well that young man drives. God cares that we see him accurately, do we see him as loving, kind, caring, and patient with us? Do we recognize he is binding wounds, not correcting action? Do we go to him knowing that he will give us healing and grace for our hurts?

Space, Clutter, and Spiritual Formation

Sometimes, though, space wasn’t just used, it was overused. Often, it was overused.

Looking around the room, busy with a degree of use in the feel of things spread throughout, a fan spinning idly, churning air to create a sense of cool, and chairs enough in the small room to seat a dozen, he turned his eyes to the lake beyond the house.

He wanted to space of the small lake to open his mind and imagination to the soul longing to get out from his chest. It didn’t have enough room here to breathe, think, or let go, it needed to quiet, still and empty expanse of the water.

He considered places he had been, stayed, lived, and gone. He liked cities, but felt that being in a city was forgetting what lay inside himself. It was so busy, so crowded, so cluttered, that his soul shrank in the confines of a city street. “Who could be a person in such a place?” he muttered within himself, “who you are has no space to become itself.”

It was interesting to him that as he wrote about space and clutter, he wrote in short, snipped paragraphs. He was not taking the time he thought he should, perhaps it was the coffee, or the excitement of writing about something dear to his heart, but he thought maybe it was only that it is a simple idea. It isn’t necessary to tease out and play with meanings, only to tell what needs to be known.

Many places are just as crowded and cluttered as cities, even though they are suburban or even rural. Bars, coffee houses, cars and homes are all stained with the debris that takes takes up space. He considered anything unnecessary as something that takes up space, most things were unnecessary, so there was, in his estimation, a lot of debris in the world. He cringed with every handout handed him in classes and work meetings, wondering where it would go, how would he file and keep it so it did not clutter his desk, and ultimately his mind.

“Homes tell us a lot about ourselves,” he thought, musingly. “Often, it seems, we feel a need to fill every space, every corning, every nook of our homes.” He didn’t know why people did this, perhaps it was a visual thing? He considered how this showed the need to not waste what was had.

Sometimes, though, space wasn’t just used, it was overused. Often, it was overused.

Papers piled high on desks, books stacked on tables and food that would never be used overflowing a refrigerator. Boxes of “just in case” items filled a basement, to be used once every decade or two, and cars were the same. Change piled high in center consoles, baubles dangled from rear view mirrors, trunks packed with equipment for some sport out of season 8 months of the year. Garages and sheds stored incredible amounts of things, often requiring a deft touch to close the door or park without scratching the car.

“Where do people live, with all this stuff?” he wondered, amused and yet also fearful. “Their soul has no room to grow.”

He knew that many people had tidy spaces, but busy lives. They cluttered their schedules instead of their living rooms, keeping themselves busy with meetings, appointments, to-do lists, and the idol of accomplishment. There was little in their home, little in their fridge, and their car was clean, but that was only because their time was cluttered and overused.  They lived as if they would not live if they didn’t do all the things, all the time, every day striving and trying and searching and pushing and wishing and hoping, and it stifled them. They were drowning in the clutter of their own life.

The truth is, he knew, that our outer life reveals the inner life, and if our outer life is busy and cluttered, so is our soul. A soul that is overburdened cannot possibly please God, because it can’t even concentrate on Him. Nor can that soul find peace, how does it rest when everywhere it looks there is stuff? “Let me look outside,” this soul says, but finds that there are many passersby to watch, “I will sit quietly in my chair,” it then begins, but pictures, books, papers and machines distract it. “I am lucky to even have this time,” the soul says to itself, as it considers its busy schedule, “I don’t often have to show my owner who he is.” It tries to give the person to whom it belongs some sense of being, but the man or woman rejects it and begins to busy themselves again.

He considered the only work that was truly worth doing was that which allows our souls to shape us into whom God has created us to be. God has given us His breath of life, His Spirit, and shapes us through that using our spirit, our soul. We cannot hear the subtle whisper during a rainstorm, and yet we distract ourselves incessantly with distractions galore. Why?

“Because our souls show us our longing and pain, which draw us into the Father,” he decided. “The Son treats these wounds, and the Spirit reveals them.” It isn’t easy to become still and let the inner tumult of our lives come to a rest, we are like shaken snow globes, the snow dancing around and looking active, and often beautiful, but hiding the image behind. Only as the globe rests, and the snow falls, do we see the house and snowman and kids ice skating on the lake. We cannot see ourselves with all this snow flying around us, we must escape this clutter.

Then we take 5 or 10 minutes to be silent, and find that nothing has changed, and why should it have? He wished people would take hours or days to be still, to begin clearing the clutter of their lives away, to free their schedules, to drive in silence, to want to hear God speak to them through their soul more than anything else. “God has made us beautiful, if only we could become simple enough to hear him tell us,” he thought.

He remembered when he began to let go of things, giving away his gaming system, giving away many of his clothes, and trying to let go of whatever he didn’t need. He knew that he was on the verge of another “life purge,” selling and giving away things he wouldn’t use and didn’t need. Golf clubs, multiple guitars, clothes, books that were read and wouldn’t be re-read, and many other things. His mind needed the rest when he looked at his things.

“Because,” he considered, “when there is no space in our lives, how much can God fill us with? If we do not have a place for what God wants to show us, we will ignore it.” He wanted to have as much space for God as possible, and that meant freeing up his time and space to accept it. That meant simplifying his life. That meant decluttering. It meant letting his soul grow and stretch to accept all that God had to offer, and that meant letting go of so much more.

White Culture

It was a terrible idol.

He’d seriously considered writing about white culture days before, but the drumming of responsibility, duty, and work weighed on him so that it was not possible. Considering carefully the nuances necessary to tease out a well-considered and thoughtful opinion, he decided to do it. The go ahead was clear, the points seemed helpful, and the necessity plain.

First, he simply considered his own experience of being white in Midwestern America. He thought about holiday parties, often with extended family and being the only time of the year you would see them. Laughs and joy would be had, it would be a bit awkward at times, and in the end you would leave a bit sad and a bit relieved because while these people are your family, they are also people you really don’t know that well. Somehow, mysteriously, they are important to you because of blood tie, but you may not always care for who they are.

He also considered food he grew up to know, sweet corn in the summer and chili in the winter. Casserole dishes mixed seemingly distant foods in wonderful medleys, and there was always potato and pasta salad at every event he could remember. Deep dish, Chicago style pizza, and Chicago hot dogs (the only way to eat them) were a part of Americana to him, though he knew those on the East Coast would disagree about what constitutes a good pizza. He considered how pumpkin pie was a staple in his family, and also how he would have arguments with friends about which pie was best, often each choosing the pie their family gravitated towards.

That was another aspect of culture for him, separation and unit breakdown. He could remember how separate he felt from members of his family, how each group would have their own customs, but there were also large family customs when everyone got together during the holidays. This was true of most families, but families differed. The hierarchy of white culture was quite strange with its penchant for individualism, even in the ways families related and were created. He knew this wasn’t the case for all cultures, but he enjoyed the separation, he thought it good. “Boundaries are a good thing,” he considered, “and while sometimes our boundaries are too thick, I appreciate my autonomy.”

Being a Chicagoan, he felt an incredible penchant for dualism. It often feels like Chicago has only two seasons, winter moving to summer, hot, muggy, and wonderful on the beach, Navy Pier, and zoos (of which there are two), and summer moving to winter with its snowstorms, plows, salt, skiing and sledding. We have two baseball teams in Chicago, also, the crosstown classic, when they play each other, being a highlight of the summer for many. It seems there are two opinions for everything, and there are arguments about whatever we may disagree on, but we don’t let that come between friendship.

Yet, with all this, he sometimes wondered if he missed out. His culture doesn’t have some of the things other cultures do. Midwestern white culture doesn’t seem to run deep, to him, and it doesn’t include song, dance, or dress. When thinking about it, he often got jealous of other cultures who had very specific styles of music or dance. It hurt to consider how often whites had taken from other cultures, likely because we don’t have things there. We like something, so we take it, but it isn’t as if we borrow it to bring it back later. Quite often we have outright stolen aspects of other cultures to try to fill the voids of our own.

Having read the book Being White some time ago, which was about whites relating in a multi-ethnic world, he remembered hoping to receive some secret to white culture that he hadn’t known before. The book, while wonderful, instead cast vision and gave practical advice for how whites could use their voice and power to lift other cultures up, to battle for equity. He hadn’t considered that before, and strongly did so now, that is because of reading the book, but also, he still longed for a culture, a style of living that feels like home. He immediately thought it slightly foolish, but only slightly. It was misplaced longing, he always felt longing, it just attached itself to the idea floating in his mind.

He considered also how white culture in America was, essentially, American Culture, and how as American Culture changes they either must do the same or fight against it. What would he do if he felt someone from outside his culture was changing it, but they felt that they were only changing American Culture? The deep connection between the two was troublesome, how might white culture be separated from American Culture? To be a white American meant to be American. Reciprocal reasoning meant that being American means to be a white American. It wasn’t great reasoning, but it was there. Blood and soil arguments can be understood, even if rejected for poor logic, when considering this line of thought.

It isn’t, he considered, that whites may move backwards, either. Although some have a connection to a European nation of some sort, too many are so interbred that they know not how to embrace German, English, Italian, Norwegian, Native American and many others in lesser degrees (his own pedigree). Should he simply choose? Would that, if he had not grown in that culture, not be appropriation? It would be slightly better, he supposed, than choosing to embrace Latino or Japanese culture, having no background or claim to either, but only slightly.

So, they feel quite stuck, he realized. The assimilation of new peoples means their culture, what they have held to, American Culture, will change. Assimilation does that, culture and ideas from both move across the boundary until they look similarly enough to communicate, meet in the middle, and work together. It is who they are, as whites, that feels under attack as things change on a national level. When America changes, they can’t change with it, but being a white American means they are America, so who are they when America changes? When their culture, American, changes, but they can’t change because of their whiteness, what happens?

It was a terrible idol. He pondered how white nationalism was not simply a belief, but a god within that moves them to strike out to defend the earthly kingdom that has been built for them. Even Christianity was used in the creation of this idol, warped into an American nationalism movement that has very little Christ in it. The church was the backbone of America, the spine of American culture, connected deeply with what it meant to be American, and therefore what it meant to be white. If the church was not this structure for America, what was America? Lost, he imaged they might say, and no longer great.

Understanding things a bit more, he thought he felt sympathy for them who were losing something so dear. It will be good to lose it, for the idol of America in white culture to die, for the church and white culture to be separated from what it means to be American, but it will still hurt, and they will have to mourn. Mourn for what was, what they thought they might have but cannot, and should not, and mourn for what has been done to advance this idol. It’s hard to come down from the mountaintop, and it’s harder to come down from the mountain you created.

With that, it occurred to him that really, all cultures are hurting in their own way, and they are striking out at each other to mask and cover the pain. Although it helps nothing, there is a driving force within that moves everyone to hurt each other. The idol must die, but some feel they must be the ones to kill it, and that is an idol of itself. Really, everything was an idol, he mused, slightly off topic. If it isn’t directly focused on God it’s an idol. We should be each wanting to be and not be because we are walking with God as Enoch did. Anything separate from that was a focus misplaced. We should all go live in the wilderness.

What does it look like to live together, he considered, it must be to be more aware of another’s pain than their sin, and our sin instead of our pain. If we could all focus on that, individually and sociologically, we might see some peace.

The pride of whiteness poked its head up as he decided to end the article, hoping that whites could lead the way in changing their thinking. Well, there will be a long way to go.

Thoughts on a Summer Afternoon

Simplicity is quite a good thing.

“There really isn’t that much to life,” he thought idly to himself while staring out the window, watching the wind play gently with the bushes behind his apartment. Clouds rolled by slowly, like languorous amorphous blobs drifting not-at-all by their own doing, lazily floating downstream like the atmosphere were a river carrying them to some unknown and unforeseen destination. Cars sat unused today in the parking lot. Though it was early afternoon, a sense of quiet and peace stilled around him.

The windows, open and letting in a slight breeze and wonderful odor, fresh and clean, did little to help the warmth in his apartment. As he drifted in his own mind, his forehead lightly beaded with the marks of a summer afternoon. A glass of iced tea, homemade, he was quite proud to say, sat next to him with the same sheen of perspiration. He reckoned that the glass was as ready to sit relaxed for an hour or so as he was.

It wasn’t that there was nothing to do, there is always something to do; laundry, sweeping, mopping, errands, emails, phone calls and other things always pressing, it wasn’t that at all. No, he simply had completed quite a bit already today, sitting down to work for 3 hours, doing yoga and having a wonderful quiet time this morning, he felt as if he could spend time however he so desired. It just so happened he desired to stare out the window.

“That ‘just so happens’ quite often with me,” he thought, languidly rolling the thought around his head. “There is nothing more to life, some days, than staring outside and enjoying whatever is going on right there.” He couldn’t help if that was true, he figured, as he didn’t make the world. Didn’t plan it, and didn’t want to. “Gosh what a terrible responsibility,” his inner voice moaned, “terribly great, and terribly overwhelming.”

As he considered the simplicity of life, he wondered why so much is to be done. It is an unhappy business, that which God has given man to be busy with. Ecclesiastes, once more coming to mind, drawing him into the simplicity that life ought to be, and yet it isn’t. Staring blankly outside, he wandered within himself.

Coming around once more with a sip of tea, he knew that it should not have been this way, and wasn’t this way for a while. What, truly, must we do in this life? Is anything to be accomplished that cannot wait? What will we take with us, what will even last longer than a decade or two? Even our memories fade, and those who remember us will often make up more than they know to be true. He thought that many of the church fathers and mothers, many of the great writers, thinkers, and artists throughout the years, can never be known in such an intimate way as someone who we have a simple conversation with. Yet we discuss them as though we have had just that.

Thinking it is useless, though, does no good. It isn’t as if just saying, “well, it’s all worthless” is going to suddenly make everything right. We live in the present, and ought to deal with it.

There is, though, something to be said about simplicity. It is peaceful, quiet, unassuming though often moving. We fear becoming too simple, and use it as a kind way to call someone dull, or unlearned. It shouldn’t be that way, words should be used for their purpose, we get too confused with definitions and meaning otherwise.

Simplicity is quite a good thing. Simple machines often work the best, and are quite easy to fix. Simple writing is accessible to all, and imparts the idea just as well. C.S. Lewis knew the truth of that. Simple art is often quite moving, considering the statue of David. Simple relationships let us know exactly where we stand, and build trust.

It’s not that something more complicated is worse, he continued within himself, yet, as something becomes more complicated, it takes more effort to create, use, and fix. The first thing that came to his mind was the United States Tax Code, and after the the US Budget. Considering his own budget, a simple equation at this point in his life, he wondered how a government originally designed to be simple had gotten so complex.

He thought also of humans, their inner workings, their brains and thoughts and emotions. Where even is an emotion? Is fear in the stomach, as the knots twist and pull? Is love in the chest, burning, full and strong and powerful? Of course these are chemical reactions in the brain. Yet the brain is quite complex. Doctors and psychologists study for years to be able to competently and confidently complete their duties and heal people. Those are some of the hardest things to learn.

Both lawyers and doctors have special schools, and those were the two most complicated things he had thought of first, government and healthcare.

Those are also the things we see to fight about the most in America.

Thinking further, wishing, wanting, and hoping, he found no easy answer. There is no simple way forward for these things. Do we simplify the government, lessening taxes and letting go of a huge military, huge infrastructure, and a huge budget? What should be done about healthcare? It would be wonderful to have healthcare for all, but could instead we think more simply? Would it not be better to teach healthcare from a nutrition standpoint? Simple foods are better for the body than complex ones. The fewer ingredients on a label the better. The best is a whole food, there’s only a banana in a banana, nothing extra. Simple.

Teaching hundreds of millions of American’s to eat for health? Not simple. No easy answer.

The clouds looked the same as when he had begun to think, “had they even moved at all?”

At least he could take control of his own life, simplify and live it. His needs were covered, and many of his wants, what should he do, strive for more? There was no hope in that, only pain and striving. Striving after the wind. Chasing what will always be elusive. Longing for what can always be desired and never be obtained. Just. One. More. Of anything, just one more and happiness will come, but it never does.

Jesus didn’t preach simplicity, he preached the kingdom, but Jesus lived simply, and taught his disciples to do the same. One cloak, one pair of sandals; travel light, love deep. Don’t be anxious about food, or clothing. Paul said we will be content with only food and clothing.

“When it comes to the end of the age,” he thought, placidly, “there will be no concern for what house we lived in, or car we drove, or computer we had, or shoes or clothes or anything such as that. It isn’t that being simple is better, but simplicity helps us to work towards what is really important, and to stave our distraction away.”

The clouds had moved, he noticed at once. A slow moving river, indeed.

Fear

He stopped making decisions, and let decision make him.

Sitting alone, he pondered. His thoughts have been unsteady all day. Despite a work meeting and making another decision that had simply needed to be made, he could not keep himself still. A feeling within him surged yet again.

He wished he were dead.

Don’t be mistaken, he didn’t wish to kill himself, but he didn’t want to be alive either. He felt pretty well dead, anyway. He really found no interest in anything. All he really wanted to do was die. It was sad, that nothing in the whole world really interested him, but it was the truth, he thought. What is everything but striving at air? Grasping for something and so consistently catching nothing. Feeling he had nothing to show for all the fighting he had done, it seemed to be the only truth he needed.

Many things floating through his head, he dismissed them all as utterly unimportant. In his mind there was nothing as important as seeking God, and even that truth ringing throughout his head did nothing to help him want to live. Should he focus on games, fun, merriment? Food, service, or work? Is there anything that truly satisfies to soul? Is something out there that will finally give him some measure of reason to do anything, other than just taking a next step?

Ultimately, his entire life was just taking the next step, as long as he can remember. For a while those steps had been chosen for him, for longer than he would have liked. His mother had controlled a few too many of his decisions as he grew older, until he broke away by moving out unexpectedly. But even then, she tried, and too often he let her in, unsure of himself because he had never made decisions before. That, too, had lasted too long.

Moving out was a next step, brought about not of his own accord but of another, a good friend now, one who makes decisions and does things. But he didn’t make that step, it was made for him. It was the next move. The only next move. After that, a new place to live, a new job, a new way of dating, a new way of everything. He had very little control. He didn’t know who he was. He didn’t know who he wanted to be.

Going back to school was simply a next step. He didn’t actually have a step planned after school, he just applied to a local college and away he went, caring little for what would happen after. He picked a major that was just on his mind at the time, and changed it in the first semester. He told the counselor helping him choose his new major, “I transferred credits, which major will get me a degree the fastest?” It was just another step.

He stopped making decisions, and let decisions make him. Graduating, he chose work not based on any desire within him, but applied where he think he ought, doing what he think he ought to please people he thought depended on him. He said what should be said, and did what should be done. He didn’t act for himself, he very nearly gives up any given day, but he is there. God uses him. “It’s good work,” he says, “God is moving.”

Laying in bed, curled into a ball, he ruminates on how fear makes all his decisions for him, wonders what his life would be like if he had courage. He considered writing a song about courage, he would write about Joshua. “Take heart, Joshua, lift up your eyes. The Lord is with you, the Lord is with you.”

There were no chords for the song, it was a dirge to his own courage, not celebration of Joshua’s.

Knowing that fear holds no place, he chides himself for letting fear ruin his life, and wonders if he can take hold and make a decision. Can he change things now? How much can he change, how much should he? How much would he? He imagined he wouldn’t change anything, not yet. Not yet. He was still too afraid. Too tired. Too… everything. He couldn’t change anything, the conversations needed… he couldn’t have those conversations.

He could barely have conversations at all some days.

There was no fear about pulling up the depths of his soul, however. He had no issues in sharing deeply, and vulnerably. It was the only place he felt any modicum of strength, any amount of courage. He was confident in one thing if nothing else, being open, being vulnerable, being real. It was a thing to be valued, being real. He knew that too few people were in touch with themselves enough to even be real, and even those who were didn’t often share. For him, it was the only place of confidence in all the world.

When he first began truly dating, and really flirting in any effective way, most of his humor was self-deprecating. His only confidence was in putting himself down. It worked, but when girls actually liked him and stuck around, he was flabbergasted. Having been honest about himself, he figured they must be blind, or dumb, or broken like him. “Most still leave eventually,” he thought dryly, “whether weeks or months, most still leave eventually.” Nobody wants a man who is quite so unsure of himself.

Fear is a terrible friend, and there are no two ways about it. His life would never be what it needed to be, what it could be, what it should be, while as afraid as he was. But, when all you have known is fear, what does it look like to take courage? Thinking briefly, he imagined he knew how the Israelites messed up so much on their way to the promised land. 400 years of bondage and suddenly they are going to be brave? He didn’t really think so. It took a generation not born to bondage to experience the freedom necessary to build courage.

He wondered if he may still take courage, take heart, and make decisions. What decisions would he make? Fear had already driven desire from his heart. How can you decide what to do when desire has left you? What do you do with a flame that is nearly extinguished? How do you fan it back to life? What fuel will help ignite, and not smother, the hardly flickering smolder? Even on the inside, he felt small, bowed down, hump backed, hunched, and unable to consider it.

He thought he might pray, but dismissed it. What would he say that he hadn’t said before? He feels terrible. He wants to die. He doesn’t like where he is because he didn’t make the decisions to be here. He feels like life just happens to him. He isn’t a victim, but, in some ways he still is. In some ways, in many ways, he is an 8 year old little boy being screamed at because he made a silly mistake that 8 year old boys might make. He tripped and broke something, was playing a little too rough and accidentally bumped into someone, he made a decision, but it proved to be a poor one. He was in trouble because he simply was. Those lessons sunk deep, he learned them well. “Don’t make mistakes,” the first, and “decisions you make are mistakes.” A wicked one-two punch deeply embedded into his psyche. How do you escape that?

Considering sleep, he pensively wondered how he might finish his thoughts. Decisions still make him, and yet he has a made a few in the past few days to begin taking some control back. He knew others needed to be made, and he knew he would make them, but also wondered if a short time after making them, would he feel that they made him? How will he know when he no longer makes decisions because of fear, but in strength? What will show him that he has shaken the shadow of his past and emerged a new man? In Christ he is that, yet he still operates in fear, he knows, the neurology of his brain hardwired to expect his own failure. When will the rewiring get to a place of confidence?

It truly was time to sleep, the only place he truly enjoyed when he felt this terrible.