Unwashable

I washed off the wilderness but not the wildness, the dirt that untamed my soul.

Published in: on July 30, 2007 at 9:32 pm  Comments (2)  

Forest Feast

We pressed through thorn and spiderweb, darkness and rain, to the palace and to the feast, as any lumpy bed and paltry meal would be for such weary wanderers as we.

Published in: on July 30, 2007 at 8:46 am  Comments (2)  

No Majesty without Mystery

We swam through the green, roots and rotting logs our steps into the clouds.  The sunset found us on quartz boulders, Shining Rock in the shadow of Cold Mountain.  No postcard vistas for us, only glimpses through the mist with joy!  There is no majesty without mystery.

Published in: on July 29, 2007 at 8:01 pm  Leave a Comment  

Flex and Flexibility

“Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” (Ecclesiastes 4:12)

“Hell is other people.”  (Sartre)

You will not hear from me for several days.  I am going camping.  I will travel for two and a half days, each way, in order to spend one night on the trail.  But if you have to ask why, maybe you haven’t been to western North Carolina.  Or maybe you don’t have friends like I do.  I pray that you do.

I love my friend, but my life is more complicated because of them.  I may say the same thing about my wife someday, if I am ever so blessed.  My life is better, but definitely more complicated.  I remember back when I had no true friends.  Middle school.  There was Nate, but he lived on the far side of town, so other than the once a month or two, I felt like a man without a country.  Then I became a workaholic in high school and forgot to care.

College changed everything.  There are others like me, in mind, in heart, and in spirit.  I am not alone.  And there are others better than me, sharper, purer, saner even, who can make me more whole just by showing up and being themselves.  It is to spend time with men that I will trek across  six states.

 I lost my mind once.  It was a “manic episode,” part of bipolar disorder.  I’ll share the gory details in a later post, but what matters here: my friends helped me get to see a psychiatrist, before I even knew something was wrong with me.  After getting on medication, I spent a few months in rehab with my family.  Home is always a safe place, but not always a healthy one, especially as a young adult.  I had to escape.  Another friend took me in for the next six months, sedated, depressed, and marginally-employed as I was.

Few things in life are more beautiful than friendship.  The joy is sweeter and bitterness more bearable with friends.  Friends make us who we are.  It’s not just a matter of influence.  It’s a matter of context.  I am not my full self when I am not with my friends.  Don’t get me wrong.  I need alone time.  But when I emerge from the cave of my mind, I need brothers and sisters — including you! — with whom to discuss, spar, dream, and despair.  Why else do we blog?

But friendship is uncomfortable, inconvenient, and complicated.  The pay-off is huge, but it comes at a price.  I think of the lengths that God went to to become my friend in the person of Jesus.

My imperfections have grated against my friends’ imperfections, even on this small trip.  Me watching too much Pacino and De Niro, barking logistics on the phone and baffled at the contingencies. A.M. might not meet be in Chicago after all.  “Why not Nashville?  It’s on the way.  You could transfer the ticket you just bought, even though the trip is this week….”  G.K. might have to do work on the house he is trying to buy and skip out on all of the actual hiking.  J.D. has to leave a day early to be with his wife.  And I feel like I’m the only one who owns a calendar and a map.

I have a choice: I can flex my ego and refuse to accomodate, or I can do whatever it takes to make this trip happen.  So I’m getting on a bus tomorrow bound northward, so that I can travel south and east, six days on the road for one night under the stars and one night of beer and pizza.  Their beer, my pizza.  Alcohol doesn’t mix well with my meds, but friendship does.  It always will.

I, Eco-Hypocrite

I might look back on today as the day I became a Democrat.  Or a member of the Green Party.  It’s too close to call just yet.  It is already the Day I Became Less Stupid. 

I do not mean to imply that Republicans are stupid.  Far from it.  But they collectively have a strong track record for being stupid about the environment, just like me.

I have paid lip service to protecting Earth.  I’m the first one to stick up for the environment in conversation with my arch-conservative friends.  I love walking in the sun, under the leaves, feeling the life in trees.  I recycle.  My garden is lush.  But why do I have a garden?

Because I moved out to the country, traded my Starbucks for a Waffle House, and became co-owner of a house.  “A wise investment,” Dad said. 

But my professional life remains in the city and, now that I’m commuting 40 minutes each way three to four days a week, I wonder if it’s worth it.  Translation: I burn 60 gallons of unleaded every month.  I don’t carpool.  I don’t drive a hybrid.  I didn’t think that I could afford to.

Now I don’t know if I can afford not to.  I just finished watching An Inconvenient Truth.  Global warming is happening, and it is my fault.  What am I going to do about it?

I’m going to pray: for myself, for you reading this, especially if you’ve been like me, and for Al Gore, that people would listen.  This is bigger that politics.  This is about moral responsibility and justice for future generations.

I’m going to start car shopping, which will involve some creative financial manuoevering.  The big purchase might be years out, but I can hasten the day.

I’m going to educate myself about the candidates in the next election.  I’m going to pray for the candidates.

And I’m going to ask God for forgiveness.  This is our planet, but He gave it to us to take care of.  We can squander it, like I’ve been doing, or we can be good stewards.  What could be a better investment than that?

Nothing New Under the Muggle Sun…

…But Don’t Let That Stop You From Going to the Movies

“There is nothing new under the sun.”  (Ecclesiastes 1:9)

“It’s all been done before.”  (The Barenaked Ladies)

Only One has ever made anything truly original and new.  All stories are mere shadows of His Story.  Our best stories mirror aspects of that story: the beauty of creation, the bitterness of the fall, the joy of redemption.  Even if a story only captures one of those aspects, it can be beautiful simply because it rings true, however tragic.

Shakespeare himself realized that all the good plots were already taken.  What happens in his plays might not be original, but how always is.  That gives me hope.  A good story matters, even if I already know the ending.  And I can let myself off the hook as a writer, since every what I might say has already been taken, I can focus on the how

If you doubt whether this principle is true, think of every movie made in the last ten years.  Some have been overt ripoffs.  Eragon = Star Wars – Awesome + Dragon.  Seriously!  If you want a good laugh, follow the plot parallels: farm boy gets secret message from captured princess, the bad guys kill his aunt and uncle, and torch their farm, forcing him to follows a magical mentor who sacrifices his own life when farm boy rescues the princess, so that he can save the day in an epic dogfight.  It’s a good thing I love dragons.

Which brings us to Harry Potter.  If the what of Harry Potter isn’t original (Matrix + Lord of the Rings + Little Orphan Annie), what’s all the big fuss about?  The how!  Her plots are page turners, to be sure, but J. K. Rowling’s true success is in her character development.

(Don’t worry.  I haven’t read the last book or seen the movie yet, so no spoiler’s here.) 

Harry is a complicated guy.  He’s a loner, a leader, and a friend, these attributes ever in tension with each other.  Orphaned, ostracized by his surrogate family, ever-threatened by the forces of darkness, and untrusted by the media, Harry has always had to fend for himself.  He makes independent decisions, which can be impetuous and even rebellious.  Harry is unafraid to pursue what he knows to be right, no matter what those in authority say. 

Because of this, his peers look to him as their captain in the unseen war against the forces of darkness.  Though his anger problem and independence often get in the way, he has developped a loyal cadre.

But it is Harry’s friends who ultimately define him.  They are his by chance, by choice, and by that inexplicable magnetism that draws them all together.  Quite often, he does not deserve them.  But, no matter what, Ron and Hermione stay by his side.  Harry is not afraid to cooperate, usually, but his friends make sure to help him even when he doesn’t want it.  They would give up their own lives for each other.  Since birth, this is a boy who has been protected by love, and that is the most beautiful thing of all.

That is what we really want, isn’t it?  To be reminded that life is worth living outside the norms of society, that there is something worth fighting for, and that the love of friends always makes a difference and is always worth dying for?  We long to hear a new voice sing that same old truth to a new generation, and that is exactly what J. K. has done.  Read on!

Zen Chess

King’s pawn to E4 and I enter

a Vulcan vacation, the language of numbers, the music of the spheres, Plato’s Forms, the Grand Unifying Theory,

and Pure Mind,

like the time I ate too much wasabi, the pores of my consciousness opened, and my being fused with the universe.

And they wonder why my chess coach has left all his earthy possessions, other than his board and his bicycle, for the sake of the “game.”

Published in: on July 22, 2007 at 4:42 pm  Leave a Comment  

All Roads Lead to Heaven?

“We’re right and we’re the only ones!” shout the Pope, the Baptist preacher, and the cult leader in unison across the trenches.

Then, at Starbucks, in the classroom, in the locker room I hear, “All religions are equal.” Equally right, which means equally wrong, so live it up.

What if there is a third option? What if all of us are wrong, but some of us are less wrong than others?

What if only one person has ever had it 100% right: Jesus. The only human who has ever had a true understanding of reality, of God, or of anything else. Hold on, He was God. The rest of us are finite and screwed-up. But Jesus offered to bring to God any who would follow Him.

Christ saves, not any church, Roman Catholic or otherwise. For some of us, like my best philosopher friends, following Christ means becoming Roman Catholic. For others of us, it means becoming irreverent renegades. Or Baptists.

Different Christian groups, with their different emphases, offer different aspects of the truth about Christ and His teaching: love, grace, the awesomeness of God, the importance of His Word, loving the poor and the oppressed, community, tradition and history, and the reality of how messed-up we are all in this life, etc. If we only turn to our traditions, and not also to their Source, we’ll leave out important aspects of the Truth.

I see in other religions aspects of the truth about God also: the peacefulness of Buddhism; the discipline of Islam; the wild diversity of Hinduism; the restful rituals of Judaism. But I see also important differences. In every case, God is either less of a Person (Buddhism and Hinduism), or less personal (Judaism without Christ; Islam). But do other religions lead to heaven? That is the difficult question facing all Christians today.

I offer a strange possibility which should offend people on both sides of the debate. I think that we’re asking the wrong question. Does any religion lead to heaven? No.

No religion leads to heaven. God leads to heaven. He does so through Christ, but many times the -ianity (or the -ians) gets in the way. Religion — our beliefs, our practices — these are all means to an end: Him. There are many false ways, some in and some outside of Christianity, but only one Shepherd. Many who have correct beliefs, but who did not trust Christ, will be in hell (James 2:19). Is it possible that many who have incorrect beliefs, but who trust Christ, will end up in heaven? I think so, for who among us can claim a 100% understanding of God? I am saved by Who I know, not by what I know. But is it possible to trust Christ without knowing that it’s Christ? I don’t know. But I need to love, listen, speak, and pray as if every moment counts toward that end.

In Praise of Poop

It Happens.  You Might As Well Enjoy It.

Oh, the wonders of poo!  I’m not talking about some bizarre fetish.  I’m talking about pure, simple childish enjoyment of both the product and the process of doin’ the doo.  Maybe you were 2, or 4, or 20, but chances are you used to talk about poop alot and for whatever reason you stopped.  Why?  Okay, so your parents made you.  Is it possible that they were in the wrong?

 Sure, we throw around “crap” and “shit,” with the occasional clinical “fesces,” but those are usually metaphors and exclamations in reference to miscellaneous unpleasant things.  Why?

Poop is amazing.   The sight, the sound, the smell should all be occasion for laughter.  The color, the texture, the mystery.  “I ate that?”  Scripture is silent on such things, but I can’t help but think that poop makes God laugh, too.  Somehow we in our up-tight neo-Victorian embarassment stopped laughing.  We started taking ourselves way more seriously than God ever intended us to.

“I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” (Luke 18:17)  You might not smell like fish and b.o., like the first disciples, but whether you intend to or not, you still smell like poo at various points throughout the day. 

The next time you go, I challenge you to reflect, to ponder the amazingness of the moment, and to give thanks to the unmoved Mover.

And when it is amazing, find someone you love, and tell them about it.

Mmm Mmm God!

Taste the Glory

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.  He said, “Let there be food!”  And there was much food.  And he said, “Let men eat!”  And men ate.  And it was delicious.  It still is.

Few things in life are more amazing than food.  Yet some of us take it for granted, ignoring it, resenting the inconvenience, and avoiding it, even.  Others of us make it an addiction and an obsession.  Still, none of this abrogates the fact that food is good and is one of God’s chief means of expressing His love for us.

When God led His people out of Egypt, He made sure that they first ate  a symbolic but hearty meal, both so that they could prepare for their journey and so that they could repeat it every year to remember their deliverance.  When Jesus was preparing to die, He performed a new version of that same meal, that His disciples might remember their deliverance and their dependence on Him.  When He rose from the dead and the disciples were freaking out and thought He was a ghost, He ate some of their fish.  Later, He appeared to them on the lake shore and, when they were freaking out with excitement, He made them breakfast.  Then He lovingly chastised Peter: “Feed my sheep.”

In Judaism and in Christianity, food is the prime metaphor for our understaning our relationships with God and with each other.  But it is more than that.  It is worship for the senses, the smell and taste of redemption.

God didn’t have to make us to eat.  We could have photosynthesized like plants.  And food didn’t have to taste good.  But it does.  God be praised!

Let us neither forget those who are without food, nor be slow in delivering it to them, for food is our primary means of expressing love to those in need.  God, help us!