Truth and Daring

Every once in a while, I wonder why I named this blog Cloudy Day Writing; invariably, I find myself curled in a chair by a window letting in the cloudy light, and I remember again and again.

Introspection can be a dangerous thing, dangerous like a fire, life-giving and risky. Of late I seem to find the results of my introspection that I haven’t been crazy enough; there are some things that just don’t work if you do them by halves, like jumping off the high dive. Millions of thoughts and ideas and desires and longings tumble through me, creating a strong undertow. . .and so I sit on a rock on the shore and dabble my toes in it.

Some people, I’ve come to realize, want normal. I used to think I wanted normal, in part because I had my own definition of what normal was and in part because of what I saw of wild. Wild and crazy and out of control do not appeal to me, because in unhinging themselves from everything, they seem to loose the value of so much. But safe and secure has a different fear: giving lip service to things you never have to go out on a limb to value.

I think of the Greatest Generation. . .it’s the idea of who these people were and are, I think, more than who they really were or are. In our minds they are heroes; not in the modern sense martyrdom or piety, but in the old-fashioned sense of doing mighty works, of slaying dragons. When we pause to consider the hardships they had to go through, one part of us recoils. How wonderful and terrible that they carried through, and better they than us. The other part aches and longs, because we desire to be found not lacking, and the only way to be found as such is to be tested and tried. Ideally, if we could find the best of both worlds, we would find someway to be heroes without having to actually enter the crucible – to the result that even our children’s movies make commentary about how everyone being special means that no one is.

What is most interesting to me is not that we’re afraid. . .it’s that we don’t even know what we’re afraid of. Safety is its own drug, and like most drugs it’s also an illusion. The thing is that it’s not cured with an addiction to danger, either, and that’s the mystery. That piercing beam of light shoots narrowly down the middle: neither safety nor danger will save you; neither nomadic wandering nor cloistered monastery will save you. Your desire to make life valuable by throwing things away will not be successful; nor will hording treasured possessions give you life.

One of the most strikingly beautiful passages I recall is “For God has placed eternity in the hearts of men.” Hear it groaning? Feel it pulling? What so many of us stumble into is looking for a palatable way to have our souls reforged. I see some older people who seem to have entered some form of peace; I think they look back over their life and they decide that they’re about as forged as they’re going to get in this life and they’re okay with that. The young ones starting out, or the older ones who aren’t happy with their forging? There’s a desperation there, a desperation to find something that will shape them from who they see themselves into the heroes they’ve heard stories about. Like Frog and Toad setting out to be brave, they turn their face with determination toward the world.

But being forged, being in the crucible. . .it’s more about being made than about making oneself. It involves becoming malleable, of allowing oneself to be changed, to stop fighting. Surrender does not sound heroic; fighting does. The odd thing is, when we seek out the lives of those we think we admire, there’s far more laying down than fury. It’s daring precisely because it isn’t safe, putting aside defenses and becoming vulnerable, and we wonder how anyone survives it.

I suppose it’s odd, starting out a thought by saying I’ve been too timid and get to the end and say give up on trying to be in control, but I think that’s where the two thoughts come together: we’re afraid of failure. We imagine that being brave means going out and conquering failure, but I begin to suspect it just means slogging through failure – and that’s where the shaping of character comes. I begin to suspect that the difference between a fool and a wise person isn’t who avoids more failure, but who takes more from the failure.

Failure? Success? And we are back to the discussion of what “normal” is. Normal is partly a myth, of course; but like all bell curves, the idea is that the majority of people can agree on what the majority of people count as success. This is where I find that I don’t want to be normal. Academically, I have finally drifted down into the bell curve, I think. We don’t have strict academic rankings posted for all to see, but I typically am within any posted bell curves. I thought it would be interesting to see what it was like to be normal, but I find that — even if I am now in the company of those who can challenge me academically — I’m not normal, and I don’t want to be normal. Their ideas of dreams and their idea of success don’t run with mine. I can’t say, “yeah, me too” when they talk about what they want after graduating. And yet when people ask me what comes after graduating, I daren’t answer, even to myself.

That in itself is a telling response, don’t you think?

Appetizer

Lutheran Church

Pros:
- Pastor actually knew everyone in the church (greeted people personally) and welcomed you without implication (that you would or should be there ever after). Followed up with email WHEN WARRANTED (e.g. no “form letter” just because you showed up, but when I shared difficulties I was having, he followed up on them through the following weeks).
- Bible study wasn’t scripted (no “answer these questions” forms), and the pastor demonstrated quite a bit of respect for what was said. He did try to gently guide back people who were trying to bring something into the text that just wasn’t there, but especially seemed to have a lot of respect for the older/more mature members.
- Holy reverence would be a word I wold feel comfortable using to describe this setting.

Cons:
– Terrible exegesis. I wish I could say something more constructive than this, but it just often seemed if the thoughts presented were only very tangentially related to the Scripture at hand, and often times seemed to miss the point of the passage entirely.
- Pew warmers. Almost entirely elderly people, and for the most part everyone showed up at that last minute and left in a hurry. There was little to no opportunity to gather with people outside of the service.
- Party-liner’s. These people weren’t “Christians” they were “Lutherans”. It was unsettling at times.

Notable moments:
- The pastor asking an infant child if it renounced all the ways of the Devil. Derrrr. . . I struggle with all views of infant baptism, but I really didn’t get the point of pretending to ask a writhing infant if it would declare a renunciation of all the ways of the evil one.
- Speaking during Bible study about something I thought was going on in the text and having an elderly member of the church whirl around with pointed finger and declare, “Now THAT is some excellent Lutheran theology!” There were quite a few very intelligent, well-studied/educated gentlemen there, who I miss, but I never was making a Lutheran point and I never was prepared to be congratulated on it.
- When the pastor realized I wasn’t showing up (and hadn’t mentioned going home, etc) he sent a very nice follow up email, just letting me know that I was missed and that he hoped nothing more disastrous had come upon me (it had been a very disastrous Summer; he had right to be worried). I explained I was troubled by some of the persistent Lutheran beliefs, and he simply offered that if I wanted to, he’d be glad to meet with me and discuss them. I never took him up on it, but I find I regret it.

Baptist church:

Pros:
- much better exegesis, e.g. recognizing the centrality of Christ throughout the entire Bible.
- much more diverse congregation, and many more opportunities to gather besides Sunday service.

Cons:
- FEAR. GUILT. SHAME. FEAR. GUILT. If nothing else, you should repent of not feeling ashamed enough. All interactions with people should be based out of FEAR they might not get to heaven.
- Canned gatherings. When you meet, you need a church approved agenda. Your homegroup leaders will be reporting back to leadership.
- Face. Let’s keep it all looking good. Including with neat little shows of “humility”. Everyone should be involved in everything. Heaven help us if the sinners don’t see us being joyful enough. I began to feel that God got a lot of lip service but began to doubt how hallowed He was.
- Pride and false humility. It is at times subtle, but pervades everything. The church is run like a business, with leaders being personally invested in the success riding on them and their name. It needs to be ever expanding. References to authority are not to “Luther” but rather to “the pulpit.”
- An emphasis on the “gospel” that leaves the “church” in the cold. I met so many people who said they’d been going to that church for over 5 years and still didn’t know most people; meantime, we are “church planting” on the other side of the world.
- Money. It requires frequent mentioning from the pulpit. Everyone should be giving sacrificially, and more sacrificially. It is part of the constitution. If you become a member, you have to agree to give regularly, reliably and sacrificially.

Notable Moments:
- I went the Lutheran church for about 2 months. The pastor, I am confident will still remember me. I have attended the Baptist church for over 6 months. I’ve never actually met the ring-leader. Although I suspect he has heard several reports on me.
- The conversation in which the homegroup leader asked me what I thought about church going, now that I was. I answered honestly that I thought there was a problem with any arrangement which didn’t allow for members of the body to be ministering to one another, and that it was boring and meaningless to just show up, shut up, and sit down. He said that I was right, but that in order to support the mission, the church had to get bigger–and still must get bigger yet!–and logistically, there was just no way to have meaningful interactions with such a large group. He then tried to convince me I just needed to get more involved with scripted activities and “serving”.
- The financial meeting in which the ring-leader said that the churches main responsibility was first the church and then to the unsaved, and the preceded to cut funding to anyone who wasn’t on board enough with saving sinners.
- Watching a women attempt to share a concern for THREE WEEKS in a row, but being sidelined every week because there “wasn’t enough time”–there needing to be time for the pastor to read the announcements of “ministry” happenings, and lecture us all ad nauseam of the subject of his choosing. (Her son had a concussion from which he was not recovering well from.)
- The hands and feet of homegroup: people were there when I needed prayers, there when I needed to talk, there to feed me meals and send me home with leftovers, there to help me with car problems, there to invite me over at times when I should be with family that was too far away. How I needed that – and how sad when I realized it wasn’t ever getting any deeper than that, and that I felt more comfortable discussing spiritual matters with friends who had no professed religion than I did with homegroup, who’s thoughts were not their own.

Methodist Church:

Only went once, so only some off the cuff observations:
– Like the Lutheran Church, it is a very peaceful sit-through. This was a smaller gathering, and the church was older (it was a good deal scenic), but like the Lutheran Church, it was full of grey heads and not much else. This perplexes me. I would think if you didn’t really care, you would want to show up some place pleasant that doesn’t make your head hurt, but of which the Lutheran and Methodist Churches were and the Baptist Church decidedly was not (plus, the Baptist service is at least a full twice as long).
- Because it was such a small gathering, literally anyone and EVERYone who wanted to add prayers to the congregation could and did. The pastor would repeat them aloud so that everyone could hear the request or praise, and then say, “Lord in your mercy–” and the congregation “hear our prayers.” I really liked that part of it. It was a good way to share prayer with a large gathering. (And much better than listening to someone go on long-windedly and still managing to tie in guilt and fear and shame and pride.)
-Exegesis was still pretty mediocre, but that was one sermon, so it’s hard to know. At least he got to his point quickly.
-Apparently (e.g. everyone else knows this but only now do I), most “high” churches are “in communion” which they use to mean, among other things, that everyone uses the same “lectionary” or system of readings from the bible. The more “higher” you are, the more special circumstance you need to deviate from the pre-chosen text; in the Episcopal Church, you need the Bishop’s approval. In the Methodist church, you can choose to follow it or not, but usually do. I can’t help but wonder if this part of the reason why so far every “high” sermon I’ve heard has been very superficial and flat – following a script of readings can be limiting.

Episcopal Church:

Again, only went once, so just some brief thoughts.

-Life is a play, and everyone played their part. Granted, it was an Easter service, but the pomp, ritual and ceremony was so grand to the point it was hard to take it serious. At least for me. It was like a caricature, making you want to giggle; or, if you took it seriously, creepy. Very tall Bishop with his very tall hat, and even taller and more majestic shepherds crook which is obviously beyond the symbolic and into “likely has hidden powers.” Lots of singing in Latin, and even though it was a modern concrete structure, they’d done the architecture right to get that echo-y church sound.
-It was neat that they were explicit in their programs that kids were free to wander. There was no expectation that the kids should get shipped away, nor that little kids were expected to be statues for the entire time.
- The Choir Master clearly loved his job, and loved leading us in a round – truly, a round with over lapping parts – of joy and thanksgiving. In Latin.
- When communion was handed out, everyone gathered at the front loosely, and the people handing out the elements circulated around. I liked this arrangement better than the Lutheran “come up and kneel while I hand it to you” and even more than the Baptist “let’s all sit twiddling our thumbs while we pass everything through the whole seated congregation.” Granted, we would have been twiddling our thumbs while the people passed out the elements to the gathered people, but, hey, if you were bored, you could sing the Latin refrain.
- The sermon was lame. Truly. If this is what passes for leading the flock, you can understand why it seems like anyone and everyone should be allowed to teach and lead. Nothin’ to it. Say a few words. Try to look holy. Remember to look up a lot.

Some over all thoughts:

- Passion does not equal truth. I think the people at the Baptist church were more passionate (maybe that’s what brought people there, not the long service times and the moral to be fearful and ashamed?). I got the feeling that a lot of people liked the feeling of always being busy with church things, that by their activity and emotion they were “doing something” about it and were more real and true and RIGHT. It is said, though, not that we will be known by our emotion or activity, but by our fruit. To which I am sure at the Baptist church I would be pointed to head-count and church-plants as evidence of said fruit, but it no where says, “by your head-count they will know I am among you.” Far from it.

- The Episcopal church was one of the places my landlady had me take her while she was unable to drive. Sometimes she and I talk about spiritual or religious things. One of our differences is that community is VERY important to me, but she feels the opposite. She doesn’t need a community. She says she just needs a place to come in holy reverence. We’re both introverts, and to a certain extent, I understand what she means. We don’t need people, people, people. But the difference is, I don’t need to go to a structure with a figure up in the front to feel like I’m satisfying being in the presence of God. (I am hesitant to write how she feels, since our conversations are often all over the place and not delving too deeply in a certain area.) When I am coming to a church, it’s not because I need or want the administration of a religion; it’s because I want to find other people who are seeking and worshiping God, and to have fellowship with them. It doesn’t mean I want to be doing it every day of the week, morning and evening, because I am and introvert, and I am wearied by people, people, people. All of these endless “ministry” gatherings just make me want to cry. I’m interested in the people and God, not doing “churchy” things and listening to endless strings of speakers and spiritual small talk of how we can notice God more by making craft boards we write things down on. And I’m not really interested in pomp and circumstance, although if you made me choose, I’d pick the solemnity of the Lutheran and Methodist settings over the self-righteous and false-humility I see in the Baptist setting.

- I feel like I have a better understanding of how people get pulled into cults and some of the reasons why people find religion and churches to be creepy. People say all of these nice things and do all of these nice things, and maybe you don’t have anyone else in your life who is doing nice things or saying nice things to you. At the end of it all, though, most people seem ungenuine, and you start feeling more and more like you’re someone’s project. But you want to make it work, and who else do you have? I don’t feel like that is my position, but I feel like it so easily could have been me, had my situation be just a little different.

- I am not done looking/visiting/going to churches, but I feel like I have been reminded that in many ways, this is an academic/experiential activity. I’m not likely to find what I’m really looking for in established churches, any more than one is likely to find a good hearty meal in a pastry shop. I may find other individual Christians I can grow with, but not any institution, and I would do well to remember that.

– “home church” or “non-denominational” is in no way a sign that things are better. Every “non-denominational” I’ve looked into so far is hardly related to the original word “Christian.” Someone who was well intention added me to a “home church” group on Facebook, which has been hair-raising. I’ve been watching things go past in the spirit of academic awareness, but if all I knew about home gatherings was what I saw there, I would run far, far away and never come back. I expect to be removing myself from that group shortly.

- There has been a massive logical fallacy committed on a huge scale that since “church” in the NT usually refers to a “local gathering”, you need to pick a church and stick with it. I think the point was that you are in fellowship with the people who were around you, since the only way to discuss a more global church was by these long letters called epistles or by hazardous and unreliable travel plans. Considering that sectarianism was explicitly condemned, using the call for “local gathering” to justify why you need to consistently gather at one of the 20+ power-struggling denominational gatherings is beyond absurd. It’s also an absurd fallacy to assume that since we are told not to forsake gathering together, there must be something magical about sitting silently in pews saying nothing together for hours on end. Besides the end of the verse (and the previous verse and THE WHOLE DARN BOOK) that implies there is more about it than just existing in the same physical space, there is also the reminder that “wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there I am also.” The point is not where the gathering is, who is “in charge of” the gathering, or how perfunctorily the gathering is attended. The point is not forsaking one another. And to my understanding, sitting coldly in a pew listening to one man talk counts as forsaking one another.

I am always a bit hesitant to post these sorts of things, as since they can be deeply touchy and personal subjects, an off-the-cuff handling of them can lead to a lot of misunderstandings. Still, I need a place to think about and consider these things, and right now. . .I’ve yet to find local people I can do that with.

losing, lost and looking

“Not all who wander are lost. . .”

I was rather surprised when this quote went viral, showing up on everything from t-shirts to decorative couch pillows to almost anything else you could think of. It’s been interesting reflecting on it; at first they included the line, “all that is gold does not glitter”, but they lost that in a hurry. I guess people liked the defiance in “not all who wander are lost” but were much less interested in “the old that is strong does not wither” or “deep roots are not reached by the frost.”

Like most of Tolkien’s writing, the original poem was full of much weariness, much longing, and the real complexity of “bittersweet” that has now been so overused on extravagant chocolate desserts that the word has begun to lose the depths of real heartache mingled with true joy. By snipping out that one little line, they’ve lost so much; what remains is a superficial arrogance. What was a mourning has been turned into an anthem.

Becoming one that wanders, while not being lost, is not really a goal. The point isn’t that you want to be a loner, distancing yourself from others, thinking yourself above, different, better than. It’s really a lament. Not being lost, yet still having to wander.

From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.

It’s not the goal, and it’s not pleasant. It’s something to be endured until the fullness, and in the meantime, it’s lonely. And it might be pleasant to not be wandering alone, but “all that is gold does not glitter.” People aren’t really attracted to just being lonely and pining for things being restored. They want to get comfortable–and by comfortable, I don’t necessarily mean no hardship. I just mean a certain level of predictability, certain levels of challenge, certain levels of control and choice.

When you come along beside someone, metaphorically, and say, “Come, let us walk this journey together!” and they respond by saying, “Journey? My butt is planted right here; if you need help figuring out how to sit down, I’ll teach you,” well, there can be little doubt there is not much in the way of fellowship. I think it is the rejection of fellowship that hurts worse than the traveling in different directions.

I realize this is all rather vague, and I don’t mean to be obtuse. It’s just that I am wary to pinning it all down on one circumstance, when I see echos of it through all of life. When we’re kids and no one wants to play hide-and-go-seek with us, it’s not that we had a dire need to play hide-and-go-seek.The desire was the togetherness. Debates that turn into debates are unfulfilling, because unless there actually is a desire to come together, in fondness if not in agreement, there is no accomplishment. Being right in a context devoid of relationship is pointless.

To wander is to admit there is no place to sit down and be settled, at least for now. To say that you are not lost, however, is to say that you know that it is meaningful to keep searching and waiting and looking and knocking and asking and longing. It is not at all about spurning others; but not everyone wants to wander. It doesn’t glitter. And to endure the wandering, there must be deep roots. The greatest joy is not in wandering, but only in knowing that one day, we will be reforged.

Sublime

I never knew, before my Chemistry classes, that when the snow turns immediately to fog the reaction is referred to as “subliming.” Solid to vapor, forgoing the liquid state. But it seems so poetically perfect, and I relish it. I’ve always enjoyed the snow so determined to leave that ascends instead of descending; loved the dramatic clouds rising to shroud the black of the bark against the white of the snow. Now when I see it, I also think, “sublime,” and smile.

Priceless or worthless. . .?

It seems nearly every year, the price for keeping dibs on this domain goes up. And every year, I wonder if it is worth spending money on a notebook I so rarely use.

He Causes the Rain to Come

There is something very refreshing about being out in the elements. Not staying out there, mind–but tasting of all those things we’re presumed to want to keep ourselves safe from–out in the night, out in the rain, out in the snow, out in the wind and the cold.

If you find yourself smiling and nodding as you read, it should be no surprise to find that the opposite is also true: it is very sapping and draining to live in too sterile and fake an environment.

I hate the carpet in my bedroom–loathe it. It feels like rough plastic under my feet. I would tear it up in an instant if it were my house; I’d try to talk my landowner into tearing it up, if I thought there was anything under it than chipboard. Instead, I skitter from the bed to the bathroom with my subconscious muttering, “ick, ick, ick” the whole way. I walk the dog barefoot, sometimes, on the asphalt loop–that’s rough, and sometimes pointy, and always rubs tar off on my feet. It still feels more interesting and honest.

The hard things and the raw things and the honest things. . .and the sad thing is, it seems those are the things society most expects and encourages us to run from and hide from and cover up.

I feel out of place and alien in my condo-upper-bedroom. My feet, used to being dew-drenched in the dirt of the garden, rebel against the “sturdy” carpet. But my soul does, too, in a way. I tell myself that I’m going to be here a while, and I should get settled in. Make things homey, bloom where I’m planted, all that jazz. But the truth is, I don’t want to make this place home. It’s a good box to park in while I go to school, but the place is sterile, and it’s hard to get any real life in it.

I feel like an ingrate. A roof, a bed, a kitchen beyond any right. Trees. Crickets. Stars out the window, sometimes, even. But mostly I wander around and wonder what possesses people to be willing to settle for this–complicit, almost. A place of shelter for a transient time of life, while you grasp for something better, yes. A place where you just stay put? With the plastic, rope-like carpet and the dearth of windows, and the back-filled sand that you can’t really grow anything in?

For six weeks, I wanted to labor hard on something, but there was nothing to labor on. Someone comes and does the lawn work. Someone even comes and cleans the house. You can’t really take care of something you don’t own but this, too, is supposed to be okay–more than okay. When I came back home, I worked until every muscle in my body was sore. The delayed onset meant it woke me up in the middle of the night, and I was surprised by the rush of gratitude. Being protected from hard labor is another mark of civilization, I guess, but it’s a kind of death, like not ever being able to feel the rain running down your head. Cloistered. Almost claustrophobic.

The most curious thing of all to me is how it seems so many don’t even notice. It’s like hearing music and commenting on its haunting beauty, only to discover no one else hears it. Why would they follow what they could not hear? You poor, numb creatures. It is so very similar to one of my classmates extolling the virtues and wonders of frozen pizza–and I truly, truly pitied her. I made her come and eat real pizza, made in the kitchen I don’t deserve to occupy, and afterward she thanked me for ruining frozen pizza for her and I told her she was quite welcome and it was a real pleasure.

Somewhere along the line, people heard that it was bad for you to stand out in the rain. And to work hard until you were sore all over. That sweat was nasty, and so was dirt, and that carpets were good, and on the whole of it, it all makes me feel very, very sad. You sorry lost chickens, if someone offered you the garden of Eden, you wouldn’t know its worth. And I’m going to leave you in your blindness and deafness, because I am not going to spend the rest of my life in a frozen-pizza-cardboard-box of an existence. For the temporary, yes, but you know I’m plotting to leave you as soon as I can. And I won’t look back, my dears, I will not be looking back.

Watch

This is a biased, bigoted assumption, but I think the last person using this public microwave was a guy. There is rice dumped all over the inside of it. Curiously, it’s all over the table I wanted to sit at, too. I take the glass platter out of the microwave and sweep the rest of the rice onto it and empty it into the trash. When I put the platter back, I used my cleaning napkin to pick up the piece of chicken sitting by the microwave, too. Then I wipe the table of it’s rice, too, while my food heats. Why not? I’m on a roll.

There is a game I play with myself sometimes. If I were to have to survive off of the sustenance of vending machines, what would I eat? Trail mix. That popcorn is probably okay. Pretzels are safe, but pretty void of nutrition; that jerky claims to have protein but looks anything but safe. At least there is still water. Actually, there is water, and orange juice and grapefruit juice and V8 juice and milk–2% and whole. This is the sign of a first world, isn’t it? Clean water and milk from every handy machine. I don’t think it gets bought here much, though.

There is a guy over there, demonstrating his own survival skills. The machine won’t take his money. He folds his bill, smooths it, flips it around. Nothing. Won’t take it. He isn’t thwarted. He finds another machine that will accept it, and buys a pack of gum. The machine spits him back quarter after quarter. He won’t put weight on his left foot; something hurts him. I wonder what. Now he’s using his quarters to buy hot coffee syrup and water.

I have some survival skills, too. Like where the cleanest bathrooms are at. Never use the ground floors; top floor or basement. No one wants to deal with all those stairs. I left my knapsack unattended today, while I did three flights of stairs. Because I trust people. My knapsack is like, more than 30 pounds. No one wants to be bothered with that kind of work. Not here.

He speaks slowly, almost slurring his words. About how he has to play Candy Crush every day. But he started over. “Because. . .there was a level. . .that I got stuck on. . .soo. . .it was, like. . .boring. . .and stuff. . .so I started over.” I wish I could believe he was drugged or something. Developmentally disabled. He doesn’t look it. And this is not unusual behavior.

Everyone is bent. Huddled over devices. Little ones, tiny screens. Or bent over desks too low, or slumped in chairs. I scan. . .no eye contact, from anyone. What are we afraid of?

There’s this walk I keep seeing, a shuffle-slump-swagger. The head is still up, but the neck is forward, the shoulders are collapsed. The feet are careless, but the steps are guarded. Always the same expression on the face–”yeah, I could probably take you”–but the smirk doesn’t make it all the way across the face. One side always falters, exposing the doubt.

I see the scissor cuts in her jeans. To make them look worn. I guess maybe it takes too long get there naturally. Maybe she gets bored of them before then. She has studs all over her boots. And all over her knit cap. I’ve never seen a knit cap with studs before. I wonder if it’s meant to be ironic, or if there’s something I’m missing.

When we stop at the light, there is such a stream of cars. All the people hurry-scury-ing about, going their places, doing their things. I wonder if all the people are happy?

Marana tha

The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going. . .

The sky is a steely, depressing grey and I remember why I named this blog what I did. So often the cover of clouds make me stare out the window and grasp to find the words to explain what is–almost as though, without sunlight or happenings to distract, all that really remains are the thoughts inside of me.

There is an aching and a pining that goes along with listening to the wind. I don’t know if it is from a desire to know where the wind is coming from and going to, or from a longing to have the wind blowing always, or maybe even just wishing it was more tangible and holdable than it is.

I feel like the wind is blowing now, and like all creation I turn into the wind, trying to smell what the wind carries on it. There is movement, but what does it mean? I can’t make it happen sooner, or more slowly; I cannot control it. I cannot pretend it doesn’t exist, but I cannot pretend to fully comprehend it either.

Don’t you know that curious joy? When a storm is blowing in, and you are standing out in that pulling, pushing, pulsing wind–and you can’t stop grinning like an idiot, even though you don’t know why? It’s exciting–and kind of scary–and silly–and wonderful–and fleeting–and imprinted inside of you–and has nothing to do with anything and is the most important thing that’s happened all week.

Sometimes I feel swept along, gasping and out of control. Sometimes I feel impatient, waiting for the next gust. Sometimes, like today, I feel like I can hear the howling in the trees. It is coming, I can hear it. But where is it coming from? Where is it going to? How much of what I hear is my own echo, leaving my mouth and then bouncing back to me like new words? Or is it the fore-runners of the wind, telling me were to stand so my wings will be filled?

There is a long and a hungering for more, and that’s good and true and right and will never be satiated in this life. The tension between those two things drives me crazy sometimes. I want resolution. I want to work toward resolution. What can I do to make this happen? But the wind comes and goes without any clear beginning or end, with a direction that seems always to shift.

Am I ready for the storm? No. Goodness, no. I never will be, but I want it to come, anyway. Come, Lord Jesus.

The Artist

“T.T., I want to talk to you about something.”

I stop in my tracks and turn around. This happened maybe 4 years ago now, but I still remember this part clearly. It’s the secretary at work, who I’ve always gotten along with very well–and yet she sounds concerned. Maybe even upset.

“I keep hearing you tell people that you’re just an aide. You’re not ‘just’ an aide! You’re not ‘just’ anything. . .”

I don’t remember how she finished her thought. Something about me being valuable or something. I don’t remember how I responded; I think maybe I kind of laughed it off, at least in my attitude. The conversation niggled in and stuck in my craw, but the point–I told the niggling thought–was that patients were asking me clinical questions, and I was appropriately clarifying that I wasn’t a clinician: I was “just an aide.” Why was the conversation getting stuck in my head, then? Because–I knew she was right. I knew I said Just all the time about myself. I knew she was picking up on my attitude. I belittle my role, and she was right to call me out on it.

And now, 4 years later, God is reminding me I wasn’t listening hard enough, as Emily P. Freeman says almost the exact same thing, word for word. I was so startled to find Emily’s writing because it so neatly coincided with my own (I thought) private world of thoughts. One of the things I was thinking about this summer was art: about how my actions showed that I devalued it–threw it out the door in favor of “responsibilities” and “duty” and “things that had to be done.” Now, my mind was being prodded into remembering another facet of who God was: The Creator. The Artist.

In my mind, responsibility and duty superseded art. But was this God’s construct, or mine? Was God more concerned that I finished my homework than engage in creative endeavors? Was God more worried about the unswept floor than the rich form of expression we call “art”? I found that it was my construct. What I was worried about. What I was afraid of. I found that in creating, I better understood God. I would look at my art, my unique and peculiar expression, and feel so fondly about it–and in a moment that comes suddenly but lasts longer than the clock would claim, I understand God looking fondly on His creation. I found that God had a joy in creating, a joy which He was pleased to have us share in.

I dismissed art, because it was fun. It was pleasurable. Therefore, somehow, it must take second fiddle to the things which are odious, burdensome. Work before play, right? It seemed so virtuous. But God made fleeting lilies of the field, Just to be beautiful. Just to be Art. What I thought was important was not necessarily what God thought was important. What I thought I had to do was not necessarily what God wanted to do through me.

Emily writes about living art. Emily writes about turning everything you do into art. Emily writes about acknowledging art–and about not sticking a “Just” in front of it. Emily and I, I think, are talking about the same thing, even if we are finding different words for talking about it.

We are art, because we are the creation of The Artist. And that means we are not “Just” anything. You can try to cram that “Just” in there somehow, but if you ask me, “we’re Just made in the image of the Living and Holy God” sounds like a pretty lame use of the word “just.”

But somehow, we think we can. We think we can say that our declared list of things to do is more important than responding to reverberating Voice within us that says “Create!” We think we can use the word “Just” to refer to ourselves, somehow forgetting that what we are really doing is using the word “just” on the handiwork and design of God, the Alpha and Omega.

And I am sitting quietly under this rebuke, because I have been again speaking “just” over myself. But in the quietness that remains, there is now room for hope to grow. I am not, my situation is not, life is not Just. And I do not have to labor or work hard over being “Not-Just.” I am Not-Just because of the One who created me, and continues to pour through me His vision and His delight. I don’t need to make sure that I’m being properly and dutifully Not-Just in whatever role I’m in; I need to quietly sit back and recognize that I am Not-Just in those roles because He is the one who called me to those roles, to show a reflection of Himself through the expression of putting me where I am. I need to delight in what He is pouring through me, not think that I have right to dismiss my existence as Just.

One of the problems I had transition from work back to being in school was the Just. When I was working as a physical therapist assistant, I could see, I felt, so much more clearly, how God was using me. He was using me to pour out His healing, His comfort, His expression of love on His creations. But when I went back to school, I became “Just a student.” What was the point? What was I doing? What was I accomplishing? In effect, I was promoting the opinion that God had no use for students. In effect, I was saying that God could make anything beautiful out of academia. In effect, I was saying that since I had declared the whole system a farce, God must not care about any of it or any one in it, either. I was declaring it all a waste of time to be Just a student, and then despondently asking God why He had called me to such a worthless position.

But God did not call me to be Just a student–and indeed, I cannot be Just a student, even if I wanted to be, with God pouring out His own idea of how He would choose to express Himself through a student–and not even “a” student–through me. He could use any student; He chose me, knowing how He created me and how He would use me. And He was busy making me Not-Just a student, whether I was going to open my eyes to that fact or not.

This is a curious thing, because it means, among other things, that it’s not about you. Trust me, I have plenty of prayers about what I think, what I want, what I need. What I think I want or need. But God didn’t make only me, and, even curiouser, I am not the only person on the campus, either. So self-absorbed I can easily become, that it seems quite odd that God could have sent me where He did, when He did, not because of me. I could have the teacher I have, not because I need the teacher, but because the teacher needs me as a student.

One might think this idea could have crossed my mind before–or at the very least, that I would not be so caught off guard by it. No; it is a testament to my narrow-mindedness that I have been much more busy thinking “Dear God, please have mercy on me in the teachers that you send my way” instead of recognizing that there could be teachers He is having mercy on.

Those who know how very frustrated I can and do get with certain teachers are probably thinking that my teachers do need prayers for mercy shown them; well, I don’t blame you (that is another can of words, my friends, and a topic not to be addressed at already 10pm and 13,000 words. A little focus is needed, here). What I have been struck with in the last few weeks, though, is the utter discouragement of my physics professor. He seems to have such a desire to teach and to be making such an effort to teach–and it is seeming to be so lacking in effecaciousness and so utterly vain. His posture, his voice, his expression–all of it speaks of being so weary of fighting this battle.

I have seen it all change, in flashes, in bits and pieces, glimpses here and there that go by so quickly that it only increases the wonder of having seen it at all. Did you see what you thought you saw? That flash of light across the heavens? It was unmistakable, what you saw, but it’s gone already. I haven’t been often able to put into words what it is that I see, and yet it lodges within me like the words of my co-worker 4 years ago. I wasn’t sure what what it was, when he said of course he remembered me. I was totally caught off guard by the evident relief and–was it pride?–in his voice when he said that my exam was the last one he’d gotten in his hands, but the first one he’d graded–and that I’d done quite well.

I kept trying to find the words for it, and I would draw up blank, set the matter aside–and then come back to it again. It wasn’t until last Friday that I finally realized what I was seeing. I told him that I’d taken him up on his recommendation to be a tutor for one of his other classes with many struggling students, and now–there was more of a spring in his step, he was standing a little straighter, his eyes were a little brighter, there was more of smile on his face. He had the demeanor of a man who’s had a weight lifted off his shoulders, and the realization was so sudden I lost my train of thought and had to start my sentence over. This teacher is nearly at the end of his rope.

That seemed so much like the role of a student, not the teacher–but then, when had I considered what it was like to try to reach row after blank row of students? It never occurred to me that God could look down and say, “Oh, teacher, you need the encouragement of a student who actually wants to learn. I will send one.” Not Just a student; the one He sent. Or say, “Oh, teacher, you need someone to help you bridge the chasm between you and your students who say, ‘you can tell he wants to help you learn and that he’s trying to help you and trying to be accommodating, but he can’t explain things to you, because he’s just too smart!’” That’s what she said, when she came to me for help on Friday, and I laughed, only because I could see the picture so clearly in my minds eye. Her, floundering, overwhelmed; him, aware she was drowning but struggling to find any possible way to make it any simpler than he already had. Both of them, frustrated.

It’s a rather odd sensation when you realize that while you’ve been preoccupied about one thing, God has been merrily going about something else in a steady sort of a way without you ever realizing. It makes you just a tad more aware of how unaware you are. I certainly did not return to school with the intent of finding professors to help; indeed, the idea never crossed my mind. But I walked off of campus on Friday thinking, with some wonder, that I really am not Just a student. Not because of me, but because God has been busy scheming things I didn’t know needed to be schemed. I was looking for work, not art. He was saying they were one and the same, and He had every intention of making something beautiful here. The “just-ness” that I was clinging too was dissipating in the face of design of God, who created rocks and trees and me; who set course for the water, the path of flight for the birds, and me, here. It could not be “Just” when it was God who ordained it.

I can neither dismiss the work of The Artist, nor undo it. If I stop and consider, I may catch of a glimpse of the colors He is painting out through me, and in that is joy. And hope. And beauty.

The Making Of The World

Sometimes, when I get to thinking, I think about the making of the world. Of what’s under the hood and what can be designed and planned for and what can’t.

Like planning cities, for example. It sounds so very interesting, and then it makes my head hurt too badly, and I have to stop thinking about it. As a little aside at the end of the last class, my physics teacher threw something out there about a Mexico City earthquake and how the mid-range height buildings (like hospitals) were completely devastated, worse than the tallest buildings or the shortest buildings; he explained the physical reason behind it (which made my head hurt), but mostly cautioned that you have to plan about these things. How confounding. So many things to plan for.

I categorize peoples’ styles. I step into their house or apartment, and I take a visual snapshot of the inside of their head. I look around my living space and wonder if I’m representing who I am, and if I’m not, what should I do instead? We build ourselves by accident, mostly. I walk through stores, and I look for people. Abby needs that mug; Marianne would love that clock. The cake platter would be in my kitchen, if I had my own kitchen. I don’t see things, because things break and wear out. I see stories, and pictures of homes, growing up around objects.

We talk about technology, and what is changing and what is not. I say technology is just a tool to get you where you want to go; and then people ask me where I want to go. It’s a good question, but I don’t see where it could take me that I want to go. I want to work with my hands. I want feel things–sound deep inside my chest, taste every ingredient in my food, colors without the luminous glow of a screen. Technology can do my laundry, maybe.

I think about genres, about scenes and setting throughout time. Some people decide they don’t like the scene and setting they’re in, and they mimic a different one–a different time, a different style. Why? What do they not like about their current setting that they think they’ve found a solution to in their pretend world? If I made an alter ego, who would she be and why?

I hear a lot of people say we need to live more simply, or it was a more simple time. I wonder what they think changed, or what feels complicated to them–but I know what they mean, too, when I make simple food. It’s more satisfying. But what would you get rid of, to make it simple? I heard another story–I’m sure there are many–of a woman who sold almost all of her belongings and spent a year living out of her car, driving around the nation. She wanted to see what she really needed, I guess. I’m no good at playing those games, because there’s so little you really need. What would you want the most to keep with you is a different question than what you need.

Somebody else talked about how in his writing class, he makes everyone go through their pockets and bags and wallets, or if they’re so horrible as to not carry things around with them, their memories of the things they have on windowsills and desks. Then he makes them choose the most irreplaceable thing, and write about it and what it means to them. I thought about it briefly and felt very odd that I couldn’t answer it. I don’t carry anything around with me, except for replaceable things. The irreplaceable things–family photos, projects I spent years working on–can’t be carried with me. If you got rid of those things and I never knew it, would I notice? So many things tucked away for safe keeping; but it is it bad I don’t have meaning in the small things?

I went down for an almost week long trip, and I took a plane. I packed everything in a carry on bag and an over-head piece of luggage. It was plenty livable; I would miss having my own kitchen and my own bed, and if I was going to do it for long, I would have to find some way of bringing along my creativity. My sewing machine and my keyboard were investments for me that I hoped would last me a huge portion of my life. I paid more for my car, of course, and it will need to be replaced sooner.

I’ve started a stone wall out by my garden. I love stone walls. I don’t know how meaningful that stone wall will be for me, but I need to build it, so I can build other stone walls–more and more. I need to put making stone walls inside of me, so I can always make them wherever I go. I feel sad when I see good architecture, old architecture–falling away to time. Who will make the beautiful things now? Are we loosing them all? How do you make beautiful things? I want to make the beautiful things that people want to hold onto.

Staring around my grandmothers house, I see her hand everywhere. I don’t agree with her style or her taste, but I see her hands. I think about houses, and I wonder how many people live in them, and I wonder what that means. What is living? Is it worth the time it takes to have your fingerprints on everything? If you’re living, will you have something meaningful crammed into your purse? Someone once said that she always carried around a little bottle of bubble soap in her purse, to blow bubbles with. I loved the whimsy of that; I almost wanted to go out and buy bubbles for my purse. But I would never use them, and I know that, and it makes me kind of sad. I put band-aids and safety pins in my purse, but I never use them, either. Just my wallet, phone and keys, mostly. And a pen and a piece of paper and a small tape measure.

There’s a tree that’s fallen down, just across the road, and I wonder why. God started a tree and then smote it. He destroyed the Moabites, and it grieved Him. He loves His creation, even the tree that fell across the road. The world and the history it contains–He planned it all. All of it. He created a hole in this history and creation shaped just like me, and made me to fill it, and I don’t understand that, either, any more than the tree.

In our makings and shapings, we do reveal ourselves and what we value. God did, too, and we’re a testimony to his presence as much as the fake flower wrapped around my grandmother’s curtains reveals her. Sometimes it seems like an impossible burden; how could God ever be reflected in me? The only answer I’ve found so far is to delight in His creative vision, in the hole in history He shaped for me.

To stop walking by when the old lady by the side of the road wants to talk. To wear striped shoes, and to sit in front of the physics class, making eye contact with the teacher and trying to understand. To paint bad paintings and take pictures of broccoli. To let a duckling hide in my hair, and to sing songs about the Moon River, and to drink water out of a glass pitcher. To paint my bedroom green and the bathroom yellow and forget to make my bed. To write, even when no one is listening, and smile at the people who walk by you in the library, even when you don’t know them. To feel silent and invisible and to leave your mark on every thing you touch.

“We are, we are the visible invisible
We are the flesh and bone
Of Your redeeming love
We are, we are Your kingdom unshakeable
Jesus Christ alive in us
The visible invisible. . .”

More Than Rubies, Visible Invisible.