Friday, July 20, 2007

Among Other Good Things

"Life is difficult" are the first three words in M. Scott Peck's book, The Road Less Traveled. That is the angst and essence of Douglas Coupland's book, Life After God. That is the silence between the clanging of the guitars in Adam Duritz's songs. And that is the blaring and recurring phrase in Ecclesiastes. Yet, though life is difficult it is also mysterious, wonderful, beautiful. I am reminded of this as I watch my garden grow, my little girl wrap her tiny fingers around an object on purpose for the first time, or when I contemplate that we are god-like in our capacities (created in the image of God) and yet are mortal. We are capable of such artistry seen in architecture and fine art and yet eat other animals and tear their flesh with our teeth after heating them with invisible fire in our kitchen. We are the only animals that are aware that the world will continue without us when we die and perhaps that is the what all our heartache and longing is about. Maybe that is why life is difficult--life is so short and death so long that it frustrates us that we should experience hurt during such a short stint.

I think that I agree with the apostle/pastor/church planter and believer, Paul, when he talks to a church in Colossae--that thankfulness can pull a disparate group of individuals out of their self-defeating (a group defeating), cynical thinking and push them toward unity that is found in Christ Jesus. That's an extremely long sentence and I'm sure that my editor, if I had one, would send it back to me with a lot of markings. However, the point stands, thankfulness is good for the soul--the soul of the person and the soul of the church. I'm not talking about the superficial way that we often go about it--How ya doin? Well, can't complain. I mean, I could, but what good would it do? Or: How ya doin? Pretty good all things considered. Or the best one: How ya doin? Fine. Now, I understand that there are appropriate levels of disclosure and that sometimes it's ok to express cultural niceties without becoming a skeptic but I still think we glaze over our problems because it bothers us to acknowledge it.

Anyway, back to the point. Thankfulness is good for the soul. Why? Because it acknowledges that God has been good to the soul through redeeming us from our selfish, morbid, limited-in-scope kind of life, where I used to think it was about me and my feelings. It's not about me. It's about us before it's about me. But it's about the goodness of God providing the way back to him through the atoning work of Jesus upon the cross before it's about anyone else. And that is true no matter how I feel about it. God doesn't need to authenticate his existence to the world through me as if I'm the last bastion of hope and that he is real, that this isn't some cosmic fluke. I'm mean, if scientist studied me I don't think I'd be a good case for intelligent design, but I digress.

But perhaps thankfulness is about acknowledging the bad, the bad and the worse that lies below the silent surface of decorum. That underneath my fickle facade is a soul that is broken, tarnished, faded, rightfully hurting and in need of cleansing. And not just of cleansing, I am in need of being used, used for good purposes that would bring fame to God, meaning to me and thankfulness into the lives of others. And that is good for the soul--mine and yours.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

A Facet of the Brilliance of God

Good-bye's going already?

We are approaching our 1 year of life in Memphis, and what a year it has been! From the ocean breeze of the West Coast to the Swamp East portion of the nation, as I recently heard it called, with it's popcorn thunderstorms and leaf wilting humidity.

When we first landed here we crashed at Robert and Mandy's house for 5 days as we hunted and gathered an apartment, just like in the olden days. We are very appreciative of their friendship then and now as it continues to grow through the various troughs and crests that is life. In California we had surrounding us a great social and spiritual network of people who loved us, cared for us and knew us, and after a year here we are beginning to see sprouts and shoots of similar things here, the soul sustaining vegetation of friendship. Whatever that means.

Undoubtedly it was tough last year to pack up all of our stuff on the moving truck and to watch all of the familiar scenery of seven years recede into the rear view mirror, perhaps telling us we will only see our California life in retrospect while continually moving forward to a new goal and gift given us by God. Last month Barb and I packed up our bags and flew back to NorCAl for a week and found ourselves appreciative of our friends, our church and the Hollywood-movie-set-like scenery that is Marin County. We were able to stay at the house of friends who were out of town, which was an unbelievably great blessing--though the man of the house would snicker at me for calling it that. We were able to see so many of the people we still think about and pray for and we were also able to worship with Hillside Church, who has been a bright spot on my spiritual map for years. And while we were there we became homesick for that place that was no longer home and friendsick for people who will remain fixtures in our lives. God has carried us and has carried on well in our lives and theirs. Our lives are resplendent with his grace.

After arriving back from CA we heard the news that an anchor within Cooper Young, Rosemary West, passed away. When Robert told us the news Barb and I both were saddened at the loss of this kind and cheerful neighbor who loved her family and who could be considered a garden-guru. She is and will continue to be missed.

A few weeks ago I was driving through the east side of our neighborhood and noticed that the house of an acquaintance was for sale. They had bought the house about the same time we bought ours and we were nevertheless surprised by the for sale sign. Barb called Jamilia and Jamilia let us know of their going away party, which we went to last night. There were people we had meet before, had dinner with or had seen at other parties. We were laughing, meeting, eating and drinking with strangers who are neighbors, who seemed to be enjoying a nice evening with Jamilia and Simon and their extended network. By the end of the night emails promised and cell numbers given, hand shakes and see-you-laters, drop on bys and give us a calls. You've had this happen too; I'm not living a surreal life. It's very common.

Though common, don't you think our human experience is so mysterious and captivating--the bonds we make, the importance of saying good bye, the crucial nature of letting go, of being willing to start over or of simply saying, "I'm so glad I met someone like you."? I absolutely believe that this shows us a facet of the brilliance of God. We long for deep, enriching relationships because we are created by a relational God. It's in our spiritual dna; we can't help it. It helps us.

Relational: interesting to think about how God reaches us with his grace. It is rarely through a dream, though I've had that happen, but only once. It is rarely through a miraculous sign. It is more often than not through another person. I mean, think about, for centuries God had been speaking through prophets and holy men and writing things on parchment and then finally he dressed himself in skin and moved into the neighborhood and we called him Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us.

No matter what prestige I put upon the Word of God (and I place a lot), God seems to also incarnate grace to me through others-- even in the little sparkly eyes of an infant, the wily smile of a two-year-old, or the weathered face of an elderly friend. It is much more than human companionship, it is the truth that when I look at another I see the handiwork and genius of God whose character and love has more glimmering angles than a diamond.