what we're about

Attempts to illuminate our brief mortal existence

Friday, August 27, 2010

Purity of Heart

If your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light.

Matthew 6:22

The grace that is there to be given to me in the exercise of my gifts comes only when my eye is “clear”, or single. I have to be focusing on one thing; my goal has to be the right one, my motivations have to be pure, and only then does the grace come. My body is full of light. Understanding comes easily, and my mind gracefully digests the knots of information, untangling one fine strand after another until they are laid out clearly for all to see. I am too easily distracted by other thoughts, thoughts of fame and glory sometimes, but usually thoughts of a quiet scholarly acclaim from those among whom I most desire to find acceptance, and when that happens I lose the clarity. My mind goes fuzzy, and although I can work, it just doesn't feel right. It might get good marks, but it lacks a soul. When I'm trying to be clever or scholarly or even just plain brilliant it doesn't work. To be full of light I have to take my eye off of those goals, and fix it on Jesus Christ, the embodiment of the work of His Kingdom, and accept the ends that he has for my work.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


She used to come to see us when she was little,

Running around in the dusk in the parking lot

Outside of town.

She loved us then, and was impatient in her waiting,

Sitting on the parking curb with the sparklers

All burned up.

We came then, and she both feared and thrilled to us,

As we burst our globes and fountains and trees

Of light and colour.

She saw us one year in Columbus from a distance,

As her Dad drove the car along the outerbelt

While we exploded.

We were strange shapes then – ringed planets and UFOs,

And smiley faces that disappeared gradually

Into the night sky.

She grew old enough to become impatient with us

As we came in mere ones and twos and threes

Above Plain City.

She grew older still and drove the busy streets early

Into Columbus with her youth group, and set up their chairs

Along the curb.

We filled the sky that night, and burst inside her heart

With our light and noise, and the sheer volume

Of our presence.

But she had changed, and something had broken inside her,

And we tore away a curtain that protected her

From herself.

She feared a lot of things that got inside her then,

Not just us, but perfect music and friends and things that she

Was meant to love.

She came again to see us in Columbus, and never

Told even herself about what had happened

That first time.

But she stopped seeking us out so eagerly,

And for a few years watched us from a distance,

If at all.

It was in Plain City that we finally saw her again,

Sitting on the firehouse lawn with her new husband,

Her hand in his.

She was preoccupied that year, and she forgot

The evening before too long, but we didn't hurt her

Like before.

She was in Indiana a year later, a new place

For us and her, but not for us and her newest siblings,

Who loved us.

They brought her along to watch us, driving

In the big van to the park, where she remembered

That she was excited.

And we came again to her there in twos and threes,

So she could trace our flight from the ground

To the top.

And we shattered our brilliance into the sky

For her and the people that she loved as she sat again

With her husband.

She was newer when she came to us again,

And her heart could love us again and thrill

To our transient beauty.

She was dazzled and happy when we were done,

Not broken now, or afraid, or busy hiding herself

From what she loved.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

On leaving, and the maintenance of vision

With apologies to Alyssa, and the rest of the Lehmans, who are more sad about the hole that we leave behind than we are about the adventure we have moved on to. We do love and miss you greatly.

It's time for us to grow,

And I am glad

That we can do it cleanly.

We can move out of

This space without

Breaking it wide open.

One change paves the way

For all kinds of

Different, all kinds of change.

I was standing in the doorway, taking a last look at the apartment where Landon and I had lived our first year of marriage with all its attendant joys and struggles. The rooms were empty, just like the first time that I ever saw them. Gold carpet from the 70s in the living room, with its faux wood paneled walls, and the tall tall windows that I loved so much. I could picture the same thin blue carpet in the bedroom, the same purple sheers on the windows. It was all the same, but I felt it so differently from my first glimpse. The first time I saw the apartment it was full of ethereal dreams, but in the past year Landon and I had packed so much real, solid living into these walls that even in this emptiness I still felt that life emanating from the surfaces. And so I wondered why I wasn't more sad. Sad to see the space without “us” in it. Our books and little end tables gone, the burnt orange chairs (also from the 70s?) carried off to their long home, the walls and end tables bare of our pictures. Shouldn't I be shedding tears at the thought of leaving? Didn't the thought of never seeing this place again warrant more than a tiny lump in my throat and a slightly melancholy sigh?

The reality was that I was excited. I had barely turned the key for the last time and left it in the mailbox before I left behind my sadness for building anticipation. I couldn't summon tears at the sight of my beloved apartment because I knew that it was time to move on; the Wind had whispered that it was time to go. Landon and I had learned what we were there to learn. We were growing restless here, and I was excited that our growth could be accomplished cleanly, slipping out of this space instead of breaking it open. I looked forward to a bigger city, a new way of doing life, and a more challenging space to live in. A week later, I find that I already need to remind myself of that excitement, and that clear-eyed way of looking at the move. I'm still excited, but excitement about an overarching Reality of things gets so easily bogged down in the thousand concrete aspects of accomplishing it.

First, there's the sheer hard work of taking a nebulous, dreamy vision of a new life and making it a reality as best we can with what we have. Getting boxes unpacked collides with the reality that we have less space here than we did there, and we may have to make some hard choices about what we can keep and what goes. A desire to organize our apartment quickly has to face up to the reality of acquiring furniture which has to face up to the reality of what we can and cannot afford. None of these are insurmountable obstacles, but it takes discipline to not lose sight of where we're trying to get to in the effort of getting there.

Second, there's the indubitable fact that needing to be a more grown-up, disciplined person doesn't automatically make me that. I've been given more space in which to grow, but I still need to do the hard work of aiming myself for that growth. I am afraid of change and growth because they are inherently beyond my control. I can't choose what God is turning me into, and so I am tempted to cling to what I am already. I may not like it all that much, but it's safe. This is a paralyzing fear; it tempts me into non-action. I have to work hard not only to be the person that I need to be in order to fill up this new space that God has given me, but also to overcome my fear of becoming that person.

Third, and overall, the situation that we're in leaves us vulnerable. There is much that is at risk when we move beyond the conforming but protective powers of familial expectations and cultural familiarity. We have to find a new church which will inevitably shape us, meaning that it needs to be chosen with care. We have to gather our own circle of friends and acquaintances which is a daunting task, but a a skill that we cannot fail to learn. We have to develop our own pattern of living and our own expectations for how we use our time and money because we are more than ever outside of what our cultural background speaks to. All these choices could bring unhealthy influences into our lives, and if we aren't listening closely to the Spirit, or wielding enough wisdom we could make choices that we will regret years down the road. I am afraid of all these things even as I rejoice in having these choices, and this fear, too, leaves me vulnerable. It puts me on edge; I snap at Landon more easily, and I sink more quickly into my own peculiar mixture of obsession and depression. I flounder as I try to find the expressions of our essential unity in these circumstances. This fear, too, blinds me to the Reality in which we live, the Reality that we are where we are because God has called us here. That He has been faithful with His call in the past, and will be in the future, and that I cannot wander too far off the right road before He brings me back.

Ultimately what kept me from the sadness that might seem due at leaving a beloved situation was trust and love, and that is what needs to keep me from unduly longing for the security that we left behind. That security would be stifling to us now; I may not see it right now, but I know it, and I have to believe it. Only this Truth can set me free from the fear that has dragged me down in the past week. It is only this love that can let me hold dearly the memories of that past year without wishing to go back to them.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Excuses, excuses

Been busy. Moving. Settling in. Post coming. Soon. Don't go away. Please.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Learning to Just Do Something

You're watching a movie. Better yet, you're watching Lost. Shannon is lost in the jungle, and there's a suspicious noise coming from... somewhere. The camera whizzes in a circle, barely focusing on any particular spot, seeing everything and nothing, giving us a dizzying sense of impending but invisible doom, until she drops in an exhausted heap.

This is a pretty good picture of the way that I sometimes feel while trying to make a decision about the veracity or viability of an intellectual assent and the lifestyle choices that inevitably follow. Sometimes I feel so over-warned, so attuned to all the dangers of every point of view and possible consequences of every action that I just want to drop in a heap and wait for the monster (uselessness, lost potential, "depart from me, I never knew you,") to come out of the trees and eat me. Unlike some people, I don't seem to be able to narrow my vision enough to simply pick a likely path and follow it, trusting that if I am off course I will eventually be corrected. Either I don't choose (II Timothy 3:7, anyone?), or I hold myself back, stopping short of wholehearted commitment, so that if (when?) it becomes obvious that I chose wrong I can say "I always knew it!" Reticence about jumping to conclusions serves me well in some cases, but it too often runs beyond intellectual caution into mere self-protection. Why, in this day of so many choices and resources, would I act like this? And is there any hope of overcoming this tendency?

In examining the "why", I discover that part of my problem lies in the very existence of these many options, each with their own inadequacies. Reading on my own coupled with a good Bible college education has given me at least a broad, if not always deep, understanding of a lot of theological (and to a lesser degree intellectual and philosophical) positions. It has also exposed me to a lot of different viewpoints on those positions and traditions, with one person taking apart what the last person presented so favorably. Most dangerously, for my particular weaknesses, I have heard story after story of personal spiritual damage that came about in the context of a person's adherence to, or upbringing within, almost any Christian tradition. This is what I mean when I say that I am "over-warned." In every good thing I see the potential danger.

"Potential danger?" you say, "but all that you have to do is avoid the extremes. Learn from the example of other people and avoid whatever leads to the unwanted result." This is sound advice; unfortunately, two more tendencies that play into my "why" make it difficult advice to follow. First, I spend much of my time seeing double. The action part of me wants to evaluate things in black and white, while the decision making part is seeing them in shades of grey. I want to find ideas and positions to which I can commit myself unquestioningly, but have as yet found none that are safe for me to embrace wholeheartedly. I want to be given absolute lines and categories on which to base my actions, but at the same time I recognize the failures of every single human system of absolute lines and categories. Second, I see "unwanted results" in almost every person's life. I can't seem to determine a fool proof way to avoid one person's error without realizing that that course of action would place me in the way of a different error all together. And therein lies a whole new but connected aspect of my difficulty with decision making.

I have a problem with unknowns. I want to see the whole road before I start walking down it. Before I declare myself to be beginning down a path I want to know exactly where and how I'm going. I want a full knowledge of any objections that anybody could have to a belief or course of action, and all the applicable refutations. This means I don't naturally know how to accept a learning process. I don't want to just start walking, confident that the Holy Spirit won't let me stray too far on one side or the other. It's not enough for me to know that it's okay if I fall down as long as I get up. I want to study until I know how to do it right the first time. This is obviously an impossibility, and I know it. I want to be able to move past this, into a joyful acceptance of trying and failing, doing it wrong so that someone who knows better can teach me to do it right, and realizing that growth sometimes means outgrowing things. I want to, but I'm held back by two more obstacles to my free exercise of choice: fear of man, and a frantic fear of failure.

Yes, I'll admit it: I am afraid of what people think. Not all people, just people whose opinions I care about, and people who might be able to argue with me. I'm willing to hold a position against the crowd as long as I feel like I have the superior position, butI have a desperate fear of getting into an argument and not being able to answer the objections thrown at me. This is especially true when the issue is one where I know that I don't agree with them, but can't marshal my defenses at a moments notice. It's not just an inability to prevail in debate that I fear. I have a particular dread of developing what my Dad has termed "blind spots"; areas where everybody else can see that you're wrong, but you just can't see it yourself. I've seen these develop in individuals, and I believe that churches and denominations have them as well. I don't want somebody else to be able to look at me and say "Wow, she's sincere and does well in some areas, but she is totally missing the boat on these things here." I think that this could be an honest fear if I were afraid for God's sake, and for the sake of His Holiness. Then it would drive me to more prayer and greater humility. Since, however, I am mostly afraid for my own sake it simply drives me to frantic mental contortions as I attempt to be certain that whatever I'm about to do or profess to believe doesn't leave me vulnerable in any areas. This is why stories of people's personal wounds at the hands of the devout are so potent for me. They illustrate the results of blind spots, and feed my fear of falling into them.

My fear of man and my fear of failure are connected. After all, to fail is to fall short of someone's standards, necessitating the existence of a "someone." But my fear of failure is a little broader than simply a fear of looking foolish or ignorant; it's a fear of ultimately getting it wrong. Just as I don't mind holding an opinion in the face of a majority if I believe the evidence to be solidly on my side, I don't mind looking a little nuts to people as long as I know that my end result will validate my choices. Unfortunately, this is a little like knowing how to avoid every possible danger on any particular path. Usually it's simply not possible. This is what really makes me frantic sometimes; knowing that when I look back on life, my feelings of fulfillment or regret will be the sum of the choices that I'm making now. Right now. And I hate regret. Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be a fool proof way of avoiding it in this life.

Throw all of the above together and you have the recipe for frantic immobility. So many options, and so many possible ways to get it wrong. Is there any hope? Can I at least begin to see a way out? Thankfully, yes.

I am beginning to realize that the key to my way forward in these moments lies in recognizing what should be my worst fear. In all of my options, one contains not just a likelihood, but rather an inevitability of regret: not choosing. If I don't choose something, I actually choose to walk the path of least resistance. I've been there, and I know where it leads: duplicity of personality, unsteadiness of conviction, and a desperate need for distractions. This is what I am fighting against when I come to these moments. Experiencing this paralysis is one of the worst feelings that I know; in that moment I feel completely helpless and utterly alone. Memory tells me, however, that it is not the worst thing that could happen to me. I've had a tiny taste of the worst, and these moments are actually evidence that I'm going the right way. They mean that I'm fighting back instead of letting myself be seduced into oblivion.

Not only am I learning to see the positive side of my struggles, but I'm learning that I can fight back. I can take stock of my bedrock realities: God is there, and I'm moving toward Him. I can remember the things that I have decided for sure, and use those as a measure for these lesser decisions. And I can remember that there is grace. Grace that I can only be aware in the times when I need it. Grace that I can lean on when I don't know for sure if I'm choosing the right way, grace that grants me the faith to know that as long as I'm moving God can be ordering my road so that it brings me to Him.