Faith and/or Doubt.

Life verse. Seems a bit narrow minded to pick one verse to frame a life. I get it though, those who tattoo a verse on their calf don’t throw the rest of the Bible to the wind. If I plucked one scripture out of the barrel, John 11:35 comes to mind. “Jesus wept.” Simple. Poignant. I mean, I used to cry all the time. Yet, for the past week or so, I’ve thought about “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” I even had to look up the reference: Mark 9:24.

Yep, those words track the best with my life. Not because I’m a big fat doubter. Notice the order…”I believe” comes first. Actually “Lord” comes first, which assumes an “I’m your servant” attitude. But that aside, the tension wedged between belief and unbelief is palpable. It’s as down to earth as dirt itself.

Yes, I walk by faith, and trip on doubt. Like cracks in the sidewalk, if I don’t look down I might stumble over the fissures.

These are the words of a father who had a son with a real problem. A mute spirit got ahold of his boy a long while back. A situation which throbbed for years. This dad, shoulders slumped, carried concern for his son, and when the disciples showed up, he asked for help. Who knows how many times the dad witnessed the spirit in a throw down with his son, but when the equivalent to Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show arrived in town, well… They tried and failed, but the dad didn’t cave, he went to the top. I can almost hear him firmly say, “Let me speak with the manager.”

This father was desperate, probably tired, and maybe a little resigned. He had heard of the healings. The news got around, and by the time he and his son arrived, a crowd had already gathered. The scriptures called it a multitude. Multitude schmultitude. The Dad cut to the front and told Jesus his story.

So, Jesus gets the scoop, sighs, points out the disciple’s lack of belief, and beholds the son who had a mute spirit. That spirit who, by the way, shut him up, threw him down, and caused foam to come out of his mouth. Then he gnashed his teeth and became stiff as a board too. Wait. Gnashed his teeth? What? Gah-nash. Gah! The definition means “to grind ones teeth.” The closest this son got to talking was grinding his teeth.

Almost doctor-like, Jesus enquires, “How long has this been going on?”

“Since childhood.”

Well, that explains a lot. A dad watching his son struggle and struggle and struggle. This was real, old, and chained to their lives.

Ah, the struggle. The ole “life is difficult” as M. Scott Peck would say. Difficulties come. That’s a fact. The struggle is real. Fact again.

Take the apostle Peter when he jumped ship and strolled out to Jesus on the water. He had no particular problem, except he wanted to be close to Jesus, ASAP. He saw his Lord standing atop of the waves and stepped off. No snorkel. No life vest. Just steps of desire and belief. Then pistol Pete began sinking like a rock when his focus was taken off the Lord. He looked down, saw the waves lapping over his toes and remembered his Jr. High science lab. He was a fisherman too, for crying out loud. Fish swim. Boats float. Humans? Well, they sink.

The father of the mute spirited son came in the context of struggle.

Peter came from desire. Impulse. Longing.

I suppose it doesn’t matter how we exercise our belief. Experientially, when I take my belief for a walk, the resistance is not far behind, or ahead for that matter.

It’s as if the father asked, “Jesus, my belief only takes me so far, can you help me the rest of the way?”

In the story Jesus’ response to the father’s words was almost a non-response. Jesus didn’t rebuke the dad. Jesus didn’t fold his arms and point at the father’s unbelief and say, “Until you have perfect belief I can’t honor your request.” No. Jesus takes action. Jesus shows compassion.

It’s comforting to me that Jesus can operate within the tension. It’s the tension between present reality and the desire for a better reality I suppose.

So, Jesus, I believe, help my unbelief.

Monday Morning

Monday Morning

 

Coffee and creamed,

truth and grace,

or so it seemed.

 

That mixture of

strong and soft,

and how oft

 

I wanted to slip

into a week,

geeked and tweaked.

 

But it’s Monday.

A do over day,

to pray, play, slay.

 

Another new mercy say.

although nothing new,

but everything.

 

“I’ll never forget the trouble, the utter lostness,

            the taste of ashes, the poison I’ve swallowed.

I remember it all—oh, how well I remember—

            the feeling of hitting the bottom.

But there’s one other thing I remember,

            And remembering, I keep a grip on hope:

 

God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out,

            his merciful love couldn’t have dried up.

They’re created new every morning. (Even Monday morning)

            How great your faithfulness!

I’m sticking with God (I say it over and over).

            He’s all I’ve got left.

                        Lamentations 3

It

The walk and the wake of it,

The talk and the take of it,

This life is mine,

And filled with mines,

 

Yet Yours it is,

 

In the breathe and the breath of it,

In the deep and the death of it.

The grace and the grease of it,

The trace and the truth of it.

 

I lie down in it,

 

To rise and raise in it,

To prize the praise of it.

In the meek and the milk of it,

In the speak and the spilt of it,

 

On my knees in it,

 

To pray and plead in it,

To stay and lead in it.

The thank You and the Your of it,

On the dew and the shore of it.

 

Oh the gift of it.

Puzzled into Coherence.

Pieces Of The Puzzle, Puzzle, Play

Where were we going to eat the Christmas quiche? I’m was toned down enough to think about such dilemmas of practical magnitude. You see, the 2000 piece sea-turtle puzzle occupied a half-acre of our dinner table. It was sixty percent done and wouldn’t be finished by Christmas.

I’m not sure who invested the most time, but each night after helping Santa deliver the goods, I sat, stood, hovered, and puzzled over the sea-turtle shell game. The therapy provided was thoroughly unexpected. As our common area kept on with dishes clanking, conversation humming, and dogs yipping, I puzzled. Sometimes others joined in the puzzling and connection ensued between souls like the coupling of pieces. I found out I can puzzle and engage with the family at the same time, unlike chewing gum while jump roping.

My mom was a professional puzzler and I told the kids about how she had puzzle trays. The trays wrapped around the project and each held similarly colored pieces. It seemed like cheating to me, but hey, when you’ve done your time trying to fit the pieces of real life together for decades, well, there you go. Mom rarely looked at the box top either, so it kind of offset the tray trickery. It took extra time for her to figure out the difference between a giraffe nose and a giraffe hoof. I mean, a slice of nose and a portion of hoof in the same tray would delay things a bit, don’t you think?

Anyway, as I puzzled, my mind wandered, like when my dad listened to Ravel’s Bolero. Funny, a classic picture of my dad napping is in plain view of the puzzle. I don’t want to nod off on my family, so the sea-turtles are keeping me in the room at least. Yet this activity is a balm which doesn’t make logical sense. It’s a puzzle, for crying out loud. Why does the search for pieces meld peace into the harried pace of the holiday season?

I feel a sermon a comin’, as Supertramp’s Logical song comes to mind. Lord, have mercy…really. Puzzle pieces preach. When you’re trying to put together all the sky so blue and infinite. When the ocean waves crash together, but fail to fit together. When turtle shells and sea shells meet, or not, you start searching for the edges. Begin with the frame, the context in which all the finite presuppositions seem mysterious and aloof. Look for the straight lines of containment, they’ve got to be there.

This year I’ve been repeating a phrase in an attempt to diffuse the tension I feel constantly. “I believe there is absolute truth, but I can’t know it absolutely.” So many floating thoughts in our post-modern, pluralistic, touchy-feely, sound bitten culture. Is there an overarching frame of truth? Is the truth out there as The X-Files so ardently claims? Is there a piece to the puzzle, without which the whole scene loses its coherence? Is this even the best question to ask?

Then I read this. Bear with me, it’s kind of long, but these words laser in on the concept.

“One of the most soul-damaging effects of modern life is the obfuscation of story: the fragmentation of story into disconnected anecdotes, the reduction of story to gossip, the dismemberment of story into lists of formulae or rules. In most of the words that come before us each day – delivered via television, internet, newspaper, billboard, and gossip – there is rarely any story beyond the immediate event. There is very little that connects to the past, reaches into the future, or soars to the heights. Instead of connecting us with a deeper reality, such words disconnect us, leaving us in a boneyard of incident and comment.

On the other hand, every time someone tells a story and tells it well and truly, the gospel is served. Out of the chaos of incident and accident, story-making words bring light, coherence, meaning, and value. If there is a story, then maybe, just maybe, there is (must be!) a Storyteller.” Eugene Peterson on Homage to a Broken Man by Peter Mommsen

The effort to bring all the pieces together is story-telling on a miniature scale. Getting back to the puzzle, a turtle’s eye, and a portion of sea coral won’t necessarily bring context and coherence. The effort matters. If we are content with 2000 unconnected pieces, well, each piece will represent a sound bite, a turn of phrase, a juicy morsel of gossip, and the story will not be birthed in total. This idea probably breaks down at some point, like deconstructing the puzzle and sweeping the pieces back into the box, but it got me thinking.

Life lived piece-meal is seems more appetizing; easier to swallow, but lacks coherence and context. The real work of my relational coherence depends on me staying in the room. Gaining a wholeness means coming to the table and embracing the mystery through prayer, insight, and perseverance.

The puzzle was finished in the evening of New Year’s Day, an apt metaphor for a good 2018. God is good.

Prayer:

Our Father in Heaven,

Grant us the grace to live our stories within the context of Your Story this year. May we find the edges of Your reality to give coherence to our existence under the sun. Help us to be okay with the mystery, yet faithful, trustful, and hopeful in You.

                                                                        In the name of Jesus Christ Our Lord

                                                                                    Amen

 

The Most Interesting Man in the World

Yeah, you might have seen the commercials. I think they’re advertising a beer, anyway, I got to thinking… Would I really like to be the “most” in anything?

Even the most interesting man has to accomplish the most uninteresting of duties. Take a leak. Brush his teeth. Eat some eggs.

I caught myself thinking “I want to be the most humble man in the world.” I don’t know if that is a paradox or an oxymoron. Maybe it’s simply moronic.

Maybe I want to be the most “telling-it-slant-poet” in the world. I would lay down lines which echo for a hundred or so years.

Being the most… Most. Most. Most. What a funny word. The more I ponder it, the sillier it sounds. Say ‘most’ out loud enough times and well, what do you think?

Honestly, have you ever met anyone aspiring to be the most UNinteresting person in the world? Maybe you have, and just didn’t notice. Did you see what I did there?

I think God-math comes into play as far as being the ‘most’ in any endeavor. You know, it is in dying we live. It is in denying we receive. Like walking backwards to settle into the starting blocks… I think.

The Broken Way by Ann Voskamp started all this mental wondering. She got all up in my stuff by reminding me of Jesus’ words…”Unless a grain of wheat dies, it abides alone.”

That is all.

Runaway Psalm

Oh God, how my heart beats me up.

Its own rod and staff comfort me not.

My face runs flat with self-control.

My figuring has no end.

My passions, frail, off balance

Lead me beside myself

Where no water is.

 

Then a mockingbird flew silently by,

And I heard a hummingbird remember the lyrics.

A cardinal blushed.

A raven was its own shadow.

The fog lifted my countenance

Enough to see the mystery of You.

The Thou of this I.

 

You suggested I lighten up

As the sun crested a weary scape.

Ah, the light by which I see

You.

 

Then we laughed.

The Skylight is Falling, The Skylight is Falling.

There’s a hole in our roof. More like an aperture. In the middle of our kitchen is a skylight…an upside down crater in the ceiling. The window has fallen into disrepair, and every time I look up I see not only natural light, but mold, bubbled paint, and another opportunity to procrastinate.

So, last night, after a long and arduous day helping the heavy-set, white haired, red dressed icon from the north, I went “up on the roof” (Do you hear the song in your head? Youtube the Drifters.)

There is a big difference between channeled light and being out in the light. I was no longer simply looking through the skylight, but under the great big sky. The sun had run off to illumine another side of the earth, and I stood above the skylight and cricked my neck. I heard the melancholy moan of a train, and a drone of a plane. Clouds sporadically tip-toed by. Stars twinked at me in the gaps.

I sat for a moment.

“When this old world starts a getting you down…” (Cue the Drifters)

Well, yes and no. If the newsfeed spoon-feeds my anxious thoughts, rather than summons compassion and prayers, I get more “down.”  Just what are we to do with all this inflowmation? Then I thought of the skylight.

God is in charge of the satellite-skies as Mark Heard describes them. The square of sunshine graced to us is our piece of presence. Our little light, you know, the one that we’re gonna shine, is like the holey roof, the aperture which God’s great light can focus on a dark portion of this world.

Is there a possibility we all might be skylights? Sure, many, like mine, are in need of some repair, but hey, light still shines through. It shines in place, my place in the world.

“I am the light of the world.” Jesus

Prayer: Lord Jesus, help me today to be a little light in the dark places. Shine through me. Amen

By the way, the skylight is not falling, it is filling. Filling you to spill light on your place in the world.

Pre-Dawn. A morning prayer.

I splashed through

a psalm or two,

looking for You;

expressing me.

 

Come as a seed,

fall and die in here,

so a single shoot

may rise with the sun.

 

So a single root

may drive in the soil,

deep, splayed toward

ground water wants.

 

Come water me

in the silent hours,

as I incline my heart.

Garden my soul.

 

Amen

Two for the Road

There are times I wander into the road.

Like when I fetch the mail at night

and the pitch is so black I don’t know

if my eyes will ever adjust, or if I want them to.

 

Sometimes it’s better not to know, not to see

in the dark, to have to depend on other senses

to make sense of place and what it might contain.

I imagine the void before God said “Let there be…”

 

When someone says “You don’t know what you don’t know”

there comes a slice of comfort, a bit of joy,

of not having the responsibility to carry mystery.

Instead there comes a knowing I’m not alone.

 

When Christ said He would never leave me

what I envision is not my hand in His

while we cross the street, but His arm

draped over my shoulder as we walk

down the road, darkness notwithstanding.