true faith?

A friend writes:

“I think I’m learning what true faith is and that I don’t have any. I think when we say we have faith, we have things like “what we’ve always been used to” or “I think I’ll believe this because I don’t like the alternatives and I haven’t even bothered to consider them”. Things like that. I think true faith must be running out of all rational reasons to believe in something and choosing to still do it–and what an extraordinary, near impossible (ridiculous?) leap that is! Things like “life after death” are what I’m talking about, for example.”

In response, as the culmination of 4 distinct conversations on faith subjects today, I improvised the following, which is revealing even to me:

I sincerely appreciate that idea of true faith. It seems to me to be an act of desperation, a response to the futility of human efforts at self-preservation, defying the rational constructs of our typical ideologies.

In other words, I’m not sure I choose it or I come to it having exhausted myself pursuing all other ideas, then realize the ridiculous, the incomprehensible, irrational are all that could possibly respond to the yearning. Whatever is the answer, the deepest desires of the human heart must be outrageously ridiculous; preposterous even.

Jesus is a safe bet on those terms, and I fall back upon him for hope again and again.

Now, life after death, whatever the hell (no pun intended) that means, is another thing entirely. I cannot fathom, nor even extend my limited hope to that great length. It would be nice, but the speculation is too much for me – not only in regard to its existence, but the how’s and why’s. [To be clear, I heartily believe in heaven, and need it, but the comprehension of it, and the apprehension of it for today’s needs, as it’s typically conceived, is beyond me.]

Besides, I’d much rather have, and am more readily drawn to, life during life. Life after death seems only more appealing than that in the sense that because it is so speculative it seems to be more plausible, because the plausibility of the absolutely unknown always seems greater than the plausibilities of the preposterous within the known. But how much more glorious and meaningful would it be to have the reality of that visionary ideal in the present.

I don’t even know what that means – the coming of Christ?, some sort of rapturous transformation?, the end of the world?, world peace? – and it seems impossible, but with all the incredulity piled high, I confess it is my ultimate longing.

Less so, though, because I choose it, but rather it seems to have chosen me.  Captivated by the foolishness of hope.

God knows I’ve given what I believe to be earnest effort to cast it off, to no avail. God help us.

One further thought:  maybe, just maybe, as “I am crucified with Christ […] and the life I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the son of God” (Gal. 2:20), life after death and life during life are not so far removed from one another.  At least they are related and share some “genetic” material.

there was God, of course

Just a quote, after all this.  Just a quote.

Both for the writing, and the content, a perfect example of why I love Frederick Buechner; from The Final Beast:

“Why should he stay?

There was God, of course, but God made Irma Reinwasser very angry.  He asked so much of His servants and rendered so little:  marry and bury, christen and counsel, joke with, solicit from, try somehow to live by Him, live with Him.  It emptied a man.  Yet skinny and bright-eyed in his black robe, he still had to stand up in the pulpit Sunday after Sunday and speak to Him and about Him to that big, white, half-filled meeting-house of a church with the turkey-red carpet, “And when they tell me he looks like Abe Lincoln,” Irma said, “I tell them after Abe Lincoln got shot is what he looks like.  If you got God for a friend, you don’t need any enemies.”  What did God give in return?  A dead wife, knots in the stomach.  She plucked up the bacon with a cooking fork and flipped it over.  It spat at her.  Why should Bluebeard stay for the sake of God?

Or was it maybe for the sake of God that he had gone?  Sobered by this possibility, she sucked her wrist gravely where the hot fat had scalded her.  You could never be sure about Bluebeard and God.  There were times when she felt that each must take the other as a kind of joke, and when every night just after her light was turned out Cornelia began with “Our Father who aren’t in Heaven” instead of “Our Father who art,” you could imagine both God and Bluebeard laughing as in fact sometimes Bluebeard actually did laugh, so soft you could hardly hear it as he sat there on the child’s bed with his eyes closed.  But his were closed; that was just it.  That was why you could never be sure what Bluebeard felt about God or what his lightheartedness meant.  It might not be a joke at all.”

public service announcement

My caring sister just informed me, in the course of sending a gushing email about how great I am, that I stupidly turned off your ability to post comments to my last blog, unpublished drafts.

After careful consideration, against my better judgement, I have been afflicted with compassion toward you, my patient and adoring readers, realizing how frustrated you all must be at being prevented from sharing your 2 or 3 cents in response to my pitiful ramblings.

So, I’m here to announce relief.  Comments are open again.

Go ahead.  Type.  Let it out.  You’ll feel better.  Don’t crowd, there’s plenty of room for everyone.

I love you, too.

indebted

I have borrowed from all of my tomorrows to fill today with more than it can contain in a poorly-conceived, idealistic grasping after comfort.

My fears, my certainties of inadequacy, are driven by such bonds of debt, obligations to tomorrows which cannot be met in today’s currency of unsecured hope.

Hopeless.

In folly, I have borrowed.  In arrogance, I have stumbled.

My weakness has produced and strengthened my chains.

My chains have brought me unto a death.

A death has prevented life.

A death has borne life.

“For we which live are alway delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake . . . ”

For Jesus’ sake, but unto death nonetheless.

Sounds noble, is painful.  Vain?  Like dying.

Dying to be living?

“Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.”

“So then death worketh in us, but life in you.”

Who?  You?  Us?

“Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus . . .”

But I came here of my own weakness, my own vanity, my own folly, my own ingratitude, my own, mine.

“Can anything good come from Nazareth?”

“That sin, by the commandment, might become exceeding sinful.”

Debt.  A promise which tomorrow cannot bear.  Tomorrow is only real when it is today.  Today is always inadequate to its obligations.

Where then is hope?

In weakness.

“Yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.”

“Take no thought for the morrow . . .”

But I have sold myself into slavery unto it.  It lords over me in expectation of calamity, in the assurance of brokenness.

“The law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath set me free from the law of sin and death.”

“There is therefore, now, no condemnation . . .”

“The assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen.”

Bankruptcy.  Emptiness.  Vanity.  Overwhelming need coated in desperation and soaked in abject poverty.

“Corruption must put on incorruption.”

“Apart from me, ye can do nothing.”

“I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”

Dying.

Dying.

Dying.

Sabbath.

“Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death:  because it was not possible that he should be holden of it.”

Living.

Living.

Living.

“Nevertheless I live.”

some things I need to say to you

From: Dale Pratt <papaprattsboy@yahoo.com>
To: a friend
Sent: Wed, January 12, 2011 11:35:26 AM
Subject: Re: Happy Thursday

So, as I’m rehashing (as I always do) the blur of conversations over the last week and our recent faith discussions, I’m concluding there’s some things I need to say to you:
 
I want to be sure you understand that I’m not dismissing the significance of that event and its impact on your life, as well as your family.  Sometimes, in an effort to add humor to a discussion and ease the discomfort, my sense of humor, loaded with excess sarcasm, may lend itself to the impression that such matters are just trivial object lessons in the path of life.  That’s not the case – an inclination to dismiss.
 
Those events in many ways are object lessons, valuable for our growth and development, but they are by no means trivial.
 
We all have myriad daily moments which subtly but certainly serve to develop our behavior patterns and routines and perspectives and faith applications.  In addition to those, though, God seems to add a mix a heavy ingredients (whether by direct cause or passive allowance, a theological quagmire we’ll avoid for this conversation) – icons in our experiences which become major shocks to our systems, causing wild changes in direction, perspective, attitude, physical capability, and all of that is directed at our faith application.
 
As we look back over our life stories, these icons are the defining elements of the landscape, both circumstantially and emotionally.  In the future, we should certainly expect more of those, but not spend unbalanced energy worrying about them or preparing defenses against them.  They will come.  We should be prudent but not obsessive.
 
For you, of course, this event is a defining, iconic moment, added to a few others in your life.
 
It is not trivial, and not a ploy in God’s game of life for you to invoke some simple, object lesson that can be easily defined or articulated.  God doesn’t fit well into platitudes.  This is not trite or playful, and the message is not “stop whining!”
 
What he is doing now, in you, through this, cannot be discerned clearly in the midst of the experience, if ever – though I’m sure you’ll have better perspective as your distance from it grows.
 
You will gradually assimilate this tragic, defining experience into your life, taking years potentially to get over the bad taste left behind and the indigestion it brings so violently.
 
It will, even more than it has already, become part of you completely – physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.  There are no aspects of it which will be entirely pleasant, and there are none that should be avoided.  In other words, you should not isolate part of the experience and its potential impact on you into some desolate corner of your soul and bind it to evade its influence.  Not all today, but eventually, all of it must be allowed to roam freely among your spaces.  You have to become friends with it.  You have to examine it from every vantage point, appreciate its subtle bouquet, break it down into small, applicable pieces and rehearse the responses it evokes from within you, then break those down and examine those.  Thankfully, not all of that requires conscious effort, but all of it is required.
 
This is the essence of trust.  Naked and not ashamed.  Not afraid.  Not destroyed.  Not debilitated.  Not diminished, but enhanced.
 
That does not require you to determine whether, much less to say that, God caused such calamity, but it does require you to have the trust and confidence that he’s redeeming it and making it valuable in you.
 
That’s the point.  That’s why this is perfect.
 
From him to whom much is given, much is required.
 
The evidence of trust is not known by the life without trouble.  The evidence and practice of trust is known in the life lived abundantly – in all dimensions of the human experience:  heights of joy and depths of sorrow.  In such territory, trust is developed, challenged, proven, and found legitimate.
 
I don’t want you to ever think I’m dismissing your concerns.  I can’t do it, though I’ll try.  I can’t know every element and detail, as you do, but I’m with you.
 
Happy Wednesday!
Dale

what he is after

I shouldn’t be doing this right now.  I have so many other things that need to be done, so many things that are on my mind, stirring anxiety, mixed with determination, unkeepable promises, all mingled with a bit of stubborn hope.

The schedule demands my attention.  So many hours, so many minutes, so many deadlines, so late, so often.  Responsibilities met with wanting-ability and irritability.

This day will pass in a few hours.  I will have accomplished less than I needed to, less than I intended to, less than I was expected to.

So many inputs into my brain:  scripture, fiction, movies, conversations, hopes, love, anger, impatience, anxiety, irritation, passing thoughts, physical weariness, hormones, dreams, and memories, not necessarily in that order.  Hardly room for anything sacred, unless, of course, the sacred isn’t a separate thing; unless the sacred is implicit in all.

Then, my morning is willingly interrupted by daily messages, mostly dismissed blithely, but today hitting a mark like being broadsided at the intersection, reminding me of things I’ve known, and know, and responding to a little-acknowledged yearning deeper than all of the things I’ve intended for the day:

There comes the baffling call of God in our lives also.  The call of God can never be stated explicitly; it is implicit.  The call of God is like the call of the sea, no one hears it but the one who has the nature of the sea in him.  It cannot be stated definitely what the call of God is to, because his call is to be in comradeship with himself for his own purposes, and the test is to believe that God knows what he is after. 

(My Utmost for His Highest, by Oswald Chambers, as quoted in Wild at Heart, by John Eldredge)

When all of this is over, at least for me, whatever all of this is, everything I know now, as I know it now, will have been temporal – valuable and meaningful while slipping through my weakening grasp – save one thing:  Him.  That’s a tough blow to accept in the middle of spinning plates and shifting priorities and needs and desires and anxieties and demands.

Yet, through all of that, and all of this, and all of everything, I will have endeavored, I hope, to hear his baffling call and to follow him and to yield to him.  In that, I believe, or at least I long deeply to believe, that I will have met him and walked with him and that he will have accomplished his purposes – what he is after – in me, with me.

What he is after likely will not be about me, or for me, at least not entirely, but I believe and hope it will be with me, in me.

And that, turns all of this, all of the grief and strife, into joy.  The grief of the temporal – the losses that are inevitable – engenders in me such an abundance of joy for the eternal.  Not the eternal that will be, but the eternal that is.

That makes me write things like this instead of doing what I ought to be doing.  And now, I must cease this activity and move to the next.  With him.

on the surface

I was thinking recently of the expression “still waters run deep” and finally realized the meaning of it.  I’m sure you know, but for my sake, let me spell it out:

Water that appears to be still (calm) on the surface is probably moving (running) in swift, strong currents deep under the surface.

I used to think of that as something about how waters that are still tend to be deep.  But that doesn’t make sense, because a puddle can be still.  Then I figured out that “run” means they move under the surface, rather than “tend to be”.  Maybe that only seems interesting to me.

It’s funny to me, about me, that a simple expression that I’ve known all my life, it seems, requires deep thought at middle-age to grasp.  That’s actually happened a lot to me in recent years.

For example, do you really get the expression “burning the candle at both ends”?  I won’t explain it, since I’m sure you do get it, but I didn’t really understand it correctly until recent years.  Hmm.

Things are seldom what they seem.

Anyway, I discovered a new blog this week:  I Stare At People which has fascinated me, and apparently a lot of other people like it too.

It’s written/presented by an artist who does oil paintings of random people seen in coffee shops – very fast oil paintings, done remarkably well, considering the subjects are typically in motion and frequently unaware they are being watched so carefully.  Sometimes they realize, or are told, they’ve been the subject of a painting, but more often than not, they are unaware.

That’s fascinating to me because I’m a people watcher.  When I was in Junior High, some girls gave me the nickname “Cow Eyes” because I was always staring at people.  I’ve learned to be more discrete, but I can’t deny it happens.

An oil painting of an unknown subject, completed while they’re in motion, within a few minutes, can only capture so much about the person.  Even so, you can learn a lot by looking carefully enough at someone to capture the essence of their look in a few minutes, especially, if you’re a practiced starer, as I am.

I’m not an artist, but I think I frequently paint a mental portrait of people I see, and then draw some conclusions about them based on that view.  I’m a lot less harsh or certain about what I see, as I get older, but I’m probably just as frequently wrong.

This morning I discussed the movie, Avatar, with some friends.  We talked about how the movie is very pleasing to the eye – amazing graphics and presentation – and the story is definitely entertaining and compelling.  But, the characters are fairly transparent, the plot is fairly obvious and predictable, and the violent conflict in the climax is stereotypical battle fare (with twists of course).

We wondered about whether movies like that, and like the Twilight series, are a measure of the American and/or other cultures’ ability (or inability) to appreciate complex stories, like the real lives of all of us today – full of subtle emotions and innuendo.  I liked those movies, for the record, although I’ve only seen the first Twilight movie, so far, but you have to admit, the complexity of the plot, if there really is any, is mostly surface-level, stereotypical stuff.

Interestingly, though, one of the best ideas from the movie Avatar comes in the form of the main character saying, “I see you,” and meaning that she sees the heart of the other person.  It’s really beautiful, and a fantastic statement, which draws all of us into the emotion of it.

We all desire to really see and to be seen.  We all really want to be known and loved in spite of the knowledge.  We want to be measured and found adequate, genuine, and loveable.

But, the question seems legitimate to me:  Do we look closely enough at anyone or anything to really see?  Could we paint an accurate portrait, more than just superficial, of anyone we consider close to us?

I know from my experience with many relationships – especially at work and many at church – we seem to have traded the deep for the superficial, and seem to have forgotten the possibility or need of anything more.

Still waters run deep.  I see you.  It’s a hard row to hoe.  I’m burning the candle at both ends.