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.

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.”

a novel idea

Have you ever tried to write a novel?

The trick of it, apparently, has a lot to do with figuring out where to jump into the story, and what to include in the details of the story.

Conventional wisdom (which may be a hideous oxymoron) is that when writing a novel you have to stick to the story and use nary a word that doesn’t participate in moving the story forward.  In addition, a novel-writer should refrain from being overly descriptive, which is only a slightly different principle, I suppose.

All of that, of course, reminds me of the scene from The Princess Bride in which Westley, having just been revived by Miracle Max from being mostly dead, is trying to understand why he, Inigo, and Fezzik are about to storm the castle gate, so that he can come up with the plan (which is the whole reason Inigo had to find Westley and have him revived).  Inigo, in a hurry to storm the castle and find the six-fingered man who killed his father, says to Westley, who is also in a hurry to storm the castle and stop the wedding of Prince Humperdinck and Buttercup, his true love, “Let me explain.”  Then he pauses, shakes his head, and starts again with, “No, it’s too much.  Let me sum up.”

Now, I realize that, as Christians, we’re uncomfortable with the idea of spending valuable time reading, much less writing, novels because we’re serious people about serious business, and novels, being make-believe and all, are hardly serious, unless of course, they are allegories and devoid of profanity and/or sexual references and/or sarcasm.

So, I suppose the same principles can be applied to nonfiction, or even creative nonfiction, based on the evidence presented in the Gospel of St. John, in which John himself confesses to leaving out some elements of the life of Jesus from his account, by saying in the very last verse of his last chapter, “And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written.  Amen.”

I’m not one to criticize Biblical authors, but I have to roll my eyes a bit at John for that exaggeration about the whole world not being able to contain the books.  On the other hand, John’s awareness of the actual size of the whole world may have been a bit misinformed.

Nonetheless, I get his point.  He had to stick to the central story, as he saw it, either for lack of knowledge, lack of parchment, lack of time, or lack of the ability to otherwise keep the interest of readers.

Beyond all of that, though, there’s another point we have to consider, if we have to consider this topic at all.  We have to consider the idea of engaging the readers in the creative process in at least as much as they are translating the symbols we call letters into ideas and mental images of those ideas.  Whether fiction or nonfiction, the reader is going to envision the story based on his or her interpretation of the written words.

This is dangerous, but necessary.

In the same way that every reader has distinct fingerprints, and DNA, and odors, they will have a distinct interpretation of every element of a story.  They must.  And not only is that a factor for consideration in the writing, it’s a necessity.  You have to stick with the story, using words as economically as possible, knowing that readers will each have unique images of what you’re describing, and in order to keep them engaged in the story, you have to leave out just the right elements to engage their imaginative processes and envision whatever it is that will keep them interested enough to keep reading.

Or, so I’m told.

Too much descriptive information, and they’re sleeping on you.  Too much boring dialogue, and they lose track of the point.  Too many pages, with obscure, ancient maritime references, as I found with my most recent attempt to digest Moby Dick, and they put the books back on their respective shelves, probably in the wrong locations, with disgusted looks on their faces.

But – and that’s a very big but – this is of critical consideration for all of writing, reading, and life.

We are constantly editing in the process of writing, reading, and living.  Constantly.  Always.

Some of us are not good at this.  Others are better.  None of us are perfect.

Take a minute and look around the room in which you’re sitting.  Try to think about how you would describe the room.  Try to think about every detail and imagine putting words to it.

Or, take your experiences today.  Think about describing every detail of every step of everything you’ve done today to someone else who has no contextual reference for your life.

Yep.  I know.  Maybe John was right, after all, about filling the whole world with books, right?

We take a lot for granted.  We filter out a lot of noisy details without ever recognizing we’re doing it.  Our minds do this instinctively – constantly translating data perceived through our senses, imaginations, desires, and abilities of spiritual discernment.  It’s a necessity and we’re better for it.  We don’t, and can’t, consciously process every data point that enters our realms of experience.  Thank God, we don’t.

Of course, and here’s the rub, if we, either acutely or chronically, filter incorrectly, perceive incorrectly, or imagine incorrectly, in this incessant dance between writer and reader, transmitter and receiver, leader and follower, savior and sinner, we may alter the story to something that bears no resemblance to the author’s intent.

Our contribution to the story, even as writers for whom the prerequisite of all writing is reading, in more ways than merely literally, is absolutely critical.

Stick to the story.  Use words economically.  Balance description with room for interpretation.  Do so with precision and skill.

This is a nearly impossible task, which great writers complete with the illusion of ease.  I’m listening to the audiobook version of Oliver Twist, by Charles Dickens.  He’s a great writer, and his work is classic for that reason.

John was a great, or at least good, writer, and his subject matter makes up for any of his shortcomings, and that’s why his work is classic, even though he left out so much stuff.  I wish I knew more of that story, more of those unnecessary details.

As a reader, I can get distracted.  I skim, I skip, I rewind, I misunderstand, I misinterpret, I give up, I want less, and I want more.  I am also moved and inspired and enlightened and humbled.

As a writer, I write too many words, trying to convey an idea without risk of misinterpretation because I have difficulty trusting readers to get it right.  Then, I lose the story, and the reader.

See, I did it again.

I have to keep telling myself:  trust the story, trust the reader, trust the heart . . . trust the friend, trust the child, trust the vision, trust the author.

Trust the author.  Let the author tell the story.  That’s a novel idea.

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

they come hoping

A gathering of what could loosely be called friends sits in an awkward, incomplete circle in the dimly lit corner of a large room, closed for business but quietly open for more meaningful transactions, on a cold, blustery autumn night.

They come individually and in pairs, cautiously, clumsily, waiting for confirmation they have been expected, welcomed, recognized, and they join the circle in what they hope, by careful selection, will be the safest of the all-risky locations, deflecting insecurity with timid chuckles and lukewarm teasing.

They come, driven by uncertain, nearly skeptical hope, from the corners of the body collective, at least the corners of this local manifestation of that many-membered conglomeration, having each borne the wounds of their individual, yet eerily common, trials and travails to arrive at this destination.

They come hoping.  They bring desperation and the weak coercion by which it forces them to hope, and to stand.

They bring various flavors of the profound, crippling weakness we all bear, on the interminable verge of profound, world-changing power.

They bring the evidence of things not seen, the substance of things hoped for, the inexpressible and perpetually embattled assurance of ancient promises written indelibly in the hidden crevices of their hearts.

In weakness.  In desperation.  Hoping against hope.

They come in union with, but lacking conscious awareness of, innumerable companies of pilgrims joining dimly hopeful, yet persistently confident, awkward circles of desperation in small, covert spaces in every corner of every country and every community in this small world.

Hoping.  Praying.

They bring reports of hardships suffered in dark places, and struggles and strife born in agonies which cannot be adequately uttered.  They speak of brokenness and weakness, of sacrifice and steadfastness in the ever-imposing face of adversity.

They speak of hope, overcoming power, and deeply running, pure waters of life.

They recognize they are unable to meet the needs.

They recognize that in weakness and poverty, they are unable to fix the broken, persistent manifestation of pervasive depravity.

They pray.  They weep.  They worship, with unmerited certitude, proclaiming an unworldly confidence in a power considered too good to be true, yet thoroughly true in the nearly tangible testimonies of their own hearts.

In weakness individually, but powerful in unity, they come.

Cast down, but not destroyed.

Perplexed, but not in despair.

Having nothing, yet possessing all things.

the instinctive desires: nourishment and reproduction

Recently, I’ve been puzzling over this question, raised entirely anecdotally, rather than scientifically, as part of my perpetual efforts to make sense of this crazy life:

What should I understand about God when I recognize that he has seemingly made only two instinctive desires common to every living thing – both plants and animals, as far as I can tell?

Those two things:

  1. The instinct to pursue food, the sustenance of life, at all costs and at great lengths.
  2. The instinct to reproduce.

Now, recognizing that chuckles and smirks are running rampant among my few readers right now, partly related to the fact that I’ve just typed, and you’ve just read, the word “reproduce”, and mostly because this is all coming from a guy who has 11 children, I acknowledge the risk in “going there”.

Don’t worry, I’m not raising this question with regard to any agenda about reproducing excessively.

Furthermore, I’m not really raising this question to open the door to an avalanche of sheepish innuendo, though that’s bound to happen.  (I wish I had a quarter for every time someone has asked me if I know what causes babies.)

And furthermost, I’ve predetermined that I won’t offer a full-blown answer to this question – partly just because I don’t know if I have one and what I’ve got would take too many words for a single post, and mostly because I’m curious to know what you think about it.

So, let me just offer this brief primer:

Various and sundry creatures will migrate great distances in a seasonal cycle, sometimes once in a brief life, or multiple times over a lengthy life span, to do two things:  eat and reproduce.

Plants offer extravagant schemes to both seek nutrition through roots and leaves, and to reproduce.  Have you ever taken an up-close look at the elaborate mechanism a dandelion uses to harness the wind and scatter its seed abroad?  It’s fantastic!

If you’re God, and you’re using those same concepts over and over again in your creation with so many variations, you must be really convinced that this is a good thing, a critical thing, a prerequisite thing for whatever it is you’re planning to accomplish.

Of course, we humans tend to think highly of our sophisticated, emotionally complex, dating games.  We hold love – the desire to love and be loved – in highest esteem.  Love is a many-splendored thing!  Seriously!

And, maybe you can say that all of our love games aren’t about reproducing, and I can buy that, but isn’t it part and parcel the same instinct, at its core?

So, that’s enough of a primer.  You tell me, if you dare.  If you dare not, I’ll just continue to contemplate solo.

What’s God driving at?  Is he using these instincts to take us somewhere?  Where?  Is he aware of all the ways we’ve corrupted those instincts and the damage we’ve imposed for their sake?  Does he still think that’s a good thing?  Why?  How?

Thanks for playing.

the strength of its substance

Since shortly after writing my last post, jealous for me,  I’ve been bothered by something but have resisted writing it until now.  I’ve been fasting from this and trying to let that post just stand for what it is – a cute clever little post with a sharp edge.  I can’t stand it any more, but I’ll be quick about it.

That post seemed to imply that I have moments of doubt regarding Jesus’ love for me.  That’s not really the case.

In what I think has been a sideways response to this irritation, I’ve discovered myself saying to a few different people recently that I’m not certain of many things, but I am certain of two things for sure, and maybe a couple more, but at least two.  I mean really certain.  Those two things are these:

  1. God gave Renee’s love to me and in so doing obligates me to all that relationship requires of me and blesses me from all that relationship provides.
  2. God loves me without limit or hindrance and my relationship with him is sound.

As I’ve examined and turned over the words of that last post in the fingers of my mind, I’ve discovered those two things to be irrefutable to me, and I’ve been compelled to say them.

However, in defense of that post, I find I also must say that I continue to be surprised by the abundance of those things.

When I run into the reality of Christ’s love for me, I am frequently and most profoundly overwhelmed by the sheer truth of it, and the strength of its substance.

Though it is never news to me, as if I had not known it, it is always more powerful than I’ve previously experienced, more penetrating and more enlivening.  In that regard, Christ’s love is never in doubt, yet always new.  I am moved by it, broken by it, restored by it, and sustained by it.

He is jealous for me.

On my best days, I live and breathe in the abundance of that truth.