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.

the reality of souls absent

Rushing to arrive at an empty space with no deadline or outside force compelling urgency.  The rush comes from within.  Something of the ego-driven desire to be first, to seem omnipresent.

The parking lot outside the office is empty at 6:30 a.m., my most frequent and preferred time of arrival.  Like an empty canvas, filled repeatedly with colorful variety, then whitewashed for another days creation.

I park in the same spot, the farthest from the doors, in spite of the lack of competition – my typical, stubborn desire to avoid the clamoring near the closest or most convenient.

With keys and bag in hand, I climb the small hill to the doors, bend to pick up the daily paper in its plastic sheath and stride over the curb to the double glass doors.  Insert the key, pull the door to me so the latch will turn away, and lock it again behind me.  Locked in, comforted by the temporary barrier, soon to be breached by those also in possession of a key, but pleased with the temporary isolation.  Another door, another lock, then the alarm code, and silence.

This is my favorite part of any day.  It’s the emptiness; not devoid of humanity, but filled with its ghostly, empty presence.  Lives at work, and their evidence fills this space.  Darkness, quiet and the reality of souls absent.

My mind imagines a time lapse of this place as an entity of its own, quiet in darkness, then filling, overflowing, billowing with activity from outside itself, as a flower garden dawning to the swarm of the worker bees, then relishing the reprieve of the sunset, when its fruit can be replenished with vitality for another day.

The comfort, the secret joy of such a space, I imagine, draws its appeal from from my own deep-seated, pastor’s-kid memories of empty church sanctuaries, dark but for light pushing through stained glass.  The walls still dripping with the songs, prayers, sermons, and the silent cries of the human heart, and the aroma of the one to whom they have all been addressed.

baking in the heat of the moment

The heat necessary
to bake the ingredients of our lives
into something worthwhile
out of all of its well-beaten batter
comes from the friction
created by the moments
flying by us
and pushing past us.

 

We ought to seek to embrace
their slippery substance
more forcefully
to take advantage
of the friction more desperately,
so that we become edifying earlier
rather than living most of our lives,
if not all,
as half-baked messes.

 

Given an adequate awareness
and sense of desperation for life,
we are supremely capable
of having well-baked,
warm, and nutritious offerings
harvested from the ovens of our hearts
not just once in our lives,
as if only some grand opus
were all that mattered,
but several times a day;
here a little, there a little,
but always good
and comforting
and nourishing.

 

These thoughts were inspired by a conversation in an orange-vinyl-covered booth in a diner over a table covered with eggs, pancakes, gyros, french toast, sausage, coffee, and little pitchers of syrup surrounded by foil-wrapped rectangles of real butter with my friends Seth and Max, who happen to be wonderfully tasty treats of inspiration, of whose substance the world is scarcely worthy.

 

These thoughts were written in an email message to my lovely, soon-to-be-seventeen-year-old daughter, Hannah, who happens to be someone I aspire to be like, someday, of whose substance the world shall surely never be worthy, in which I apologized for the pitiful and grievous mistake of squandering moments which were offering opportunities to hear the overflow of her heart’s music.

 

I could write a thousand words, or two, more and hardly exhaust my longing to relate all that stirs here, but I think I’ll go home instead.

meanwhile, back at the well (Peru, continued)

So, as it turns out, the cost of the trip to Villa Rica, Peru will be higher than I expected.  Airfare will be $1,200, plus $600 for other expenses, which adds to more than the $1,300 I mentioned previously. (I’m an accountant, you don’t have to do the math, just trust me.)

If you want to read my previous post on the topic, just for old time’s sake, click here.

So, here I am, back at the well (that’s you, and it’s a fantastic metaphor, I think).

Katie and I, which I’m now grouping together as one effort (since, apparently, Christ Community has lovingly lumped us together as one account in support-raising efforts, and called it “Pratts”) have a combined total of $1,145, so far.  That’s been plenty to meet our deposit requirements and get us neck-deep into this commitment.

Giant, super-sized, sincerest, and humblest of thanks to each of you who have sent in a donation.  Slightly less giant, but just as sincere and even humblerest (yes, humblerest) thanks to those who have thought longingly about making a donation.  All kidding aside, it’s overwhelming to be on the receiving end of such generosity.

I know, with all my heart, that this stuff is a giant pain in the patooty, and that it’s beautiful all the same.

I need you, and I’m not just saying that to get a few bucks for a trip to Peru.  I need you like liver cells need leg cells, and vice versa.  (For more on that topic from a previous post, click here.)

So, thanks, and thanks, and thanks.  Really.  Thanks.

Now, I’m going to throw in a few words I wrote to a friend in response to some questions they had about this trip, but before I do, let me just say:  If God makes you send in a donation, make it to Christ Community Church, with just “Peru Mission” in the memo, then send it to me.  When I give it to them, I’ll tell them it’s for the “Pratts” account.  If God doesn’t make you send in a donation, for crying out loud, don’t send in a donation.

So, for years, Christ Community Church has had on-going missions efforts in Peru in a variety of places and by a variety of means:  medical teams, sports teams, church-planting, serving, key support for an orphanage in Lima, and most all of those efforts are integrated with a large conglomeration of pastors and local churches.  The main focus of those efforts have been development, church-planting, and evangelism.  This is good.

So, a friend wanted to know how this crazy trip to a coffee-farm village in the remote mountainous regions of Peru would line up with those types of efforts and follow in that evangelical pattern.  Here’s my response:

We will be travelling with a Peruvian couple who are pastors who have worked with CCC previously. They are related to the coffee farmers we will be visiting, and that’s how the connection has been made.

The business building aspect of the trip is actually secondary to the evangelism, although the method of evangelism will not be as direct as some other mission events in Peru.  Zoe’s doesn’t necessarily need coffee from Peru, and because the business is not motivated by profit, the financial aspects of the arrangement and/or the quality aspects are really a minor factor.  The ultimate value and motive for us (to my view, at least) is the potential to establish a long-term relationship with a community of people in a previously unvisited area of Peru so that over the long-term we’ll be able to continually serve and teach Jesus in the area via the opportunities presented by the arrangement to have ongoing interaction.

This first trip to the area is certainly an opportunity to teach the gospel, but we hope it is a stepping stone for longer-term opportunities in the area.  I’ve been told the pastors who will be our guides are considering moving back to the area in order to help facilitate the future of the ministry there.

In addition to our experience there in Peru, the opportunity of bringing their coffee to Greeley will serve to establish here in Greeley a tangible representation of dear people and their community in Peru.  I hope that will promote conversations and interest in serving for the folks here in Greeley, increasing interest in missions opportunities in Peru, and providing the conversational setting for sharing the gospel more here in Greeley.

Of course, this is a new, unexplored potential for CCC and Peruvian missions up to this point, so it may be premature to set so much expectation/hope on this adventure at this point.

Therefore, I’m just trying to focus on the excitement of the immediate opportunity – to serve and share Jesus with a family of impoverished coffee farmers and their community.

Thanks for your support – even if that means you’re not led to give at this time.  I trust your hearts are turned toward the people of Peru and sharing the gospel with the world, and your questions are focused on that point.  I’m grateful for that.

Thanks!
Dale

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

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.

Lord of all

Just watched this video again from an old post, here.

It’s still good.

In spite of all of our very real and mostly petty differences, when we worship God together with the simple truths of our faith in the forefront, heaven is moved and earth is sustained.  My heart is stirred by seeing the people in this video singing words that mean everything to me.

And for the record, Jesus really is Lord of all.

Furthermore, HE IS STRONGER than all of the stuff stacked against any of us individually and all of us together.

He is stronger.

And, in light of that, may his name be lifter higher, be lifted higher, be lifted higher . . . and higher.