Tuesday, August 30, 2011
"Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing before you. Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath! Surely a man goes about as a shadow! Surely for nothing they are in turmoil; man heaps up wealth and does not know who will gather! And now O Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in you... hold not your peace at my tears... Look away from me, that I may smile again, before I depart and am no more!" - David in Psalm 39.
I thought I'd write another cheerful entry. You're welcome! Let's talk about how futile life is. It's coming straight from the lips of David, so I'm in good company.
David has this amazing ability to both state, very matter-of-factly, that his hope is in the Lord AND he also wants the Lord to leave him alone. Confusing? David's talks with God are a constant riddle for me with my simplistic models for relating to God. But maybe they shouldn't be such a riddle.
Riddling as they are, I'm so grateful for David's words. They're God approved and they express way more than I'm often willing to express. They're pretty fearless. Who of us, in our struggles will ask God to "depart from us". And at the same time they are full of God-fear. David knows that God is his hope. God is his only rescuer.
Does holy fear characterise me? Do I recognize the futility of world-life and world-fear that makes me qualify my prayers. Do I recognize that this means that I have to be really honest with God? Or am I so caught up in "Dear Lords" and "Dear Heavenly Fathers" (as if I'm composing a letter) that I forget to just scream out in desperation.
I think it's something that the biggest book of prayer in scripture is written in poetry. (Of course it doesn't rhyme, has no meter and we really have not much idea of how it works. Maybe they had a special ancient Hebrew beatnyk style for it. I can see them with their huge scraggledy beards and pipes, or whatever they smoked back then, popping their heads to a rythm while chanting the verses. I have no idea what I'm writing about. Can you even pop your head to a rythm? What does that even mean?) But doesn't poetry go beyond words. I think it does, and that's why I rarely read or write it. I like hiding behind the safe words - the words I can understand anyways. Modern poetry kind of makes me mad for its fancy-panciness.
But poetry is evocative and in it we hear David expressing what we all feal but so rarely say. I'm glad he does it so I don't have to. Imagine with me what it'd be like if people prayed like this today: A pastor gets up and yells, "Lord have mercy! I have nowhere to go and you are torturing me! But I'm still hoping in you! And I'm hoping you won't use thum-screws again! Help me not to totally blow it this morning. Amen." Or a friend offers to pray for you over something that's been bothering you: "Oh Lord, the one who's made everything, we know that life is so short that we're basically a dust-mist, but while Philip is hear, this tiny speck of dust, give him your presence, lest he blow away forever, out into the cosmos, never to be heard of again. Amen."
Some of you may be thinking that I'm just focusing on the plaintive Psalms, and I am, but I'll let you imagine how crazy the Psalms of praise would be, not to mention the depracatory Psalms - the ones asking God to SMITE! Fun!
I say all of this this morning, because I need David's voice in my life. It validates my feeling that we shouldn't rehearse all our prayers, or trivialize the relationship of prayer. We're to pour out our hearts in prayer. That's why my favorite prayer these days is "Waaaaaaaaaaaaa! Amen"
Note on picture: for some reason I picture Clint Eastwood doing a good job of Ancient Hebrew Beatnik. It's a stretch I know, but I really, really like this picture, and it seems to fit in a weird way.
Monday, August 29, 2011
Today I'm going to share with you my deepest fear. No, I'm not afraid of rabid albino rodents, as most of you are thinking. I actually owned one for awhile and I miss Pablo's sweet red eyes.
No, my deep fear, the one that bubbles up from the depths in the middle of dark nights, is for my children. I fear for them in so many ways. It's part of being a parent. But my deepest fears is that they'll be taken from me, or taken from God.
I can't guarantee that my children will walk with God. That I'll be with them forever. And for me, this reality haunts even my waking waking world.
All I know is that the God I know wants me to call him father. Perhaps he knows my ache.
A couple of nights a go I woke up to David screaming "Dadda! DAAAAADDAAAA!" For a few minutes I sat up in bed, rubbing my eyes and hoping he'd just go back to sleep. But I was also confused, why was he calling for me? He always calls for Mom.
But tonight he was calling out for me. Finally, when it looked like he was awake for good, I went in to him picked him up and asked him what was wrong. Like usual he spluttered something to me totally incoherent in the inexplicable New York accent of his. (We hear the accent most clearly when he says, "Hey you, yous get out of here-ya!")
Eventually I was able to untangle what he was saying: "The cars were taking me away and I was all alone!" Poor guy! I'm familiar with that terror. The terror of truely being alone.
So I took him to our bed, layed him down and boy did he snuggle close. He was intent on our heads being pressed together and he asked me hold his hand "really tight". I did so for about half an hour, lulling around in that half-sleep dream world that characterizes these times.
Finally, I thought he was out and I gently released my hand, and a stern David told me to "hold tight". His dream must have been something.
For the next hour or so he managed to head-but, slap and perhaps kick me in the face. I characterize him as not so much a restless sleeper, but as a highly trained martial artist sleeper. Who knows what demons he was beating, and why he thought they were on my face.
I've been reading someone who deeply loves his children. In one part of his book he says, "I would go to hell for them." I believe I would to. There's a bond there that runs deeper than even I know.
So there you go. That's my deepest fear. God who made each and every one of us calls us his children, his creation. He went to hell for us. He loves us like a Dad. And when my deep fear hits, not to be too simplistic, but I've got to just ask this great Daddy to hold my hand, and hold it tight.
Saturday, August 27, 2011
Am I allowed to say I hate God? Is that something a Christian is allowed to say? I believe it is, and it is often the reality of my soul's cry. I typically smother such thinking and expression with fearful (not Godly fear) of what people think and what God thinks. (It's sort of like the way I smother my emotions to sing "praise songs". Sometimes I really hate "praise songs"!)
I believe this stiffling and smothering of our hatred is wrong and worse than the hating of God. For the God we know, serves us. The God we know loves us indescribably. The God we know is our father, friend, confidant and advocate. He loves me even while I hate.
My hatred toward God literally poured out of me last night. I wept and wept. When I begin to cry in earnest there are waterfalls. I sat on the edge of the bed and tried not to go into "rocking and self-pity mode" while Melissa prayed for my pain.
I actively hate God every time I reject his guidance and go my own way. This past week was full of running down my own little rabit trails (don't rabits make holes though?). But God gifted me with the crash that comes after all the selfish running and independant boot-strap tugging, with a taste, just a taste, of depression.
For me depression is a big topic and one that I can't even begin to delve into here. But what depression does for me is it rips the rug out of my self-reliance. God knows how I loath this. I scramble harder and harder to get that damn rug back under my feet, but the more I struggle the deeper I go into darkness.
So last night I said into the darkness, "I hate God." It was scary. Perhaps, if my theology was better I should have said it directly with "I hate you God."
But with the words finally out, I told Melissa the laundry list of reasons that I hate God. Finally I was being honest. Not simple emotional honesty, not simple "authenticity" but expressing the reality of my hatred that I had stored up for a week or more and perhaps for a lifetime of a hatred for my maker.
Aren't we all there sometimes? If we aren't there sometimes, are we really living with God? If we're being honest, when God brings difficult things into our lives, we don't scratch our heads and say "Oh I wonder what his sovereign and good plan is in all of this." (We aren't just brains stuck on emotionless sticks. We're humans who hurt and sometimes resent and even hate.) No, I think we shake our fists and say that we hate God, even if we're too scared to verbalize it, by the lives we live and by the sin we turn to.
But here's what's so amazing about God's grace for me and for us. He knows my hatred and he still loves and accepts me. He is pleased with and rejoices over me. His greatest concern is my true well-being: my soul-being.
He knows that his circumstances can bring great pain into our lives. He knows that the choices we make bring us great pain as well. But he is the grand physician, ever loving and binding up our broken and raging hearts. This is why it's OK to admit that you hate God. God doesn't hate you. And his chest is big enough to beat on.
Thursday, August 25, 2011
Here I sit, mindlessly scrolling web pages looking for an answer. The answer is something deep within me that is calling.
Sounds deep doesn't it? Of course it is, I said that it is "deep" within me, do it's deep. (I'm not a deep writer, so bear with me.) I can't always put a finger on this call, so for now I will call it "God restlessness".
I struggle with this a lot. Nothing seems to satisfy. My Bible sits untouched, brooding. I plan, I plot and I scramble to come up with something that will answer this deep calling.
Why in the world do I look for accomplishments and stuff to find my answer? World stuff looks so shiny! Like forbidden fruit it looks so good. So I bite, chomp and shove the world stuff deep into my mouth... Filling but always hungry.
And somewhere in my heart there's a magnetic pull toward God. One of it's clearest signals to me is this restlessness and unquenchable thirst/hunger. If I'm not restless when I'm wasting time and being irresponsible, there's something wrong with me.
The world tells us to fill up, that this restlessness is a bad thing. Something we should avoid at all costs.
This morning I wonder. And since everything the "world" seems to tell us is wrong, I think that restlessness is a sign of something good occuring.
Tired, restless, hungry, thirsty - aren't they all prerequisites for a feast, a party and a really, really good time.
One of my favorite things to do, after a really good bike ride, a soccer game or some very intense ping-pong, is to swing by 7-Eleven and drink deep from their fountains of delight. My favorite fountain is the one that burps out my beloved Slurpee - mostly Coke with a little Cherry. It's heaven in my mouth. Ice melts on my tongue, weary bones rejoice and my brain which is telling me how bad this is for me and blah, blah, blah - begins to freeze. I love this. If you have seen the movie "Incino Man," I want "wheeze the juice!"
So what if God is our fountain, calling to the deep dry wells in our souls? Calling us to come and fill our wells. Or what if he's our food, calling us to feast? What if life is a lot simpler than we make it? What if life is just God-filling?
Every day this is the battle that rages within me. Not to be dramatic, but it is. I want stuff. God wants me.
I am "Stupid Waa-Waa Man". God knows my cry. And man if he isn't the most patient God in the world. Of course, being the only God in the world, he could be very impatient and still be the "most patient", but thankfully he's not.
"Deep calls to deep at the rush of your waterfalls..." - somewhere in my Bible that's still looking at me. "Stop it Bible, you don't even have eyes!"
Monday, August 22, 2011
"This God - his way is perfect; the word of the LORD proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him." - David in Psalm 18.
I have a serious case of post-vacation funkiness. No matter how hard I try to avoid winding up in this state of mind, I always end up here. For me, this particular vacation was going to be perfect. It was located at a resort with my parents, siblings and assorted grafted in wives and husbands on the Sunshine Coast north of Vancouver, British Columbia. If a place has in it's name "sunshine" or "coast" I want for me to be there always. Yes, I want for me to be there FOREVER.
That's kind of the way I view heaven: vacation forever! And I was viewing this as the vacation to end all vacations. I was so excited about this one that I disregarded all the wiser voices in my head saying not to get my hopes up too high, or to seek this experience as the end.
I saw it as the end: the end of being a fund-raising flunky (sometimes the way I feel), the end of stiffling, mind-numbing heat (it was that), and (with my parents and sibblings around) the end of such weighty parenting responsibilities as wiping my childrens' bottoms. Oddly nobody took care of my last request. Its amazing how selfish people are when they're on vacation.
Welp, we drove home last night (after three rear-end-aching days in the van), and I was innocently reminded by someone this morning that it was "back to real life". I smiled and nodded while I almost imploded and worlds went bang in my head. I wanted this vacation to be the END. Now I should get to live happily ever after.
I really, really shouldn't be complaining. I'm sitting in an air-conditioned Starbucks for crying out loud! I'm writing, pretending to have devotions and do missionary stuff. I really don't have it bad. Ha - bad would be stepping outside into the scorching heat again.
But my actual reality is different. The reality that I'd love to believe in before I die is so different. The reality is that God is my shield and that his ways are perfect. I know so, because it says it right here in my Bible. And it says so in my blog. You can believe everything you read here.
So maybe while I wouldn't have minded never waking back up on the dock after my 3 mile swim (I had to get that in here. Can you believe I swam 3 miles? Yes, I'm pretty amazing! My increased body-fat means I can float practically forever.), God has different plans for me. Apparently they don't involve pure, undistilled self-indulgence. Dang.
I'm writing trying to convince myself of this morning. Thankfully, I don't have to be convinced, I just have to trust. Trust that God is the one that knows about life, God is the one who knows our times and seasons and God is the one in control. Thankfulness might help as well. "Thanks that my vacation is over God."
So I'll quit licking it and put down my idol of vacation and attempt to put one foot in front of the other today, even though my rear really is killing me. Actually it's not hurting at all, but it sounds like such a clever way to wind up this post - sort of "Doogie Howser-ish".
Sunday, August 14, 2011
Emptiness. I hate emptiness.
I'm currently on vacation with my family and they've asked me to share something God has been doing in my life over the past year. I've also been asked to pick an object that represents me. When I'm on vacation I'm pretty lazy and, as we're in the Pacific northwest, and there are lots of massive slugs around, a slug would totally fit. Unfortunately, for "vacation-slug-Philip", it sounds like way too much effort to find one: I can see "vacation-slug-Philip" oozing all over the place for hours and hours, leaving behind a trail of sticky slime ("sticky" because of all the marsh-mallows I've been consuming and "slimy" because of all of the showers I've been skipping - "Honey I don't need to shower, I was just in the pool!"). And then I'll finally find a slug and realize I don't have anything to put him on. All I have is my little slug tentacles. I then can see "vacation-slug-Philip" cursing up a storm in sluggish and watching the the poor little slug extend and retract his eyeballs in shock.
Sounds like too much work doesn't it? It even made me write a long paragraph and "Vacation-slug-Philip" is on vacation.
But honest reflection is very difficult. Mostly because I'm beginning to suspect I'm really not that honest. (Of course, I could be wrong, and I could be totally honest. Way honester than most peoples anyways.) But when I "honestly" look back on the year, I guess I've got a lot to talk about. A lot that could sound ultra-deep and really impress my family. A lot that may even land me on the "impossible shelf of saint-hood" and leave them breathless in wonder at the heights of spirituality that I've scaled. They'd truly be in wonder, wondering who in the world does Philip think he is? Alas, a prophet is never welcome in his home-town.
Plus, I don't think I'd be honest, or even Philip, if I went that direction. Not that I don't have some deep, even profound thoughts to share, but as soon as I'm sharing them I feel like a thief. I am in fact a thief (also my Myers Briggs testing that I have a criminal mind. Cool eh?). If you've been reading this blog, you've probably read a lot that makes you think, "Man Philip really processes a lot." I do. But all the good thoughts are God's and I'm just a real sinner along for the ride.
That's what I love about writing. I get to see thoughts take shape that I didn't even know were in me. And all the while God's filling me. And his filling is characterized by things as simple as clarification, correction and processing and as beautiful as rescue, deep connection and healing. For me writing is an adventure with God. And in the past year it's been one of my biggest gifts from God, other than all the small ones of watching my kids grow and stuff.
Albiet my writing is sometimes characterized by self-absorbtion. There's nothing I like better than reading my blog-posts to other people so they (who are now in awe of course) ask if they can reach out their unworthy, tiny, trembling hands and stroke my massive ego. Sadly, I sometimes think I'm that good. This is when I am a true thief (also a jerk), taking from God what is his alone. So that's the dark side of the adventure.
But in a really desperate attempt to get back on topic, I'm going to share about emptiness. After all it is how I started this post. Totally groovy right? I like how I just threw the topic out there and haven't touched it since. I'm so post-modern.
Actually I have touched on the opposite of emptiness, God's filling, in reflecting on my writing. In a way it represents my life for the past year. So my object for the family is me the slug being sucked into a black hole of emptiness. And for those of you who have read all my blog-posts, and you know who you are, all one or two of you, that slug would be on a surfboard (I can't wait till I have a cult followers saying stuff like: "Yeah, I read that post, that's so awesome how he pulled that into his post today and blah, blah blah...")
My emptiness is God-fashioned. He seems to be emptying me of the old me so I can experience him. What has it looked like? Well, I'm not complaining, but it's looked like God giving me impossible tasks. God wants me to be a Godly husband, father, full-time missionary/support raiser.
Here's what I've turned my tasks into in the past year: Trying to be everything Melissa wants me to be (like in the army), trying to make my children feel loved and cherished by the time I "sacrifice" for them and trying to think of something slightly better than winning the lottery to raise our missionary support.
And when this has failed, when I haven't turned to God or blatant sin, I've turned to mountain-biking. I've done a ton of mountain-biking, a ton of escape. A ton of trying to fill my emptiness with recreation. And when I mean a ton, I mean a lot of time. I'm not proud of it. Well, I am a little proud of my muscles and shiny bikes, but I'm not proud of my heart for escape.
Emptiness, I run from it. But writing and times of stillness are encouraging me to face my emptiness. In my emptiness God begins to "write my story in his song" (borrowed from a line from one of Melissa's favorite songs). When I am satisfied with my emptiness, God speaks. He's teaching me, ever ever ever ever ever (you get the point) so patiently that HE CAN BE TRUSTED.
And for those times when I've been a Godly husband, father and missionary I rejoice. For as imperfect as I am, if you haven't noticed, God's got it going on, and he fits into my emptiness.