Monday, August 29, 2005

Houston to the Rest of My Life

It doesn't take much to render me in a sentimental mood. I think I have always existed in a partial sentimental mood. On Saturday morning, all it took was a playlist of good songs and an open highway snaking its way west through Texas. Worship at 70 miles an hour; is there a better kind?

I was driving home to Buda from Houston, an absolute mess of emotions, which I often find are the ideal personal ingredients for entering into a time of praise - those scattered times in which you realize no one on earth knows exactly where you are, and so in this way you are known only to God, and there is a noticeable presence wrapped around your aloneness. I was feeling stretched and somewhat confused. Stretched because someone I was immediately concerned with was also traveling at that time, moving in almost the complete opposite direction from me, and there was that well-known feeling of separation that is impossible to shake. Confused because, like the countryside that lay far around the bend ahead of me, my future (what I am going to do ... what am I going to be?) was unseen, unknowable. And Saturday morning I was particularly concerned with my future.

It is a hard thing to balance the desire to plan out our lives to the smallest degree, and the call to live in the freeing reality of casting all our cares upon our overly capable God. Entrusting a future we cannot envision to a God we cannot see often challenges our equilibrium, mocks even our common sense. And for anyone that is even remotely compulsive when it comes to the big question, "What comes next?” it is hard to lay aside our own blueprints/schemes for our future without proof that God will give it his undivided attention. In Scripture, Jesus says that the Spirit "will guide you into all truth,"” but the stink of it is that we are not consulted as to whether or not this truth suits what we desire for ourselves.

And then, in that moment of mind-racing worship, down HWY 80 between Luling and San Marcos, wondering of God, thinking of home, and missing a girl, there came these words gently trickling from my car speakers: "I've never seen that Spirit wind, but I have seen the tall grass bend. Still I'll follow it, wherever it may bring us." I'd heard these words before, but never pondered them. They were much welcomed.

I doubt I will ever hear God speak to me audibly. I don't know if I'll ever get a handle on this leading of the Spirit. But I can look out my window right now and see grass and tree limbs bending with the wind, and I am reminded that behind all the physics of atmosphere and pressure systems, there is a God directing it all, and he is good. For the rest of my life, this truth will stand.

And even the grass bends with purpose ... So much more shall I.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Photographs of God

This short limbo in which I find myself not currently taking a class is drawing to a close. Another semester of seminary will begin next week, and tomorrow I "officially" start my new job in the Student Services office. These transitions have me racing to tie up loose ends I have left dangling free throughout the past few months. Tonight I straightened my desk and filed and put away gatherings of papers and such that have accumulated right under my nose. I like a clean desk - makes me want to write. Makes me feel like I have the ability to accomplish things.

Tonight I spent a significant amount of time sorting through photographs that have been strewn about my bedroom for days to weeks, for weeks to months. Some were new, some were old, some I do not ever remember taking or posing for, but almost all summoned these little, flash-quick memories to jump into my mind. I find this a slightly odd phenomenon - that a single, still image can spur the mind to recall a detailed memory, in all its motion and emotion. I remember how hot it was that day ... That was when he was telling that stupid joke but still had us gasping for air ... Look how thin I was there - what in the world have I been eating since then? ... Wow, she has always been gorgeous, and this is a great example ... Oh, that was the day he got that job ... Oh, that was taken right around the time I found out she died ...

Video cameras and those new DVD recorders and all those other ridiculously advanced, technological gizmos are all well and good ... but there is nothing like a snapshot. There's nothing like a photograph. Though you are gazing into a single, motionless rendering of a mere nanosecond in a time passed, your mind is suddenly awakened with the most vivid of memories, possibly even many years since that particular camera shuttered on that particular scene. It is you and you alone who sees this memory, and the cherishment you feel is personal and beautiful and all your own. No one can view a photograph the same way.

From a single image comes, to our minds, a flood of actions.

I do not know where this thought came from or where it is going, but it seems to me we are not much different from photographs in the eyes of God. However, I believe God views us in the opposite way that we view a photograph. God, in his unfathomable ways, looks upon all of our actions and motions and emotions all at once - the Creator sees all of us, past and present. But in seeing this, it is all bound up before him like a single photograph. From a lifetime comes, to his mind, a single image. His beloved creation. Each one of us is like this to him, and what is drawn forth, summoned from his heart, is one thing ... Love.

And in this Love he cradles us gently, gazes into every bit of us, and smiles with a desperate yearning. Because, though the scenes in our photographs are only receding further into the past, our Creator rejoices that we are progressing ever closer to him.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Making Light of It

My friend, John, has a blog that is heavily trafficked. John is controversial. He can be both charming and aggravating in the same post - the same sentence even. Since getting to know him over the past two years, I attribute a lot of intelligence to John. I think he has an important skill: the bravery to speak his mind, no matter how sensitive the subject. He has a deep love for the American Church, so, of course, many of the entries on his blog read like little expose's on the myriad of problems in the Church and sub-cultural American Christianity. And the comments come rolling in. It's a popular Xanga blog - you can check it out; the link is under the "Blogs I Read" section of my sidebar. John is very popular - I gauge this by how many people read his blog.

And then there is me. If I'm lucky, I'll get a comment or two on every other post I make on my blog (normally just a friend's greeting or a quick "I enjoyed it"). Granted, I'm longwinded, a bit moreso than John, so I assume it is rare, in our Mach 3-paced world, that anyone who wanders into my blog actually gets through even one of my entries. When I write about something, it isn't a quip - it is detailed. Do not get me wrong, I am thankful for any feedback at all, however brief. Truthfully, some of the greatest things have come from a short comment on my blog ...

What I am wrestling with in this post is simply the desire to be more controversial. Looking back over my blog entries, I have noticed how unsexy (not with-the-times) my topics are. Silence, Laughter, Wonder, Writing, etc. When I find myself awash in the glitz and immediacy of this voyeuristic society we live in, such topics are not very interesting. We want conflict, we want controversy. Here at Truett, the most interesting things to talk about are the hot-button issues: women pastors, inerrency of Scripture, the Baptist schism, Southwestern vs. Truett or SBC vs. CBF, Republican vs. Democrat, homosexual vs. heterosexual, etc. ... There are countless things that can cause the blood to rise and bubble with excitement. The desire to speak out and proudly brandish a position on whatever issue is not hard to indulge.

I am not adverse to discussing such issues - nor am I ignorant of them. I could write and write and write about them, and this blog would fill up with so many positions in which, through my words, I barrel out my chest and hold my head high. And perhaps then the comments would pile up with each new entry ... But then, would there ever come a solution, let alone a resolution? To be honest, whether there came a resolution or not, would my mind be at peace? Would my soul find itself further along in sanctification? Perhaps ... but perhaps not.

I want to dwell in the hidden places - those forgotten, darkened corners this world has deemed uninteresting. I want to mull over what they might call mundane. Scrapping and nagging over issues might be one valid way to experience the world, but it seems like stressed-out running. When I am considering these hidden things - laughter, beauty, future glory, music, redemption, the wonder of the small - I feel no stress, no tightness. I feel as if I am flying. As if I am transcending this world, a world far too consumed with what ultimately does not matter and will not deliver happiness.

So let me continue to receive little feedback and no controversial disagreements. Let me continue to dwell and take joy in the hidden things, the quiet things behind the racing buzz of this over-reaching society.

Let me be as Pierce Pettis describes God and His follower in the song, "You Move Me." You go whistling in the dark - making light of it, making light of it. And I follow with my heart, laughing all the while.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Glue (The Greatest of These)

The stuff of wonder came recently in this way: I was introduced to another intriguing songwriter and his music, Conor Oberst, of Bright Eyes. My friend, Jeff, popped in the album, I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning, the other night just to play for the few of us hanging out together the opening of the album. As the album begins, Oberst opens with a brief story that lays the foundation for the first song. He tells of a young woman flying high across the ocean in an airline, on her way to meet her fiancee, when all of a sudden, the plane's engines completely fail and they begin to plummet from their extreme altitude to certain death. The pilot is on the intercom devastated and apologizing profusely in grief. Oberst says the woman turns to the stranger sitting next to her, a man she had not been able to maintain a conversation with earlier, and she asks him in fear, "Where are we going?" The man looks at her with a smile and replies, "We're going to a party ... It's a birthday party. It's your birthday party. Happy Birthday, darling. We love you very very very very very very very much!"

Will I love in my last days? Whether they are in years far removed from where I roam now, or as close around life's corner as I am now in this coffeehouse from where I parked my car just outside? Will there be joy in my voice when the final moments befall me? Will my expression be a testament to the wonder and glory that can be experienced in life ... or another forlorn face displaying the unmistakable message that life is just too hard?

To be honest, the first time I heard that story, my brow furrowed at the knee-jerk thought, "So, was this guy a Christian ... and was this girl? Because, if she is not, he's just lying to her." It only took me a few seconds, as that thought passed through my mind, for me to tragically (and oh so typically) miss the point of the story. The point of the story, as I see it now, having calmed my Christian pride to refrain from reactions into judgment, is joy in life, joy in death, and love for others. ... And this last one is the rub.

A Christian is one who loves any and every person to death; one who loves fully and without judgment through this entire sojourn of life, until he or she comes to the trail's end. There are a million different books (in the Christian and non-Christian markets) that expound on a million different little virtues that humans should practice as they go about this thing called Life - each one is good in the tiny world in which it exists. But I'm beginning to wake up to the reality that there is only one thing to which I am really called by my Creator - only one thing that covers all and sums up all and has any real, lasting merit in Life.

Colossians 3:14. "And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity." We are all scraping (especially those of us in the Church) to become efficient in some angle of good living - we want to know what is good and pleasing and then live in such a way. And though this ambition is noble and good-hearted, it produces headaches on a regular basis. Because, once we pick up one pure virtue, we drop or lose track of another, and we spend our life trying to keep all the do's and don't's together like a person struggling to carry too many groceries.

It seems Love is the glue of which we are in desperate need. It binds up all other virtues. Perhaps some of those financial companies advertising on television cannot totally consolidate your loans and expenses and such, but I wonder if, when we love, we are not perfectly consolidating every other little virtue into our lives, binding all things together. Is it safe to say that, at the end of the day, if we can look back on where we have roamed and view ourselves actively loving ourselves and other people, we can be sure we did indeed bless the world and honor our God with our lives that day?

Maybe if we begin to practice this greatest virtue, we will eventually find ourselves in that Day far beyond now, speaking in love to those around us, grinning from ear to ear, and eager for the party.

"And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love." - 1st Corinthians 13:13