Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Dreamworld Repentance

Over the past week, almost every night during my deep sleep, my head has become a performing stage for the most outlandish, tender, frightening, and improbable stories to play before my mind's eye. In less than a week's time, I have become the father of two children that, strangely enough, are not actually mine (nor did I bother to attend the birth), battled slow-stalking zombies in the middle of a cornfield somewhere in Indiana, berated my former boss, Grear Howard, for not taking the responsibility to cage a pesky, skull-faced demon that enjoys wreaking havoc on a Houston gas station, confronted a high school bully, and been framed and imprisoned by terrorist Colin Farrell in a large Coast Guard ship while the rest of my crew is led to believe that I am actually the one who wants to kill them all. And these are just a few of the more memorable nocturnal narratives ...

It is interesting to me that the metaphor for both repentance and eternity is the physical, yin yang-like understanding of life and death, slumber and waking. Both Scripture and the Church maintain the metaphor of "coming to life" when someone repents of their condition - imprisonment - to sin. The metaphor is often paired with someone who is asleep (no doubt sleeping the sleep of death) and suddenly comes awake. This is a fresh view that has no equal, no comparison. You were asleep, lost in a confusing, vague dreamworld. Now you are awake; there is clarity, light, understanding.

You were dead. Inanimate. Meaningless. Non-existent. Without purpose.

You come alive. You move, you breathe, you think. You have purpose.

The apostle Paul, and those other commendable members of the Christian "cloud" (see Hebrews 11 and 12) who wrote the letters and treatises that make up much of our New Testament, employed this metaphor for repentance as well as for eternity. The Pauline letters are filled with this imagery. Why?

Perhaps because it is as meaningful as it is simple. You were dead, now you live forever. You were asleep, unable to partake in true goodness and love. Now you are awake, free to do so forever.

It is a striking thing to follow this metaphor even farther, and, the more you do, it becomes evident that perhaps this is not simply a metaphor, but the very underlying reality of all things created. If clarity is found in the new person, the redeemed person ... If true life comes after physical death ... then all that we experience here, in our humanness and our unenlightened states, is as cluttered as our dreams. While physical life may seem vivid and framed by some sort of narrative, it is as chaotic and unpredictable as any haunting nightmare. In such a dream state - the state of non-repentance and self-centeredness - you can trust no one, you can rely on nothing. Everything is constantly changing. There is no true equilibrium.

I love to be entertained, and because of this, I appreciate the dreams I have almost every night. However, I would never want to live in such a confusing world. I wouldn't last very long in a place where the more evil the pursuer the slower I am forced to run, where guns don't fire right, friends change identities on a whim, and clothes seem to disappear at the most embarrassingly awkward moments.

I suppose all this musing depends on how loyally one accepts the metaphor, but lately I have been reminded of how blessed it is to escape the dreamworld that is this life.

Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. I Cor. 13:12a
Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you." Eph. 5:14b


And so, let me wake once again ...

Once again, I repent of this dreamworld, O God.
I repent of the confusion I have ignorantly tried to figure out.
I repent of the false hopes I have clung to in a world that offers no hope.
I repent of indulging in the pleasures that are as beneficial as a lie and as lasting as vapor.
I repent of wanting to stay asleep. I repent of returning so quickly to my slumber.

I repent of disregarding the blessing of the breath, mind, strength, clarity, and purpose to which you continually call me.
I repent of this dreamworld, my God.
Guard my heart and mind, lest I return again to such a tempting nightmare.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Eating My Tail

I want to revisit the second topic of consternation from my last post. Cynicism. Truth be known, I'm starting to realize that much of my exploration into the cynical side of me somehow flows out of just that, my cynicism, rather than a pure conscience. Such a pietic, prideful bias on things not only feeds the sometimes necessary yet often unnecessary critique of life and worship, but also the desire to pick and scratch and brush at the very base attitudes from which such observations spring. It's like that Asian iconic image of a serpentine dragon cast in a circle, eating its own tail, a perfectly destructive cycle.

I am beginning to recognize that there is little that my critique, alone, can accomplish, especially regarding my own worship life or the mission and purpose of the Church. The frustrating thing about all this is that critique is pretty much all I can give these days, especially since I am still jobless. But even if I was serving on a church staff somewhere, I doubt I would have much more to offer than simply criticism. I often find it hard to move past recognizing what should be done, and actually doing what should be done. I think most of us do. What is more, those that can find a way past words and into action often do so stumbling, their efforts misguided by their resolve. One of the most extreme examples is Communism, which is the tragically misguided result of what might have very originally been a good-hearted seed of critique.

Thomas Merton writes - struggles - with this concept in the pages of his autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain. He is lost somewhere between wanting to enact a change, and figuring out just how to do it. And in that hazy middle are the listless people that do nothing, and the zealous people who do everything ... wrong.

I have been accused of being quite cynical at times when I am not trying to be. (Sometimes I am merely trying to be funny, as was the case yesterday in church when, following the service, I tried to joke with my friend that the frivolous tune "Mercy is Falling" sounds silly rather than worshipful when the entire congregation sings the meaningless words "Hey-Oh" several times during the chorus. "You might as well replace 'Hey-Oh' with 'Boo-Yah!'," I remarked, getting few laughs but several mildly-offended expressions.) Other times I have spoken quite cynically and illicited no response. And there are the few and far between times when I have made a judgment, whether spoken graciously or not, and received an agreement that carried the conversation deeper. However, in all three scenarios, I can later lament that nothing significant - certainly no change - was achieved.

There is only one thing I continue to return to (and sadly, I continually reject) that seems the only thing worthwhile to effect change in both the sad state of things as well as my cynicism. Perhaps the reason I reject it so often is because it seems so intangible. So syrupy. So Care Bear-ish.


The love of one person that beckons his or her neighbors into a deeper relationship, and, inevitably, a change. The love of a boy for his girlfriend. The love of a parent for his or her son or daughter. The love of God that transforms us all.

It seems invariably true that cynicism pervades more of me than I realize. It is not limited to my worship life and my thoughts and feelings about the Church and ministry. I find my overgrown pride contaminating many things, often times in surprising, backdoor ways. My relationships with friends, parents, my girlfriend; it is even in my thoughts when I am in solitude. Like the dragon, I am indeed eating myself.

And then there is Scripture, and once again, this love, this glorious, sacramental concept of Love, seems the only cure.

Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly Loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on Love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Colossians 3:12-14

The metaphor is simply that of dressing. Put on Love. It does not seem like doing so is initiating much action, but I am starting see that there is a difference between taking action and taking reaction. The latter can become more problematic than the original problem.

Put on Love. There really is not much more that can be said.

As a matter of fact, there isn't anything at all.