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Saturday, November 30, 2013

Symbols (Part 2)

There are a lot of lies. Hundreds I'm sure, but one has really been getting my attention recently. I've been catching it in my peripheral vision when it thinks I'm not looking. It gets more confident when I'm bored or lazy and I always forget that I've realized that its a lie when I stop looking at it. Thats why tonight, I'm writing it down.

This morning when I woke up, it was raining. I listened to it softly fall on the roof and skim the windows and watched the formless gray clouds through a crack in the shutters. I spent the day inside and distracted myself with anything and everything. This evening, I realized I had not been outside yet, so I put on my shoes and took a walk around the block. The sky was shockingly and beautifully clear and the few stars that I can see from my California view stared steadily back at me.

When I started to walk and think and look up at the clear night sky, I was feeling a little smaller than I usually do when I ponder the epic cosmos. I felt utterly useless. I had spent the day in front of the TV, watching life on a stage. I was frustrated. Is this what I am supposed to do now? Now that I am grown up and have put all the childish dreams and imaginations behind me? Is my job now to live vicariously through the things I see and hear and have the illusion of contributing to society and engaging in life? Am I investing in things that have no bearing on the grand scheme of life and expecting them to fill the need of being a part of something real? The questions started to come fast and things that I'd been feeling for a long time suddenly tumbled out; things I never knew how to say.

It has been easier for me for a long time to be distracted by life, rather than engage in it. Facebook, video games, TV, movies, Twitter, the list went on and on. They were the symbols of the things that I was really supposed to be engaging in: relationships, adventures, conversations, debate. Suddenly it was not so strange that I felt empty when I put the symbol in place of the real thing. And that is the lie: the symbol is more important than the real thing.

No wonder it felt hollow trying to be satisfied with things that were never built to satisfy. They are distractions and symbols and signposts and practice and lessons, but they will never take the place of real life, no more than a smile will take the place of joy.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Wasting Time (Part 1)

Do you ever feel like you are wasting time; the most precious natural resource that we have? I've been finding myself doing things that I know don't really matter. I've been replaying video games and watching movies that I've seen a million times. I quote every line before they do.

I've been thinking that there must be something much more to life than waiting for it to start.

As the risk of sounding trendy, although I'm probably a few months late for that anyway, I was reading the Great Gatsby. It is a very sad book and although the man who wrote the forward clearly stated that there was no moral, I found one line in particular very interesting. It was toward the end of the book after Gatsby dies (spoilers) and Carraway is trying to talk another character into going to the funeral. However, the character doesn't want to go. "Let us learn to show our friendship for a man when he is alive and not after he is dead," he says, "After that my own rule is to let everything alone." That really struck me for some reason. I think it was because there is a broader application to life within that line.

Personally, I've been noticing that, in a lot of ways, I have been avoiding life. Either out of fear or the possibility of failure or whatever, I have been hiding in my hobbit hole while the world pounds away at my door, its thundering voice unheeded, and its adventurous stories ignored. When I read that line, it reminded me in a strange way, that I am alive. Things must be done now if they are going to be done at all just as friendship must be offered while friends are living, not after they are dead.

Before this goes where it seems to be going: into the vague, unrealistic clouds of dreams and Hollywood, let me just say that this is not another imperative to plea to go out and live life no matter what the cost. I am not F. Scott Fitzgerald and I am not being advocated by Coke. This is simply, in a small way, a reminder that we are being invited, with each breath and new dawn, to live intentionally and be who we are going to be.

This week I've thrown open a few windows in my hobbit hole and am going to try to throw open a few more. Maybe its time to listen to the thundering voice, a few stories, and take another step into a world that has held me captive for so long.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Man in the Mud

I was thinking about reminders. Phones, laptops, calendars are all built into modern life keeping us on track to take medication, go to meeting, go to the dentist, or re-register your car (which I recently forgot to do.) Don't you wish there was a constant reminder of simple truths? Encouragement that would not get out of our faces, or lost in the blur of the day? I don't mean the canned, miniature pep-talks, or inspirational quotes we receive ad nauseam, or even the daily Bible verse that greets us when we open our browser in the morning. I'm talking about the things that cause up to stop and adjust our lives and shift our paradigms. I know for me, I find myself so far from where I want to be so often, wondering how I got there, that I could use one of those reminders pretty frequently.

Today in church, the sermon was one such reminder: God, in the face of being rejected on the whole by humanity, has not rejected us. Lets look at that for just a sec. For the sake of argument, lets assume that people, the human race, are all searching for the same thing - something that will deeply satisfy their souls. I know thats what I search for, if I boil down all my wanderings and preoccupations and confusing detours. This means that for all of us who are feeling far from God, and feeling like there is way too much between us and God to ever be or feel accepted by Him, are, whether we like it or not,  accepted for who we are and who we can be.

Does this seem familiar at all? I know these words haunted me today. It is sadly a common tale, but it is also my tale. There have been and will continue to be times when I feel rejected by God. Either I'm not good enough or I've messed up too much, or I'm just not prepared to risk being let down when I find out that God really doesn't love me after all. Too many times I've believed that I need to make my own chances, because I've blown all my chances with God.

There is a story that I've been hearing since Sunday school: There were two sons that lived at home. One stayed with his father and was a dutiful son. The other demanded his inheritance and left the safety and comfort of his father's house. He ended up spending all his money on drinks, girls, and rock n' roll, ending up sitting in a pigsty, covered in mud and alone. I don't know about you but I identify with that guy. This man in the mud is so typical of me and so many other people around me: we have exhausted the avenues that we thought would make us happy, are too scared to go home, and are too ashamed to admit to ourselves that all we want is to be somewhere else with someone that won't let us down.

This is where a simple fact changes everything: God does not reject us, even when we reject Him. The prodigal son sitting in the mud suddenly hopes that he can go back home, but only as a servant in his father's house, thinking that he has fallen too far to ever be a real son to his father again. At least he'll come close to a life that seems so distant and unatainable. Again, I think I understand what's going through this guy's head, but he goes for it anyway. You probably know what happens:

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate."

Lets pause real quick and talk about the other brother for a second, the one who stayed at home. What must he have been thinking? 

"‘Look!" the other brother says, "All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’" The father responds “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours." I think this brother's story is just as common, simply because the love bestowed upon him was not as instantly dramatic as that shown to the prodigal, and is hard to see sometimes. But the important thing is this: the father loved them the same.

Its so simple, but changes everything. It is also so difficult to apply this my own life. Constantly I get stuck at the part where everything I had was gone and I'm sitting in the mud, far from home. But this is something I know I share with lots of people: we are all spending our inheritance on things that don't matter and hoping they will, never realizing that the only thing that will satisfy the deepest searchings of our souls is Love; more specifically, the love of the Father. The splendor and grandeur of it was enough to make the other brother pretty jealous, even though he had it all along.

God doesn't reject us, even when we reject him or forget us when we feel forgotten by Him. Both brothers came up against a love that changed their lives forever; the kind of Love that bears remembrance. This story is not only a reminder of God's character, but also a promise from a good father to his children.