Lawless One; a permanent nightmare

18 10 2010

[fiction]

Our star, Larry Lawson, had a rousing morning slapping his girlfriend to her senses.  She was still moaning over that fetus he pushed her to abort.  Zooming down the parkway, he considered that he might stop by the bar after work and see if he could pick up a new hottie, maybe a Latino chic.  That would suit him nicely.  Who knows, he might get lucky, today.  A light turned red, and he breezed through it unscathed, only to be stopped dead by a stale red with heavy cross-traffic a hundred yards later.  A black kid with an iPod stuck in his ears strutted in front of him, earning a honk and a few nasty words.  Larry thought to teach him a lesson for prolonging his red light with a crosswalk signal.  The kid would probably think of this day whenever he considered white people, in general.  He probably hated white men, already.  Larry had the vague recollection of having honked at this kid before.  Across the intersection stood a billboard photo of some guy in a white cowboy hat holding a telephone, with the words, “In trouble with the law?  Call Jesse!”  He chuckled to himself and made a mental note of the number.  The traffic going straight got a green, but Larry couldn’t waste time for the red left arrow, so he pulled an illegal U-turn and slid into the underground parking lot of his glass-walled high-rise office building.  He did a quick glance into the rearview mirror for cops and mumbled, “Sorry Jesse, maybe next time.”

Out of the car, he hopped into the elevator and waited for it to take him to the top floor, where a coffeepot and a corner desk had his name on them.  Some sappy song played over the speaker while he waited; it may have been called Shooting Stars.

“Like shooting stars we shine and then fade,
Breaking the promises we made, what about the promises?
What about the promises we made?  What about our plans for forever?”

Without thinking about it, he hummed along and counted the floors on the display above the door.  He couldn’t get out fast enough.  He put on his best attitude, taking the long way to the coffee maker, past the desk of that hot new intern.  He tried not to huff when she wasn’t there.  At his desk, he barely had the computer fired up when the guy in the cubicle next to him rolled around the cubicle partition and asked him, “Yo, Larry, you forgot to get a chain of custody receipt for yesterday’s Picasso delivery.”

Larry gave an over-the-shoulder smirk at him and said, “I didn’t forget.”

“Then where is it?” the pest insisted.

“I’ll get it to you.  I’ll get it to you.  Just wait a minute.  I just got here,” Larry snapped,  “Don’t rush me.” As soon as the neighbor wheeled back out of sight, he brought up a blank form on the computer and hit the “print” button.  Strolling as casually as possible to the printer, he snatched the document and slipped into a nearby vacant cubicle.  A few forged signatures and falsified dates written in, and he was on his way back to his desk via the aisle next to the file cabinets.  He learned long ago not to make the falsifications at his desk.  The new guy was too sharp; he’d see Larry strolling back from the printer with a fresh document and pause in his own cubicle for a moment, only to appear with the requested document, which was only too obvious.  Justifying the action was easy.  The delivery had been made, and that’s what really mattered.  This was just a lot of red tape, and besides it was a mistake, after all.  Granted, everyone would like to do things right the first time, but that’s no reason to take heat for a stupid piece of paper, or so Larry figured.  So long as the customer never complained of non-delivery, the document was never scrutinized.

All this was so much fuss over dry paint.  Larry figured Picasso to have created almost nineteen hundred paintings in his lifetime.  Of those, he had personally sold over twenty-five hundred, courtesy of a man on Thirteenth Street, named Joe Guiles.  Old Joe was one of those artists who sold art by the pound.  Larry loved his abstract works.  The need to follow reality set rules that made realistic artwork difficult to forge.  Bad art was bad, whether it looked like the original or not.  Abstract art was the sort of thing that could never be bad art, because it never actually had to look like something real.  It was essentially lawless.  The consumer eye couldn’t tell a Guiles from a Picasso, but it could certainly tell it from a Rembrandt.  No Picasso fan could look at one of his works and identify it as a forgery by its poor quality.  That’s because it was all bad.  Without having the real thing to hold up next to it, no one could notice the difference.  With the advance of the Giclee printer, a downloaded work could be printed on canvass to look like a genuine double of the original.  Granted, there were certain risks.  He had to be careful not to sell any of the showcased works, or anything too famous.  The best bet was always something that Picasso never attempted, yet should have.  These were the “lesser-known works.”  That’s where Joe’s talent really shined.

Well, it wasn’t too hard to rationalize, really.  A painting was as good as the owner’s enjoyment of it.  It didn’t really matter who made it or how it was made, so long as it had the certain visual appeal that the consumer was looking for.  I mean, it’s either worth hanging on a wall, or it isn’t.  In the end, it’s just an image.  If the consumer wanted that image, then that’s what the consumer got.  In return, Larry only asked for mass-produced artwork of dead presidents on rag paper.  That should be fair enough.

The phone on his desk rang.  It was Joe.  He answered it, “Larry Lawson, superstar.”

Joe replied that one of his works was ready, and then he disconnected.

Larry stood, passed the bad document over the shoulder of his coworker and disappeared around a corner.  He had been in the office less than twenty minutes, and already he was headed for the elevator and freedom.  Stopping by the receptionist’s desk, he asked the lady to tell his boss that he was on his way to do a pick-up.  She replied that the boss was not coming in today.  This had “good day” written all over it.  He counted the steps to the elevator, waited for the doors to shut, and then he did his best rendition of a football goal line victory dance.  That stop at the bar would be coming earlier than he had planned.  The elevator car dropped a level and opened to a pretty little clerk that he had gotten to know a month earlier.  As soon as she saw him, she made an awkward nod of the head, mumbled, “Sorry, mistake,” and hurried away.  He made a mental note to study that case.  Clearly, something went wrong with that one.  Maybe he had pursued her a little to aggressively.

The doors closed and the elevator car continued on its way.  “Shooting Stars,” played softly over the speaker.  “Come on, people, we just played that one,” he muttered.  Two lines later, he realized that the words were different.  This one wasn’t about shooting stars, like the kind one might watch on a hot August night.  This one was about shooting stars, as in celebrities and with a gun.  He shifted uncomfortably.  “Odd, that one,” he said to the wall.  His cell phone rang.  It was the jerk from the cubicle next to his.

“Larry,” whined the jerk, “This receipt is a complete forgery!  What the heck are you doing, trying to pawn this junk off on me?”

“Just file it,” Larry answered, “you know no one’s going to look at it, anyway.”

“Larry, I looked at it!  Now we’re both involved.  This isn’t just your butt that’s going to get fried.  I never asked for this.  It’s illegal, you know!” the twiggy coworker cried.

“Laws were made to be broken,” Larry returned, “Get a grip.  You’re not going to get arrested for possession of a fake receipt.”  He snapped his phone shut and continued waiting.  This was taking too long.  He looked at the display above the door, and it showed that he was ascending, instead of descending.  “Drat!” he shouted.  Actually, that wasn’t quite the word he used.  The numbers kept going up.  Then, he was back to his own level, which was on the highest floor.  Then he was on the floor above it.  The numbers rearranged themselves into a little face, just a line for a mouth and two dots for eyes.  “What the…?!”

“So, you don’t like laws, do you?” the little face said, and he heard it through the speakers in place of the music.  The face screwed itself up into various Chinese characters.  Then the display went blank and the doors opened, revealing the roof and all of the workings one might find on top of a high-rise office building.

“This is nuts,” he said with a shiver, “Elevators don’t go clear to the roof.  This can’t be happening.”  But the unnaturally dark and smoky sky drew him outside and toward the parapet.  Looking down, he saw that the whole city was on fire, making him think for a split second that it had caused his elevator to rise to the top, but that would still be impossible.  The elevator still doesn’t reach the roof, even if it malfunctions.  A huge billow of smoke rose in the distance, forming what vaguely looked like an angry face, which turned and dissipated a second later.  A moment after that, the roiling smoke formed another face, which rotated and obliterated.  It was only the sort of thing one sees in clouds, when one looks up and makes believe that the thing is shaped like something familiar, even when it clearly looks dissimilar.  Yet, face after face arose and disappeared.  “What is going on, here?” he wondered aloud.

“At the moment, you’re hallucinating, but that could all change in a few minutes,” said a voice behind him.

He turned toward the speaker and saw a man in a leather jacket, leather pants and leather boots.  In fact, it would appear that every thing he wore required the shedding of blood.  “What’s going on?  What’s happening,” Larry asked.

“This day has been waiting for you for thousands of years, and you have only just now stepped into it,” replied the stranger, “But I wanted to give you a moment longer before you met your destiny.  The world burns like incense to appease the nostrils of a holy God, but one can burn swine meat forever without ever producing a pleasing aroma.  Really,  I don’t think we need more of that.  I like to think that there’s a chance to reconcile you with the law you hate.”

Larry tried to give him a look that said, “You’ve got to be kidding,” that looked more like a terrified, “Man, I sure hope this is just a joke.”  He looked back at the rising smoke, which seemed to look back at him.  “So what are you saying?”

“You need Jesus Christ to pay the penalty for your breaking of the law,” the man in leather said.

“Yeah, whatever.  Jesus overthrew the law,” Larry replied.

“No, you overthrew the law.  Jesus fulfilled it.  He loved the law enough to die, rather than break it.  He loved you enough to die, rather than break you.  Something had to break.  It was you against the law, and….”

“That’s nice,” Larry interrupted, “but I’ve got an elevator to catch,” and he headed back to the entrance.

“Are you really in such a hurry to go down there?” asked the stranger.

Larry stepped inside the elevator, turned, and gave the button for the parking garage a resolute push.  There’s something about insanity that makes people compensate by attempting to be extra sane.  They stand a little taller.  They walk stiffly and talk about anything normal, if they can.  They find themselves looking for any symbol of normalcy to which they can cling, even striding with ineffective slowness from an onrush of doom.  For Larry, this meant resetting himself to the last moment before things went haywire, which meant standing in an elevator and pushing the button for the parking garage with the determination of one who actually expected it to go there.  When the doors closed and his stomach rose into his throat from the descent of the car, he hoped life was as normal as it now looked, but four seconds later, when he became weightless and floated about the interior, he realized with horror that he was better-off on the roof, with the freak, where at least he was free and not trapped in a box.  The display above the door showed the little face again, and he heard its voice through the speakers.

“You know, Larry, I know you think of yourself as a minor outlaw, but I happen to know that you love laws,” said the voice in a synthetic sort of way.  Larry was too busy floating about the cabin to venture a response, so it continued, “Take the law of gravity, for instance.  You love that law.  You like being able to use those little stilts you call legs to pry yourself away from the ground and move from place to place across the surface of a dirt ball.  You love knowing that every day, God happens to follow that law faithfully.  Or, take the laws of time and space, even.  You like, or better yet, are tremendously excited to know that your elevator will get to where it’s going in a timely manner.  You like to be able to cross a room in a matter of seconds, rather than decades.  In fact, it would kill you to know that you might not even get there in your lifetime.”

“Oh, dear God,” Larry mumbled, not reverently.

“Yes, both dear and God, in fact,” said the voice.  “Aren’t you glad God obeys his laws?  Don’t you wish you had obeyed yours?  Oh, but then there’s the Master Law, and this one you love the best.  It’s the law that makes all other laws possible.  It’s the law of consistency.  It’s so universal and so important that most people don’t even know it exists.  You wake up every morning, go to work, come home and go to bed.”

“I do not love that law,” Larry groaned.

“Oh, but you do,” argued the voice.  “You don’t like not knowing if, perhaps, you might wake up one day and find that you are a chicken, strapped to the back of a flying purple pig, singing We Are The World a hundred times really fast.  For instance, you don’t like floating about, trapped inside an elevator that talks nonsense to you.”

Larry resisted the urge to puke, and said, cautiously, “You’re right.  I definitely do not like this.”

“Ah, but fortunately for you God is very good at following his laws,” the thing said.

“Then why isn’t he?!” Larry roared.

“Ah, but he is!” the elevator cheered, “You may think that you are floating, but it only seems like that because your entire world is falling with you.  Your coworkers are falling with you.  Your elevator car is falling with you…and it still only takes four and a half seconds to hit the ground!  Even the laws of time and space are obeyed.  Did you know, Larry, that the terrified mind of a human fires signals so fast that he perceives that time comes to a standstill?”

“That’s great!  That’s just fantastic, you stupid, little, whatever you are!  What about consistency?  What about your freaking Master Law?!” Larry screamed.

“It’s about to be taken from you,” said the elevator, flatly.  “The Master is about to be taken from you, and there’s really no way to have the Master Law without the Master, now is there?  I mean, that wouldn’t make any sense, now would it?

“You mean, I’m going to be stuck in this nightmare?!” Larry panicked.

The elevator was silent for a moment.  Then it replied, “Yes, but this is all taking too long.  We are nearly out of time.”

All at once, the elevator groaned softly, and Larry was flung at the floor, where he stopped, mid-air, spread-eagle, with his nose an inch from the ground, hovering.  He brought his arms and legs down, and he carefully stood to his feet.  The moment the doors opened, he rushed outside, into the parking garage, and for a moment life seemed to have returned to normal.  A short distance away was a small one-person restroom, used mostly by the security guards and the incontinent.  Into this he rushed, either to vomit or to splash water on his face, whichever he could manage best.  It was one of those cold, ugly places, with a steel mirror and a steel toilet and a push-button washbasin.  He got one splash of water to his face before he began to doubt his own reflection.  It didn’t look right.  He worried that the nightmare might be returning.  It was his face, alright, and it even imitated his movements, but somehow it felt like the image of someone else.  The man in the mirror looked like the sort of jackass a person loves to hate, bearing a sneer best removed with a tightly-clenched fist.  Then, he could contain himself no longer.  He fell to his knees before the toilet and spilled his breakfast, which appeared to be a diet of worms.  In between retches he could still feel them wriggling in his throat, which made him retch all the more.  Gripping the bowl with both hands, he felt himself surrender to the panic.  There was no end to the worms within.  That’s when he noticed his hands.  They were covered in worms, too.  In fact, they were so covered that he could not see his hands.  He swiped at them vigorously, knocking them in large clumps into the toilet, taking off whole fingers and then an arm, into the bowl.  That’s when he realized that the worms were not on his arms.  The worms were his arms.  He pushed himself to his feet and examined his body, a seething mass of worms in the general shape of a man.  His right arm flopped detached over the edge of the bowl, spreading in an array of nematodes, until it no longer resembled an arm.

Larry had one thread of sanity left, and with it he barged out of the restroom, up the ramp and out onto the street.  He was going to wake up or die trying.  The street outside was packed with pedestrians, marching routinely to work.  He pushed through them rudely, not knowing where he was going, or why.  He overheard their conversations with each other, normal and unrelated to him, but his mind picked out one word from one person and one word from another, fitting it nicely together into a sentence that was never spoken by a single individual.

“Hurry…call…on…Christ!…now,” said no one and everyone.

Larry stopped at the street corner and looked each way.  It was an alley, crossing with the main boulevard.  The alley had nothing but two old trash cans, a cat, and a homeless bum, who was striding purposefully toward him.  Everyone else was walking or driving along the boulevard.  In the moment that he recognized the bum as the man from the roof, he looked up at the street sign and saw that he was at the crossing of Hell Avenue and Heaven Alley.  “Oh, very funny!  Oh, yeah, this is all just one big hilarious joke, isn’t it?!” he yelled at the stranger.  The people on the street stopped in their tracks and stared.  Even the cars slowed to watch the madman.  Everyone was waiting to see what he would do next.  He was about to say something more, when he heard the whistle of a train.  It was the Seven-Ten, and for once it was right on time.  He knew what he had to do.  He turned up the boulevard and ran madly for the tracks.  The stranger broke into a dead run after him, trying to stop him.  Up ahead, he saw the tracks.  To his left, he saw the coming of the Los Angeles Westbound.  Larry was determined to meet the LAW head-on.  Someone or something was going to break.  With his legs spread, he stood and faced the oncoming diesel engine.  To his left, the stranger kept coming, with a look of horror on his face and his hand upraised in warning.

“Larry!” yelled the man in leather, “You can’t wake up from this kind of nightmare!”  But Larry turned toward the engine and ignored him.  The stranger slowed to a stop when the futility of his effort became evident.  The words barely squeaked from his throat, “Not again.  Oh, for pity’s sake, not again.”

The impact was so thunderous that everybody thought a bomb had gone off.  The doors and large pieces of the elevator car blew out into the cars parked opposite, rebounding with a clatter, a tremendous racket and a billow of dust.  A dozen car alarms sounded, honking in protest like frightened donkeys.  The entire office building came alive with workers buzzing about, trying desperately to know what was going on.

The event was summed up in a news article the next day, that the elevator in a downtown office building had become detached from its pulley mechanism and fallen all the way from the top floor to its resounding demise far below, killing one person in the process.

A clerk from the top floor minus one considered that she barely missed getting on that elevator seconds before the disaster.  Strangely, she was saved by her disdain of the victim, which, incidentally, made the victim harder to disdain.  Had he not been on that elevator, she felt that the victim would have been her, instead.  Somewhere on the top floor, the victim’s coworker made a callous remark that he probably hit the ground and kept going, straight to Hell.  Both were wrong in their own way.  The reason she did not die was simply because it was not her time to die.  He did not go straight to Hell, exactly.  Somewhere along the way life took an unexpected detour, before continuing on into the permanent nightmare.

But it is not for others to know the full story of a man.  His interaction with God is known only to him and God.  He can’t tell, and God won’t.

[/fiction]

Some say that the genre of Christian horror is a self-contradictory and impossible concept.  In truth, those who see the world falling headlong into a permanent nightmare are audience of the ultimate horror story.





Everyone a Pastor

13 10 2010

Following a man has always been easier than following God.  Even so, he is still only a man.  If we closely emulate his strengths, then we may closely emulate his faults.  But, choose whom we will to follow, our leader never goes to Hell on our behalf.  He goes there for himself, and we go to our own fate.

Following a man has always been so much easier than taking responsibility for our own faith, that we have an innate tendency to venerate our spiritual leaders, as though they were anything better than just another lost soul.  He is but one man among peers.  We sent him off to get his education.  He returned to impart his wisdom to us.  If he taught us for an hour every Sunday, then we sat through fifty-two hours of sermons per year and five-hundred-twenty hours each decade.  By our early thirties, we would have listened to 15,600 solid hours of preaching.  If there were anything left for him to teach us that he had not already discussed, then we ought to dismiss him for his negligence.  We ought, by all rights, to have learned enough to be our own preachers.

Can you say “amen” to that?

To borrow the cliché, our man of the cloth is all too often more cloth than man.  He looks good in the pulpit, but his character tends to be shallow.  It is his fault for expecting to be the shepherd of his flock.  Only Christ is the shepherd.  It is our fault for putting him on a pedestal, as though the platform were raised for his honor, and not merely so that we could see him better.  We should call no man “father” except our Father in Heaven.  A pastor is a peer among equals.

When a layman commits adultery against his wife, we condemn him, but we are not shaken.  When a pastor does such a thing, our church splits, some leave that church, and some leave all church, entirely.  When a pastor falls, we are shaken.  Yet, a pastor is just a theologically educated member of the congregation.  But, so are we.

He distances himself from his people.  He needs that air of infallibility.  If he related to us as one of us, then we might see his faults.  We hold him in such a critical esteem, that his would be the first faults we found, even before our own.  Yet, he is only a man, and he is only human.  Considering the pressure, considering the lack of moral support, and considering the lack of mentoring, one might conclude that the pastor lives an act.  He must, even if he is sincere.  He lives the best that he can, and he hides the rest, or he loses his job.  Such is the fact of the matter.  In this, there grows a weakness.  Quite possibly the shakiest faith in the church is the one that stands behind the pulpit.  The weakest in the group stands to be the backbone.

The disparity between the pastor and the laity is a two-part problem.  Firstly, the pastor has no pastor.  The second problem is like the first, that the congregation has no congregation.  We do not work on Sunday, but the pastor might only work on Sunday.  We turn to him for guidance, but he has no one.  He does not sit in church every Sunday and listen to anyone’s sermon.  He is alone.  God is his only guidance.  Even so, God should be our guidance, also.  He is called to speak the truth, but so are we.  He is called to reach the lost, but we are, also.  We are pastors to a lost world, but we act like spectators.  Our message is as bad as our worship, being nothing but lip service, and only a lip service within the walls of the church building, at that.

We are the preachers who do not preach.  He is the laity that does not listen.  We have led him through his fear for our approval.  We have failed to follow, because we have not emulated him to the world.  We watch him like a television.  We sing a few songs.  We chat a little, and then we go home.

We are only peers among pastors.  No man is above us.  No one is beneath us.  We are all responsible for working out our own faith, with the fear and trembling of a man tottering above the flames of Hell.  Only one man has paid the price for us, and he isn’t the pastor.  Only I am responsible for finding my salvation.  We are in this together.  We are judged separately.

Every single one of us has some insight that you lack.  Every single one of us needs support that only you can give.  We are all pastors.  We are all laity.  We were all lost.  We are all found.





Invalid Syllogism; working backward and getting lost

19 04 2010

If you follow the stream downhill from camp, point A,  then you get to the same place we got to, point B. We followed the stream downhill from camp, which is why we are here.

It stood to reason that following the stream assured a predictable path of travel.  If they followed the stream away from camp, then they could follow the stream back to camp.  While it is true that anyone who followed that stream with the current would eventually end up where they were, it was not true that anyone from where they were could follow the stream against its current to arrive back at camp.  Traveling downhill, the tributaries were all convergent.  If the stream split at all, then it always merged again a little further down.  Thus, one could reliably follow that stream and overtake anyone else who also followed that stream.  They would not veer from the path.  However, while the tributaries are convergent on the way down, they are divergent on the way back up.  What this means is that a person not paying close attention to the forks in the stream might not remember which one to follow going back.  In fact,  two members of our camping group did that very thing.  Traveling downstream was deceptively easy, as there were no decisions to make.  There is always only one downstream.  However, traveling upstream has its alternatives.  There are often multiple ways to go upstream.  The result of this was that at the end of the trip, when the pair never returned, Search And Rescue had to be called.  In attempting to work their way back to the beginning, they got hopelessly lost.

In social interaction, this very same kind of mistake is often made regarding the interpretation of other people’s actions.  For example, if I do not like you, then I will be reluctant to spend any time with you.  Let’s say I do not like you.  Therefore it stands to reason that if you invite me to your party that I will do my best to avoid going.  This is a valid line of reasoning, but I am already privy to my own motivation.  I didn’t really need to reason it out to know what I was going to do.  The real deduction comes from the person who is trying to figure out why I did not attend his party.  I was invited, but I said I was busy.  I was invited again, but I was still unable to attend.  Yet again, I was invited, but I still found a reason to decline.  The other person observes that I seem reluctant to attend his parties.  He knows very well that if I dislike him, then I will try to avoid attending his parties.  Therefore, he concludes that I do not like him.  However, working forward was like traveling downstream, and working backward was like traveling upstream.  While one motivation yields a predictable result, the motivation is not necessarily predictable from the result.  I don’t attend his parties, because he serves alcohol, and I am uncomfortable around it.  I don’t attend his parties, because he plays the music too loud.  I don’t attend his parties, because I have really bad flatulence, and I’m afraid of embarrassing myself.  I don’t attend his parties, because I’m infatuated with his sister, but I’m so shy that I’m afraid to be around her.  I don’t attend his parties, because I’m a very busy person with very many obligations, and I really have no time to attend.  Working backward from the response to the motivation, our lines of causation are divergent.  We may never really know why a person seems to avoid us, unless that person tells us, and maybe not even then.

But we put ourselves in the other person’s shoes, and we imagine the circumstances that would have gotten us from the motivation to the outcome, and we use that to determine what the motivation was.  Generally, we choose the conclusion that involves the fewest specifics, the details that we could never guess, or else we choose the conclusion with the most egocentric basis, the one that pertains specifically to me.  I don’t know what goes on inside your head, and I don’t know what goes on in your life, so my understanding of you is limited to generalizations that could apply to anybody.  I don’t have any way of knowing that you are overwhelmed with the burden of raising your kids.  I might have guessed it, but if I am not, or have not been, in a similar situation, then I might not understand.  What I can apply to anyone who knows me is that they have an opinion of me.  Add to that the fact that my whole world revolves around myself, I’m far more likely to assume that your behavior has something to do with me.

Tracing back a person’s behavior to that person’s motivation is tricky, so long as that person is not me.  It gets trickier if that person is from a different culture.  In Japan, the open expression of anger is greatly suppressed.  Therefore, it finds its way out in very subtle ways.  This passive-aggressive behavior often tries to say, “I hate you,” through the little things in life, like a drawer left open, or a dish left unwashed, or a task performed slowly.  Understanding the Japanese mindset requires amplifying their actions.  An American missionary to Japan once told me that her roommate confronted her for hating her.  She was shocked that her roommate thought she hated her.  The evidence for this animosity amounted to a number of trivial things that had nothing to do with the American’s feelings for the Japanese friend.

In contrast, the Russians are known for being painfully blunt with their feelings.  If a Russian hates you, then that person will likely tell you.  You simply don’t need to guess.  Consequently, I find that Eastern Europeans are generally easier for me to get along with, as my reticence does not cause them to wonder if I dislike them.

A Japanese man once invited me to dinner for the sole purpose of deliberately making wrong turns on the way there, spending the entire time trying to tell me not to be a racist (I couldn’t convince him that I wasn’t), and making me pay the bill (which I could not afford).  I barely knew the man, but he had decided in the few minutes that I had known him that I simply did not like him.  The dinner was his way of getting back at me.  For the life of me, I cannot fathom what I did wrong.  All I had done was sit in the same room with him for a few minutes without engaging in conversation.  He took that as an expression of dislike, I suppose.

Relating to different cultures is relatively easy, compared to relating to different species.  Sometimes people get bit by their own dogs because they hug the dog around the neck, putting themselves over the dog’s shoulders.  To us, it is an act of affection, but to the dog it is an assertion of dominance.  Some dogs don’t mind.  Some retaliate.  When dogs fight, the winner proclaims its victory by putting its head upon the other’s shoulders or over the other’s neck.  When a dog does it, the motivation is one thing, but when a person does it, the motivation is another.

Relating to other species is easy, compared to relating to something as vastly different as God.  What goes on in the mind of an omniscient God is an endless enigma.  The reasoning behind any action could have such a vast array of possible causes and motivations, that understanding him becomes an almost hopeless Gordian knot.  Most often the best answer to why God did something is, “I don’t know.”  As is generally the case, we tend to overlook the many details that we could never guess, and we opt for the explanation that relates most directly to ourselves.  A bad thing happens to me, and I conclude that God must not like me.  In so doing, I may have followed the stream uphill, and been misdirected to a tributary that went another way.  The fact is that I don’t know why bad things happen to me.  I might never guess the feelings he has for me, unless he tells me.

I used to think that the Bible was a form letter.  It seemed like a generic letter of love written to everyone, in general.  Then, it seemed like a store-bought greeting card, written by someone else for no one in particular, given to me by a God who loves me.  People are very egocentric.  If a speaker gets on stage, smiles and says, “I like you people,” they take it personally and impute that the speaker really does like them.  In truth, no such assessment could hold any meaning.  The entire group cannot be evaluated like an individual.  The same seems to hold true for God’s love expressed to us in the Bible.  In this we are at a crossroads.  If we ask, “Does God really love me?” we are left with life’s circumstances, which tell us nothing, and a Bible not written specifically for any particular person.  Tracing God’s actions backward to his motivations is an impossible task.  Without the moving of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, without God simply telling us in his own way, we are at a loss.

Jesus loves me,

This I know,

For the Bible tells me so.

Jesus loves me, this I know, because he told me so, himself.  The Bible tells me that he loves the world (John 3:16), and I need his Spirit to make it personal.





Descent into Royalty

18 04 2010

[fiction]

No cell phone for  a week was punishment enough to send my teenage daughter into fits.  Try no cell phone for a lifetime.  We add to that no internet, no text messaging, no blogging, no computer games.  That’s only a half-truth, though.  In reality, I’m stuck with no computer at all.  For that matter, I’m without electricity.  I don’t even have a land line.  I couldn’t call 911 if I needed to, and if I could, there would be no one there to answer it.  I have no car, but at least I have no gasoline to put into it.  When the sun goes down, I tell someone to burn something, and my home, my cold drafty stone prison, is dimly lit by a conflagration that makes my eyes water.  I spend the evening listening to someone play a song on a “stringed” instrument that I’m sure must be strung with actual cat gut.  The poor beast seems to holler with every tortured pluck.  The alleged minstrel hasn’t discovered homophony yet, either.  I’ve tried to teach him, but he seemed to think me mad for suggesting that he play more than one string at a time, and in retaliation he threatened to drive me mad, as if to prove him right.  I wonder often what might be playing on the old plasma screen, if such things existed, if there were any programming being broadcast anywhere.  I’d even take a little black and white cathode ray tube, if I could.  Forget the television.  I would give my kingdom for an AM radio to make me feel that there was life out there, somewhere.

The sun sets slowly, and the cold eats its way through these stone walls, right into my bones.  Tonight, I shall sleep on a sack of grass, the haunt of fleas and mites.  The servants shall have it heaped with lilac and some other flowers whose names I never learned, as if that helped.  My bed will be warmed by the fetid body of another man, my servant, because the men in these parts do not believe in sleeping next to their wives.  My wife seems to agree with that tradition, and so I am condemned to live like a student in an over-crowded frat house.  I spend my days in an uncomfortable hard chair, listening to the droning of stewards and bailiffs giving account of the day’s revenue.  So many heaps of that crop, so many piles of cordage collected.  And for entertainment, there’s a child with Downs Syndrome dressed in a jester’s outfit, doing his best to be silly.  If an award could be given to any person with the highest happiness-to-investment ratio, that kid would get it with no contest.  He’s got even less going for him than I do, but I don’t remember ever having a day quite as good as the one that he seems to be having at this moment.

I didn’t used to be in these miserable circumstances.  There was a time when a domain was something that followed the letters, “http,” a colon and a couple of slashes.  Now those were the days.  I lost hours in front of the computer, playing games and reading stuff I don’t remember.  Then I lost the rest of the time lying on the couch, snacking and staring like a zombie.  Between the two, there was always the MP3 player.  I had a job that I thought I hated.  I had a daughter that thought she hated me.  I was lower-middle class, but I had the world at my fingertips.  At work, I was the bottom of the totem pole, and I hated it.  Now, I’m a king, and I’m wishing I could be at the bottom again.  My biggest thrill is to drink melted chocolate from a small glass cup.  Did you know that glass is scarce here?  That’s why they have to cover the windows with great tapestries that keep out the sunlight.

Ah, but I’m a rich man.  I haven’t had a bath in weeks, can’t remember the inconvenience of having to wait for the tap water to get warm.  I smell like a compost heap.

My name was Edward Aisin.  I met a dope on the net who thought he had a design for a time machine.  I took one look at his plans and recommended a good psychiatrist.  A year later, I realized he was not far off.  At least, he seemed to have the theory of the matter down, solid.  With some spare parts salvaged from the junk in the garage, I made a flimsy hack job of a time machine.  It was mostly tape and glue, an entry for a fifth-rate modern art show.  The on-button consisted of two bare wires that sparked when they came together.  The device roared to life, and I wriggled through it, barely managing not to break it asunder in the process.

The next thing I knew, I was sucking on tepid milk.  Well, let’s not go into details, but I think I lost a month to mental development shortly after birth.  I must have wasted half a year in coming to my senses before I realized what had happened to me.  Oh, certainly, I went back in time, but my body did not go with me.  I was back to being imprisoned in a crib, in a world without satellite television, a world that barely had satellites.  I thought, then, what a wretched soul I’d become.  The freedom of adulthood was lost.  My car was gone.  My favorite songs had not been recorded yet.  My entire CD collection was gone, along with the very idea of a CD player.  I was a man trapped in a baby’s body.  I had to wait half a decade for the invention of the Atari, just so I could make little squares move across the screen and pretend that they were airplanes and submarines.  Science fiction movies had terrible special effects.  The internet had technically been invented, but no one had access to it.  Life had become boring as snot, and the spare parts and junk that I called a time machine must have stayed in the old time.  I imagined it would sit there and hum happily, until someone discovered it and unplugged it…except that it hadn’t been invented yet, so technically, I could turn it off myself if I wanted to…in a few years, but I’d have to invent it first.

But, who wants to drag through a few decades of dull childhood, endure puberty all over again and slowly return to the starting point, just to turn off a machine that I left running when I left home?  If I had known that it would not come back in time with me, then I never would have used the thing.  I thought I would come back as a middle-aged, overweight man, not return to the womb and live a rerun.  The second time around just wasn’t the same.  For one, there was no way I was going to let my mother boss me around.  I may be a child, but for crying out loud, I’m a grown man.  I was ten years old before I managed to scrape enough parts together to build another time machine.  By then, I devised a way to really go back in time.  The previous design had wedged me into the past, where I didn’t belong except where I already belonged, if that makes any sense.  I could only go back as far as I existed.  The new design was substitutionary.  I would trade places with something else.  I don’t know what I thought that thing would be, perhaps a rock, or a gerbil, or something.  I hadn’t considered that I might be stuck living life as a gerbil (oh, what a thought).  I wonder if I’d still want to raise a family, at that.

On the night that I had planned to restore my dignity, my father grounded me for my insolence.  Of course I was insolent.  He wasn’t going to ban me from watching television, because I was already banned from it, so I had to spend the evening holed away in my bedroom.  But, as soon as they were asleep, I sneaked out to the garage and activated the device.  It hummed and lit the garage with its eerie glow.  I could hear someone’s voice coming from it.  Eagerly, though somewhat wary, I crawled into it and found myself standing before a haughty, effeminate pansy, adorned with jewels and lace.  He was flipping his wrist in my general direction and telling me where to go.  Not knowing any better, I did what he told me to.  “Edward,” he said, “There’s a reason why I run things around here.  The sooner you learn it, the happier we’ll all be, so run along to your room, then.”

Being, by now, used to this treatment, I did what he said.  Down the long stone corridor, the servants lead me to my room, where my wife was waiting.  By the looks of things, she was expecting more than just me.  She looked like she could give birth at any moment.  I stared at her dumbly, wondering who I was and how old I was.  Five minutes ago, I was a child.  Two minutes ago, I thought I was a teenager, by the way I was being treated.  Now, with my pregnant wife before me, I wondered just how old I really was.  She looked…ashamed.

Philippa was her name, as I later discovered.  When I had married in my former life, we waited until we were nearly infertile before having a child.  We deemed it greatly important that our children, who turned out to be only one child, be blessed with all the wealth that we had been raised with.  In retrospect, I suppose we overestimated our own childhood.  As kids, we had nothing.  It makes me wonder why we waited so long.  I think it was simply that we could not bear to part with all of life’s trappings and freedom.  We waited and waited.  The house was never big enough, never had a big enough yard, and so on.

Now, I was practically a child, living in a castle, married with a child on the way.  As it turned out, I was still Edward.  I just happened to be a different Edward.  The fop in the hallway turned out to be a man named Mortimer, who slept with my mother and killed my father.  As it turned out, the hat on my head was a crown, but I needed a full month to come to grips with who I was, because I was treated about as much like a king as were the king’s dogs.

To think of it, I was a king!  What a glorious happenstance!  I went from the bottom to the top in a second.

But the joy was short-lived.  As I discovered, the real King Edward was a weakling.  He had allowed himself to come to this place where his mother’s paramour ruled the country while he sat in a back room and played the good little boy.  The father was dead at the hand of Mortimer, the philanderer, the adulterer.  I decided, then, that I would not be the obedient milksop that they had expected.  The moment my wife gave birth, our lives would be in grave danger, for we would have an heir.

Needless to say, I overcame my circumstances.  We killed Mortimer, and I assumed the throne as a real king.  When the real King Edward traded places with me again, he would find his life much improved.

A year later, I found myself bored out of my mind, wondering if I could be developing a case of sciatica, sitting on the throne and staring out the open window at the fading twilight.

Some people think that if they could go back in time that they would change the world.  Certainly, I knew much that the rest of the world did not know.  I knew that the Black Death was coming.  I knew a few things about hygiene, and I knew where penicillin came from.  But all of my advantage could not procure a single television.  Oh, man, I know so much more than these people.  Compared to them, I’m practically omniscient.  Yet, for the life of me, I can’t remember how to produce gun powder.  I tried to explain to some artisans how to engineer an aircraft, but while they could make the wings, they could not fashion the engine.  I told them how to make the engine, but they could not quite shape the steel, nor refine the oil.  I told them how to refine the oil, but they could not find how to drill for it.  On and on it went, one technology building upon another, yet, at the end of the day we still had nothing.  Anything less than a functional plane was nothing but modern art.  If we could not do that, then the time machine was well beyond our grasp.

To my horror, I realized that I was stuck in this world of the mundane, condemned to remain a king.  After a time, the amusement of riding on horses, impaling helpless porcine creatures with sharp metal objects lost its appeal.  After a time, the court musicians and dancers were nothing but a pathetic appeal against lethargy.  I had to get out, or I would lose my mind.  Therefore I outfitted the army with more soldiers, finer armor and handful of newly built trebuchets.  I don’t think that the old Edward had ever owned a trebuchet in his life.

It was a fine day, sunny and fresh.  We stood arrayed against the Scottish castle, ready to do battle.  They watched us from atop the walls, wary and unprepared.  The first shot from the catapult signaled the beginning of the siege.  Blood coursed through my veins with excitement.  This was the first bit of excitement I’d had in years.  In the next moment, the drawbridge lowered and a parley was had.  They wanted nothing to do with this battle.  But I had just spent good money outfitting my men and purchasing the new siege engines.  I would not have my fun spoiled by a bunch of cowards.  We refused their unconditional surrender and made them fight us.

A few hours later, we rode over the broken bodies of villagers who wanted nothing better than to be left alone, to live their ordinary lives.  We took our loot and returned quietly home.  Near the road, I spotted a column of smoke rising from a small knoll.  Veering off toward it, I discovered that it was a dugout home, a mere hole in the ground with a sod roof.  Looking in under the apex of the roof, I saw a young man, maybe seventeen, sitting on a stool and telling a story to a group of children.  His wife sat in the corner, working on some needlework.  When he noticed me, he leaped to his feet and hurried out to greet me, more in fear for himself than because of my celebrity.  “Your highness,” he stammered, “I am your humble servant.”

I looked at his dwelling distastefully and said, “Man, you’re living in a hole in the ground!”

“It is my home,” he said apologetically.  “It is not much, but I am pleased to have a roof over my head.”

I poked disdainfully at the sod.  “And I thought my life was bad.  What are you having for supper?”

At this, a worried expression fell across his face.  “All we have is a loaf of bread and two fish, but we’ll be happy to share it with you.”

“No, I don’t want your food,” I snapped.  “How can you live like this, man?  What do you do for fun?”

“I beg your pardon?” he asked.  “I tell stories to the children.  Otherwise, I don’t have much time for fun.  I am but a peasant.  Much work is required to live, but I am grateful.”

“Grateful?” I scoffed, “For what?  To whom are you grateful?  Me?”

“I beg your pardon, your highness, but I am grateful to God.  He has blessed me with a home, a family, and enough food for tonight.  I thank God because the rain falls from the sky, and the grass feeds the bagots, and there is milk for us.  I may not be a king, sir, but I am rich… in a way.”  He looked to his feet in fear of punishment, probably for claiming to be wealthy with respect to me.

I sat back on my horse and looked around at the fog rolling over the green grass, growing like a carpet over the downs.  A few feet away were a handful of goats grazing on the lawn.  The dirty faces of little children gazed up at me from under the roof.  The wife was watching her beau with adoring earnestness.  They were but kids with kids of their own, living in poverty, and this was all normal for them.  They were even worse off than I was.  They were far worse off, but they were happy.  At least, they were happy enough to marry and build a home and be a family.  They would not have the luxuries of a mere king.  They would not have the modern luxuries that I knew as a child.  They would never know all of the wonders and technology that I had grown comfortable with as an adult.  Yet, here they were, living in a hole, and they were happy because they had a roof, a scrap of food and each other.

I was a king, and I lost sleep over my lost plasma television.  I was never hungry, but I was never happy.  I was at the top of my world, but the bottom of my own heart.  I had everything, but I was thankful for nothing.  I wondered, almost seriously, if the peasant had come full circle.  I could almost stoop to try to live like that.

Almost, but not quite.  “Let’s go,” I commanded my men, and we continued home.  At least, I suppose it was as close to being a home as anything would ever be.

[/fiction]





A Mirror Among the Ugly

16 01 2010

How do you tell someone that he’s ugly?  You do it very, very gently.  If you’re his friend, then you’ll probably never tell him.  If you’re his mother, then you’ll lie.

They live in a house without mirrors.  Over the bathroom sink hangs a picture of the Mona Lisa.  On the bedroom door hangs a full-length picture of Audrey Hepburn.  They brush their teeth and shave in front of these images, making believe that they are really seeing themselves in a mirror.  They eat breakfast with tarnished silverware, and they drive to work with the rearview mirror adjusted away to avoid accidentally seeing themselves.  Unfortunately for them, their workplace is an uncontrolled environment.  They can’t help but occasionally glimpse themselves, reflected in the bathroom mirror or a shiny surface.  They are the ugly.  They are everyone.

 Within everyone grows an innate evil, an ugliness that we try not to look at.  We do not, cannot, see ourselves for whom we really are, because we live our lives from the inside out.  A thing seems right because we want it.  A thing seems wrong until we do it.  Our house has no mirrors.  At work, people see us, and they react to what they see.  It shows us some reflection of ourselves.  But they only see us on the outside.  They are the reflection of our fully clothed selves, and we look away from that image, even.  We are as beautiful as we like to think we are.  So long as we never see ourselves, we can live in that fantasy.  All who know us may see us as arrogant jerks, but we remain unaffected.  We avert our eyes.  We break the mirror.  We try to buff the ugliness out of the shine.  We blame the lighting.

 God has sent to us a full-length mirror, and we stand naked before it.  It is the Holy Spirit, and it shows us what we are.  The fools among us shudder and walk away, trying desperately to forget what they saw.  Some of us stand and stare in shock for a while, only to convince ourselves that what we see isn’t so bad.  Others accept the image, realizing that they do not rise above the ugliness of the world around them.  Your Mom was ugly.  Your Dad was ugly.  You followed the trend.  Your friends are ugly.  Your dog is ugly.  At least the whole world is ugly, too. 

 But God has not sent this mirror simply to make us feel bad about ourselves.  We need that mirror in order to change what we can.  We use it so that we might not walk out the door with toothpaste in the corners of our mouths.  We use it to improve ourselves.

 Cooper’s Looking Glass Self is the principle that even when we look in a mirror, we do not see ourselves for what we are.  All we see is some person staring blankly at a mirror.  We use other people’s reactions to us to shape our self-image.  They see us in a natural setting, smiling naturally, reacting naturally.  Unfortunately, our friends usually don’t tell us everything we need to know about ourselves.  They’re often not brave enough to tell us when we’re behaving badly.  Worse yet, our ugliness gets filtered through theirs.  All we see is any extra ugliness that exceeds theirs.  Anyone who shows us the wickedness of our ways we malign and ignore.  We refuse the image they show us of ourselves, because we do not like it.  It does not fit what we’d like to imagine.

 Christians are often accused of being judgmental.  This, more often than not, is a complete lie.  We have been through that fire, are still going through it, being shown our flaws in painful high-definition by the mirror of the Holy Spirit.  We don’t have the luxury of living our fantasy.  Those of us who haven’t gone through it are those who do not have the Holy Spirit, and, therefore, have not really accepted Christ.  If you want to play that role and be that Christian, then you’re going to look in that mirror, and you’re going to go through that fire.  You get to peer into that image and see that wart, that pimple and that crooked nose.  You get to see your arrogance, your selfishness and your shallowness.  On the plus side, you get to work on fixing it.  You don’t have to stay that way.  On the minus side, you can’t pretend you’re beautiful, when you’re not.  It’s no wonder the world calls us judgmental.  In us they see a reflection of themselves, shining off of the sheen cast by the work of God in our lives.  They will look upon us, and they will hate what they see.

 We did, too, at one time.  Some of us still do.  No one is perfect.

 So, how do you tell a man that he’s ugly?  If you want to be his friend, then you don’t.  He won’t brush his hair if he doesn’t know it’s a mess.  He won’t pluck the dangling booger from his nose if he doesn’t know that it’s there.  In fact, anything true is potentially useful.  People don’t use truth to hurt themselves.  We reflect upon people by hinting at them what they really are.  The Holy Spirit reflects like a mirror, abruptly and plainly, holding nothing back and sugarcoating nothing, but neither does he mean any of it for harm or insult.  Likewise, we should speak the truth in love, gently, not to insult but only to help.

 In return, we can expect to be thrown to the floor and stomped on.  Such is the life of a mirror among the ugly.





Tilting at Windmills

17 11 2009

Mr. Buck was a brave fellow, to be commended for his vigilance, warding off impostors and guarding the herd.  One should wonder what would happen if he had used his seven-point antlers to defend against actual predators, rather than other elk.  He fought off the weaker bucks, those endowed with fewer points and a lower crown.  He tolerated nothing but the best for the does: himself.  Then he encountered a defiant one, a buck made of concrete.  They fought through the night, neither acquiescing to the other.  At dawn, the morning’s sunlight found them both lying on the ground, dead as a doornail.

He is the vigilant Christian, defender of the truth, the one who sniffs out heresy and exposes it.  He is dutiful, a credit to his faith.  We can hardly criticize such a person.  He does the Lord’s work.  But while he spends his hours weeding out the so-called Christians who use indelicate language or misread scripture, the world lies in wait.  They are the predators who seek to destroy us.  They are the greater threat, who seek ways to marginalize us, hide us, outlaw us, or even kill us.  While the world picks us off, Mr. Buck uses his seven points of theological prowess, not against the predator, but against other believers.  May the strongest theology prevail.

No, there is no wrong in the refinement of our understanding of God’s word; quite the contrary.  No, there is no vice in seeking to banish those who would poison the faith.  It is a virtue that most do not have.  However, as with most things, such vigilance can go too far.  Not only can it narrow our focus to those who profess to be believers, blinding us to the larger threat, but it also stands to pit us against a false threat.  Once in the habit, we can find fault in anyone.  This Christian used the word “piss,” when he should have said, “pee.”  Nay, he should have said “urinate.”  No, he should have used a code word, like “do number one.”  Bother, he should not have mentioned it at all.  Never mind that he’s trapped in the back of your car and barely holding on to his dignity.

This person baptized his infant.  Why, that’s not Biblical!  These people celebrate Christmas, a Catholic holiday that good protestants should avoid.  The Charismatics force acts of the Holy Spirit that have an eerie disturbing nature.  The Northern Baptists have emasculated God, giving him no room to work a single miracle.  The Calvinists blame God for everything.  The Lutherans act and talk just like Catholics.  The list goes on and on.

I did a little experiment, once.  I wanted to see how much evil one could pin against my blog if a person wanted to make a pariah out of me.  I was rather startled at how easy it would be.  Am I cutting my own throat in mentioning it?  I probably am.  Any of those people whom I am describing would certainly take this and run with it.  Therefore, I would start by saying that none of the following was intentional, nor does it imply anything about me.

1)  The name, Nonaeroterraqueous could be abbreviated to NATAs, or Satan, spelled backward.  I’m serious, folks.  This was never my intention.

2)  The name is eighteen letters long.  Eighteen is the sum of the digits 666.

3)  The symbol looks like three sixes put together (again, that was not the original intent).

4)  The symbol resembles the binary number 1110, which translates to the number eighteen, the sum of the digits 666.*

5)  The author’s name is Mark (that’s me), which sounds a lot like the mark of the beast.  Didn’t Revelation mention that the mark could be the Antichrist’s name?

Hopefully I didn’t just kill myself.  In fact, I probably did.  In truth, I’ve just given ammunition to the very people I want to address today.  If you found these reasons sufficient to condemn my site, then you are tilting at windmills.  You are clashing antlers with a concrete foe.  The enmity is purely imaginary.  There is nothing to it.  I know, because it is my own site.  I know what my own meaning is.  But you know what I’m getting at.  We’ve all encountered people who could read an evil meaning into every symbol and every mysterious word, and extract and twist condemning evidence from anything a person says or does.  I know what it’s like, because I used to be such a person.  I could be very good at this.

Christians come in two extremes.  There are those who would permit anything, and those who look to condemn almost anything.  The first group is wrong, but it isn’t what I’m discussing at the moment.  The second group is among my friends, and I don’t want them to self-destruct against imaginary enemies.  Our religion can either explode or implode.  Either we can destroy ourselves by including doctrine from every external system, or we can destroy ourselves by ripping apart anyone who believes anything unscriptural, or anyone who does anything even remotely questionable.

Argyle socks?  How worldly!  It’s the dress of heathens.

Saxophones in church?!  Those are the instruments of brothels!  (and how do we know this?)

Your skirt shows your knees!  That woman is wearing pants!

That preacher is a Post-Tribulationist!  That deacon thinks we have to be baptized to be saved!

Heretics!  The church is full of heretics!

Forgive me for my heresy.  I humbly beg it of you.  I cannot, nor will I ever, have a theology that is anything but wrong to some degree or another.  No one on this planet has a perfect theology.  No form of Christianity is entirely correct.  That which unites us is Christ, and no other.  It is his death and resurrection that brings us everlasting life, such that anyone who puts faith in him will not ultimately perish but have everlasting life.  He didn’t come into this world to condemn us.  Don’t do what Christ would not do.  He came that the world, through him, might be saved.

Lead the world to Christ.  Let Christ be the one to complete his work in us.  I humbly beg it of you.

*Correction: 1110 is binary for 14.  10010 is binary for 18…not that it matters much.





Purpose-Driven Nothing

11 11 2009

motherAh, mother…she worked so hard to keep the house straight, to take care of her children, to take care of the children at church, to take care of the homeless, to take care of foster children, to take care of abandoned animals….  Everything she did has been evidence of a driven life.  Much as I appreciated the clean house and the food on the table, I found myself wondering what it was all for, when at the end of the day she dozed off on a recliner, “playing a board game” with me, where I was expected to play the game for the both of us.  Once a week, or so, she took it upon herself to spend time with me.  There wasn’t much she enjoyed, beyond bored board games, so I learned to decline.  “What do you do for fun?” I asked her one day.

“Work is my fun,” she replied with dignity.

I can appreciate someone who enjoys her work, but there’s a difference between work and play.  Work is not something that you’re supposed to do on the Sabbath.  All my parents ever did on Sunday was lie around the house.  They had no means of frivolous entertainment.  I asked my mom, persistently, what she did that was not work, something done for no other reason than because it was fun to do.  She replied that she was proud of the fact that she did not waste her time on useless things.  Consequently, she did not have much time for me.  This is not to say that she didn’t love me.  It’s just that she wanted to stand before God on the last day and hold her head high, knowing that she had made good use of her time here on Earth.

My father was a hard worker, too.  At the end of his day job, he had dinner and left for his side jobs.  Sometimes he brought me along to sit around and fidget with screwdrivers and wires and stuff.  Sometimes he found things for me to do.  Most of the time, though, I just didn’t see much of him.  I thought he was hard pressed for cash, but he kept us supplied in electronic entertainment and piles of toys at Christmas.  I later asked him why he worked so much, and he replied, essentially, by saying that he was driven.

They were ambitious people, and they took great care of me.  Now, at the end of their lives, they look back on it and worry that they didn’t accomplish enough.  I worry that they accomplished too much.

I have known scores of Christians who strive to please God with their lives.  They struggle to work witnessing into every conversation.  They always keep an eye open for ways to help the needy.  They pray and read their Bibles daily.  I can hardly criticize them, especially in light of those who do no such thing.  Yet, I cannot help but wonder if all of this effort misses the point, not only of faith, but of life, in general.  If I ask them what their purpose in life is, they confidently tell me that they were put on this terrestrial globe to serve God and humanity.  A hammer was made to pound nails, and a Christian was made to feed the hungry.

Adam and Eve must have been the most depressed people in all of history.  In all of creation, nothing was wrong, and there was no one to serve.  Heaven must be the most listless place, with nothing wrong and nothing to fix.

Aye, they are the Marthas of the world, running to and fro, preparing a meal for their unexpected guests, Jesus and company.  They live to serve.  They are efficient, driven people, for whom no such thing as a game or hobby exists.  But we do not have children to be our tireless servants, and we are the children of God, no less.  He did not make us for the work that we do.  Sure, all of these things are well and good, but no good deed constitutes life’s purpose, not a single one.  Continue to care for your brother, but keep your priorities straight.

Your highest priority is communion with your maker.  The greatest commandment is to love the lord your God with everything you’ve got.  The second is to love your neighbor as yourself.  While service can be an act of love, no service is a substitute for love.

Get out.  Enjoy the birds and the trees.  God made them, and they’re yours to enjoy.  Love the creation and the mind that created it.  Let God be your friend, rather than a demanding task master.  Don’t live to serve.  Live to love.  Many people miss the opportunity to get in touch with God, being too busy with doing good things.  Love the homeless first; help them if necessary.

We’re not earning points, here.  This is not our purgatory.  We could do a great many things, but if we miss the point of it all, if we forget to take the time to love God and our fellow people, then we accomplish nothing.

Frivolous things have their purpose, too.  They give us a chance to relax, play and enjoy each other’s company.  Sometimes it’s nice just to be silly.

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