Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Grand Canyon and Life Choices

Last year, my spouse and I visited the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.  Pictures do not adequately show the grandeur, size, scope and beauty of the canyon.  Another bonus was the night sky:  I saw stars I never see at home due to light pollution.  All this beauty but still a potentially dangerous place when a choice goes wrong.

During our visit, there was a 30 mile per hour wind blowing.  This added a sense of adventure to walking the trails near the lodge but didn't seem to deter people from climbing on rocks, standing on top of rock formations or getting close to the edge.  It seemed as if these individuals did not comprehend their choice might have an affect on other people.  One slip of a foot or one big gust of wind could have sent these adventuresome souls over the rim.  Then rescue people would have to risk their life to retrieve an injured person or worse a body and the person's family would have to deal with either the resulting medical issues or getting the body home for burial.

This is the same with life: we make choices without ever thinking of how a choice will, might, or could affect people around us.  The affair which negatively impacts the children due to gossip at school or the damage to a spouse's self esteem.  The binge drinking that brings sorrow due to the drinker's death or death of others due to driving while intoxicated.  The examples are endless but the common denominator is the actions are self initiated without any thought of the affect on others.

Sometimes, we realize the choice is incorrect but spend a large amount of time and effort justifying our choice: you just don't understand what I'm dealing with, you can understand because you have never experienced what I'm going through.  You may be correct: I don't know what you are dealing with or going through but I can clearly see your choice has potential, detrimental affect on others.

I have an acquaintance who is currently experiencing some upheaval in their life.  They have chosen to dull the pain through natural pharmacology.  I so bad want to "DiNozzo" them.  For those, who don't watch NCIS, a "DiNozzo" is a whack to the back of the head.  This person is of reasonable intelligence and is supposedly a Christian but attempts to justify their behavior.

This person doesn't seem to want to acknowledge that natural pharmacology can negatively impact their health, brain, and/or their family.  They just want to escape the pain they are experiencing.  My question is: do you realize less mature Christians and especially non-Christians are watching you? What does your cavalier attitude say: it's okay to dull the pain when life gets too rough and turn your back on your Christian values?

What would have been the result if Christ had dulled His pain?  Would He have been able to be a witness of God's holiness to the disciples?  Would He have been able to effectively minister to people?  Or would He just have been "that dude with long hair" spouting off platitudes?

I strongly empathize with this person.  I too have wanted to "escape" from life's pain but choose instead to "escape" through prayer and Christian fellowship.  These "drugs" provide benefits unattainable with natural pharmacology.  Fellowship provides a communal experience of support, love, understanding, guidance, and sympathy.  Natural pharmacology is self centered and isolates one from caring, supporting people by creating an opaque barrier preventing an individual from reaching out to others for help.  Also, the pharmacology induced euphoria dulls the senses to the downward spiral occurring.

In a way, this person's choice is like the windy Grand Canyon: one step too close to the edge or one big windy gust will trigger consequences from which it will be very difficult to recover.  In my acquaintance's case, the consequence will be serious damage to their Christian witness and testimony plus their Christian effectiveness will be diminished.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Pulling the cloth off the table

Are you familiar with the magic trick of pulling the cloth off the table and nothing moves, breaks or falls off the table?  Great attention getter....if you can pull it off (no pun intended...okay...just a tad).  The trick is similar to juggling.  For the experienced practitioner,  the challenge is how many items can you juggle and/or how many different items can you juggle.  For the less experienced, the challenge is: what can you afford to drop.  I jokingly tell people at work: "I can juggle, the question is do you want the Fostoria Crystal or the Corelle Ware to hit the floor?".

I think we sometime view our Christianity as a juggling act or tablecloth pulling act.  If we don't perform the trick correctly and we break something, we want to yell at the magician who taught us the trick.  I understand the physics and science of juggling and tablecloth pulling but I don't try either trick with breakable objects.  I'm not that skilled.  I have a great deal of respect and appreciation for those who can perform either trick.

Christian life is very much a juggling act: worshiping a magnificent, unbounded God, getting "pulled" off the table by life; slapped in the face by illness, disease, or death; dreams crushed or delayed.  Some might think it offensive to question God about life events such as a father being taken from a daughter; death of a spouse due to an aggressive, terminal illness; a failed crop that was suppose to provide financial benefit.

 I do not have a rock solid, verifiable, concrete answer to why "bad" things happen to Christians other than Christians live in a sinful world.  Yes, I know that might be considered a cheesy, easy out answer.  What I do know, by personal experience, is God is always with you listening to your heart, mind, and voice.  God doesn't take offensive when you question why.  Think about this for a moment: God freely gave His Son to die a horrible, painful death for His creation.  Don't you think God is touched by our illness, suffering, and losing a loved one?

Yes, it is difficult to wake up day after day when your life has been touched by illness, suffering, death, or broken dreams.  Acknowledging who has allowed you to wake up and have another day of life makes getting up possible.  I believe one of the greatest witnesses a Christian has is their response to life's challenges.  Do you get angry and ticked off and then stay that way?  Do you get upset, yell and scream, and then turn to God for guidance, support, and endurance?

There a two women, Mrs. T and Mrs. N, in my church who are, to me, examples of asking God for guidance, support and endurance.  Mrs. T has been in remission from breast cancer for several years but  the cancer has recently returned in her bones.  Mrs. T always seems to have a pleasant spirit even on her "bad" days when the cancer is bothering her.  My thought is: if Mrs. T can get up each day and present a pleasant spirit in spite of the pain and disease, so can I.

The other woman, Mrs. N, has lupus and is in some degree of pain most of the time.  She is also an encouragement when I look at her: she always seems to have a smile on her face or presents a pleasant spirit through her pain.  Mrs. N causes me to view my problems as insignificant compared to daily being in pain.

From listening to their testimony, I know each has a security that God is in control and will take care of them either by providing them the strength to daily participate in life or provide them a painless life with Him.  I'm sure, based on human nature, each has their days when they get discouraged and feel they have been "pulled off the table".  Their pleasant spirit seems to indicate they don't "stay on the floor".  Instead, each asks God for strength to live another day, witness to another person, love their spouse one more day and give a kind word to a stranger.  Last but not least each acknowledges God is in control and is the daily provider of their strength, endurance and life.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Attending Weddings and Sharing Your Salvation Experience

I recently attended the wedding of Mr. K and Miss W, a Christian couple committed to witnessing in far away lands and to people encountered on a daily basis.  The wedding was not elaborate but simple and elegant.  For me, attending a wedding has a two fold purpose: show support for the couple and as a reminder of why I wed my lovely bride.

The support aspect is important as a public acknowledgment of the couple's commit to each other and as a non-verbal way of encouraging the couple. Supporting a newlywed couple is similar to supporting a new Christian: the more experienced, married couples need to be available to assist the newlyweds through difficult times and present a witness to the institution of marriage.  New Christians need the same things: encouragement, support, and survival tips.

As with newlyweds, "older" Christians need to disciple new Christians.  This is why sharing your salvation testimony and your Christian life experience is necessary.  Not all people experience life in the same way.  Some "easily" learn life's lessons and others need to stumble over the same rock multiple times.  Honest sharing of your testimony has a two fold purpose: self-encouragement and encouragement of others.  The self-encouragement is a form of saying thank you to God that you didn't have to stumble over the same rock nor go through difficult times.

If you did stumble over the same rock or go through difficult times, you don't know how your words might  encourage others or help them by knowing someone else had trials and problems.  Just knowing someone else is having a difficult time or has had a difficult time can be the difference between giving up or continuing the fight.

I strongly believe one objective of each Christian is to verbally and non-verbally encourage other Christians.  I don't like difficult times but if I can provide a positive, supportive witness of God's goodness and provision to another Christian, then the difficult times had a purpose.  Therefore, do not be hesitant to offer your personal salvation testimony nor your Christian life experience to anyone especially other Christians.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Excerpt from upcoming ebook title to be determined

I hope someone out there can understand this and share my perspective here. I grew up in church. I was pretty much a good kid. I have never been arrested. I spent most Saturday nights during high school at a prayer meeting. My conversion story goes pretty much like this: somewhere in the midst of all of my churchiness, I realized that I needed the grace of God. So when it came time to share testimonies, I always felt like the lame kid. You just sit there in the circle as everyone goes one by one telling their tear laden stories, silently praying, "Dear God, please tell me the person to my right was not a drug addict, alcoholic, abused child, or former satanist. My 7 seconds of 'I was always an OK guy, and one day I realized I needed salvation.' would not follow any of those other salvation stories well. However, if I have to follow any of those things, please let the rapture come now, because I don't want to be embarrassed... God? Are we still friends?!?!?! What do you mean (Nameless person to my right that I have to follow) used practice witchcraft and had a fight with a demon that sent them running into the arms of Jesus in an epic conversion story that makes you proud of them? God, this isn't funny. Thank you for your love and salvation and daily provision. I ask this in Jesus name. Amen." (disclaimer: this story might be slightly exaggerated by embarrassment-induced trauma, age, and tendency to dramatically recount stories.) I was not a very mature Christian. Might not be one still. See, God's grace, that's all I have to go on here.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Dear God,

So lately I've been working on what to do with my God Issues. Nothing seems appealing. There's nothing that seems to make sense with God. I feel abandoned. Even though I know He said he would never leave me or forsake me, it sure doesn't feel like it.

Right now my spiritual life feels more like the family disfunction that I've been witnessing. Enter the Characters... God: the rich and removed power player that can do anything you might need, but won't. Jesus: The perfect older sibling that God's always comparing you to. You know the one that in just 33 short years built his own spin off of the father's parent company that not only lasted for over 2000 years, but has managed to outsell Judaism on the international market. I can almost hear it, "You're 28 already; what have you been doing with your life?" Finally the Holy Spirit: the weird cousin that no one wants to talk about but somehow winds up being the life of the party any time he bothers to show up.

As I type this I hope to God that I'm not losing my soul. I just don't know what else to say or what else to think. I might as well make how I'm feeling concrete so I can either make things right between me and God, or come to grips with whatever he sees fit to punish me with. I know this is bad theology. I know it's never a good idea to try and determine theological consequences based solely on the pissed off emotional rantings of a recently injured ego.

So God, here's my grievance. I feel like you're punishing my wife for what her father did. I feel like you are robbing my wife of a dream we've had. I feel like you want happiness to be impossible. I feel like you're being selfish. I feel like you're cruel, by giving ambitions that can't be fulfilled. I feel like you've trapped me in this doldrum. I'm ready to eat the horses, or throw them over to make the boat lighter, just so I can be anywhere but here, dealing with anything but this. I want to hit something. Not even for the sake of venting, but sometimes in hopes that I might break something. Maybe if something is actually broken I might be a priority. My problem might matter. Maybe if I hurt more I might be able to move the hand of an infinite God to break through the barrier of the finite, to actually do something other than take. You could have done it differently, but you didn't. Why is that? I don't even feel like thinking about anything else, but I don't want to think about this. It feels absolute. It feels profound. It feels stupid.

So I'm here. Trying my best to pray to a God that's just pissed me off. How do I ask forgiveness for these feelings? Can you deal with these? I don't think that I can. How do I deal with these ideas and feelings? One more shift, and I feel like dropping into the statement that God is a construct of man's imaginings. That seems like it would be easier. Then I could just implode in peace. Then it would also make sense. If God is a product of imagination, then I couldn't feel like He could handle this any better than I could. The only other alternative is of course probably the right one. I just have a hard time believing, and I have in fact envisioned God to be much smaller then he is. So here it goes again. Turns out the problem is with me. It's always a problem with me.

God, I confess. I need you to forgive me for these things. For wanting to not believe. Not for believing that you don't exist, but for the persistent belief that you just don't care. I confess that I sometimes believe you cruel, that I sometimes believe you vindictive, that I sometimes believe you petty, that I sometimes believe you childish. Most of all though, that sometimes I, and more often than not lately, I believe you apathetic, distant as stars and as cold as stone. GOD, I NEED YOUR FORGIVENESS. I need you to remind me that you actually love me. Yes, even me. I need to know that You can. I need to know that you do. I need to know that you will. I need to know that you're willing to lead, I need to know that you are willing to comfort, I need to know that you are willing provide, I need to know that you are willing to provide not only for existence, but for the fruition of the things you've made a persistent gnawing in my mind. I know in my head that you are a loving God, but sometimes I think your love feels worse than another's scorn. God I need you to help me sort out how I feel, and move closer to you, so I can see what it is that you want me to do, and how you plan to make a way for it. Please get back to me soon. I'm already 28. At best I've only got another sixty or seventy years to wait.

I'll try to love you.

-Nathan

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Contradictions of Creation

In my last post I discussed how we artist “waste” time. In that post, I offered metaphors and symbols for a process that is more emotional than analytical, but there is room for analyzing the process and a place for explaining its mechanics.

On the whole, I do not believe that most of us are aware of how the creative process plays out. Some of us have been privileged enough to know those inspired moments, and they are so pristine and complete unto themselves that it almost feels violent to dissect such a sacred event. And yet, I think that it is because we do not understand the process that we are reluctant to submit to its needs. Maybe if we were better acquainted with the contradictions of creation we would be less inclined to discard the tools we need to achieve our desire.

I think that many of have this notion that great artists and writers simply sit down one day and begin to create. They may have had some training but once inspired they simply do so fully and completely with no flaws or defect. I will grant you that I have had those moments when it seems like my fingers race along the keyboard with no conscious thought or design, seeming to chase an idea of their own accord. There have been times when the paint seemed to dance upon the canvas to the proper place and adopt the proper shade with no assistance from me. Always these are my favorite pieces of work, pieces that I feel no arrogance or vulnerability in showing, because they seem to have to very little to do with me.

I wish that such times were always the case, but in truth they are rare. And yet, even in those times of almost spontaneous generation, I know the truth of the moment. The work before me, taking shape as if it had a life of its own, seeming to assert that my hands are but the hands of a barely needed midwife, is not something that was born on this day.

Throughout my life I have been an observer, picking apart every idea put before me. I can never remember a time when I could simply watch a movie or read a book. Constantly, I am grappling with the work demanding that it yield the idea that it cloaks, searching for its most elemental meaning. I blame this on my father who taught me that anyone who took the time to write a book, play, or movie, anyone who bothered to paint a picture or sculpt a form, had a fundamental belief that they believed so profoundly they were compelled to share it with the world.

I took him at his word, and I began to see the truth in what he had told me. To this day, I have yet to see any creative work that did not embody some ideology or dogma that had shaped the individual who created it. Some are easier to spot than others, but they are there.

Like grapes, I gather all of these bits of inspired thought and emotion. I pool them together in my mind, allowing them to sink deep within me, until I can distil the truth from what I have seen or heard. It may set untouched for years fermenting as a good wine, waiting until the proper day to be tasted. Some ideas may be taken out, reevaluated and judged as I mature only to be recasked and shelved yet again. At times I have been guilty of revealing an idea too soon when the flavor, while promising, has yet to gain the depth necessary for true greatness.

But then there are those ideas whose time has come, the image in my head is complete or the words have formed deep within my psyche and now it must be shared with my friends. If I have been sensitive to the nuances of its maturation I will produce a seductively simple yet bold creation whose complexities must be experienced to be known.

We work when we collect the bounty of the creation around us. We toil as crush the ideas beneath the weight of our scrutiny. We labor as allow them to foment within us, giving them room and space to find a new life under our care. With diligent patience we tend to the knowledge we have taken and wait for the pristine moment of clarity to bring it forth. These are the times when inspiration seems effortless. These are the moments when our art is at its finest, finding its form beneath our fingers, only after days, weeks, or even years of tireless exertion to insure that it is revealed in all the grandeur we can bestow upon it.

As artist we live lives of contradiction that perhaps on a good day can be seen as balance. We learn so that we may destroy and prefect, forget and rediscover. No step may be skipped or forgotten. Each one must be made with boldness and caution, or not taken at all. We create alone in the dark but creation without light or unshared is incomplete and not a creation at all. Perhaps the greatest contradiction is the illusion of spontaneity and the dedicated discipline that cannot supplant the instinctive response to inspiration.

Friday, May 27, 2011

In Defense of “Wasting Time”

Since I quit my day job and began living my dream of being a full time writer and artist, I have had to make peace with how counter this life is to the expect norms of productivity. We live in a world where hard work is demonstrated in those things we can measure and define. Full buckets and barns attest to the work I do on the family farm. As a teacher I measured my progress in lectures written, tests given, and papers graded, before that progress was measured by the time clock. Now it seems as if nothing I do will have such concrete proof of my effort ever again.

Sure there is the occasional painting, the drawing, and the pages that multiply on a good day, but most of days do not seem to be very productive. I read a novel, a history book, or a news post. I listen to music while staring at the clouds. I watch a movie, answer emails, or talk with a friend. From the outside it must seem as if I live of wasted time. Time spent in frivolous and unproductive pursuits. However, so much more is going on beneath the surface. It is all part of a process few understand, a process, in fact, that I am just learning to define.

As an artist, I am always on the prowl for that next piece of inspiration. I need it like a junkie needs their next hit. It is the basis and reason for my work. It is what makes life vibrant and beautiful, and when it is absent, why I am unsettled and restless.

For centuries, the essence and process of inspiration has been debated. Some claim that it is unfaithful lover coming and going at its whim. Some say that it overtakes you like a summer storm. Others find it in quiet meditation. Each a description holds merit, but yet each one fails to address how we prepare ourselves to receive the inspiration that will move us to write great words, create profound images in clay, paint, or marble.

It is true that inspiration cannot be decreed or mandated. It cannot be summoned like a faithful dog, or controlled by the powers of mental or emotional discipline. It strikes when it is ready, when the heart and mind have been properly conditioned to receive it and not before. However, despite its uncontrollable and predictable nature we can prepare ourselves to receive it, equip ourselves with the proper tools to bring it into the light of this realm.

And we can practice those things which bring us into the lightning’s path. Of all things that I hold to be true, one of the beautiful truths I celebrate is inspiration begets inspiration. So I seek out those things which hold the light inspiration within their words and images. I read the works of those who capture their inspired moment with words. I listen to those who froze that fleeting moment in the eternal language of music. I look upon those images that portray the intimacy of that perfect moment in ink and oils. They all speak to me of something greater that I too can know if I allow it to become a part of my reality.

Each idea and concept embedded in these forms takes root within my mind, a fertile ground for extraordinary and curious connections, blossoming into new and original thoughts, the basis for future creativity. My time, seemingly wasted, is Psyche sorting seeds, pulling ripe kernels of the sublime from the husks of the mundane.

A slow and arduous process where I toil, hoping to find that one brilliant insight that will breathe new life into me, it why the artist is weary from a day of what others consider leisurely activity, why watching a movie can leave us exhausted, a book or painting can drain us the point collapse. For us, the reception is never passive. A single good idea once communicated by another bursts forth in our minds as a plentiful harvest of inspired ideas of our own, compelling us to create anew, adding our perspective and experience until resembles nothing of its original state.

Our work, began by what others consider to be casual amusement, becomes consuming. Demanding to be created, given life of its own, and we find ourselves at the mercy of this strange force called inspiration. We sculpt, paint, and write trying to focus the energy we have received, praying that we have the power to give it a form that will be recognized by others and in turn allow them to know the blessing and gift of being inspired. Our ends sacrificed for their means. A cycle as old as time, and one we bow to willingly so that it may continue.

So I will “waste” some more time today, read that novel that has sat too long neglected, watch that movie that has grown dusty while I was doing my “real” work. This is my job now, to discover those seeds of inspiration that will allow me to do what I have been created to do.