Posted in God

Five Minutes From Perfect

My life is about five minutes from perfect. Five minutes from being absolutely, divinely perfect. And I am petrified. I am scared that all it takes is one wrong move, and then everything will go toppling around me.

It’s ridiculous, I know. But, some of these roads I’ve been down before, and they tend to play tricks on me. I’m wiser now (I think. I hope) and I’m trying to remember those mucky, miry places that trip me up. Like the pilgrim in Pilgrim’s Progress, I’ve fallen prey here and there. And there goes everything I’ve worked for. Slip away. Start again. Start anew.

And now, here I am. Almost perfect. It’s a fallen world, so it isn’t right to have a perfect life, right? It’s somehow, against nature, it would seem. After all the missteps and muddy bogs I’ve fallen, surely this time it’s not for real, right? But, a girl can hope can’t she? And, I can see it. Just forward on the horizon. A glimmering city of gold, so close, that I can smell the luscious treats just on the other side.

And I am grateful. So grateful. My prayers everyday have been “please” and “thank you.” Thank you God, for this almost perfect life, and please, please God, let me keep it. Please don’t let me screw it up in my humanness.

I guess it’s all about trust. Learning to trust in God in and not myself. Learning to live day by day. And knowing it is by grace we have been saved, and not from ourselves.

That’s a hard lesson I’ve learned. Veteran church kids are taught that God loves good kids better. Now, we aren’t exactly taught that, but that’s what we hear, anyway. Be good, obedient, respect your parents. Keep your room clean. Obey your teachers. Study. Do your homework. Be as “perfect” as possible, and then pray for forgiveness when you aren’t. Don’t smoke. Don’t do drugs. Don’t hang around with people that do, to “avoid the appearance of evil.” Don’t drink until you’re 21, and then only in “moderation.” Follow all the laws (unless they conflict with God’s laws).  Don’t watch porn. Keep your bedroom door open when you have a date over. And on and on….

And somehow, we get the message that if we do all of these things, we’ll have more “credit” with God than other people. This will make God want to do cooler stuff for us than for other people. One of the hardest lessons I’ve ever had to learn was that’s not true. God doesn’t love me because I studied hard in school, and didn’t engage in underage drinking. He loves me because he’s God. And loving people is what He does. I still don’t quite have my head wrapped around all that yet. It’s a scary idea.

So, why, then, do we do good works? Why then, do we not sin? For two reasons–for one,  intrinsic value of it, I think. We do good works so that we will reap the benefits of good works. Study hard= Get good grades. We don’t sin, so that we don’t have the consequences. Don’t do drugs = escaping the mire that is a drug-addicted lifestyle.

Secondly, sin creates a wall between us and God. A wall in which we cannot hear his voice. We cannot feel him. We cannot discern his will. We cannot feel his love–which our souls desperately need. We are separated from God because of our sin. Something like, if you’ve angered or hurt your spouse or boyfriend, or girlfriend. You don’t quite feel “normal” inside, until you’ve made it right. Until that “wall” between you is removed. We don’t sin, because the more we sin, the bigger that wall gets, and the more distant you get from a God who loves you, and you need.

THESE are the reasons we do works, and don’t sin. To keep our relationship with God clean, and to stay away from natural consequences of sin. It is NOT to make God love us any more. It’s not to somehow manipulate God based on some sort of “works based accounting.”

And so, I conclude by saying, I’m learning there is nothing I can do to make God bless me. I just have to trust him. And that’s so hard. Because trust requires your whole heart. And when you’ve been burned by life, it becomes harder to trust. At least I think. Because there’s something in you that says, “But, God, you failed me last time.”  You have to keep reminding yourself that it wasn’t God that failed you. It was your inability to plan. It was your lack of self-discipline. Or, you didn’t fail at all, you learned and grew…and the list goes on. It’s hard to hear the truth. That’s why it’s easier to blame God.

So it is, on the edge of yesterday and today, that my life is almost perfect. And I just have to trust that it will stay this way.

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Posted in God

God, Mel Gibson, and The American Revolution

A few weeks ago, I watched that movie The Patriot. I saw it once many years ago, but given the intensity of the topic, it’s something you don’t watch often. But, on this day, as I watched it I was overcome with some interesting thoughts.

For anyone who hasn’t seen it, it’s a Mel Gibson movie about the American Revolution. Mel Gibson plays a single father of seven, living in South Carolina. He is a pacifist—certainly frustrated at the actions of the British government, but sees no desire to enter a bloody war. He thinks more diplomacy is in order.

But, his son, played by Heath Ledger, brings the fight literally to his doorstep, when he enlists in the Continental Army. So, the pacifist father must make a decision, and ends up leading a faction of rebel militia. Key scenes involve a Braveheart-esque moment on the battle field as Mel Gibson gallops into a throng of redcoats carrying an American flag, with a rebel yell.

And as I watched this scene, and the bloodshed on the battle field, I wondered what God thought about this moment in history. The movie made no small point of the horrid bloodshed of the war. In one battle scene, Heath Ledger watches from a window, and sees a teenage boy’s head blown clear off by a cannonball. In another, we watch Mel Gibson shoot a soldier partly responsible his son’s death, and then unleash his rage upon the corpse with a Tomahawk until his shirt was about as red as the British uniform. And so it goes…

As I watched this, I thought about these soldiers. How God is passionately in love with each and every person on the battle field. God knew every single soldier’s name, and delighted in their company. God knew their intimate thoughts, and knew everything that was good about them. So, did God weep for their loss? Did he mourn as they lay in a field, choking on blood, staggering their last breaths?

But, at the same time, Old Testament history shows God to be a warrior. He is constantly telling Israel to take cities, and conquer and plunder. He believed in battle, and war and fighting to “Take the land.” And of course, now, centuries later, we have seen the result of the American soldier’s sacrifice. An amazing country, a leader in the world. And we know that God’s grace is upon us. So, does that mean God sanctioned their cause? Did God condone the bloodshed that created our society?

And as I watched Mel Gibson’s horseback character, stars and stripes unfurling behind him, I was overcome with sentiment. These men were carrying a country. Did they feel the grace of God upon them? Did they know that they were birthing something? Did they know the freefalling sensation of being on the edge of something great, something beautiful. Did they really know, they were building something for their posterity? And was the hand of God upon them?

We think of God as this tender hearted, laughing, peaceful being that would never want us to hurt anyone…and that’s definitely a side of God. But, God is also a warrior. And whose side was he on in that war? And if he was on our side, did that mean he was against our enemies–who loyally fought for their own country?

 

Posted in God, Life

A Little Closer to Grace

Bowie was the last to die. Drawn and quartered by the pack. Snickers was decapitated, Mickey got run over. And God only knows what happened to the rest. But, someone had to pay for the crime. So the orange, shaggy dog took a bullet to the head. He took it as well as any I guess. Squealed, and then hobbled home like the wee little pig. He never knew what was coming, until the pain ripped through him. I just hope it was short, I wasn’t there, I just heard the bullet pop.

I still felt squeamish about the whole deal. The law of the jungle, I suppose. But, it seems like such a nasty affair.

We live in a fallen world, and nothing goes as planned. We are hybrid creatures, longing for love, yet mired in sin. There’s not room enough for us all to be loved, so we push each other around looking for love and acceptance, each one of us making a case for why we are more deserving of love than the other. And so it goes until the day we die. Life is a nasty, brutish mess.

I write about it all the time. The man who raped his girlfriend’s toddler, then went to a bar, stabbed a woman over a drug deal, then came home, stabbed his girlfriend, and then took a nap until the cops came. Or, what about the 18 year old that beheaded his mother with a butcher knife, and then answered the door to the cops, casually holding her severed head as if it were the television remote.

Then there are the perverted, like the teacher who put hidden cameras in the girls locker room, or the other teacher who was impregnated by her 13 year old student and then casually invited his parents for dinner. Or the trafficker who held a 14 year old runaway in a hotel room for three months, forcing her to pleasure hundreds of men, while the hotel staff said nothing of the johns coming in and out, the wastebaskets of used condoms they were pulling out of the room, or the scantily clad teen wandering the hall…

Or the Muslim extremists who force teen girls into slavery, and then tell them that if they go on this suicide mission, the bombs will not hurt them, and then they will be rewarded with freedom and a handsome husband of their choice.

Life is a brutish affair. And such a sordid mess, only God can sort us all out. That’s the beauty of the human condition. God is so gracious, he gives us shot after shot to get it right. And he works with us, time and and time again. Each time, he moves us a little closer to holiness, and little closer to grace. A little closer to something beautiful. And maybe that’s what it’s all about anyway. The beauty of Christ, shining against the mire of sin. So, we lean further and further into the grace of God.

The cats got off cheap I guess.

Posted in Art, God

Do Something: On Christians and the Arts

Not too long ago, I got into a conversation with a friend regarding the quality of Christian art. I sat in the low lamplight of a living room, and listened to this guy rant on and on with tired complaints about the subpar quality of Christian music, the bad acting in ‘inspirational’ movies, and the lackluster writing in Christian market fiction. The only thought that ran through my head was a Britney Spears line, “WHY DON’T YOU DO SOMETHING?”

The fact is, I am no stranger to this debate. In fact, ten years ago, I was its most avid supporter. I was so passionate about it, that I made it the topic of my undergraduate thesis, and spent an entire year researching the historical reasons why Christian art lagged so behind its counterpart.

In short, it had to do with the Protestant Reformation. The Catholic church was so FULL of art, that the Reformers found it sickeningly ostentatious, and wanted nothing that remotely even smacked of Catholicism in this new brand of Christianity they were creating. They burned art and statues and forbade it any churches and Christian homes. (To modernize it, think of how most Christians feel about televangelism. There is nothing wrong with televangelism, other than our cultural connotation of it). These were the very people that sailed across the pond and founded the United States, and their philosophy of Christian art would largely remain that way until the 1960’s. Spurned by the  much documented upheaval of America’s most turbulent decade, newly saved hippies wanted to speak in a language that was so relevant to their generation—rock music. But, by this time, the church was so firmly wary of art, these musicians had to fight tooth and nail for every instrument, lyric, photo and later music video. (Think, Amy Grant, Heart in Motion). Many were bloodied and wounded in the fight, some were excommunicated from their churches, other had their records/tapes burned, their concerts boycotted. This continued until probably the mid 1990’s, when Toby McKeehan came along at just the right time, and proved that you could sound like Nirvana, even if your “best friend was born in a manger.” Now most Christians believe art is of God, and we can explore art in any form.

Ten years ago, I was sure this research would be my life’s work and I even tried to write a book on it. But, now, as I sat and listened to this cliché debate, it resonated from a different chord. I started to more think about my own journey as an artist. I found, being on the receiving end of this debate, much more disconcerting and uncomfortable. My art is far from perfect. It has flaws and I could probably tell you what they are. But, I do the best I can, and I am constantly growing as an artist.

While, yes, those that want to criticize Christian art, can certainly find places to do so. But, here’s the thing, it’s a LOT harder to create great art than it looks. Artists have great taste in art, because we love our art form. We study the masters—from Van Gogh, to Hemingway, to Jimi Hendrix and Quentin Tarantino. We deify these masters and we try to learn from them.

But this doesn’t always mean that our skill level matches our taste, or even our vision. We can dream like Tarantino, but we create like…well, ourselves. Rich Mullins wrote, “I could play these song until I was dead, and never once approach the sound that I once heard.” As artists, we have amazing visions about what a piece should sound like, or like, or the territory it will cover. But, when it comes down to it, it is usually only a fraction of what the artist envisioned. But, you know what? They did it. Which is more than half their critics can say.

So, that’s my answer to this debate. If you think Christian art sucks, get out there and make better art. Maybe your art will be better. Maybe it won’t. But, it’s better than sitting around criticizing those that bust their tails to create the best art they can. In other words, shut up and do something.

Posted in God, Writing

Twilight in Eden

The sun set over paradise and the garden glowed purple in twilight. Eve sat beneath the iridescent glow of the waterfall, and let the noise echo the tears that ached like a reservoir bursting inside her chest.

She knew what she had done. She knew it would cost her everything. And the last night of paradise was a bitter gall that went down like river creek stones settling inside her heart.

Adam couldn’t face her either. His hard words sliced her like a razor and she stood aghast at a darkness in his heart that she could not understand, and neither could he. And so he fled and hid himself from her. For it is good for man to be alone, he snarled with a hardness she had never seen.

“Please, I don’t understand,” she cried desperately. “I  thought you loved me. I don’t understand. I don’t understand.”

And he ran and ran to find the end of the earth to swallow him up from her, for he had sinned.

And so she sat, alone. Completely alone. And suddenly, the world was a cold and dirty place. And for  the first time, she shivered. That  was when she found the fig leaves and longed for them to hide her.

“I cannot face myself tonight,” she said. She frantically plucked the leaves from the branches, and then buried herself under them, comforted by the darkness and the protection it offered her soul.

“I have sinned,” said she. “And the judgment of God awaits me, and it is a great and terrible wrath I shall face.”

 

 

 

Posted in God

The Bucket List

I just found mine. It was tucked away on a CD-ROM with all my digital life from ten years and four computers ago. It had been a college assignment, from Dr. John Allen, a rather well-loved advertising/public relations professor at my Christian university.

I liked Dr. Allen. He was a great storyteller, had a good sense of humor, albeit sometimes a bit on the sardonic and irreverent side. He was probably in his early 60’s, and if I had to define him, I would say Dr. Allen was what happened when hard-driving businessmen from the 1980’s slowed down and found Jesus.
He believed in hard work, success, and the prosperity message, and was poised to usher us into God’s destiny for us in achieving the American dream. Each class, he would give us some inspirational handout ranging in everything from the power of a positive attitude, to how to handle trick questions in job interviews. He made us read Og Mandino’s Greatest Salesman in the World, and would frequently quote Mandino, Zig Ziglar, and other motivational speakers. In short, his class was full of warm fuzzies and hard work.

The bucket list, or as he called it, “100 Things to Do Before I Die,” was a soul-searching assignment we were to spend the entire term compiling. He would tell us that whenever he ran into his alum, he would always ask them where they were on accomplishing their list, and they always had intriguing answers.

The subtext being, “If I ever see you after graduation, I’m going to ask you about it and if you don’t have a good answer, you’re going to look like an idiot.” Point taken. Ironically, our semester with Dr. Allen would be his last. He passed away the following summer.
But, I have been thinking about him as I’ve looked over my list this week. In the decade since graduation, I’ve actually crossed off a number of things. More than I realized. And yet….And yet. It didn’t really look how I thought it would look.
Granted, I’ve changed quite a bit since then. My ideas on success have changed radically. I’d rather pursue happiness than wealth, and my free-flowing beatnik lifestyle is a far cry from the newly-minted businesswoman-to-be in a suit and heels that I was ten years ago..

So, as I look over my list, full of success and career goals, some of which I have accomplished, some that I have abandoned, others that are yet to be, I think about what it means to have dreams for our lives.

Dreams are beautiful. I live on dreams. But, I think it’s important how we dream. We can waste a lot of time chasing dreams, and lose a lot of money and relationships on the way. And it will all be worth it in the end, but only what’s destined by God will last. How about instead of dreaming dreams for our lives, we dream God’s dream for our lives? God’s dreams are perfect and he will make sure they come to pass.
Sometimes we are scared of God’s dreams. There are many reasons for this, some of it having to do with a lack of trust. We think if we dream God’s dreams for our lives, he will make us do something crazy like go preach to the cannibals in Papua New Guinea. Now, this is certainly noble. God loves the cannibals, but most of us…well, we would have to work on it. But God also loves what we love. As a matter of fact, God created us to love the things that we love. And, if he destined us for a purpose, does it stand to reason that his dreams for us are bigger than ours?

And as I look over my list, and my definition of success ten years ago, sitting in Dr. Allen’s class, I wonder what role I gave God in my list. Did I dream his dreams or my own? I seem to vaguely remember including him in my plans, but more in sense of, “Okay, God, this is what we’re doing. Are you coming or not?”

I wonder about the fight I have fought to get this far….which is not nearly as far as I would have hoped. Would it have been easier if I had dreamed his dreams? Maybe. Maybe not. I think about my tenacity in achieving my dreams. Did that come from God, or Winston Churchill, who said, “Never, ever, ever, ever give up.” I had listened well, but, it occurred to me, that’s not really in the Bible. In fact, the Bible talks about dying to ourselves.
So, I guess to wrap it all up, I wonder how to die to my dreams, and let God take over. It’s a dangerous idea. But God is full of dangerous ideas. But he is good.