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Archive for September, 2010

“No one can do everything, but everyone can do something.” –Janelle Sorenson, quoting the motto of Healthy Child, Healthy World

It’s raining tonight for the first time in weeks. I should be grateful. All of our parched fruit trees and thirsty garden beds are singing and sighing with relief. The drought appears to be over.

Instead, I’m obsessing on everything that didn’t go right today…Ida’s toe might be broken, a newborn calf is struggling for life, Brendan is out trying to save the calf at 10pm in the rain, kids were fighting most of the day, the roof is leaking, I never get any down time, the dog has fleas, laundry’s not anywhere near done, I’m lonely, I’m tired, I can’t sleep…o.b.s.e.s.s.i.n.g.

I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve at least partially bought into a new mythology, one of “moralistic theraputic deism.” This term, coined by author Christian Smith, has been used to describe the way that young people in the church expect their faith to impact their lives. Moralistic = convictions lead you to do the “right” thing. Theraputic = in doing the right thing, you’ll feel better and thus your self-esteem will go up. Deist = God is here to take care of my needs when I need him, otherwise he is distant and uninvolved.

In other words, I want to do the right thing so I’ll feel better and God will give me more of what I want. Fortunately it is pointed out often from many sources that God’s calling for my life generally is not aimed solely at making me feel better. In fact, if I’m genuine in my commitment to this calling, I’m going to wind up less comfortable and less certain of myself than ever before.

Today I heard from about six completely independent sources exactly what I needed (though not really what I wanted) to hear. I’m just me, I need to do what is within my power right now (not more, not less), and I am not God (thank God for that!).

Over the past year I’ve prayed and prayed for relief from some of the stress in my life. I’ve prayed that God would lighten my load, that my weary bones would find some rest in him. And consistently, for an entire year, the answer to my prayers has been the same: Keep. Going.

God even uses his sense of humor to help me stay focused. Whenever I really want to give up, I suddenly find myself singing Dorie’s song from Finding Nemo: “Just keep swimming! Just keep swimming!” Usually these words come just as I’m tempted to jump out of the water and run for the safety of dry land. Instead I sigh and smile, trusting in the river of living water to keep me afloat, giving myself over to the pull of the current once more.

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Dry

Less than 1/2 inch of rain has fallen on the soil at our farm since September 1, and there’s not a cloud in sight. On the eve of the first day of fall, the high was 97 degrees and it barely dropped below 70 overnight. The trees are dropping their leaves early, putting all their energy into their roots. They know that to hold onto their foliage could mean death to the trunk, to the roots that are their foundation, and so they give up on looks for the sake of survival.

Normally I find it comforting to tromp through the leaves, kicking them up and breathing in the crisp air. As I walked the lawn tonight, the crunching beneath my sandals sounded ominous. It’s not supposed to happen this way, I thought to myself. I wandered aimlessly about the farm, looking for a haven where I could pray. I landed at the base of the peace pole that is tucked near the entrance, and crouched there in the light of the full moon to wait to hear from God.

As always, more has been revealed.

A few days ago, I reached the milestone of 8 years in sobriety, and it’s brought me to a place of deep humility as I realize how easy it is to forget where I came from. If I don’t practice the spiritual principles that saved me in the first place, the spiritual well inside me begins to dry up. The basic text of Alcoholics Anonymous ends with the following:

Abandon yourself to God as you understand God. Admit your faults to Him and to your fellows. Clear away the wreckage of your past. Give freely of what you find and join us. We shall be with you in the Fellowship of the Spirit, and you will surely meet some of us as you trudge the Road of Happy Destiny.

May God bless you and keep you—until then.

These days, I’ve certainly been trudging in the thick of it. I suppose God is doing some pruning of my soul during this drought, forcing me to reserve energy at my core, strengthening my roots. I had listened to the forecast. I knew this was coming. I just didn’t expect it to be so painful.

God gives us so many good gifts so that we may experience joy and well-being as we live on his earth. And I believe he wants us to experience joy and peace so moving that we will want to share it with everyone we meet.

Yet, sometimes the things that have brought us close to God begin to take the place of God. This is when, if we are willing, God enters the orchard and begins to prune off the dead wood. As long as we say yes, he will remove anything and everything that blocks us from right relationship with him. This requires tremendous trust and faith, as we might be opening up to losing distinct pieces of our earthly identity.

The forecast for tomorrow is hot and dry. But there’s a chance of rain this coming weekend. Pray with me that I will trust God’s way, that I will see the road of happy destiny opening up before me, and that I will have the courage to continue even when I have to trudge.

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“Wake up from your sleep,
Climb out of your coffins;
Christ will show you the light!

–Ephesians 5:16

In Clarence Jordan’s Cotton Patch versions of the Gospel, he names Satan “the Confuser.” This is the best description of evil I have ever heard. In my confusion, I replaced reality with a world of dreams. I did not know I was harming myself and others. I was asleep, dead to real living, impervious to any other way.

Growing up in the church, I was taught that all humans are inherently sinful and that no matter how hard we try we cannot become perfect in God’s eyes. The only way to salvation was through belief in the death and resurrection of Jesus, but there was this whole other part about how Christians should act that always…well…confused the hell out of me. Literally.

As a young adult, I had grown weary of sitting in church on Sunday mornings muttering the hymn-book confession. I can still remember  most of it: “I, a poor miserable sinner confess unto Thee all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended Thee, and justly deserve Thy temporal and eternal punishment…” And so forth. Like so many of my peers, I grew up with the image of an angry God seeking justice against my sins, and try as I might I couldn’t reconcile that furious father with the supposed unconditional love of the Messiah. It just didn’t make any sense.

I chose a different path, one that seemed easier and softer. I quit going to church unless I was with my parents. I stopped using words like “God” and “Jesus” because it was too hard for me to say them without conjuring up feelings of shame and guilt. Instead of praying, I began “putting my intention out to the universe.” Original sin became a relic from archaic times, because I knew I was made in perfection, and so everything that happened was therefore perfect. I believed in some sort of omnipotent, omniscient being, but one that only wanted me to be happy every moment of every day.

And so, as I said above, I’d had the hell confused out of me. In other words, at the hands of the Confuser I’d stopped believing in hell and sin. I thought that if I just believed something different, then forces of evil and destruction would cease to exist. I believed that heaven was to be experienced here and now, and if I got into a high enough state of consciousness I would be able to stay forever in a state of enlightenment.

The thing is, throughout those years I was far from happy. In fact, they were some of the darkest times in my life so far. I spent most of my time trying to escape, seeking my happiness at the bottom of bottles of booze, getting high in an attempt to raise my consciousness.  I struggled with severe depression and waded through a sea of broken relationships and friendships. How could the benevolent universe have led me to such depths?

After sobering up, I continued my search for eternal happiness. Yet even though my intentions were set on love, peace and joy, depression still lingered near and try as I might I couldn’t keep from harming those I loved the most. There were many happy, spiritually charged times as I embarked on the road to self re-discovery. Through recovery work I learned how to deal with the reality of what my life had become and what I could do to change things. I also began learning how to pray again, but I still had a hard time with the concept of God. I believed I had already lived through hell, and the afterlife became a moot point.

Looking back, though, I can see how God was working in my life, even working through all the idols an blocks I had built up around me. Even through my shield of self-reliance, God found small inroads that would later break open my dream-world and bring me back to his light. This morning when I read the verse from Ephesians, I was reminded of a passage from A Course in Miracles that I read many years ago:

The dreamer of a dream is not awake,
but does not know he sleeps…

What difference does the content
of a dream make in reality?
One either sleeps or wakens.
There is nothing in between.

You must learn the cost of sleeping
and refuse to pay it.
Only then will you decide to awaken.

Three years ago I became a Christian and dedicated myself to Christ’s teachings and God’s will. One would think that this awakening would lead me to a blessed assurance of salvation, and even higher experiences of heaven on Earth. I was shocked to discover that a few months after inviting Jesus to live in my heart, my belief in sin and hell had returned in a very real way, and for the first time in my life I knew that the Devil was alive and well in the world.

I used to think that the power of the Devil was big and dramatic. Now I know that Satan does not need to wreak havoc on Earth, because all of us do the dirty work for him. The Confuser is not the one “making me do bad things.” If that were the case, I wouldn’t have free will. No, the Confuser is the one who whispers and sneers from the back of my memory, calling me back to the dream world, back to my coffin. He says things like, “They don’t really care about you…Don’t trust them…It won’t make any difference anyways…Go back to your escape, you’ll be safer there…” and suddenly I’m disbelieving God’s will, thinking I’m not fit to live out my calling in this world. I’m tempted to retreat to the dreamworld, where everything seems so much easier.

All the while, God is patiently lighting my way, reaching out his hand for me to hold if I want it, waiting on me to ask his advice. I want to choose the way of life always, the path of the wakeful warrior, always alert to the spiritual snares along the way. I have learned the cost of sleeping, and it is too great for me to bear any more.

I confess that I have fallen short, and I place myself in God’s care. I have put down my old ways of shame and guilt. The voice of the Confuser is present, but I choose not to listen. I am awake. I am ready. I belong to God.

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