Saturday, October 27, 2012

Is Your Life A Mess?

Is your life a mess?

Has it ever been?

I hope so.

I'm talking about break-ups, mistakes, upheavals, problems, bad decisions, and all the rest of the dramas and difficulties.

Messiness makes us learn. It opens up places in us that we likely wouldn't have explored if things hadn't gotten so messy.

Why am I bringing this up? Because I observe a fear in the world that sometimes creeps into us – a fear of being messy. I want to expose and talk about this fear because it is so dangerous to health and happiness.

This fear draws our attention away from the things it should be on – learning, growing, living deeply, and puts it on appearances. The longer we indulge this fear, the less likely we are to try something new, be willing to learn, or admit a mistake. Ultimately, the fear of being messy causes us to become rigid and cease to progress.

Messes happen in our lives when we encounter the results of a bad decision or false assumption. The only way to really avoid messes is to be perfect. But, of course, humans do make mistakes and have false assumptions. They are not perfect. In fact, the only way to become more perfect, is to reveal the perfection of God within.

Messes are great for that! Often messes are so uncomfortable that they force us to be honest with ourselves in ways we never thought we could. That honesty is great for revealing God's goodness in us. Messes are the mistake revealing itself, and our opportunity to correct them. They are nothing to fear! We serve ourselves (and others!) so much better when we cease to care about appearances, and instead, are only interested in learning our mistake and fixing it.

The danger is when we are so afraid of being messy, or appearing messy, that we would rather not learn about the mistake. Then we put off honesty, we delay integrity, and we pay for it later. The sensibility that fears a mess is actually a frame of mind that subtly assumes that life is material – that what you see is what you get. This mindset feels safe in its situation, and wants to keep things how they are - at the expense of growth and humility. But, that materialistic mindset is not safe in its situation. Sooner or later, that deferred honesty, the delayed integrity erupts in the life and creates a much larger mess than it would have been had it been addressed in the first place.

The kind of honesty that saves us from this holds the bar high. It's not always easy. In fact, the only way to truly not fear these messes erupting in our lives is to feel more of God's consistency and goodness as the real constants in our lives.

Certainly messes for their own sake are useless. And once we have learned a particular lesson, there is no reason to have to learn it again. But, if my life is to be one of continued learning, then I am sure to continue to make mistakes as the things I am learning become more advanced and subtle. In short, a life well-lived will be full of mistakes! It will also be much more full of good decisions, victories, and powerful living that is based on all the insights gained through resolving problems and cleaning up messes. The outward messes become less and less scary because through our living we learn that our home, our security is not so much in our outward situation, but in our unchanging connection to God.

Is a mess-less life the Christian ideal? Absolutely not. Outwardly Jesus Christ had a messy life. He was consistently in conflict with others. He was in trouble with the law and had pretty pronounced conflicts with members of his family and community. What about other heroes? Any one worth his or her salt had messes. Probably some big ones. Jesus said "I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." I understand this to mean that Jesus calls us to follow him, and that in doing so, our messes will be revealed, and cleaned up. Not that we will just BE mess-less!

Living the ideals of Christianity (love, spirituality, forgiveness, purity, courage, etc.) cleanses our lives of the causes of messes – selfishness, dishonesty, fear. But the process of living those ideals is very often not a smooth road. And that's just fine.

Let's be honest with ourselves! The Bible tells us over and over that the effect of God is to overturn all that is wrong. Christ says "I am not come to bring peace to the earth, but a sword." We have nothing to fear from God, Love, though God's action in our lives is sometimes to overturn our wrong assumptions and mistakes. It is always for our own good, and brings healing and peace much faster than any other approach to life. We must admit our mistakes and correct them. We must humbly accept the chastening that life brings to us, and work our way through it, becoming better. This is the way that we most quickly pass through them, learn the lessons of life and love, and never return to those messes. Then, we are ever onward to new and greater labors and loves.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Each One Will Carry His Own Load

This idea of each one carrying his own load bears continues to be interesting to me. Not least because it is a thought that we don't hear very much at all.

The assumed virtue (and it's great and right) is to help others. It's what we hear about, and what we first feel is the good, admirable thing to do. It's what we are taught to do as children, and what we are admired for as adults. And we certainly could stand to do more of it.

Still, Each one will carry his own load. (Galatians 6:5) I have certainly had problems, confusions, hurts, that I have tried to solve or understand by talking with friends, or through the help of friends, but which, it became clear, they were not able to solve, or even help solve. I had to solve them alone with God.

This was a big lesson! I was learning that I had to carry my own load.

This describes a big idea. Each one of us, in being alive, has a responsibility. Our responsibility is to do well, be useful, feel good, understand and feel meaning in our lives. We begin to see that these things are our responsibility when we see how terrible we feel if we don't do these things! At the beginning it seems as though we can successfully travel this road simply with help from those around us. But after some time it becomes clear that we need something a whole lot more powerful than that. The temptations become too strong, the dangers too severe. Then, we begin to realize that each of us has work to do – spiritual work, alone with God. It is work of learning to be courageous. Learning to be less selfish. Learning to trust in goodness for the sake of goodness. Sometimes these things feel so counterintuitive, so difficult, that we are amazed at the sheer amount of work we have to do. Still, there it is before us!

At one point in my life I might have seen this statement that "each one will carry his own load" as a cold notion. I might have read it as anti-social or even anti-community. I might have wondered why the author was so severe in his statement of what virtue was.

But, these days, I feel so comforted by biblical statements like this one. They are not pronouncements of what is or isn’t virtuous. They are statements of the lay of the land. They are the news from the front. Letters home from scouts and travelers who have been to a land I haven’t been to. They are the map through the wilderness. And they are infinitely kind. Not because they say things that are sweet, but because they tell the truth.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Yes at both ends of the spectrum

Hi there friends.

I have lots of great photos to share with you of recent adventures as well as the surprising and hard-fought outcome of the mural I began in my last blog.

However, I am not in a place where I can get photos on my computer onto this internet. So, we will have to wait. Alas.

But in the meantime, there are lots of other things to think about.

For example, this, in Galatians 6:2.

"Bear one another's burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ."

This is one that has felt very natural to me over the years. Even if don't always succeed at it, at the very least it is natural to understand. Duh, it's right and good to help other folks out when they are hurting, lost, or have great need.

But then, 2 verses later we read

"But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. For each one shall bear his own load."

This stopped me in my tracks recently. Each one shall bear his own load. This is not a sentiment we hear very often. Or if we do, we hear it as the voice of selfishness – someone who doesn't want to help out another. But in this context it seems to be stating a fact. A spiritual fact or law. Upon considering it, it meant to me that there is a law that each one of us has work to do that no one else is able to do.

I have come to love parts in the bible where seemingly opposite ideas must exist side by side. "Bear one another's burdens…" "Each one shall bear his own load". Because they are so close to one another it's obvious that the author wants us to notice that these very different pieces of counsel are both necessary.

It's just like when in the gospels Jesus counsels us not to judge, but later says "When you judge, judge righteous judgment".

In each case, both sides express a true, virtuous, and accurate idea. Opposites!

I knew a very talented storyteller named Brother Blue. He had been to Harvard and Yale, but made his name as a storyteller and became known as "The Father of New England Storytelling". The first time I heard him tell a story he lit my heart on fire. I bring him up because, he would often expound on the process of telling a good story, and one if his favorite things to say was "The human mind can't do it!" And then he would describe how he recognized his absolute need of ideas and inspiration that came from beyond him.

This is relevant because the human mind balks at being instructed to bear one another's burdens, but that each one will carry his own load – all in one breath. It seems to me they are coupled together like that to make the human mind get out of the way, and instead recognize our need for inspiration and guidance that are beyond our own limitations.

Is right to bear another's burden? Yes! Is it true that each one will carry his own load? Yes!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Wrestling with a new mural

I started a new mural today. It is meant to be a neighborhood scene, but where all the buildings are different places of worship. Kind of an interfaith neighborhood. The mural is for a facility that is supported by a diverse group of faith communities, so not only is it an interesting idea to communicate, it's also very heartfelt for the space.

So, I began painting at at about 10 this morning - working out the design on the wall as I normally do. I laid out the buildings and the people in a drawing of light green paint. I had a few things in mind as I played around with the images. I knew I wanted it to be loose. Not realistically rendered buildings, but rather, like I would draw in my sketchbook - fanciful, off balance. I also wanted the colors to be rich. My idea was to express the depth and beauty of faith through the richness and beauty of the color combinations in the rendering of these churches and temples. That's something I could feel. I was very excited to pour my own love of God, and church into my care for this mural.

An interesting lesson grew out of this!

I found, after making the initial drawing, that I was lost as to how to proceed. I kept trying things, adding colors, but it all seemed so very lame. I worked and worked for several hours and it all seemed to be a mockery of what I had been dreaming of making. In fact, because I was trying to express something so precious, it was especially uncomfortable to think of failing. Everything I did was coming out so dumb!

It wasn't until about 4 in the afternoon, after I had been working on it for about 6 hours straight that some things began to fall into place. At that point I began to feel a unity to the colors. Part I had gone over several times with different colors began to make sense. I started to have a vision of how to proceed. I worked for a couple more hours and left for the day.

The lesson to me was to think of all the times I feel lost or adrift in my life. There had been 6 straight hours of work today that I had been pushing forward, trying new things - all the while putting off thoughts that were telling me it wouldn't work, or that the idea wasn't good enough, or it didn't even matter and it was alright that it would be 2nd rate. Hah!

Finally, things began to come into view. Thank God! So now, it is nowhere near finished, but at least it is cracked open. I believe in it now. I know it can work.

I have till Friday afternoon to make it perfect!