life in the suture zone...

In the earthquake faults between tectonic plates, the suture zone is the in between place where they meet. I find in that a metaphor for the times in which we live... and invite your conversation in the suture zone.

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Location: Bakersfield, CA, United States

... a struggling, but mostly joyful, apprentice of Jesus.

Monday, May 16, 2005

journey (five): just where exactly are we going...

When I reflect on my life, it hasn’t exactly turned out as I expected. Despite the expectations of an idealistic college graduate, life has been somewhat of a mixed bag. First of all, it took me until I was about 35 to discover what I wanted to do when I grew up. So now I know. All I have to figure out is how to get somebody to pay me to do it. For another thing, I know God has a sense of humor. Once when we lived in Riverdale we were passing through Bakersfield and saw a sign that said “Greenacres – 4 miles”. I looked at my wife and said, “At least we don’t live in Green Acres… ba dum ba dum dum… dump dump.” Guess what church he called me to next? We called it Rosedale, but we really, truly lived in Greenacres. (There are a lot of nice people living in Greenacres, by the way. And a number of methamphetamine dealers if the sheriff’s helicopter is any indication.)

Don’t get me wrong. I’m usually not depressed about how my life has gone. Dorothy and I are celebrating 30 years of marriage this summer. (We were married as infants.) As difficult as some of the life experiences we have shared have been, I wouldn’t trade sharing them with her for anything. But things haven’t really turned out quite as I expected.

The senior class at my high school named me “Most Likely to Succeed”. I think I’ve been living under that curse ever since. So, where’s the target? What’s the goal? How do I know I have arrived?

My faith has been no different. Now, could I live during the time of the Great Revival? No. Could God call me into a time when things are stable in terms of faith? No. Where do I find myself? Atop the suture zone between two ages. Tones is convinced that I’m a post-modern. Maybe. But I grew up in a modern world. None of this faith stuff has been easy!.

Think about the examples.

God called Abraham. “Follow me,” he told him. “Leave your home behind and I’ll show you where to go.” Abraham’s response to God’s call was to follow. No wonder he was called father of the faithful. I don’t know if I could have done it. He lived as a foreigner in the land God said he was going to give this guy for most of his life. In and out, in and out, in and out. And he died hundreds of years before the deed was delivered.

Jesus’ call isn’t much different. “Follow me,” he tells us. Then he heads for an executioner’s cross. It doesn’t exactly inspire confidence at times.

Don’t know about you, but I like to know where I’m going. I used to have a five-year plan... back in the 80s. I got rid of it after a year or two. Nothing ever turned out quite like I expected. Usually, when I tried to follow the plan it only messed things up for me. I know there are people who are different than me. There are some warped personalities who know they want to be a doctor when they grow up. And they know it in sixth grade or so. They have the horses to do it, too. So they pursue their dream and go to med school and graduate with honors and do heart surgery at UCLA’s teaching hospital. They save the world or the President or something really tremendous. Then there are others. Like me.

I talked to a doctor once who, after he achieved his goal and went into practice, regretted ever having gone that direction. He didn’t like the kind of person he was turning into. He didn’t like that he couldn’t just spend time home with his wife and kids. But he couldn’t stop. His college loans were astronomical. He had to pay for that choice. Someone told me (and this may have no statistical validity at all), that the highest rates of suicide by profession come with dentists. I can imagine why. Sometime in their career, they realize that the only way they are going to survive is to have their hands in someone’s mouth for the rest of their lives. Sometimes you get where you are going and you wonder what possessed you to make the journey.

Me? I just wake up somewhere new every day, and like some kid that went to sleep in El Paso, I wake up in Los Angeles hours later and wonder what happened.

This is dangerous talk for me to engage in. I’m not innocent in all of this. I have one foot planted solidly in my professional “promised land” (though it wasn’t my chosen profession – truthfully, I resisted it as long as I could!). With a good retirement and lifetime health benefits beckoning (after the kids college loans are paid off when I’m 90), perhaps I’m a bit too settled. I don’t know. What I do know is that I’m on a journey with God. The path has almost never led where I thought it should. I haven’t always been too impressed with the landscape, frankly. He hasn’t paid a lot of attention to where I’ve wanted to go. And when I’ve headed out on my own... yikes! Those times have been corrective experiences, shall we say.

I don’t have all this figured out. If I could give you a recipe for determining God’s will in five easy steps, I would. But I can’t. (I’ll talk about this aspect of God’s character in a later post.) God won’t be manipulated that way.

This uncertainty goes beyond questions of career and marriage and those kinds of everyday life things. It extends to questions like, “Who is this God?” and “What does he want from me?” or “Hey, are you there or what?” and sometimes listening to the echo.

If you can’t tell from this blog, I’m going through a time of particular spiritual ferment. I seem to wake up in a new city every morning. Or at least once a week. I keep reading writers like McLaren and Sweet and Lamott and Miller, and God keeps messing with my head. My friend, Tim, said in the comment section of my second post that all this talk gave him a headache. I know how he feels. It seems to be the way I’m living my life.

But I have to press on. (Isn’t that what we say at times like this?)

I didn’t ask to be born into this time of tremendous Christian religious upheaval, but here I am. What are you going to do?

So just where exactly are we going, God?

Follow me, comes the answer.

If you’ve ever watched The Visual Bible’s movie of The Gospel of Matthew, at the very end, Jesus is heading away from the camera. But he turns at the last moment with a twinkle in his eye and beckons me to follow. What you might not recognize if you don’t look closely is that he is heading out onto deep water again. Suture zone stuff.

So here we go….

Grace and peace!



Anonymous Marshall said...

Fascinating and open post, Owen. Thank you. Anyone who wishes may skip my entry here - it's poetry selected in response to what Owen has written above, to do with the question "Where are we going?"

Caveat emptor: I mean well with these poems, but they do contain references to adult situations and potentially offensive language. Please skip if such is not to your taste.


It’ll soon be two years since we separated.
A call comes: “Hi, I’m looking for Carol.” Grit
in the voice; you can hear the beard and smell
the mud flaps. “Carol doesn’t live at this
address.” “Aa-ight, I’m sorry I bothered you.” Time.
Still here, two Christmas cards to “Marshall & Carol”
sealed. “‘What is the answer?’ What is the question?’”

February 10, 2005



How are you dealing w/ single life?
– Laurice Borgen, an old friend, in an e-mail after many years

It’s raining. I have a cold. The wrong man won.
Without my glasses, the street is black, on fire.
I’m drinking Ocean Spray Diet Juice & Tea.
I’m thinking that meaning must find a path of its own.
Details accumulate and life is dire,
Transcendent, something. Humility:
Maybe the right man won. Maybe the left.
Capitalism makes a whore of us all,
But maybe that’s for the best – whores are tough
And tender. You asked me a question; here’s the drift:
If you were here, I’d want to touch your soul.
I would want to soothe your conscience, near the cliff
That looms above your infinity of love
And loss. I would want to hear of a country moth
In winter struggling slow to climb a screen,
A bee-like spirit flickering far from hive,
And how it brought a vision, severed math
From logic, showed you what life might have been.
But part of me would want your mouth in two,
Your hands to scrimmage darkly, steal the peace
I’ve horded, power I’ve pretended to.
I’m stronger than I thought that I could be;
I’m weaker than I almost dare confess.
But I’m fine. I’m dating. Not yet sniffing glue.
I’m being real. I’m being real. I’m real,
Or on that road. It isn’t raining now.
I step outside the sliding glass and pee,
For this is men’s prerogative. I heal,
Just now in my pajamas. Green, plaid, slow,
I sway, the world about my little me
A halo, blur of neighbor’s porch lights, hiss
Of tires serpentine on cavernous streets,
Roses, limes, and gold all black. I stand,
A man. Which is to say, my weathered sis,
I am advances and I am retreats.
Our path to heaven is simply not as planned.

November 3, 2004



This is the shape of my life:
I am left without a wife.

John Berryman wrote
a funny suicide note.

Coffee with my cream,
But I gain in self esteem.

If Carol had had a gun…
But I am a fortunate one.

Leslie stays like a cat.
I’m a little in awe of that.

Science, I understand,
but I sense a guiding hand,

and an all-enveloping wit.
Flowers grow in shit.

January 26, 2005



My own intuition at this stage of life is that some combination of multiple-universe theory and Christianity may be the right direction. Perhaps diverging timelines are a necessary corollary of free will, and all moral decisions are made by all possible moral agents, such that heaven (healthy relation to the Source) is maximized and the word to the saint is correct that “all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”
– Myself, in an email to physicist Andre Lanzaro, November 5, 2004

The coffee this morning is yesterday’s. The staff
up front are buzzing about the hundredth Factor
in which a rat in gunk is dropped in a blender,
contestants drink. A Valley Girl pulls it off.

I usually enjoy the fog. This year,
however, seclusion seems a no me gusta.
I liked the solitude, the California/
London sense of universal closure,

the world erased – perhaps I’m done with fears.
Perhaps the sun is welcome: thorns and badges,
tongue-studs, aneurisms, pigs in cages,
HIV, my cousin Kenneth’s tears

the year he lost his fingers at the gin,
the lowest any prostitute has sunk,
panicked children stuffed inside a trunk,
brutality, bad luck – the yang, the yin,

let ‘em in. The crudest of the crude:
this way to acknowledgement! Or not.
Maybe I’m only sick of swallowing snot.
Maybe I want some color. Paisley. Plaid.

Paleoanthropology is stunned,
thus sayeth The Chronicle of Higher Ed.
Jeff Smith, in Bone, created a bug named Ted.
Ignatz, honey, where art thou that I’m unbeaned?

“I think what I need might be a full-length leather coat,”
but I have Inside English 32.

Berryman is alive, and Sexton too.
I am a father. I am a primitive boat

upon ancestral seas, but the first to cross
this stretch of deep, withstand this siren song.
Leslie, Kylie, someone – bear me along.
“On the very next day, with a nose full of pus…”

Life’s a remarkable precipice, and death…
has something to do with a plastic alien,
little gray guy (though blue), dressed down for fun
in the sun, molded in China, setting beneath

my PC screen, this only bottle cap
from Louisville, Kentucky: Pipkin Brewing,
toenails, tetanus, who knows what? Screwing
my mind in place, my soul, I take the rap,

I face the music, Big Mama Thornton, the king,
the Voyager record, ticks of the clock, the beat
“of that hideous heart.” Existence is incomplete.
Grounding, grounding… I the protagonist flung

to the void by Stapledon, and I with the wart
on my left heel. Phone numbers, fingerprints, mints,
Iggy and Tom and Jim Jarmusch, the need to buy rinse –
rumbling and tumbling, I may be a dart,

I feel like a bee. It’s a Tuesday, the day Vallejo
expected to die. Demise, revise, these my replies
are lost? Or is all ephemera edifice?
A Jackson Pollock a nanosec. Hi ho.

November 9, 2004

11:43 AM  

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