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.

Friday, August 26, 2005

this God-forsaken place...

Okay. So I’m working on Café Dolce 5, but it’s taking a long time. And this is the first week of school, which means that Dorothy is back at school. Her first class starts at 6:55 a.m., so she has me up at 5 or just before to walk. I’m on my third cup of coffee this morning and the brain has yet to click on.

With your permission, I’m just going to start blogging a little bit each day. It may be blather. It may contain a tidbit here or there. But at least it will get my juices running again.

On our way back to Texas, Steven and I drove past a wide spot in the road called Desert Center. (Actually, he was driving and I was whipping out my Palm to record the images I was seeing.)

I said, “This is a God-forsaken place, isn’t it?”

There was a double row of date palms parallel to the highway, but half were missing their tops, chopped off by high winds or some crazed man with a chain saw and no sense of artistic balance. Most, if not all, the buildings were boarded up and abandoned, except for an apparently non-brand gas station. I saw dust billowing up behind a car that was driving up its dirt driveway.

That is pretty God-forsaken, isn’t it?

As the words came out of my mouth, it hit me. Is there any such thing as a God-forsaken place in this world?

Perhaps one of the things the suture zone has taught me is that God is a whole lot more active “out there” in these god-forsaken areas and with these god-forsaken people than he is in the cloistered environs of church and family and communities marching in religious (and political) lockstep.

I’m reading a book right now that is definitely a good read. A bit difficult to get through because of the blended writing style of its four authors, but I would recommend it. It’s called StormFront: The Good News of God (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company), and is on the recommended reading list for the upcoming Zoe conference in Nashville. One of the things the second chapter author refers to is what missiologists call the missio Dei, or mission of God. They contrast the typical approach to missions characterized by “Let’s go on this mission for God” (in other words, let’s do this for God) with “God is on a mission. Let’s see if we can recognize the work he’s carrying on around us and see if he will let us join him in it.” It seems a subtle difference, but it is really quite profound. One is what we do for God, which I’ve said for a long time isn’t worth much. The other is finding ourselves in the midst of his story and his action and his love, and being used by him as he accomplishes his purposes around us.

There are no God-forsaken places in the world. There are no God-forsaken people in the world. God, in love, is working as hard as he can – within the bounds of the free will he has given us – to turn it around. That’s what Jesus was about. Not some mental salve for my conscience. Not some magical hocus-pocus wielder that turns us all into God’s Stepford Wives. Rather he was yeast in the dough. Salt on the food (and in some cases wounds). Light in the darkness. A treasure hidden in a field. Healing for the afflicted. Good news to the poor. Freedom to the prisoners. A cup of cold water. And many, many other metaphors, all of which are meant to bring us back to loving God and loving each other; doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with God; God setting the world right again, no matter what race, ethnicity or religion we are, and asking us to join him in that work.

It’s tense work, what God is doing. It is not for the faint of heart. It’s eye-opening. It’s dangerous. Many have ended up crushed by the overwhelming evil that infects the world. But God is an optimist, isn’t he? Why else would he send Jesus, if he didn’t think his mission stood a chance in hell?

One last thought… God did not send Jesus into the world to provide us with the correct belief system or doctrinal structure or faith community organization or any other such thing. God sent his son into the world that the world might be saved through him. We need to read that word “saved” with new eyes, I think.

So, what’s happening in your God-inhabited piece of the world? May you (and I) join God in what he’s doing today.

Grace and peace!

Owen

3 Comments:

Anonymous Marshall said...

Owen said: Perhaps one of the things the suture zone has taught me is that God is a whole lot more active “out there” in these god-forsaken areas and with these god-forsaken people than he is in the cloistered environs of church and family and communities marching in religious (and political) lockstep.

Hi, Owen,

I really enjoyed your off-the-cuff post above. I also applaud your desire to write in the hopes that you might jump-start inspiration. Partly, I applaud for selfish reasons: I look forward to your posts. A daily post sounds wonderful.

From one of those who feels "out there," I would like you to know that I have found my own inspiration in your writings. I have been thinking lately about how I might serve my fellow man, if I do not feel bound by the narrow boundaries of “gifts” laid out by our modernist family. I haven’t done so yet, but I want to find ways to volunteer my time as a reader, for instance, perhaps to the elderly or the hospitalized. I love reading aloud, and I wish to share.

But I also love writing, and was stirred by a question in one of your early posts, when you asked, “Where are our poets?” One, perhaps, was in the valley of dry bones finding his voice.

Years ago, I had a night when I believed that God spoke to me, and that I was tasked with writing for the Christian community. I later believed I had been wrong. Now – I don’t know. But I do know that my divorce unleashed a torrent, in which I wrote hundreds of pages of sonnets, ballads, and metrical experiment, all with gut-wrenching honesty, discovering my possibilities and honing my craft. I wonder now if that time might not serve as a baptism of fire. Is my honest voice a voice that can serve? Recently I have discovered and fallen in love with the openness and sincerity of Anne Lamott and Brian McLaren. I think of the humility and wonder in their writings, and of their willingness to (in e. e. cummings’ earthy phrase), “make it genuine like a mark / in a toilet.” I think, too, of the Psalms.

I am working on a series of poems in pursuit of faith, hope, and joy, but without pretence. I am so moved by McLaren’s thought that we should “count conversations rather than conversions.” I do not know if verses such as those below can serve God. But I hope so. I would be interested in feedback…

Love to all.

*

PAGE

The universe consists of information,
a grand, coherent stream. We seem a novel,
film, a tale for which the froth of possibility
defines the roles we play – we have
the liberty to lift or not to lift, to sip
or not to sip, and yet the certainty a cup
continues, can be counted on. I touch,
and it does not disperse. Chaos. Structure.

Yes, to say that God is Heart and Mind
is metaphor, but how can we discuss
what is before? We see that we are tuned,
we see reductionism on the pyre,
feel and find integral choice – we seem
absurd yet rational, profound yet in
our essence less than mist. Look:
I shake my fist; the mice and moon persist.

Forget the watch. A narrative implies
a narrator. Is storyteller metaphor?
Imagine something greater then, for love
is richer than a rose. Upon our page
the greatest image that we have is mind,
the dearest aid reality affords.
Shall part exceed the whole, the grandeur of
the ship eclipse the voyage, the glory of
a lover’s poem make its object fade?

Science, tell us more! Explore! Expand your realm!
Yet love and grace arise from time and space –
as silly and unlikely as the jinn.
I can’t conceive the page without the pen.

*

NO EASY TASK

Can we know God? Well, we can try.
It would seem from the Bible no easy task.
In the opening chapters of Genesis
we meet the novice parent, shocked, dismayed
the kids are writing on the g**d** walls –
how many times, we hear the God of Judges
shout, do I have to tell you brats…?!
He orders the slaughter of Canaanite infants,
cares for the cows of Nineveh, is love,
but is sorry he made mankind. He does not tempt,
but he does send evil spirits. Note
the poker game in Job, poor leaden slob
with his weeping sores, his integrity,
his f***ing friends, that twit who arrives to repeat
near the end – see God in the whirlwind, God
in the silence, God the Deliverer,
God the Indelible Discontent,
God who is all your gods and none – Go
to the crossroads, lie without clothes, wed
me a hooker, perceive the wheels within wheels,
the promise that if you ask for a fish,
He will never toss you a snake –

Jesus,
Prince of Peace with a sword in his teeth,
Love who has had it with Annas and teaches
the crowd that you don’t mess around with Jim,
who glosses the sinners and curses the figs,
who smacks about the religious elite
and founds a church, who pulls that trick
with the fish and coin, gear and fab,
jeered and stabbed, the Logos, the Lamb,
the great I AM, the humble son
of a humble man, of the royal line,
preaching to swine, the turning point
of the whole of time.

And in my life,
pain, a teen sweetheart with a daisy chain,
a wife of 20 years who bolts,
hemorrhoid surgery, half the volts
to bring the wretch to life down there,
a tie and s***-stained underwear,
peaches and pears, Attila the Hun,
Hitler, September 9-1-1,
giggling Twister afternoons,
pizza and Mickey Mouse balloons…

My prayers, they rise and fall, they dart and stall,
they rinse my face, they fire my gall.
I believe that God responds, and then
the floor drops out, my ships capsize,
my arms drop off, my one cash prize
goes to the fool or charlatan. I believe God dead,
but the wind picks up, a tulip presents
a communion cup, I encounter the Truth
in a punk rock song, and I sleep the sleep
of the weak and strong.

11:49 AM  
Blogger judy thomas said...

Amen, Owen.If we could see beyond our own eyes--Maybe the Holy Spirit could help with that.

2:01 PM  
Blogger Tones said...

Marshall

I'm not sure if enjoyed is the right word, maybe appreciated. I really appreciated you poetry.

I feel like kid going up to the head of the corvette club and saying, "Nice car, man." I don't know a lot about poetry, but "Nice poem, man."

5:16 PM  

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