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, December 30, 2005

key questions...

Okay, so I said check back after Christmas, or around New Years, right? And this qualifies, I think.

I’ve debated back and forth whether I’m going to continue this blog or not. I’m going through some particularly trying times right now. And it does take a good bit of time to keep it up. But... guess I’ll try it for awhile.

I’ve spent over two months now on Sabbath. (Marshall and my side conversations don’t count, right? Nor does facilitating the A Generous Orthodoxy class on Sunday morning, correct? Or leading worship every Sunday? Or rehearsing the praise team weekly? Hmmm......) Anyway, I don’t know that I have much to show for it: a partially-read Grisham novel, finishing of the novel Princess Bride, a greater recognition of my adult ADD, and, well, I guess I’ve been able to better see the questions that are currently occupying my thoughts. Here are a few....

What is the gospel? I have spent time reading Storm Front (as recommended for the Zoe conference last October). It’s tough reading and a bit more than my ADD can currently handle without more concentrated/dedicated time. I’m taking it with me next week on retreat (see below).

If the gospel is the active presence of God in human lives/history and his inbreaking kingdom, why is my experience of him so lacking? In other words, why does our conversation seem so one-sided? I’ve read Blackaby some years ago and find that his Experiencing God book peters out toward the end IMHO. I’ve picked up Dallas Willard’s Hearing God and am on my second fitful pass through it. Again, my question is why do I have to feel like a contortionist?

I know, I know... I had these questions before I went on sabbatical, right? True, but now they are more focused, and more acute.

Getting me to a monastery (see previous posts) has taken some time. But, for now, I am scheduled to spend next Wednesday, Thursday and Friday in Santa Barbara at an Anglican Benedictine monastery on retreat. I am hoping that the brothers there can assist me in the beginning of the pursuit of answers to these questions. At least it is a good way to begin the new year.

This trip was almost sidelined by another necessary trip. My son and I fly to Abilene on 1/13 and will be driving home from there. He’s coming home for a Sabbath from school, at least for this semester.

Anywayz, I will try to post a few articles here as time allows. It won’t be every day. But I do have some other things to say, besides dealing with these questions.

Grace and peace, my friends!



Blogger Call Me Ishmael said...

Brian McLaren's latest book has inspired my New Year's resolutions for 2006, which I share at

7:14 AM  
Blogger Malia said...

Welcome back Owen! You've been missed. Looking forward to hearing about your trip to the monastery. My friend, Tony, blogged about some time that he spent in a monastery in Kentucky. Try

That begins his series about his time at the monastery.

5:30 PM  
Blogger Marshall said...

Welcome back, Owen. I'm glad to hear (above) that you're off to the monastery at last. You know my emphasis on the pursuit of health as a spiritual virtue, and this trip seems very healthy to me. I hope it yields fruit.

Myself, I find that I have a growing list of questions about the biblical narrative and the meaning of the gospel accounts, some of which I'll explore in future posts at my own blog, but I also find myself wondering whether God isn't speaking, quietly and sympathetically, much of the time.

Here's an example: I pursue health, but I'm often far from it. My divorce will soon be three years old, and during the time that's passed I've found myself repeating a pattern of slipping too quickly into physical intimacy with women. (There's a wonderful line in Garcia Marquez's newest novel: "Sex is the consolation you have when you can't have love.") With a sheepish grin, I confess that I've discovered in mid-life that I'm a bit ... slutty.

How I have missed regular sexual contact! Metaphorically, God and I have done the Jacob-and-the-angel thing over this issue. I found women who seemed capable of adult decisions and who were willing, and I just could not accept the logic that such comfort must require a lifetime contract! The biblical commands seemed to me culture-bound.

Then not long ago I found myself on the morning after with a woman I not only didn't love but really didn't even like, who was ... quite cruel, or so it felt to my heart, and very unstable. I definitely had tripped a landmine! Following that encounter was a seven-hour drive home in the rain. Following that was ... an unexpected and beneficial meeting with my ex-wife.

I had come home a day early. Carol has been very kind about not dropping by when I'm around so as not to stir my emotions, but she had not expected me and was dropping off my daughter's poodle. What a sharp contrast to the woman I had left earlier that day! Carol had once hurt me worse that I had ever been hurt before, but through weakness rather than evil intent. And here we were, not expecting to meet, talking at a time when our kindness to each other, our sympathy for each other, might have maximum effect upon my heart.

We talked over with mutual respect and concern the chaos we had been through, our changing spiritual views, and the ways we were beginning to rebuild. And I gained the most unexpected blessing: I saw once more the girl I had loved so deeply. For a long time after the separation, I felt that Carol had lied to me so deeply and for so long that the whole 20 year marriage seemed a cruel joke. But, no ~ on some level Carol had lied to me, but there had been a real emotional connection in the past, and here still was a real woman worthy of love and adoration. I admired her for her growth and for her dedication to love and healing, and was glad again for the years we had shared.

And afterward I saw that sex without love is a poor consolation prize. That statement is not a promise that I'll never again engage in sex outside the bonds of marriage, but it is an invaluable insight. It may have come to me directly from God. But it didn't come to me feeling like a gavel blow. It didn't come as a violation of the laws of physics. It didn't come as a voice from the clouds. It came as part of the stream of natural events. I had performed my "sinful" actions in conscious view of ... Whatever ... with an aim toward honesty and transparency, saying all the while "God is always welcome" but that I can't and won't fake belief and virtue that I don't possess.

And what did I get for my trouble? Something beautiful. Not a King James "thus sayeth"; not even an NIV "so he says." I got a practical, real life demonstration of why it's not a good idea to leap into a woman's bed too quickly ~ there's a risk in intimacy, and it's a good idea to get to know someone well before you open yourself to that extent. I feel as though it may be that God met with me on my level, respectfully and with compassion, and reasoned with me.

Now, I know that the story above doesn't prove anything. But I'm pondering, nonetheless, and I wonder if we don't ... well, lean on the Bible too heavily. In my experience, what might be divine help has come, but always through natural channels. I reflect now that there are some physical sounds that are so deep that humans can't hear them directly no matter how loud they are. Too, I reflect if you speed up whale song it sounds like bird song. Maybe God's voice is big and deep and travels no faster than the laws of nature allow. And maybe some problems are so big and so deep that it takes God a long time to work them out. In many ways, Carol and I had horrific childhoods, but we grew during our time together, and now we grow during our time apart.

Maybe we just need to cut God some slack. :-)

That may mean ~ perhaps ~ that we need to "outgrow" some of the Bible. For me, at least, it has raised false expectations and then dashed them. The Bible promises miracles, but maybe those are, as McLaren's Neo suggests, "overrated." The Bible says you must have faith to please God, but perhaps our definition of faith needs a radical overhaul (and perhaps isn't as biblical as we'd like to think, in the first place). The Bible invites jokes such as Monty Python's reading from "The Book of Armaments": "... that Thou mightest blow Thine enemies to tiny bits ... in Thy mercy." But perhaps the savage emotions attributed to God are just that, attributed.

Maybe the universe itself is God's voice and our every living moment a part of our conversation with him. Maybe he cares more than we know ~ his every intention to help ~ but operates slowly within the constraints of the physical. And maybe the biblical tales of God's immediate and invasive responses are ... subjective ... tales of how it can feel to walk with a living, caring God.

I don't know. But I wonder. And I begin to walk with peace and without fear ... and to forgive even God.

Father, forgive us for what we must do
You forgive us, we'll forgive you
We'll forgive each other till we both turn blue
Then we'll whistle and go fishin' in heaven

~ John Prine, "Fish and Whistle"

3:35 PM  

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