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.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

the blessing way....

I like the novels of former AP bureau chief Tony Hillerman. He writes mysteries -- a modern fiction genre, actually -- but with the added twist of setting them in the very pre/post-modern setting of southwestern native American spiritual beliefs. He has written his works in settings that include the Hopi (a favorite of mine, since one of my unpublished novels is set in that same environment) and the Pueblo Indians. But most of all, Hillerman focuses on the Navajo. The Navajo Nation has named him "friend of the Dineh" ('the People'), and so I would assume that Hillerman does a fairly respectable job of reflecting their beliefs in his work.

I say all that to call attention to the value in the Navajo world (learned from my reading of Hillerman) of harmony with all of life. All of life is looked at from this perspective. If someone commits a crime, such as murder, there is more to the offense than just the legal ruling. There is the restoration of harmony that is needed for the perpetrator, because if it is not re-established, the discord of the original act rolls out in further waves of discord (alcoholism, family strife, even physical sickness). They even have ceremonies that their sacred men learn to sing to restore harmony. One of those ceremonies is called the Blessing Way.

As I was considering my last post and the various responses to it, I thought of Hillerman and his novel of that title. It made me think how like the kingdom of God as referenced in the Christian Bible this blessing way is. McClaren has suggested that the term kingdom has lost much of its meaning for us today. He has suggested a new metaphor: the dream of God. I like that. I like that very much. God's dream is for the restoration of harmony for all peoples, both with himself and among all peoples. When we live into the dream of God from that perspective, we are really living out of the heart of God as expressed in the life of Jesus.

The best part of Jesus' good news of the dream of God is not so much what I have focused on for so many years. In other words, the substitutionary atonement theory -- Jesus' blood to satisfy some legal hangup God has with us so we can go to "heaven" when we die -- is not, in my opinion, the best expression of the good news he came to preach. Atonement (not just substitutionary) is part of it, certainly. But his message, rather, was more simple than that: "God has come near and is very close and available. You might want to rethink your outlook on this and accept that God is indeed near." (Mark 1:15; my paraphrase, of course) This message has all kinds of implications, but its main focus is not do's and don'ts or laws about how we should live or theories about how it all works or even the historical facts of the matter (though I am not discounting them). Rather it is joining and owning the story of God's living, dynamic, two-way relationship with humanity (and, I would add, the rest of his creation).

I find it very sobering that this message failed to resonate with most of the religious people Jesus came into contact with. Instead it was the losers of society who seem to have understood and accepted it much more readily than their pious neighbors. Prostitutes, tax collectors, rebels, dock workers and fishermen, marginalized women, those under the power of demonic addictions and the poor, among others, seemed to be the ones who "got it" and ended up living it. They were his greatest success stories and ended up having a profound impact on their world (not that the echoes of that impact have always been "good").

A little over a week ago, I ate Wednesday evening dinner with my friend, Wade, and another young man, whom I assume was about to attend a Narcotics Anonymous meeting. He had questions about the Revelation (who doesn't?) and the end times. I briefly explained the genre of apocalyptic literature, and how it is very dangerous to take those things literally, that the Revelation was written to people for whom hope had evaporated in the face of severe persecution, etc. Then I suggested that focusing on end times really misses the point of Jesus' main message: that God is present, that he wants to enter into dynamic relationship with us, and us with each other; that he is calling us to rethink how far or near God really is, and start living into the reality of God's nearness. I could tell this was something completely new to him. That disturbs me in a way. But I am also hopeful.

Call me a deluded dreamer, but I'm praying that this "seed" germinates. If it does, we may see more of the blessing way, the way of Jesus.

Grace and peace,


Monday, September 18, 2006

exhausted lives...

I've been puzzling over why so many of us live exhausted lives. It seems to be epidemic in the western world, where our Puritan roots have yielded for many a strong sense of responsibility and an out of kilter, killer work ethic. I know this is disappearing in many of our younger people (not all), and that disturbs me. But it also disturbs me that it disturbs me. Because there is a fine line between giving an honest day's work toward our employment, or parenting our kids, or supporting our churches and service clubs, and becoming messiah for whatever situation we are involved with, whether with work or with avocation.

This is especially true of some in our churches, which offers quite an irony, doesn't it? Someone considering themselves indispensable when the church already has a Messiah? Don't get me wrong. I'm not suggesting an attitude of irresponsibility either, nor am I suggesting that self-sacrificial love on behalf of others is wrong. Not at all. And I, for one, certainly believe the the call of God to specific tasks happens, if for no other reason, just because of personal experience. I'm just of the opinion that something other than self-sacrificial love or the "call of God" masquerades as such much more often than we realize.

How do you spend your time? I used to worry a lot about money, how we were going to pay for this or that, or how we were going to financially absorb this or that disaster. Though I still worry about it, it has taken a distant back seat to the issue of how I use my time and what time I have available. In the past, I saw an "open door" as God's direction to enter it. No longer. I am surrounded by open doors when it comes to my time. Too many open doors.

Then there is that incessant voice (demonic, I'm beginning to believe) that drives me to productivity every waking moment (and in some moments that I shouldn't be awake, but am). Because of age (I know a lot of people older than me who would scoff at that self-characterization!), I can't stay physically active that long. Fatigue, especially due to lack of sleep, forces me to collapse once in a while (as I did last night in my recliner). But even then, unless I am literally falling asleep--and sometimes even then--my mind is racing, analyzing, playing with how to say something, dealing with human crisis, and worst of all worrying about this or that situation or person, over which I obviously have no control. And I ask the question, "Isn't there some kind of off switch that I can flip? Preferably one that's not permanent! Wretched man that I am? Who will deliver me from this work ethic of death?"

I have lived an exhausted life too long.

This is one of the reasons I am participating in the Zoe Group Growing Deeper program this year. I can proudly say that I am learning (in very, very small steps) to waste time. And since the new cohort doesn't begin until sometime next spring, here's my advice:

If you are living an exhausted life like I have been, stop reading my blog, or anyone's blog for that matter. Turn off the computer. Don't open your email program. Inventory what your time is committed to every week. And ask yourself whether anyone (including Jesus himself) could reasonably expect themselves to keep up that schedule and still have any kind of energy left. If you are waffling about the answer to that last step, ask yourself if you've read the job description for messiah.

Get out your calendar (written or electronic) and erase some things. Make some blank places. Don't use them to fix the sink, do taxes or balance your checkbook. Find a quiet place where you can be alone for awhile. Sit on the front porch and count the trees in your neighbor's yard across the street and marvel that you've lived in your home all these years and never knew how many trees he/she had nor what kind. Sit outside and listen to all of the sounds that you miss because you are in such a hurry. Watch your children play. Sip a diet SOBE peach tea (or whatever you prefer) and just sit. Go fishing. Make a list of all the ways you could waste time, especially with God, and don't revise the list until you've tried them all. If you believe in God, find a quiet place every day and practice some form of meditation, contemplative prayer, etc. Practice mindfulness. Or just sit quietly. Do something like this even if you can only manage five minutes a day. Just do it.

If you do nothing else, I at least think the Serenity Prayer used so effectively by 12-step groups is rather appropriate here (yeah, I know this thing has confounded some of you -- sorry):

God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

This may seem heresy to you, this slowing down, this wasting time. Rather, I would suggest most of us have been practicing a rather destructive heresy in the way we've packed our calendars. I know I have.

Think about it.

Grace and peace,


Wednesday, September 13, 2006

coloring outside the lines...

A thought tangent (common occurrence with ADD people--that's Attention Deficit Disorder... now, let's see... where was I?) that came to me in reading a friend's blog....

We are generally known as a species for our ability to invent, create and otherwise manipulate our surroundings (or elements found in our surroundings) into works that are recognized as beautiful. While it may be true that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, it is still common for any given beholder to recognize what for them is beauty. Even to create it.

We are not all Rembrandt or Rodin or Dali. Not all of us have a fast ball like Sandy Kolfax had. A cello in my hands is laughable compared to Yo Yo Ma. But nearly all of us are creative in our own way.

So, are traditional thoughts of heaven skewed? Will there be creative outlet for God's creative creatures? What of a writer of stories who finds an audience by exploring conflict?

I have found the ancient concept of perichoresis, the Great Dance, quite beautiful. It is an intricate picture of all of creation moving in exquisite harmony in a complex dance that is impossible to imagine in its complexity. But if I have a part in that dance, will that be the equivalent of dancing prepared steps? Will freestyle fit? Will there be an ability to color outside the lines?

And especially since I am a writer of fiction, what of conflict, the root of all good stories?

Just wondering....

Grace and peace,


P.S. Still working on exhausted lives.

Thursday, September 07, 2006


This has been a tough year. When I recount to myself the story of all the things that have happened, all the things I've been asked to carry, all the stuff I've stupidly taken on in addition to everything else, I'm amazed I've not caved in under the weight of the stress.

But there have been good things, too. Probably most important is that Dorothy and I celebrated 31 years of marriage on the 23rd of last month. We spent the weekend in San Diego at a very upscale resort. How wonderful to have that time alone with her without the distractions of "chores" and other responsibilities popping up every five minutes. Okay, I confess I did a little bit of office email on my Treo. Just a little bit.

Proverbs says a good wife is from the Lord. She is one, and I acknowledge it was his doing that I married her. Believe me, I married way above me in multiple ways! In that way I am an incredibly blessed man.

There are as many blessings that I could recount as there are trials, struggles, disappointments and worries. It's just that the latter have claimed center stage in the recent year.

One blessing that I will reflect on in later posts is turning out to be a true gift... the Zoe Group's Growing Deeper spiritual formation program. If you are a follower of Jesus and you are not aware of the ancient and deep practices of spiritual formation, I would encourage you to get with someone who is. To say that this process is unifying and stabilizing to my crazy life would be an understatement. If you don't know someone (or better yet some small group) that can help you as you explore this area (or with whom you can explore), try reading Marjorie Thompson's Soul Feast or Gary Holloway and Earl Lavender's Living God's Love. I would be happy to respond to any questions you have about this.

I must admit, though, that I've puzzled over this a bit, wondering how a single mother of preschoolers, much less a married one, could dedicate even five minutes a day to such a thing. I don't know that it's possible. That is an admitted weakness in this (or in the demands we place on ourselves, even as parents). All I know is that this has helped me. I'll talk more about it in later posts. Check back in the next week or so. There may be a new post tentatively titled exhausted lives.....

Grace and peace,