Friday, May 25, 2007

intimacy v. isolation

i think i have to start with a bit of a disclaimer. here in our over-sexed America, the word "intimacy" usually conjures images of sex and sexuality. that is an aspect of intimacy - an important and powerful one (Sex God, by Rob Bell is my current recommended read on the topic), but it's not the only one. in fact, i think we have done harm to ourselves and our relationships by buying into the notion that all intimacy is reserved for a sexual relationship. if you combine the 3 parts of Merriam-Webster's definition of the word, you come close to what i think it means: sharing things "belonging to our deepest nature" in relationships "marked by close association, familiarity, and warm friendship developed through long association." something about those words stirs a longing in me - i think we were created for just that. what else will Heaven be but increasing intimacy between the Lord and us and each other for all eternity? might as well start now, right?

and i don't think of it as a sappy, weak word. it requires incredible courage and discernment and faith to risk intimacy. it is a dangerous word.

[this tension is connected to the previous two also - in fact the three tensions i'm trying to write about here seem to be braided into one rope. they're not exactly the same, nor are they mutually exclusive. 3 strands of one rope used in this on-going tug-o-war...]

being in community is not the same thing as risking intimacy. or at least it's not automatic. if true community is going to happen, i think intimacy must go with it eventually. but it seems a separate topic, still...

call it my personality or my preference or my defense mechanism or whatever you want. whatever it's name, i can be totally alone in a group of people. it is a choice, for sure, and often i choose it. isolation. and i know i'm not the only one. i can feel it around me. we get our bodies in the same place in the name of community, but it is rather like a bunch of bodies in head-to-toe suits of armor. we're left to try to relate to each other with all the warmth and tenderness of clanking metal. the intimacy we're designed for waits for us just on the other side of the realization that "our armor is a cage" (Lucy Kaplansky).

to those of you who risk life outside that armor, thank you. thanks for showing me that life outside this cage is possible.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

community v. independence

this one is, perhaps, just a running example of the working out of the first tension i wrote about. i don't think community can happen until Christians mutually choose truth over deception.

several of my favorite authors have written that we are designed to live in meaningful relationship with each other, and that those relationships are crucial to walking out the journey of Christianity. and it rings true in my own experience. i have felt the longing for relationships that have both depth and direction since junior high.

my insecurities make me hesitate. my sin - the inevitable hurt i will cause others just by being human and being in community - make it quite appealing to avoid real community with others and run toward some form of independence...

and all i've found so far is that my longing for real Life Together keep quietly taking over, even against my conscious will at times. i fear being vulnerable enough to be in community, but i am grateful for so many of you who have been patient enough to love me into the kind of community that can be the Body of Christ to the world.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

truth v. deception

if you're a regular reader, it'll seem a bit redundant to start with this one. i just wrote about it a few weeks ago. but it is amazing how many times this particular tension has been evident in my life and writing.

i think one of our culture's constant invitations to us is to lie, and shut ourselves in a prison of our own making because of it: wear "age-defying" make-up = lie about your age. borrow more money = lie about your income. all advertising, in fact, must make you feel small, inadequate, or incomplete unless you buy their particular product or service or lifestyle. most of the episodes of Friends or Grey's Anatomy or Everybody Loves Raymond revolve around some sort of deception that is, in the end, discovered (with great comedy or great dramatic impact). the way the characters lie to one another is the crux of the plot, and it just feels semi-uncomfortably like a parody of my own relationships.

all in all, the invitation seems something like this: "be as deceptive as necessary in order to seem to be who you wish you were." and when we take it - when I take it - our contribution to the world becomes a Nothing. we conjure a person that doesn't actually exist, and then try to interact with the real world as that fictitious character. what impact can a phantom have on a solid world? what difference does an apparition make? in trying so hard to just pretend to be Something, we make ourselves disappear.

but the Lord offers quite a different invitation, doesn't He? the New Testament is busting with instruction and examples of ways that "the truth will set you free," and they are all counter-cultural practices. (they're also dangerous, but don't danger and freedom go together as much as safety and captivity?) i don't have time or knowledge enough to even scratch the surface of this theme woven throughout the Word. i'll stick to one example...

to me, one of the most frightening and hopeful verses in the New Testament is James 5:16. it begins with "Therefore, confess your sins..." evidently, it is important that we acknowledge and tell the truth about all the ways that we've blown it. WHAT?! why?! why would a person ever do that? go to your boss and tell him you've been getting paid for hours you didn't work. go to your spouse and tell them you flirted with someone else today. go to your children and tell them you treated then unfairly because you lost your temper. go before God and tell him you didn't love well today. logic says you'll lose your job, permanently wreck your marriage, lose the respect of your children, and further distance yourself from God. and yet somehow confession - telling the truth even when it is embarrassing truth - is part of His plan for us to live in freedom.

my theory is that confession does for the spirit what puking does for the body. you know the feeling - i hate to throw up, but when i do i will be better. your body feels the urge to throw up when it detects the presence of a poison - it is a defense mechanism in place to help keep you healthy. if you don't throw up, the poison has incredible destructive power over your body. the moment it is out, it is no longer powerful. gross, perhaps, but unable to do further harm. i think confession does something similar for our spirit - that God asks us to get the sin out where it is no longer powerful. gross, perhaps, but unable to do further harm...

i recognize it can be an empty ritual or abused in a very salvation-by-works kind of way, but i think we Protestants have tossed out the baby with the bathwater by abandoning the practice of Confession. i'm not sure that the way to regain it is to put our pastors in boxes with curtains certain hours of the day. i'm not sure that it's not, either. i just think we're avoiding something necessary to overcome a life of lying and to enter into telling and living truth...

Saturday, May 12, 2007

ever since i planned to get my new computer, i've been in the process of going through all the junk saved on my old one, deciding what to save and what to ditch. i've skimmed years worth of e-mail archives and papers i wrote in college. i also switched my blog site, so i reread my old blog just for fun... i haven't had occasion to read over so much of my own writing all at once in a long time. being the nerd that i am, i found myself playing literary critic in my own writing. i found myself identifying themes and patterns, documenting growth and regression in my writing and in my life, and even noticing a certain tone in my writing that i didn't intend... it was full of discovery on a variety of levels. i won't bore you with the whole of my introspective journey, but there are some repeated themes - tensions, really - that seem to run throughout. maybe it's just another way to try to say what i've been stabbing inarticulately toward for years. anyway, that's what the next 3 posts will be about, i think.

(if i go into labor, it may be August before i finish this!)

Monday, May 7, 2007

thinking about community again

this time it was Buechner that got me started:

"We don't like to get too serious about things, especially about ourselves. When we are with other people, we are apt to talk about almost anything under the sun except for what really matters to us...except for what is going on inside our own skins. We pass the time of day. We chatter. We hold each other at bay, keep our distance from each other even when God knows it is precisely each other that we desperately need."

i'm struck by how we (westerners) have ordered our lives to do just that. every family has their own home, usually with each person having a room to themselves if they want it. separate cars, schedules, closets, and lives. we live such isolated lives that we are free to go on pretending that nothing is a big deal because we only have to fool people in short bursts. (how we fool ourselves when we are alone is another matter). "if i pretend this isn't a big deal, then it actually won't be." and we can keep pretending (which, as adults, is euphemism for lying), because no one is near enough to require we tell the truth (in word or action or expression).

and never mind putting our "big deals" into categories of good or bad or other. i don't think it matters. i think we down-play them all. we pretend our excitement is small. our fear. our tenderness. our anger. our anticipation. our hope. our disappointment. we "move through the world as though untouched," and we should all of us get Oscars for the effort!

but we long for so much more. i know i do. i don't know how to offer myself, and i don't know how to ask, but i want more. i want to be free to tell the truth about the things going on "inside my own skin." to find a way to ask you about the things that really matter to you, to listen with my whole self, and to be a trustworthy and safe person with such treasure.

i wonder if i can set aside my Americanized notions of "private" and seek community that goes beyond "blurbs" of life together?

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

i also wish i could write poetry

i have too much appreciation for good art to attempt to write my own poetry. my rhythms and rhymes are only appropriate for cheesy greeting cards and children's books.

but i read it. some. one of my favorite poets is Rainer Maria Rilke, and the past couple of days i've read again from his Book of Hours (translated from the German by Barrows and Macy). i think this one is my favorite:

You see, I want a lot.
Maybe I want it all:
the darkness of each endless fall,
the shimmering light of each ascent.

So many are alive who don't seem to care.
Casual, easy, they move through the world
as though untouched.

But you take pleasure in the faces
of those who know they thirst.
You cherish those
who grip you for survival.

You are not dead yet, it's not too late
to open your depths by plunging into them
and drink in the life
that reveals itself quietly there.

i read his introspective first stanza, and something in me dares to whisper "me too." my longing is stirred for really living in the heights and depths and the path between them...

i read the second stanza - his observation of the world through the lens of his introspective discovery, and i shudder. i wonder if it is me he has seen. i wonder if i am brave enough to care that i am alive - to be moved by the darkness of each endless fall and the shimmering light of each ascent...

i read the third stanza, and i think i'm listening to a prayerful "aside." i think the "you" here is the Lord, and i think it's true - i think He cherishes those who grip him for survival. these four lines call to mind the heart of the Beatitudes...

then i read the last stanza, and it's like Rilke is shaking me by the shoulders and speaking with gentle urgency. "Wake up!" he says. fight the numbing effects of small pleasures and constant noise and live!

when i read this poem, i think if i'll brave the introspection Rilke points to, i'll rediscover my thirst. through my thirst, i'll move nearer the Living Water. in Him, i'll find undiluted Life, and be moved to invite others on that same journey.

you see, i want a lot...