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Beauty as a radical act

Nature is beautiful, because Nature reflects her Creator.  What is ugliness in Nature is the result of entropy – the result of the Curse.   Even so, there is often beauty to be found.

The works of human hands, however, are not so often beautiful.  As we are given the choice to serve God or ourselves, likewise we are given the choice to create beauty or its opposite.   And the further we drift from God, the more often we choose to ignore beauty in our creativity.

Our cities, our freeways, our cubicles – they’re not beautiful.

But our eyes, as children of God, were created to receive beauty.

So, this is a problem.   What do humans do with this problem?  They insulate themselves, and concentrate on that which they feel they can control.  They overemphasize entertainment, seeking to fill the hole that beauty has left.  They follow celebrities, confusing plasticine prettiness with true beauty.  They run from the presence of God and hide their eyes in blue-glowing screens.   They ignore themselves, they ignore the cement, they ignore the incessant noise… because they have no trees, they have no birdsong.

Beauty then, can be a radical act.   Showing up in someone’s daily life and being beautiful, drawing attention to the Creator, that simple act can crack a paradigm.  If she can be beautiful, does that mean that I should be beautiful too?  A smile can make a day.

I’m not talking about beauty that mimics the plasticine prettiness of those celebs, by the way – I’m talking about the real deal.  I’m talking about embracing the individual nature of your face, your form, the way you were created, and going with that.  I’m talking about beauty that’s more than skin deep – the way you interact with every human you see, the way you smile, the way you pray.

I’m talking about coming out of the closet and BEING beautiful where people can see you.  Being vulnerably yourself, so that you’re not another person hiding behind layers of insulation, layers of anonymity.  Becoming radical, pursuing change – those are not safe acts, they take courage.   Being beautiful takes courage.   It takes thought.  It takes creativity.  It takes joy.

And having taken those things, it gives them to the viewer… and who knows what happens from there?

Maybe we can start breaking walls.

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(Pic courtesy google – artist unknown)

Verse for the day

Ecclesiastes 3:11 

He has made everything beautiful in its time.

Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end.  

(NKJV)

Be still, and know that I am God.  See what I will do.

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Faith as an … orange tree?

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The Lord said that if we had faith as a mustard seed, we could move mountains… right now, I feel like my faith is a lot more like this little orange tree.

Yes.  There’s an orange tree in that picture.   She’s only about 3 feet tall, and her trunk is maybe an inch in diameter.  You’re saying, but Hearth – no worries, I’m sure she’s a new tree.  She’s not.  She’s been there for three or four years now.  My husband keeps threatening to take her out… but I figure, as much damage as she’s taken without going down, we should respect the orange tree.  At least until we decide to put something else there!

What challenges does that orange tree face?

First of all, the tree isn’t planted in the best dirt.  It might be planted in the best dirt we have, but that ain’t sayin’ much, as our yard is nearly pure clay.  Trees don’t like clay soil, if you didn’t know.  (We have other citrus in heavy clay – and this is pretty much what they do.  Grow very, very slowly – pushing your roots into clay is hard work).

Second, we didn’t water it much the last couple of years.  Drip irrigation, just the minimum.  She lived.  That’s all I can say.  And the dog keeps digging up and eating the fertilizer I use… so I haven’t, much.

Third, we keep throwing things on her.  Literally.  Well, I mean we don’t TRY to throw stuff on her – but the reason you can’t tell which bits of green are the orange tree and which bits are ??? is because she’s in front of a HUGE pile of pepper tree wood.  Oh, did I mention that pepper trees kill the things that live under them?  The orange tree isn’t under the pepper tree, but it’s certainly had enough pepper leaves on it, enough branches chucked on it temporarily, that if it were truly a temperamental thing, it would be dead by now.

The tree lives.

And I wonder if it’s not like that fig tree from the parables, the one the owner wanted to cut down, but the vinedresser said, “let me just give it one more chance …”.  Maybe my little orange tree just wants to NOT have branches dropped on it, would maybe like some regular water and food, and just a little bit more time.

I feel like this.  My faith has gotten a bit battered this last year.  No, not my faith in God, but my cheery faith that everything is going to work out.   My faith in the little promises I pick up along the way.   You know, when you pray about something, you get the peace, or the go-ahead, or whatever… you get your ducks lined up, everything is in order.   You’ve worked it out on paper (in flesh) and you’ve worked it out on your knees (in the Spirit).  And then… it doesn’t work out.   Even wrigglier, when it’s just been worked out on your knees, but over and over and over again… like that.

I mean, no reason a tree should grow in our awful soil.  They do, and I know they do.  But – on paper, it looks dire sometimes.

But I’ve been encouraged lately.   From others, not from my own crazy self.

I’m looking forward to growing my faith as “suddenly” as the little lemon tree outside my front window, which now reaches to the top of the house… the lemon tree that everyone comments on, because it’s so beautiful.   One day it was this tiny little tree, then the next it seemed… how did it get so big??

I want a faith that’s deep rooted, that can’t be shaken.

And so I’m okay with a slow start to crazy faith.  I’m okay with branches getting dropped on my head.  I’m not saying that I like it, but if that’s what it takes, that’s what it takes.

The sun is coming through the clouds of this stormy season, and I just can’t WAIT to start growing…

Pioneers

God made all kinds of people in this world, but there are two camps that come to mind at the moment, the Pioneers and the Sensible.

The Pioneers dream big – and often fall big.  They’re the ones who push the boundaries, the ones who try crazy things, the ones who sometimes create amazing new realities – and sometimes end up living on the Sensible people’s couches when it all goes horribly wrong.

The Sensible people might dream, but what they do is provide a solid foundation for society.   They do what’s been done before, and they do it well.  They make the wheels go round.  They have the houses where the Dreamers come to crash, when their dreams crash down around their heads.

We need both kinds of people.   And these folks can learn from one another – the Pioneers can learn from the Sensible, and have a fall-back position.  The Sensible can learn from the Pioneers, and remember to dream.

Seems like these days I’m hearing a lot of Sensible people snipe at the Pioneers.  “What they want won’t work.  It didn’t work for these other people.  Look at all the problems.  Look at all the potential for disaster.   DOOM!”

Yeah.  A lot of times dreams die.  That’s why we call them dreams.  But if no one ever dreamed, nothing would ever change.   No one would ever cross that horizon – well, at least not until population pressure in town forced ’em off the property.

When people dream, they’re not just talking about the problems – they’re thinking of solutions.  And maybe their solutions won’t work.  And maybe 1/10th of those solutions will work, and 9/10ths don’t.  But even if it’s 1/1000, that’s better than 0.   And we can learn from what works, and what doesn’t.  And the second generation of dreamers refines and moves forward – and we all benefit.

Just talking endlessly about what sucks is pointless.  Defining a problem (ANY problem) is an important first step in solving the problem.  Defining a problem and choosing not to take the second step is pointless.  It’s like telling me I have cancer and not picking up a knife.

Let the Dreamers dream, let the Pioneers break new ground.  Yeah, sometimes there will be bears.  It’s dangerous work, pioneering.  But that’s why everyone doesn’t do it.

Spirit vs. Flesh

I’ve been a Christian for a long, long time.  I honestly thought I ‘had this’, that I was mature enough to get it.  So, excuse the embarrassment… this is seriously crazypants stuff.

1 Corinthians 2: 14 But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.

That’s been me, lately.  I’ve been wrestling up down and sideways trying to understand the things of the Spirit through the mind of the flesh.  Do you know something?  That does.not.work.    The experience of trying to explain what was going on in my Spirit to my *own mind* and failing is ridiculous.

Romans 7: 15 For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. 16 If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. 17 But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. 18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. 19 For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. 20 Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.

21 I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. 22 For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. 23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. 24 O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.

8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. 10 And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.

I find it moderately comforting that Paul was just as confusing writing it out as I’ve been, living it.

This is what was going through my head yesterday evening as I was coming back from visiting my husband in the hospital.

Flesh:  You could totally rip this person a new one online.  It would be fun.  I mean, I know you’re not going to do it, but… you have the best excuse.  Let’s fantasize about it.

Spirit:  I don’t really want to.  Like, meh.

Flesh:  You’re not even restraining me, you just… aren’t interested?

Spirit:  Nope.

Flesh:  How about a huge meal?

Spirit:  Nope.  Just a normal meal, thanks.  I haven’t gotten any exercise in a while, and I’m really not very hungry.

Flesh:  How about staying up late, tossing and turning and being worried?

Spirit:  Nope.  He’s fine.  I’m fine.  Kids are fine.  And I’m pretty tired.  I’m going to have to take care of Body though, I think she could use an epsom salts soak.

Flesh:  Look.  I get it.  You’re a nice Christian gal.  You don’t want to do the naughty stuff even when you have excuse.  But… aren’t you supposed to be restraining me with difficulty and being tempted?

Spirit:  Yeah, it’s changed.

Flesh:  This is very confusing.

You know that business about things of the Spirit not being understood by the flesh?  You don’t expect that to go on simultaneously in your self.  Don’t we all separate the “spiritual” people from the “worldly” people… and if we want to get finicky, we can create a third category, the “rules people”?  Like, you’re supposed to be in ONE category.  And the spiritual folks …err… aren’t they supposed to have one big moment and just become zen or something?

This is NOT how it’s playing out.  It’s not.  And it’s super weird.

Oh, by the way, though following rules is good stuff, I’ve found that following the rules qua rules is more helpful to strengthening my flesh rather than weakening it.  Why?  Because I have to concentrate so much on the rules, I have to put so much attention and energy into the battle over the flesh… that was a pretty confusing concept.  Let’s try some Bible:

Colossians 2:20 Therefore,if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations— 21 “Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,” 22 which all concern things which perish with the using—according to the commandments and doctrines of men? 23 These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.

As I said, I don’t know how to explain this adequately to my own mind, how am I going to explain it to you?  But I’m TRYING.  Because I want to get across that the wrestling of the spirit vs. the flesh is a real thing, and that it’s not a thing you get through by memorizing Bible or running down a to-do list or being really nice.  It’s a thing you get through when it’s time.  I don’t think I’m through.  I’m on the journey.  Took some steps.  One of the big ones was last night, just realizing that that confused mind part of me, the one who is trying SO hard to explain this?  That confused mind is part of the Flesh.  Spirit understands and is dwelling in peace.  So, letting go of my attempts to make this make sense, when the Word has *already told me* that it *won’t* make sense to Flesh, is a choice to invest myself in Spirit.

Among my fleshly habits is a habit of explaining myself, at least inside my head.  It doesn’t hurt to let go of it.  Nothing that I’m letting go of hurts, at least that I bring to mind at the moment.  It’s just … not my habit.  I’m used to knowing what to do next, in my Flesh.  I’m very organized, very responsible.

Big changes, deeply needed.

PS Yes, my husband really is okay.  He should be home later this afternoon, according to doctor #1.  Been an interesting weekend, and Body is going to need some tending from the abuse I’ve put her through.

 

The Oldest Daydream: A Review of The Benedict Option

One of my oldest daydreams is gathering up the people I love best, moving far-far-away from the rat race, and starting a community of our own.

When I was in high school, having been exposed to too much Heinlein at an impressionable age, I wanted to start a commune.   Starting around the turn of the millennium, my focus was just going back to the land.  And for years, my husband has called the dream of getting a big piece of property with several buildings on it, and importing our besties to come live with us, the “when I win the lottery” daydream.  (This being my husband’s daydream, there’s a forge and not so many hedges).

I’m not alone in this kind of daydream – I know at least two online friends who have the same hankering.  One of them is actively working on it, much to my envy.   I even have a couple online buds living on farms… I suspect it might be a GenX thing.

So, when I heard about The Benedict Option, I was intrigued.  Many of my online buds have already checked Dreher’s blog out, and were familiar (and somewhat annoyed by) the concept.  I hadn’t, haven’t checked it out yet, though I will.

Quick and Dirty:  I liked the book, didn’t agree with all of it, and think Dreher is a bit misaligned in his priorities, but overall I thought there were some great points for every Christian.   I am not an Orthodox Christian or Catholic, but Dreher had nice things to say about crazy evangelicals too.  As I mentioned in my blog about Christian Unity, when your back is against the wall, what matters is your commitment to Christ Jesus, not whether or not you use incense in your church services.  Our backs are moving rapidly towards the wall – and Dreher sees this, it’s the basis for his book.

What I loved:  I loved the description of living within the natural world – I hadn’t realized that the enlightenment church had intellectualized the faith so much.  I find that odd, since Creation is supposed to witness to the Creator.   And of course the idea of living simply, working shoulder to shoulder with fellow believers is the epitome of my Oldest Daydream… 🙂  I got quite a lot of sympathy for the Orthodox and Catholic churches (even though I am still firmly Sola Scriptura/Gracia/Fide) from this reading.  The schism came at a cost, and there were things lost.

What I found convicting:  That we return to/develop the communities of our youth, and deepen our connections there, rather than gallivanting off to where-ever we might want to go.  OUCH.  See, I live in SoCal, but unlike most folks here, I am a native.  A second-generation native, which practically makes me an elder stateswoman.  I would rather live in a forest somewhere, but y’all know the beach is in my bones.  If you don’t know that, come watch my face when I’m near the sea.

But maybe I should be working more on strengthening the connections on my block, in my neighborhood, in my church… and less time daydreaming about a swiftly moving stream and nodding pine trees?

This was the most unexpected part of the book – I thought Dreher was really all about going back to the woods, or at least back to small towns.  Instead, he talked about blooming where you were planted, and how one might make that work in different situations.

What I found helpful:  The suggestion to think outside the box and start actively preparing ourselves and our children for the approaching time of persecution.  I have teenagers, and suggesting to them that they might want to think creatively about their professional futures rather than just hitting the college/career track is useful.  (So much dovetails now with what we’ve been talking about as a community about the skilled professions being a wiser choice than college, the Mike Rowe scholarships, now this… of course I am not the one making the choice).

My church has been preparing the youth for home churching and studying the Word in small groups for years now – so that bit of prep is something that Crazy Evangelicals can do, and groups that are dependent on a priest (Orthodox, Catholics) cannot.  (I think, I could be wrong and feel free to correct me – can laypersons prepare Communion in those traditions?)

What I found meh:  Dreher really pounded the idea that we should be working on getting religious freedom laws saved.  It seems to go against his general thesis, that the World is going to largely throw against us.  Dreher also emphasized Christian education to a fault – not that I have an objection, but it seemed to be a bit more intense than I’d have chosen.  Of course my kids only have a few more years before college (if) so… YMMV.  But even since the very recent publication of his book, the few delicate religious freedom laws have gotten overturned.   Put not your faith in princes, dude.  If you’re going to posit a return to small community based church, don’t waver.

The end of the matter?  I thought the book was pretty good, especially the first half, and there were several things I found convicting.   It’s worth a read.  Get it from the library and have a think.

Unity in Christ

John 17: 22 The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; 23 I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.

I was listening to a Francis Chan sermon today as I was doing kitchen work, and he was speaking on this verse.  Perfected in unity… so that we can be a witness that God sent Jesus, and that He loves us.

Are we unified?  No, not really.

But then again, there’s a tie – a tie that CS Lewis spoke of in Mere Christianity.   When I get together with Scott, or Chris, or Elspeth or Cassie or Fiberaddict – I know they love Jesus.  We have theological differences, some of which are pretty big.  But they’ll go to the wall for our King.

Stuff’s about to go down.  I don’t know when, I don’t know how, I don’t even know if we’ll still be here or get airlifted out first.   But the signs of soon-persecution for the Church are there for anyone to see.   If you’ve ever opened a history book, and then open a newspaper…

Chan was asking what it would take to get us unified, what it would take for God to answer Jesus’ prayer… I’m afraid I know all too well.  Exactly the same thing that it took in the early days of the Church.

But what about the meantime?

In the meantime… as far as I’m concerned, we’re all on the same team.  We might quarrel and debate – but we’re family.   Sometimes maybe we need someone to remind us of that, to not pull sister’s hair too hard or put ipecac in brother’s gatorade.

There are a lot of liberal Christians, people who say they love Jesus and don’t walk the walk.  Who, put to the test, don’t really believe Bible, they’d rather follow the World.   I keep hoping those distant cousins will step up and come to the truth of our faith – there’s room at the table.  But I figure Dr. McGee was right – no one hates more bitterly than someone who’s turned their face from what’s right and has a reminder of what they’ve lost in consequence.

Truth will out.

And in the meantime – hey guys, remember that we’re all part of the body of Christ, and that He has stated that He wants us to be in unity, unity that might bring more folks into the fold and save them from hellfire.

Isn’t that why we’re still here?