Hopeless Wanderer

One of my big struggles in life is the pull to be a lock, stock, and barrel member of my generation. Which is to say, a full-out cynical, anti-authority, anti-institution, I-think-I’m-specialer-than-everyone-else-in-the-universe card carrying member of Generation Y. Which is a topic I’ve posted on before.

I’ve recently discovered Mumford and Sons (yes, I know I’m way behind there) and their song “Hopeless Wanderer”. It’s a pull I feel all. the. time. I’m constantly marked by “a clouded mind and a heavy heart”. It’s like a plague. Because as “I’ve wrestled long with my youth” I find that the answers seem so far away and everything feels so uncertain. My wife and I were just talking about all the questions we used to have about everything–about God and life and mystery and hope. But we used to believe that every question had a findable answer, so we never stopped coming up with new questions. These days I’m so jaded that I don’t even want to ask a question because I’m pretty sure it will lead to that same dead-end “I don’t know” that becomes the answer to everything.

A “hopeless wanderer” if there ever was one.

I resonate with two particular parts beyond that, two parts that want so badly to dig out of this hopelessness. “How I long to grow old!” Maybe when I finally grow up (when does that happen anyway?) I’ll finally settle again into that conviction that most older folks I know seem to have. But more directly, “I will learn to love the skies I’m under.” Not as if I will ever be truly happy with this broken world, but I’ll love it in it’s disarray because it was made by God. And right now, I don’t. I feel hopeless far more than hopeful. But, oh God, change that in my heart!

(Note: I hesitate to post this video because they filled in four comedians for the band and it’s way funny to watch, in contradiction to the not-so-funniness of the song itself. So maybe listen the first time to just hear the song, then give it a second pass and watch to giggle at the silliness of those guys.)

From a Book: No Other Stream

stream-1351841092KWiA little long and maybe slightly confusing if you’re unfamiliar with the world of Narnia. But it still slays me to read it and so I invite you to as well. I’ve always loved Aslan because of how he made Jesus more real to me (more on this in the near future). He’s gracious and loving and king and mighty and magnificent and scary and perfect–all at the same time. And there’s no other place, no other stream, from which to find living water–water that truly quenches and takes away any more thirst.

“If you’re thirsty, you may drink.”

The voice was not like a man’s. It was deeper, wilder, and stronger; a sort of heavy, golden voice. It did not make her any less frightened than she had been before, but it made her frightened in rather a different way. “Are you not thirsty?” said the Lion.

“I’m dying of thirst,” said Jill.

“Then drink,” said the Lion.

“May I—could I—would you mind going away while I do?” said Jill.

The Lion answered this only by a look and a very low growl. And as Jill gazed at its motionless bulk, she realized that she might as well have asked the whole mountain to move aside for her convenience.

The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her nearly frantic.

“Will you promise not to—do anything to me, if I do come?” said Jill.

“I make no promise,” said the Lion.

Jill was so thirsty now that, without noticing it, she had come a step nearer.

“Do you eat girls?” she said.

“I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms,” said the Lion. It didn’t say this as if it were boasting, nor as if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry. It just said it.

“I daren’t come and drink,” said Jill.

“Then you will die of thirst,” said the Lion.

“Oh dear!” said Jill, coming another step nearer. “I suppose I must go and look for another stream then.”

“There is no other stream,” said the Lion. It never occurred to Jill to disbelieve the Lion—no one who had seen his stern face could do that—and her mind suddenly made itself up. It was the worst thing she had ever had to do, but she went forward to the stream, knelt down, and began scooping up water in her hand. It was the coldest, most refreshing water she had ever tasted. You didn’t need to drink much of it, for it quenched your thirst at once.

Lewis, C. S. (2008-10-29). The Silver Chair (The Chronicles of Narnia) (pp. 21-23). Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition. (Slightly edited)

Not Fair

But the beauty of grace is that it makes life not fair.

In all my insecurities and pridefully mistaken notions of awesomeness–I constantly vacillate between the two extremes–my one lasting hope is that I’m never going to get what I deserve. And I’m trusting in what’s already been done to do something new and good and perfect now in me, despite the mess I’ve made.

And how did I end up in this mess, anyway?

All I was trying to do was save my own skin. But so were You–so were You.

Good thing.

Redeeming Twelve-Tone Music (Kinda)

It’s pretty safe to say that I’ve always pretty much hated twelve-tone music.

If you don’t know what that is, here’s the Cliff’s Notes version: it’s basically a mathematical way to approach music that was invented in the last hundred years to shake up the music world.

And it’s always ugly. ALWAYS. Which was kind of the point. But that doesn’t make it any less awful.

But along comes Vi Hart and she explores not only the philosophical ideas behind it (which made my head hurt a little, though not in a bad way), but she made twelve-tone eerie and beautiful.

Give it a look. I let it play in the background/side screen while I worked on other stuff–I don’t have thirty minutes to just sit and watch something like this, though it’d be cool if I did:

In the Name of Love

mirror-with-ornate-frameGet ready for Bill’s duh statement of the day: I can’t see myself. Well, I can see parts of me. But not all of me. And looking in mirrors doesn’t help that much because I still see a backwards version of me. That’s why seeing a picture of yourself (or hearing your own voice, for that matter) is such a shocking thing: we don’t look (to ourselves) the way we actually look (to everyone else).

My soul isn’t any different. I know what I think I’m like on the inside. But I don’t “see” myself clearly. Not at all. Thus trying to diagnose and mend my own soul is a dangerous endeavor–a lot like how it goes when I try to cut my own hair by looking in a mirror.

Well, something happens to me from time to time. It would probably happen more often if I asked Dad for it. But I don’t. I’m usually content in my blissful ignorance of my own failings and sins and temptations. Yet Dad doesn’t always wait around for me to ask for his help–sometimes he sees me headed toward the precipice and he steps in because he loves me.

How this time? A prophecy from my wife. And when she prophesies, it’s really just the Spirit kicking me in the spiritual teeth with words of truth that smart like hell all while she doesn’t even know she’s prophesying. (Yes, prophecy from the Spirit still exists. No, it’s not full of bangs and whistles and fireworks–it’s words from one Spirit-filled Christian to another.) It’s a lot like Eustace having his dragon skin removed by Aslan:

The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. You know—if you’ve ever picked the scab off a sore place. It hurts like billy—oh but it is such fun to see it coming away.

So, what’s my sin? Idolatry. What idol? Get this: her.

Suck.

wooden-heart-2But I love her. Like, I way love her. I would do anything for her. I would sacrifice myself for her. I would go to the end of the world and back for her.

Ah. Yeah. Now I see it. If you subbed in Jesus for all of the “hers” in the last paragraph, all would be hunky dory. That’s the way it’s supposed to be for the King. But not for my wife. At least, not over and above allegiance to and love for the King.

To be honest, I struggled hard in my heart. The way I loved her was good and right. Wasn’t it? How could my love for her and my devotion to her be bad?

Enter another story (I’m apparently in a CS Lewis mood today) called Till We Have Faces. To give a horribly simplistic and overly generalized summary, it tells the story of how one sister loved her sister in such a way as to nearly destroy her. It’s an astounding book and both times I’ve read it, I was caught off-guard with the turn it took near the end and the overlaying complexity of the protagonist (really, just read it for yourself–I’m explaining it horribly).

But to give the necessary background, most of the book is devoted to the older sister citing her case against the gods for how they have brought misery upon her and upon her sister. And interestingly, I still find this part of the book somewhat bland to read ( I say it’s interesting because her self-blindness–like mine–is lame and kinda boring). But then the turn happens. In the very last part of the book, the older sister finally understands that her case against the gods was really a case against herself; that in the name of love she had displayed, to quote an essay I found, “a tyrannically selfish possessiveness.” What she thought was love for her sister was really deep-seated selfishness. It was self-love. And it turned into hate toward the object of her “love”. (Again, I plead with you, read the book. It’s truly worth the time.)

And so, in a book written decades ago, I find myself. I love my wife so fiercely because I love myself.  I want so badly to believe that I love her selflessly, but I love her for myself. And I expect from her the impossible–to be my hope and my joy and my salvation. There’s no other word for that than “idol”.

And so, I’m laid bare. My skin has been stripped by the Lion. I have no turn left but to turn–to repent.

Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
and justified when you judge.

Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquity.

Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
so that sinners will turn back to you.
Open my lips, Lord,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart
you, God, will not despise.
(from Psalm 51)

 

Faith and Doubt

For some, believing in Jesus and loving him with a full heart is as simple as breathing. For me, not so much. If I were to extend the breathing analogy, I suffer from my own version of spiritual asthma. Sometimes believing and loving and serving is unnatural and hard and laborious. Sometimes it’s draining. Sometimes it’s downright discouraging and hopeless. Suffocating. And like the real asthmatic who knows exactly how to breathe and simply can’t, I know how I want my heart–my soul–to be and I simply can’t.

I don’t have any solutions or answers here–I’m simply inviting you into the struggle with me. But I acknowledge it’s a hopeful struggle. I cling to the goodness and solidarity of God’s promises like an inhaler. It doesn’t necessarily make things feel any better, but it’s what holds me together at all.

On that note, here’s a song I love that I listen to (and sing along with) as one way my soul cries out to God:

My friend Scott has waded through these waters publicly as well and it’s been to the good of my soul to be invited into his struggle with him, even though it’s horribly painful for him. You can find some examples here, here, and here (though his whole blog is worth reading).

Saying Something to Say Nothing

1702-1252709341CgRpI came across this article the other day about 10 paradoxical traits of creative people. I can never decide if I’m creative or not, so I gave it a read. Guess what I found out? I am creative.

And so is everyone else.

According to the teaser:

Creative people are humble and proud. Creative people tend to be both extroverted and introverted. Creative people are rebellious and conservative.

Well, thank you. You just described almost every person I’ve ever known. And the whole article runs that way. One comment compared the descriptions to a horoscope: so generic and sweeping that it applies to everyone.

Much like my post about Generation Y yuppies, I see the seeds of desire for specialness in this. Who doesn’t want to be creative? Read this and feel like you are! You’re special!

But it’s empty. Grand promises and sweeping generalizations don’t make for truth. They feed our pride and tell us we really are as great as we think. But perhaps we’re simply average. Or maybe below average. Where’s the article “Ten Traits of Average People” that describes most of the population? That would probably be depressing to read. And sad. Who needs reality, anyway?

I write with cynicism because this pride courses through my veins. I yearn for specialness. I long to be known and praised and admired. I want to be creative and imaginative and just a notch above others. So reading stuff like this just ticks me off.

Really, I’m just looking for the day when I finally learn contentment with being the rather ordinary creature that I am, but absolutely unique because there’s no one exactly like me, incredibly valuable because I was made in God’s image, and unfathomably loved because Jesus gave himself for me. If I can really believe that, what other kind of “special” do I really need?