Monday, March 29, 2010

beautiful Jesus



Sometimes I find it hard to be enthusiastic about God, about Jesus, about the Bible, about church, about anything spiritual, really. It seems to require so much effort. The problem is usually not that I am slothful or lack understanding (though no doubt I am regularly guilty of both). It is that I have forgotten how beautiful Jesus is. When I see him, know him, and spend time with him, everything else seems rather dull and boring in comparison and I cannot help but be attracted to him, love him, and love everything he loves. Here, then, is something from a talk I gave last night to remind myself (and others) how beautiful Jesus is. Let my nature find itself drawn back to him over and over again.

He is the creator and ruler and upholder and finisher of the universe. He is beyond anything I can dream of or imagine or fathom. He is unlimited in power and beauty and love and light. He deserves anything and everything we can give him, even though he doesn’t need it, or even need us. Our life is a gift of love, a gift because that’s what he does and love because that’s who he is. At the same time as being the most incredible and awesome being who defines the meaning of existence (I AM), he also knows what it is like to be a small, limited, temporal, fragile human being.

He is the most faithful friend I have ever known. He always tells me the truth, even when it is hard to hear. Anything he does is out of goodness, in fact, he is goodness. He is one of those people who lights up the whole room when he’s there. He doesn’t change, but he changes things. He’s always changing things and that’s what I love about him. There is something new every day with him. But it’s always the good kind of new, exciting new. It may be hard, in fact it often is over-my-head, make-me-want-to-run-the-other-way hard. But he doesn’t believe in shortcuts or taking the easy way out. If he builds something, it is solid, rock solid.

He’s got these hands that are always like this: stretched out in welcome. He thought up laughter and crying and jumping and running and music and painting and singing. He is always ready for a conversation or some problem-solving. He never runs out of ideas. He doesn’t have an angry face. His eyes are always clear and see through everything. Sometimes he scares me, but that doesn’t last long. Sometimes my mouth drops open at stuff that he is capable of. He defies my brain a lot of the time, words can’t do him justice. He is simple yet incredibly complex and incomprehensible. Children often understand him better than sophisticated people, so I try to be more like a child. It helps a lot because with him, we are all children.

I can totally be myself around him, in fact, I am the most free when it’s just me and him. He likes it when I dance around and sing silly songs or ask for help. I don’t know how he does it, but he cares about everyone. He loves everyone. He sees something worthwhile and valuable and worth fighting for in everyone. He does things I don’t understand. Sometimes I want a quick fix, want to be comfortable and trouble free…he’s not too interested in that. He is interested in freedom and beauty and flying and justice and love and breathing underwater and that requires a lot of change on my part because I can’t get my head or my attitude or my life around those things.

When we’re together, I am a better person. I come alive. I see things like he sees them, or at least I try to. I find it easier to be humble because he is humble. I can forgive because he shows me how. I look at how he loves me and wonder if I will ever be able to love like that. I hope so, so I keep practicing.

His voice is never scolding. Very strong sometimes, but it never makes me want to run away. Well, only if I’m hiding something and that’s silly because he knows and sees everything. He sounds like no one else I have ever met. He says things like: "Oh little one, you worry too much. Come here. Let me have that." When I ask if he can help, he always says, "Yes, I can." He likes to surprise me. He’s a really good gift giver. I am trying to become a really good receiver.

We practice the trust fall a lot. He loves catching me. I am trying to learn not to scream when we do that. He never gets tired of mornings and sunrises. He makes a lot of them. He likes brand new days and if I listen, he has something cool to say to me every day when I wake up. He likes to talk in my sleep sometimes. He tells the best stories, but I don’t always understand them. That’s okay. Understanding is less important than loving.

I don’t understand him but I love him. He is beautiful.



Friday, March 26, 2010

anger vs. beauty

I love friends. I hate friends. One of the people who knows me best said some things to me a few days ago that were difficult to hear. She told me that I have very little patience for certain people. I swing between "I'm here for you, totally," to "Forget it! You're not worth my time and effort!"

My first internal reaction to her words went like this: What? That's not me! I would never do that! The second reaction quickly followed: Well, she's obviously having a bad day so I'll just chalk up any stinging remarks to her foul mood. She didn't mean it. Three days later the third reaction finally kicked in: Okay, God, was there anything to what she said?

The short answer is: yes. I have an angry side to me. People who, in my opinion, have proven themselves unfaithful, undependable, and less committed to something than I am...well, I think they deserve my anger. Another one of my friends, when I confessed this anger thing, suggested that it might in fact be righteous anger. Though I would like to claim that, if I am being honest, I can only admit to having the anger bit and not the righteous part.

People will disappoint me. They won't share my priorities. They will occasionally forget to follow through on something. They might even struggle with faith and the commitment that comes with that. Anger is not the right response. It is a way for me to punish them, I guess. For not being the person I need them or I want them to be. It pushes them away because I feel like they have disrespected me or pushed me away. Some of it is me just being needy and high-maintenance, but there is another side. I feel this most acutely when people that I love withdraw from the church community I am part of. It just hurts like hell, to be honest. For some reason friendship and coming to a church meeting have become entangled in an awkward way so that when one wavers, so does the other. It sucks, but that's the way it often seems to work. I asked God if he ever got used to people leaving and he responded, "No, and you don't want to."

There are two amazing gifts that I have been given. They started out as small sparks in my life, and I have devoted many years to trying to develop, cultivate, and mature them.
1. I really really love Jesus, and
2. I really really love his church.
When either of these loves of mine are not respected and appreciated, I feel something like pain. Most often, I don't understand how people could not be attracted to someone so beautiful and strong and loving. Or how they could not see the incredible potential for unity and profound creative benevolence in Church. And I guess that's just it; they can't see it.

So instead of getting angry, I want to paint a picture, a beautiful picture. If someone does not treat Jesus with respect, I want to draw them a better picture of him and give them another chance to see that he's crazy attractive and sooooo exciting to be with! If a person dismisses Church as less than interesting or somehow unimportant and irrelevant, I want to show up with a hundred gallons of paint and splash bright colours everywhere until they see some of the incredible vibrancy that I see. She's stunning, she really is! Just give her a chance. Look at her through the eyes of Jesus!

For all those who have been recipients of my impatience and anger, I am sorry. You don't deserve that. I want to be a better friend. And I want to paint some beautiful pictures. In fact, I want to become part of the paintings. Please be patient with me while I learn to hold a brush.

This is a lighthouse along the coast of Oahu. Beautiful water variegation and textures! Splash, splash!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

is this church?

A friend of mine told me a story last week that has stuck with me. It went something like this: a man met with a few people in a coffee shop and they started talking about God and life. Over the course of several weeks and months, more people started to join in and it evolved into a regular gathering of people who talked about matters of faith. Soon, someone asked the man the question, "Is this church?" He pondered the question for a bit and then responded, "No, this isn't church. If this was church, you would care as much about what happens here as I do."

I have been living with this question, "What is church?" for a long time and in the past few days, come to the realisation that I have shrunk the concept of church to fit the casual, culturally dialed-down, transient nature of what we are involved in. I have reduced church to a shadow of the magnificent, unstoppable beauty that Jesus proclaims it to be.
Church is not a building, it is not a weekly meeting, it is not a group of people whose names you find on some membership list, it is not something that you DO or GO TO. It is not a place to get a spiritual boost or an avenue through which to practice your good deeds. It is not something you sit and watch. It is not something you can judge on how good the music is or how much the speaker inspires you. It is not a spiritual smorgasbord where you come to pick and choose what you like, whenever you like. It is not an organisation or a club you get involved in. It is much more than that.

Church is a body, a living being made up of the most complex and intricate parts, all so different yet all joined and woven together in such a wondrous way that every cell is active and functional. The breathing never stops, the blood is always carrying life and swishing away death, and every single part, whether it is the solid structural bones or the miles of supple skin, is intricately connected and responsive to the head. All the members work together, sometimes in a flash to protect some vulnerable part or respond to an emergency, sometimes in slow and deliberate movements that require balance and strength and skill. Church is an orchestra where every instrument plays isolated notes on a page, notes written with detailed instructions for timing, pitch, volume, and periods of silence. When the artists assemble together under the hand of the master conductor, they become more than the sum of their individual parts, and an astounding sweetness and majesty permeates the air as a grand symphony of love comes to life.

Church is what Jesus loves. Church is what Jesus is building. Church is strong and scary and cannot be stopped. Church is beautiful and worth giving one's life to. Church is celebratory and suffering. Church lifts up the poor and cares for the hungry. Church never gets tired of talking to, singing to, dancing with, laughing with, weeping in repentance before, jumping for joy in response to, lying prostrate in humility before, obeying, serving, shouting to, professing, telling the world about, coming to, and standing in amazed silence in the presence of: the majestic and loving God.

Church is being with Jesus and with each other. Church is God's idea and his creative venture. Church becomes more beautiful and irresistible as we learn to love him and love each other the way he invites us to. Church is us. What an incredible privilege to be part of Church.

Let me love Church as much as Jesus does. Let me be Church that Jesus never wants to leave.

This is a picture of Westminster Abbey in London.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

worst case scenario

I don't like failing. I don't like being rejected. I don't like hearing the word, "No." I don't like not getting a job I applied for. I don't like asking someone if they want to get together and having them say they just don't have time right now. I don't like sending messages and never getting a reply. I don't like applying for scholarships and getting that letter that starts with, "We regret to inform you..." I don't like putting myself into scenarios where I am not likely to succeed. And I don't think that I am the only one. But that is exactly what life requires. That we try and try again, failure or not.

I have started the process of applying for another scholarship. It is a bit of a mental battle because the rejection email from the last one I applied for is still fresh in my mind. A few weeks ago when I saw the spring round of scholarship deadlines come up, my first thought was, "Hey, I should apply for these." My immediate second thought was, "What's the use? I already know I don't have what it takes!"

Fortunately, I didn't stop there. I had a third thought. What's the worst that could happen? I could apply and not get it. And what then? Well, that's the real question, isn't it?

The story of Thomas R. Kelly came back to me, about how he failed his oral defense for his doctoral dissertation, went into a depression and as a result of that, had an encounter with God that changed his life. So the worse case scenario is that I fail, I feel horrible, and God meets me in that place. I don't know why God doesn't choose to meet people more often in really nice places, like 4-star hotels with fancy pools, a massage service, and an unlimited restaurant tab. Why must he so often pick the most uncomfortable, down-and-out location for my soul and his Spirit to rendez-vous?

If I take a long, hard look at my soul, I think I know the answer. If God called and asked to meet with me while I was busy having the best time of my life, I might not rush off to the meeting. I might put him off until later. Instead of just being a person trying to deal with rejection, I would become the one handing out rejection. And that would truly be the worst case scenario. Much worse than trying at something and failing.
This is some guy and his dog doing a pretty good job of learning to surf on Waikiki Beach.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

opposite

Some people have observed how very different Dean and I are (aside from sharing basic humanity and love for God). It's true. Here is just a short list to give you a taste:

1. He has a mild allergy to sunlight and is quite uncomfortable in the summer heat (I have seen him break out in hives from lack of air conditioning).

2. I have something nicknamed "winter itch," a form of dermatitis (mild skin condition) that only shows up in a cold and dry climate. Expose me to some summer sun and moist air and it clears up nicely.

3. Dean loves meat and is a card-carrying carnivore.

4. I am mostly vegetarian, living on fruit, vegetables, cheese, and popcorn.

5. Dean prefers action movies, science fiction television shows, and video games for his recreational activities.

6. I would rather take a walk outside or read a book.

7. Dean can listen to the radio, watch something on his ipod, be playing a game on the computer, talk on the phone, and be researching something online all at the same time.

8. I am a fabulous mono-tasker and work best in total silence.

I could go on about Dean's allergy to scents and my attraction to strong men's colognes, or the hard/soft bed issue, even our love of and lack of athleticism, and how we deal with conflict (run towards or away from), but I think you get the idea.

Some people have marvelled that we are still together. Smaller things have torn many couples apart. I will admit that we have our disagreements, but on the whole, life is interesting and enjoyable together. Why?

Because love will go the farthest distance and bridge the largest gap. It does not require someone to come to it; love goes where it is needed. The more differences we have, the greater opportunity for us to let love into those places. I do not want to change Dean into another version of me; in fact, I love being able to experience a whole other world through him. But I also know that love is not something I can conjure up from inside of me, dispensing it when necessary. It is only present to the degree that I am humble enough to accept it from the Divine Lover of my own quirky soul. When I surrender to Love, that is when I suddenly (or many times, over the long haul) find myself able to love well, cover the huge distances with grace and joy, and never grow tired in it.

The shortest distance between two points may be a straight line, but the longest distances between two people can only be navigated by love. Nothing else will build a strong enough and lasting link.
This is a picture of me and Dean in Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue a few years ago. Photo credit to Andy Winmill.

Monday, March 15, 2010

the poverty of time

We just lost an hour when we switched to Daylight Saving Time this weekend. Well, nothing was really lost, the numbers were just changed in order to make life brighter and more productive for everyone. I don't know about you, but I could use both of those. Let's hope it works. :-)

Time is a funny thing. We treat it like a precious commodity in some ways. We say, "I just don't have the time for x or y anymore." Did we lose it; was it stolen? We say, "I wish I had more time," as if there might be a time depot where we could go to get some. We talk about buying time and spending time, and I guess if you have a cell phone, it sort of applies. "I should make time for that," implies that with the correct ingredients and a good recipe, we could indeed whip some up. Or when we say, "I'll find the time somehow," it conjures up images of an intense hunt for those hours that know how to hide all too well.

The truth is, we all start with the standard allotment of 24 hours in each day. Everyone gets the same. What we do with this 24-hour day is up to us. We cannot run out of time, get more of it, lose it, or find it. We can only make choices about what we do with what we have. There is no use wishing that we could manipulate time for it is not a commodity we can buy and sell or get rich or poor in. It is a gift.

I sometimes get irritated (forgive me) with people who tell me how busy they are and how they don't have time for this or that anymore (in my context, they are usually telling me why I don't see much of them or why they can't come to a particular meeting or event). I wish we were more truthful. It is not that we lack time, it is that we have shuffled our priorities. What I do with my time reflects what is important to me right now.

Of course, there are jobs and school work and life chores that we all have to attend to, and by attending to them we are saying that they are very important to us. Paying the rent is important. Getting good grades and finishing my degree is important. Having food in the cupboard and clean clothes is important. As well, we all have periods of inefficiency in our lives. I will admit to watching way too much television on Friday night because I was just tired of schoolwork and couldn't get up the motivation to clean my house. But time is not about efficiency or the long list of stuff I just can't get out of doing. It is about investing these precious minutes of my life in such a way that they give back to me the things that I really value.

When I say, "I don't have time for x," what I am really saying is, "This is not very important to me right now. In fact, everything else is more important or at least, easier." When I tell someone, "I don't have time to hang out with you this week," I am really saying, "I don't want to do the work of investing in this friendship. I won't reshuffle my life for you." Let's face it: it is hard to worship God, it is hard to be committed to helping a faith community grow, it is hard to develop spiritual maturity, it is hard to disciple people, it is hard to love over a long period of time, and yet these are the things that I hear myself acknowledge as good and right pursuits. They even appear as commands in the Bible, and yet, I find that sometimes in my life very little time is spent on them.
Of course, we don't have time for everything we would like to do, especially if we are at a particularly demanding period in our lives, but who placed us in this demanding situation? We did. By our choices, we have placed ourselves where we are right now. There are always other options. Many things can be negotiated, done over a longer period of time, reworked, or changed in our lives, and we do that every day in order to put the important things in the place of importance. I have left my house untidy and my school work undone in order to jump on the bus and hang out with someone I haven't seen in awhile. I have dropped a course in order to make sure that I don't drop Dean or my friends. The 24-hour day and the 7-day week just reveal what our true priorities are as opposed to the ones that we think we have.

What am I willing to reshuffle my life for? Though it would be unrealistic to have long list of priorities (it only dilutes their importance), here are the two things that I really want to give the power to throw my life into a bit of disarray: learning to love God with all my being, and endeavouring to love the people that God brings into my life. Both of those things are admittedly inconvenient and hard and time-consuming, but I have found that anything worthwhile usually is. As for everything else in my life, it has got to learn to be flexible.
This is the sunset in Hawaii. It happened every day I was there, whether I took the time to enjoy it or not.

Friday, March 12, 2010

lesson from American Idol



I don't usually follow American Idol, but this morning I went on youtube (I don't even remember what I was looking for) and on a whim, decided to click on one of the "videos being watched right now." It was Michael Lynche, one of the top 8 on AI this season.

I watched his latest offering on the show (video above) and was impressed. But it was the comments surrounding his performance that intrigued me, implying that something had changed in his demeanour lately, so I did a bit of searching and found out that his wife gave birth to their first child, a baby girl, in January while he was in Hollywood doing AI. That made his story interesting, but what did it have to do with how well he could sing? Not much, until just over a week ago when he sang This is a Man's World. This song changed him from a pussy cat into a lion (so said Simon). Why?

The last line of the song is: This is a man's world, but it would be nothin' without a woman or a girl. These words mean something to him now. They reflect something about his life. I would call what I heard and saw in Michael: CONVICTION.

And I guess that's what I was trying to get at in my last post, market me. I never want to lose the element of conviction as an artist or for that matter, as a person. No matter what mode I find myself in, whether doing an assignment or writing a blog or singing a song or presenting a talk or being a friend, I need to find something in what I am doing that convicts me. That resonates with my life. That becomes part of me and makes it more than just a performance to watch or a paper to read or a song to listen to. That requires something of me. Conviction brings what talent never can. It allows me to offer part of myself as a gift to people. It invites people to participate instead of being spectators. You could even call it an act of worship.

Indeed, authenticity is my responsibility. I willingly accept that. I know enough about myself to know when I am not fully present. This means that I need to find out why. Perhaps I have erected some barrier to engaging with the subject matter or person, perhaps it is a bad fit, or perhaps I am just being selfish and safe.

When Michael sang, "This Woman's Work," his wife was in the audience. And you can tell. May I always know that my lover and best friend is in the front row and act accordingly.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

market me

There is a tendency, a tornado-force pull, that I have to continuously resist in my life. It is the one that draws me, somewhat trance-like, to adapt who I am and what I do in order to garner the most praise, the highest marks, the most promotions, the best position, and let's face it, to ultimately feel more approved, appreciated, and loved. It never delivers, just so you know.

The more comments and traffic I get on my blog or on my facebook page, the more I find myself tempted to think along the lines of: what will get a reaction, what are people wanting to hear, what can I present that will make a splash? A few kind comments offered to me are appetisers that make me want more. I am only human, I admit it.

When a professor exclaims, "Excellent!" over a remark I offer in class, I subconsciously approach every subsequent assignment on the lookout for the obscure, fresh, and slightly edgy, angle. I want to stand out, to rise above the ordinary, to come up with something that no one has ever said before. What arrogance this exhibits, and what bad study methods it encourages.

It is the curse of any artist or creative person who fears that there may never be another creative burst; it makes them rely on reproducing what they have seen peopel react to instead of doing the hard work of developing what is alive and unique inside them. The infamous disappointing sophomore CD is testament to this tendency. It is also the plight of those of us who, like suckling adolescents, remain attached to the teat of outside approval instead of maturing into confident and peaceful people who are content with simply presenting ourselves as who God has made us to be.

I have been encouraged to market my creative writings and projects and frankly, the thought scares me a bit. I don't know that I am strong enough to remain authentically "Matte" while I navigate the maze of market-driven ideas, niche-marketing, marketing strategies, name branding, and product placement.
I am a lover of simplicity, a fan of an uncomplicated life and faith. I love the drama of life's journey and discovering all the amazing angles that experiences can be viewed from. Most of all, I do really like who God has made me to be and want to fully express that. If people enjoy it, that is a bonus! If they don't understand it, let me continue to develop my ability to be more clear and accessible. If they disagree with me or discount what I say, then so be it. Perhaps I have something to learn from them in the process.

By admitting my appetite for admiration, I hope to be able to accept it for what it is (inconsistent) and spend my energy on pursuing truth and love instead. By having the bait of a marketing plan dangled in front of me, I choose to be propelled into a more solid devotional and contemplative life that grounds me in God. By hearing encouraging comments from my peers and respected teachers, I know that I have something worthwhile to offer, and I determine never, ever to let anything compromise the clear, distinct, and generous voice that has been planted within me. Let the original Voice in the universe be the only tornado that I ever succumb to. This is my vocation.
These are some strawberries just being strawberries, better than strawberry-flavoured anything any day.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

hate

I don't understand hate. I am talking about both serious-hate and joking-hate, because let's face it, joking-hate has elements of serious-hate about it or we would never think about giving it the "h" label. Joking about it may indeed be a cathartic way to allow ourselves to feel a bit of the emotion and by treating it lightly, hopefully rid us of the bitterness before it burrows deep inside our souls. That's the best case scenario, but I venture to say that that's not always what happens.

I have never had so many people tell me they hate me (and Dean) as this past week while we were in Hawaii. It was ridiculous! And while I know all of them meant it in a joking way, I wonder what they were really trying to say. Was it: "I am jealous that you are warm and I am cold?" "I hate it that I can't take a vacation right now?" "I hate it that you have the means to go there and I don't?" "You are reminding me that I might never get to do some of the things I have always dreamed of doing?" "I am just tired and impatient right now?" "Why don't things work out well for me when they seem to be working out for others?" "It is insensitive and annoying when others rub in their good fortune!" None of these are responses that I expected from friends. Honestly.

I expected them to be happy that Dean was finally getting a much-needed break from his overwhelming work schedule. I expected them to join in our joy at being able to go to a place that I never dreamed we would get to (but we did thanks to recession-influenced prices, airmile reward points, and parents who know how to get a good deal). I expected them to be relieved that the warm climate would help us finally get over the last of these horrible colds and infections that we have been battling for months. And I guess I expected that they would know that we were extremely grateful for such an unexpected treat like a trip to Hawaii, and that we were not flaunting it at all with pictures and status updates on Facebook, but trying to bring a bit of Hawaii to them. Somehow, that didn't come across.

That reminds me of a scholarship that I did not get earlier this year. A few weeks ago, a fellow student let it be known that she had been successful in her application for this same scholarship. People around her offered hearty congratulations, and she glowed with pleasure and excitement. I was silent. I didn't hate her, but her joy reminded me of my lack of success and it stung. And then I recognised the distasteful sensation of jealousy poking at my heart, so I asked myself some provoking questions to get to the root of the matter.

Does she deserve it? Absolutely. Does she have need of it? Probably much more than I do. Do I want to trade situations with her? Not really. I have a great life and a wonderful support system. Do I want her to do well in her education and be all she can be? For sure. Am I glad that people in my department are receiving these coveted scholarships? Yes, yes, yes. Do I trust that God can provide everything I need? Well, I want to, yes. Do I believe that he is not a stingy God but a gift-giving God? It has to be true or I am sunk. Do I believe that this denial is in my best interest? Yes, I choose to believe that. I don't understand it, but I believe it. Do I recognise that the story is not finished yet? I am counting on it.

Your Hawaii is coming, my friend. Don't you worry. And when it does, I hope I will not joking-hate you. I hope I will be jumping up and down with genuine joy.
Love cares more for others than for self. Love doesn't want what it doesn't have,
Trusts God always, always looks for the best,
Never looks back, but keeps going to the end. - from 1 Cor. 13
This is a photo of the lagoon at Hilton Village on Waikiki Beach. We didn't stay at this hotel, but one a block away.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

less

In my formative years, I developed quite a lot of rituals and rules to regulate my religion. Part of that came from growing up in a religious environment, but a large part of it came from my need to feel secure and safe. There were prayer patterns that I followed, lines that I vowed never to cross, and obligations that had to be kept or the guilt would come knocking.

These days there is much less of this external religious structure in my life. And paradoxically, I know that I am closer to being a friend of God than I was back then. There are less rules to follow and more questions that roll around in my head. Questions that ask...what is real? what is lasting? what is valuable? I am not as concerned with what is right, but more interested in truth that is embodied in a person: authentic, transforming, and challenging. There are less obligations, less guilt, and less predictable patterns.

There are two "problems" that have accompanied this gradual change. The first is that this reworking has removed any tidy structure that is easy to follow and which promises to keep me safe from the big, bad world if I only stay within its boundaries. There is no longer a symmetrical fence outlining expected behaviour, constructed from straight and evenly spaced boards hewn by precise man-made machinery. There is no rigid line that clearly demarcates me as "us" and others as "them." There is now only a wild and untamed tree, not straight or static, but twisting and growing and very much still alive. Every day it changes slightly - here a branch falls off, there a new one sprouts, and some days the roots come up and move things that I thought were immovable.

The second "issue" is that there is no longer a sure road to follow that guarantees my comfort and safety. Life has become a dangerous and unpredictable mess. Faith doubly so. Jesus is the most stable person I know and yet, that is not as reassuring as it sounds because I have no idea what he will toss my way tomorrow. I only know that he will not leave me. All those years I have spent nailing him down to a set of guidelines really were a waste of nails. He will not be reduced to regulations.

Ask me to describe my faith, my belief, my love, my religion and I have to search for words. My responses are different every time as I try to find something remotely accurate to describe this solid, yet moving place where I rest my spirit. I cannot boil it down to the ten commandments or the great commission, both of which are man-made designations which add a certain importance not necessarily found in the original texts.

I have friends that like to identify strangers or remote acquaintances with a short, telling description. That guy with the mole. The lady with a gap between her teeth. I have always found this habit slightly annoying. While useful in some instances, how can we reduce someone to one trait, prominent only in the eyes of a casual beholder? I have made a new rule for myself and some of my friends: We are only allowed to use a description once. If we refer to a particular person a second time, we must think of some other feature (assuming we don't know their name) to describe them. We have to get past our initial and inadequate impression of the person.

I guess that's the same way I feel about God. How can I come up with just one phrase that describes our relationship? And so, my answers to questions of faith might look like this:

1. What do you believe? I rely on a person, not a set of dogma.
2. Do you believe in God? We all believe in a god of some sort. We all worship that which we believe brings us power. If you are talking about surrender, that is another matter altogether.
3. What kind of church do you go to? I don't know if one can really "go" to church. Church is a fellowship, an interaction of people, a bringing of oneself to a community to participate and engage with other people, something not individual but joined. It is a body of different parts alive because they are one with God and with each other.

Ask me these questions tomorrow and my answers will be different because I will be at a slighlty different point in my progressive journey with God. This is the nature of a living entity. Jesus cannot be reduced to a final answer.

This is a photo of a tunnel on the climb up Diamond Head, a volcanic crater on Oahu.