Friday, October 31, 2008

Two Americans in Paris

Everyone who knows her loves her.
But they don't know her like I do.
Knowing her is like being the sole possessor of an unspeakably wonderful secret.
Falling in love with her was and is likened unto being sent on a long journey alone to some far-flung exotic locale; a place you've never been before, a place where you don't know anyone. . .
Falling in love with her is arriving, deplaning uncertainly, walking lonely up the breezeway,
and catching a glimpse of a familiar face.
But not just a familiar face;
more, a face that holds all your dreams within her smile,
happiness in her eyes,
home in her arms.
The past seven years I've spent in Paris with the love of my life,
always at holiday,
always at home,
falling, deeper and deeper
Happy Anniversary, Devan
Love, NathanPosted by Picasa

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Black Friday or The Anatomy of a Financial Crisis

Friday, Oct. 24.
Complications from the mortgage crisis send the stock market on another tumble.
Complications from my medical issues necessitate a change in medication. Upon informing my employer of the change, I am told I can no longer perform my normal job duties and am sent home. So the Dow grabbed us on the way down, and I sat slumped on the catwalk, currently unaware of the parallel, but feeling my stomach and heart hitching along behind the stock market. As swiftly as a doctor's compassionate approach can sink your spirits, thus had the past ten minutes brought mine in close proximity with the bottom.
The faith I had stockpiled and carefully hoarded for just such an occasion as this had evaporated inside its carefully sealed container.
Either that, or it was Confederate money.The feeling of faith, the one that spreads goodwill and warmth over good times, was slipping away, and I felt powerless to stop its departure.
Words spoken in better days assembled in a jostling ring around me, some jeering, some looking bored, worse still, some meeting my dejected gaze with ill-disguised pity.
Dredging the dregs of my will, I fended them off with my cell phone and made a couple of phone calls, going through the motions of expediting this disaster, vainly hoping to hear overwhelming reassurance from some human agency.
Disbelief died with a whimper under the onslaught of very cold, very hard facts and resignation set in, numbing, but not enough.
Desperation dialed the phone again. The loathsome thought of sharing the bad news with my companion was trumped by a need for her.
A grim wake-up call indeed, and yet, she did rise to the occasion talking me all the way home, where she greeted me with a smile of such poignancy she will never know.
Over the next two days, emotions ebbed and flowed, as I predicted to her. (Ever predict a rainy day in Seattle, or a hot one in Death Valley?)
I once previously experienced a mood swing while walking from one end of the house to the other, so I sagely related to her the expediency of acceptance.
"Just accept that we're on an emotional roller-coaster right now. Don't try to stay up."
But I still close my eyes and grip the safety bar when the upward lurching stops and gravity steals its deadly hands toward us.
Oh no, not again.
Thrice-repeated, the platitudes wear thin, and I cease uttering them with any animation and am left with dull insistence that everything will be all right.
The timing couldn't be worse. It all comes down on a Friday, and as it happens, management has apparently been hard at it lately, as two of them are out of the office with shoulder injuries. The skeleton crew remaining has no answers and sends me packing with the expletive "disability" ringing in my ears. Teamsters, as an entity, seems to offer no recourse, but I hold out hope in a particular dogged union rep.
It's the waiting test, "game" being no very accurate descriptor.
Patience is a virtue indeed, but one that requires OJT, and as such, is as hard to come by as experience for a sixteen-year-old flung into the job market.
Early Sunday morning, C.S. Lewis weighed in on the disaster via my MP3. The fiend Screwtape discusses "the patient" with his charge. "We want him to be in the maximum uncertainty, so that his mind will be filled with contradictory pictures of the future, every one of which arouses hope or fear. There is nothing like suspense and anxiety for barricading a human's mind against the Enemy. He wants men to be concerned with what they do. Our business is to keep them thinking about what will happen to them. Your patient will, of course, have picked up the notion that he must submit with patience to the Enemy's will. What the Enemy means by this is primarily that he should accept with patience the tribulation which has actually been dealt out to him; the present anxiety and suspense. It is about this that he is to say 'Thy will be done.' It is your business to see that the patient never thinks about the present fear as his appointed cross."
I nearly fell off my stationary bike.
Eager to share, I plugged in the speaker to let Devan hear.
Very good, very true, but any spike in spirits was then counteracted by a spike in blood sugar, and so Sunday, the day we might've expected emotional resurrection from the dead, was another Saturday.
The storm begins to abate, but the clouds remain.
At different times I will describe faith in different terms.
"It is not a feeling." I told Devan. (If it is, I'm in big trouble.)
"So," she prompted, "-what is it?" Not for her own peace of mind, undoubtedly, but to force me to my own conclusion.
"It's . . . experience." I concluded disappointedly, convinced of the truth of it but feeling slightly heretical as I said it.
(Looking back on it, I say it is and isn't. Certainly it was not experience when by grace I was saved through faith, but, at very least, experience is the conduit through which faith is grown.)
"Unfortunately," I added, thinking of the adage, It's a great life if you don't weaken, but who wants to be strong, and again, Years make us old, Life makes us wise.
The crisis ekes out another couple days, and we seem to even off.
Has our faith grown, or have our emotions simply been wrung out?
Or is that the point?
You've no particular reason to trust and yet you cling to it. I would feel slightly better had I not floundered so in reaching for it, or made such a scene drowning in waist deep water.
"So," continued Devan, moving me along again, "What is the feeling you speak of, slipping away?"
Squinting at the brilliant cumulus tumult overhead, I struggle, "It. . .it is that feeling that you accumulate during the good times, it is all the things you tell yourself about trusting God, which are, incidentally, true, but on a different level."
You'll have noticed that as well, I trust. A truth is never anything less than true, but it can be a great deal more. The sun shines, God is good; true. The rain falls, things grow, God is good; true again. The rain continues to fall, floods come, God is still good; truer still. The floods rise higher, your house collapses, you're still alive, God is still good, truth still greater. You drown, you're dead, you're in heaven, God is still good, and the truth of that gladdens your soul as never before as you kneel in His presence.
Where we are now seems to require a run on the bank, a frantic sell-off, a protracted deer-in-the-headlights moment, the missing of a few beats while we retreat to the deep waters that remain undisturbed by the hurricane roiling the surface to collect our faith.

Indulgent Obtuse Abstraction

Sitting on a creek bank, I feel my thoughts drifting mercifully into the abstract.
Getting at the hostility I harbor for things synthetic, or, similarly, the affection in which I hold all things organic must involve looking at the motive behind the creation of both.
I can and do, at times, admire human craftsmanship, but there is a begrudging element that holds the admiration in check.
Why so exquisite, o Man?
Positively, there is some self-seeking motive, some selfishly practical purpose behind a well-crafted house or even a beautiful painting or even the words I now write.
But what prompts the attention to detail given the dead leaf I twirl in my hand?
Why the grace in its lingering descent?
More the blood veins running throughout its curled deformity than brush strokes in Monet's Waterloo Bridge. More pleasing the color, too.
Pure the beauty, purer still the motive back of it.
Man's gift for creation is purely given, to be sure, but corrupted in the accepting.
We want something corporeal from everything we are given.
Whether it be a talent or a sunset.
Acclimation for the talent or some sort of epiphanic triumph from the sunset.
We're given so much, and we grasp it so tightly, and the intrinsic value bleeds through our clutching fingers and drips into the dirt, corrupted eternally.
We're given more, and still swifter we lunge, taking hold, and still faster the essence dissipates.
Why the crescendoing harmony of the breeze slipping over creek bank, the wind's bow slipping delicately across the strings of a million leaves, the sighing decrescendo of its ruffling escape across the water?
Why the fragmented replication of so much gorgeous arboreal chaos in the green translucence below me?
I've so little time for this, God, let me hold it lightly, that may gladden my heart and enrich my soul as You intended.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Sixteen Years of Guidance

For sixteen years I've had the same pastors.
Oddly enough I've lived in about five different locations during that stint.
It's not unlike having a wide-ranging circuit rider specifically assigned to you.
Those sixteen years have seen me through a range of problems. No very great ones to anyone else, perhaps, but being my own and the only ones I have to claim, I've made a great fuss over them.
My pastor and pastor's wife have more than babied me through these growing pangs.
In fact, if it weren't for them, I would likely be an embittered backslider or a socially dysfunctional misfit with a tic.
As it happens, I am a socially dysfunctional misfit, but I've not developed a tic, other than this odd twitching that grips me periodically.
Sincerely, were the church-going world at large aware of my pastors, they would envy me.
The two people who shepherd Devan and I, who are, of course, my parents, have been so much more than preacher and preacher's wife.
We are privileged in a unique and special way.
Spending the last third of my childhood as a preacher's kid produced none of the stereotypical angst associated with it.
In fact, considering my own somewhat fragile state at times, it's difficult to imagine my spiritual growth being nurtured and cultivated so attentively and tutorially by any other pastor in the world, some of whom obviously I have great respect for.
But none of them knew or could consider the complexities, the nuances, okay the weirdness of this particular parishioner.
I know at times they may have felt personally unsuited for the roles they play in mine and all their other past and present member's lives, but I would like them to know that the evidence is clear; God has equipped them for the job better than most.
The teaching and the preaching are forever sound, wholly and wonderfully biblical, faithful and compassionate.
I know a pastor's heart when I see one.
They are clearly called and they are just as clearly committed to carrying out that call and being found faithful in the overwhelming responsibility God has laid on them.

Same Old Thing

"The horror of the Same Old Thing", wrote Screwtape, "is one of the most valuable passions we have produced in the human heart-an endless source of heresies in religion, folly in counsel, infidelity in marriage, and inconstancy in friendship."
Yes, and furthermore, impulsiveness.
I once read somewhere that one characteristic of a sociopath is an enormous capacity for repetition.
This has always comforted me by extinguishing any fear that I, despite possessing certain aspects of your common sociopath, white, male, late bed-wetter, nevertheless escape the profile by virtue of the fact that I am nothing if not a creature of irregularity.
Blind hasty exodus from one vice invariably leads you to bump into yet another, but I am sure a penchant for harmless sporadic obsession ranks lower on the scale than that of serial murder.
Habit is for people who find no joy in life, I tell myself as I eat a little more than usual, forgo shaving (how d'you like me now, UPS) or choose to sing the special song before leading the congregational (an exception that is fast becoming my rule).
Any given member of my family can testify to my distaste for routine.
Music stands as a shining example. Any given artist, genre, or sub-genre is subject to my fixation, as well as my shunning, when I invariably over-indulge to the point of indigestion and swear off.
Now, mind you, I've yet to become a groupie, but the horror of the Same Old Thing is synonymous in my book with the love of obsession.
How this relates to my walk with God should be all too obvious.
Now, in a sense, this can or should contribute to a healthy balance.
Devotional life should be habitual, yet not.
We are created to experience change and growth but a lack of maturity that many of us suffer until the point of death can and does lead to a lack of discipline that parlays, with the aid of laziness, the penchant for the new into an easy neglect of the old and needful, as our mind wanders from the measurements of the temple curtains or our prayerfully closed eyes drift into the land of Winkem, Blinkem and Nod.
The reward for keeping the faith, fighting the good fight, running the race is the natural result of disinclined troopers struggling against their own nature. It is the very struggle that purifies.