"the change never came"

From the dramatic reading Heather wrote six years ago, when we led the Easter service soon after moving here (this is the end of it, before dawn Easter morning, John speaking):

I can't, I can't, I can't believe it. No. I still can't. God! What has God done!

I knew. There was no question. I knew him. We broke bread together every day, how could I not know him? I watched him break the bread on the hillside, how his eyes were alight in the doing of it, how the bread never ended, his hands giving and giving. His hands. I saw his hands weary with touching cripple after cripple, I saw them go away dancing. But it was more than that. More. I saw him on the mountain, standing between Moses and Elijah, shining with an everlasting light. I knew.

He was the one.

[To God, low and angry] So what have You done?

You were testing him. I knew, I saw, I know what You do! You test Your people beyond endurance, you rule them with a rod of iron, you put them through the green heart of the fire—and then you snatch them out and they're purest gold. You send them to prison, you drive them into the wilderness, you throw them in cisterns where they sink in mud up to their necks. You made Abraham put a knife to his son's throat before you called out to him to stop. I was willing. I know it's your way, for me, for him, for all of us, I know it's the only way—he was willing and I knew he was. I sat on the ground in the garden and watched him sweating and crying, his face to the earth, a few paces away, and I saw that he was willing. He could have stood up and walked away. Anytime, he could have. But he was willing. He loves You... loved You. And where is he now?

I was with him. I heard him scream. I stood there under his twisted body shaking, waiting every moment for the change. For the veil to be torn away, for him to be revealed in the glory of his Father—oh, if they saw, if he had ever showed all that was in him. And I waited, and waited, and listened to him try to breathe. And he pulled himself up and I saw what it cost him, the pain, the breath, and he gasped to me to care for his mother. To care for his mother. When he was gone.

And the change never came.

I never thought. In my wildest and most terrible dreams, I never thought of this. That You could let your servant pass into the fire, and never snatch him out. That I would hear him scream why have you abandoned me and look up into the darkening sky and hear the silence. Only silence. I never thought You were a God like that. I knew You weren't. I knew. He knew. He trusted You.

Was he wrong then? Answer me. Was he wrong?

[then Mary, pounding and calling in a loud voice:]

Peter, John, let me in! You won't believe what I've seen!



walking it

Not a lot to write about lately, it seems. There’s been a few retreat contacts, and I’m waiting to see if those will develop into anything. Other than that, it’s been spring cleaning, caring for our elderly neighbor, and lots of baby sitting (when it seems like I’m constantly trying to get him to go to sleep). Lots of time doing the routine things. Enjoyable enough most of the time, but it doesn’t seem very significant, or much different from yesterday.

I’d like to have more spiritual insights or breakthroughs or chances to talk (or write) about some of the ideas I’m passionate about. But I’m reminded of something I told myself often when I was on a long walk. When the routine daily things started to feel like drudgery and I wished I was having interesting encounters or being more of a “witness” to others. I’d remind myself: I can’t tell the story of the walk until I walk it. This was the walking. Later, if it turned out well, there’d be an interesting, encouraging story to tell someone.

Another thought I had occasionally while walking had to do with family life. I’d encounter people with families who felt the kind of radical dependence on God I was talking about sounded good, and was perhaps possible for a single person, but didn’t seem practical for someone with a family. And I thought it might be valuable to try to live it with a family, if I got the chance, to show it is possible. Or at least give a little encouragement to anyone leaning in that direction, who felt hindered by their obligations and situation in life.

I’d still like to do that. But in order to tell the stories about how God made it possible, I have to walk that life first. There’s a little to tell so far, but many more (and bigger) challenges ahead. So I’ll just keep reminding myself that I have to walk it before I can tell the story. And trust that God will have some use for that story somewhere down the line.


defy the night

Heather's new novel, Defy The Night, came out recently. She finished work on it during her pregnancy. It's a continuation of the story (begun in How Huge The Night) about a family in unoccupied France early in WWII, in a town that helped many Jewish children escape the Nazis. This book focuses on the daughter and her efforts to help children in the internment camps set up in France.

It's fiction, but inspired by actual events. The story of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon can be found here.


"beholding your likeness"

“When I awake I shall be satisfied, beholding your likeness.”

When the boy is waking up, he’s often confused and a little scared at first. What seems to calm him down right away is seeing Heather’s face, or mine. We usually get a smile right away. I thought of that when I read this line in Psalm 17.

I’ve had a hard time waking up lately too. A feeling of futility makes it hard to get out of bed and face the day. Maybe it’s partly this cold, hard winter that has seemed endless. And partly frustrations and lack of progress in much of my efforts and the efforts of people around me. So I’m encouraged by the idea of looking elsewhere, finding satisfaction elsewhere.

I remember putting together a meditation years ago based on the story of Jesus inviting Peter to walk with him on the water. Central to the story is Jesus telling Peter to focus on him, rather than the wind and waves, the hopeless situation all around. When Peter kept his eyes on Jesus’ face, he could take a step forward.

In the New Jerusalem Bible, that line in the psalm reads, “when I awake I shall be filled with the vision of you.” I like that even better. It’s not just a matter of being comforted, but also of being filled, changed. The other part of my meditation came from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians: “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another.”

I do think it’s important to feel the futility of our efforts from time to time, feel how small we are in the darkness. It helps us look away from ourselves (and our little communities) to seek out the only face that can satisfy us.


my puppy

I've been meaning to mention my other linux operating system, Puppy Linux. It's tiny, just 150MB total. It can be booted from a flash drive and run completely in RAM if necessary, no hard drive needed. And it runs very light—I've been using it on our 12-year-old Thinkpad X24 (with just 256MB RAM). This laptop would be dead without Puppy.

And it's free, built by enthusiasts who are glad to see others enjoy their achievements. It has a very active support forum too, where I've found lots of help and tips from others who are glad to share their expertise (some of it quite extensive) and software they've written.

There are lots of varieties of Puppy Linux. I've heavily edited the one I use, so it's pretty unique. It's really been enjoyable learning about how computers operate and seeing how well I can make it run and how nice I can make it look:

These are thumbnails, click to view larger. The theme is Owl Light. And the icon set is called Faenza. These were offered free also...


foreseeing fatherhood

I just came across this letter I wrote ten years ago. A good reminder, and I'm glad to see I haven't been pushed away from this over the last ten years:

I wanted to respond to this interesting paragraph: "I do have my hesitations here when it comes to raising children. ...you must shelter; you must protect your children from some people. You can offer your own self, but I doubt very much God would ask you to put your kids at risk. ...I'd want to be darned sure it was God talking before I'd put my kids in harm's way."

I certainly agree with the "I want to be darned sure it's God talking" part. Of course I want to be darned sure it's God calling when I risk my own life, too. But the concern will be much more when it starts to include others as well (especially those I care for as much as I would my own children). The risk and challenge is multiplied a thousandfold, I agree.

I'm not so sure about the "must shelter, must protect" part, though. Or the (implied?) idea that "normal" life is less risky for kids (depending on what kinds of risks we're considering). Our children's lives are always at risk, I'm sure you realize that. I would think parenting also teaches how incapable we are to shelter and protect our children completely, or even as much as we want to. It's simply too much for us. I think that's something God means to teach us through the experience of being a parent. We cannot do what must be done. I think the news clipping you sent is a good example of this [a girl fell into the water and father died trying to save her but was unable—rescue workers found her unconscious and revived her].

Our kids rely on us—but hopefully we know enough to not rely on ourselves. We have to rely on God, and let our kids provision and protection rest on God's shoulders. If we do not, the only options I see are a life of fear/despair or complete delusion.

Which brings me to "I doubt very much God would ask you to put your kids at risk." Certainly God does allow all of us (including children) to be at risk. Risk is not bad when it helps us towards faith. But I agree that God loves our children even more than we do and is ultimately concerned with their care and safety. So why would I not trust him to provide for them just as well (or better) than he has provided for me? Is he not able? Has he not promised to do so? Do I really need to take things back into my own hands if I get married and have children (because the risk is just too great)?

God provided abundantly for Jesus (whose example I'm trying to follow). But not just for him alone. God also provided for twelve others that lived with him. How is this different from having a family with me?

I like your questions. Several others have not asked questions, but rather have told me that family is impossible while living the way I do (or the way Jesus did). But I'm getting the distinct impression that it's not so much me that they are concerned with, but themselves. Justifying and excusing themselves. Because if following Jesus this way is incompatible with marriage, then as married people they are excused. Or they are justified in their compromises because of the duty and demands of parenting. This is beginning to anger me. Because, to justify and excuse themselves (bad enough) they are throwing a hindrance, a temptation, in my way. And in Heather's way. Very bad.

I don't see you doing this, though. And I am grateful for your sharing and concern. I just hope in this discussion we can be guided by faith and not just by what we see (2 Cor 5.7).

So far so good. Our latest little surprise came when we noticed that the boy has almost outgrown his car seat (an expensive item). Within a couple days a friend asked us, out of the blue, if we needed one. Her daughter's the same age, born the day before Ian, but her mother insisted on buying them another car seat that would fit the base in her car. And it turns out their old one is good for an extra ten pounds—that should hold him for a while...



family ties

Thinking about the attempts by our institutions and organizations to redefine our relationships got me thinking about family. Family is a group that often appears to have characteristics similar to man-made institutions, but family is clearly natural, God-given, and not just a human fabrication. I think the clearest difference has to do with the relationships involved.

In our human institutions and organizations, the “relationships” among the members of the group are clearly “created” (I’m using a lot of quote makes here because I don’t think the relationships are actually real) and defined and enforced by human beings. And they only have any reality among those people in the group who believe in them. Such “relationships” are only ideas, figments, in certain people’s minds. We see evidence of this in how easily they are redefined, shuffled, or dissolved. And also how human power and money are required to enforce respect for such “relationships.”

Relationships in a family group, however, have markedly different characteristics. They are not just an idea. There is flesh and blood involved and a deep psychological connection (I would say also a spiritual connection, in that God’s giving of children also includes a spiritual call to care for them, and a call to the children to care for their parents as well). Not at all easy to dissolve or redefine.

Our human societies do try to redefine family relationships, however. These human groups often try to impose family roles and authority structures in accordance with their own laws or religion. That’s where families can start to look like other human institutions, inasmuch as they adopt the rules and roles of the society pressed upon them (or try to impose their own peculiar inventions). But there are real, natural, God-given relationships in families that struggle against these false impositions, making us yearn inside for a real father, perhaps, or maybe for the freedom to be a real child. We can try to redefine these relationships, or renounce them, but God and our own inner being resist when we attempt this.

That gives me hope for family. It’s not just another human institution, for us to shape and enforce and defend. It’s real relationships that God has created. Relationships that can be discovered and honored and submitted to, as we recognize how God has connected us to others with the love that is as real as He is.


a happy development

(The video can also be downloaded here)