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.
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.
“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.
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...
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...
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.
There's been some reorganizing going on in the community here, and some of the changes have left me feeling very uneasy. Not that they're unusual at all. They are very common, even expected in most organizations, but that doesn't mean they're right or good, of course. And they don't seem to me to be the way of the body of Christ.
First is the introduction of leases for housing here. Not strange, except we've never had those before. Didn't seem to need them either. Everyone knew each other and there was friendship and trust to provide a sense that we wouldn't take advantage of one another. So it feels odd to have to sign a written agreement now, after six years living in the community. It feels as if the relationship is changing, from one of friendship to a business arrangement, a legal contract. And there'll be a signed document to prove it.
Second is the introduction of a "rule of life." I think it's really just an official belief statement for the community. I don't think anyone actually plans to guide their life by this document, as monks have done with their Rules over the ages. It seems to be an attempt to achieve more unity among the diverse people in the community here, by more clearly defining what it means to be a community member. I'm not sure to what extent allegiance to this document will be required. I may be able to avoid it by accepting the lowest level of "membership" (which puts us first in line to be bumped out if housing space is needed). In any case, again, not a good feeling. And again, an apparent redefining of relationships.
But, as I struggled with these developments, I realized that this redefining of relationship is not something an organization or institution can really do. Relationships are personal, between persons. Institutions (including churches and intentional Christian communities) claim to create and re-create relationships by vote or legislation, but that is an illusion. A lie. The reality depends on the individual persons involved in the relationship and the love between them, not any decree or document.
I don't care so much about signing a lease (if that's what is required to live in someone else's house). And the content of the community "rule of life" doesn't bother me. What bothers me is the group's attempt to define or control our relationships; that's the lie I want to resist. That's not a power granted to any human institution.
Jesus' little community offers a powerful contrast to this. Where was their "rule of life"? How were they united without a clear belief statement that all members publicly swore to? They were united, not around any document or doctrine, but around a person. And it was their relationship with that one person that held them all together as one. It was love. Love, which exists not on paper but only in relationship, is what kept them close to Jesus and to one another.
And it is this love in relationship that is the presence of God that still unites us. God unites us. God makes our relationships real. Not a piece of paper, or the human organizations that keep churning out those pieces of paper.