Wednesday, August 20, 2008

"Omaha, somewhere in middle America..."

I went on a spontaneous cross-country road trip with one of my friends last week. It was 25 hours of pure beauty from Los Angeles to Omaha. Between blaring music from the itrip and conversations about life, we stared out the windows to soak in the most beautiful natural canvas we had ever seen. And God was constantly re-painting the picture.

I tend to get really distracted and caught up in all the craziness going on around me. I am always going a hundred miles an hour. I think this can be a good thing. But it can also be a very bad thing when the business starts to get in the way of things that matter. I like how Anthony DeMello explains it in The Way to Love, " Look at your life and see how you have filled its emptiness with people. As a result they have a stranglehold on you. See how they control your behavior by their approval and disapproval. they hold the power to ease your loneliness with their company, to send your spirits soaring with their praise, to bring you down to the depths with their criticism and rejection. Take a look at yourself spending almost every waking moment of your day placating and pleasing people, whether they are living or dead. You live by their norms, conform to their standards, seek their company, desire their love, dread their ridicule, long for their applause, meekly submit to the guilt they lay upon you; you are terrified to go against the fashion in the way you dress or speak or act or even think. And observe how even when you control them you depend on them and are enslaved by them. People have become so much a part of your being that you cannot even imagine living a life that is unaffected or uncontrolled by them."

I have an imaginary box on my desk. Inside this box I have placed God. Or at least God in the way I like to think of him: I can take Him with me when I choose or leave Him sitting there when I would rather He not be involved. Because of the standards and norms I have learned from my society, I consciously or unconsciously know when and where it is 'safe' to take Him out of this box.

During this road trip I think I finally realized that it is time to take God out of this box. Although, I know that He was never in it to begin with, it's just something my own control-craving human nature has created in order to make myself feel secure.

In the book Through Painted Deserts, Donald Miller says (of his own road trip), "I've learned, too, that I don't really know very much about anything. I mean, I used to have all these theories about life. I thought I had everbody figured out, even God, but I don't. I think the woods, being away from all the clingy soot of commercialism, have taught me life is enormous, and I am very tiny in the middle of it...And yet the chemicals in my brain that make me feel beauty when I look up at the stars, when I watch the sunset, indicate I must be here for a reason."

I first thought about my 'nothingness' when we hit Utah. Wow. That's pretty much the only way to describe it. Hours and hours of the most beautiful rust-striped mountains. Zero civilization, except for us and the few cars that would pass and do a double-take to witness the insane amount of stuff we had packed into the tiny car. For a while I actually had myself convinced that I wanted to move out there into a little shack for the rest of my life. How peaceful that would be. But then I realized that I love being around people...dang it. :) And then came Colorado and Nebraska. We drove through the mountains and along the Colorado River for a while. That was great, but what I liked even more was 'the cloud.' There was this huge storm cloud right in front of us, almost like we were driving into it but could never actually get to it. So, for a good 5 hours we drove at this cloud and from it we watched lightening bolts light up the sky as it began to get darker and darker.

So I guess I finally had a chance to breathe. To get away from the people, away from the noise, and away from control. God is much cooler when I don't condense Him into a God of structure. When I realize how small I am and how big He is I also start to see how alive He everything around me and in me. He is in the desert sand of Nevada and in the midst of Sin City. He is in the mountains of Utah. He is in the rivers of Colorado and the clouds of Nebraska. He is in the very world He created but, even more importantly, He is IN ME. Not in the box...IN US.

I like to think I have it all figured out and understood but God, much like the ever-changing scenery of my road trip, comes in many forms. There is always more. Which is why I know He is not out there but inside of me; it is something that can be experienced but not understood.

I know there is more to life than what we have created it to be. Our illusion is beginning to seem like reality. Sometimes it may only take a spontaneous road trip. For others, it may take more because of the deepness with which we believe the lies surrounding us.

It's time to get away from the noise and unattainable standards.

It's time to open the box and listen. Go.

"There is a serenity in life, after all, and once a withdrawl is felt at having left the lies behind, a SOUL BEGINS TO FEEL AT HOME in its own skin." -Donald Miller

Sunday, August 3, 2008

To be ALIVE is to be broken

You want to know the one quality that I respect most in people? HONESTY.

During the past few months I have had some of the most real, honest conversations. People just can't take it anymore...all this "make up." You know? Everybody does it, to some extent. Putting up walls and putting on fake smiles so that, to the outside world, everything looks great. Afraid to be vulnerable because of wounds that have been reopened one too many times. As one friend put it, "there has to be more to life!" I say...indeed, there is.

It's so easy to become numb to our problems and to the world, trying to hide from all the brokenness. Which is one quality that puts me on edge...APATHY. It could be one of the most dangerous attitudes. When you don't care you don't feel. And when you don't feel you aren't are just living. Apathy is also the easy road. Shutting off our emotions is just a way of putting up walls so that we don't get hurt. It allows us to get through life...lifelessly. Like in the song Runaway Train by Soul Asylum..."Can you help me remember how to smile? Make it somehow all seem worthwhile? How on earth did I get so jaded? Life's mystery seems so faded..."

Honesty is scary but, you want to know what the best thing about honesty is? It keeps us ALIVE. I'm not talking about breathing lungs and a beating heart. I'm talking about giving meaning to life. When we are real with ourselves and with each other there is no room for "fakeness." When all our crap is out on the table it allows us to deal with it. Not alone...but with each other. Which also brings us closer to the people around us. We weren't put on this earth to 'figure it out' all alone. Amazingly, a lot of us are going through the same stuff. We all have a little bit of wisdom that we can share to help each other learn and change and grow.

It's OK to talk about stuff and ask the tough questions. I think our society is afraid of this because it allows others to see us as we really are. If we take off all the masks everyone can see everyone else's ugliness. I wish we would embrace our brokenness. It might be painful at times but, in the end, so much more real and joyful.

As Henri Nouwen, author of 'Life of the Beloved,' explains it, ""My own experience with anguish has been that facing it and living it through is the way to healing. But I cannot do that on my own. I need someone to keep me standing in it, to assure me that there is PEACE beyond the anguish, LIFE beyond death, and LOVE beyond fear. But I know now, at least, that attempting to avoid, repress, or escape the pain is like cutting off a limb that could be healed with proper attention. The deep truth is that our human suffering need not be an obstacle to the joy and peace we so desire, but can become, instead, the means to it. The great secret of the spiritual life, the life of the Beloved sons/daughters of God, is that everything we live, be it gladness or sadness, joy or pain, health or illness, can all be part of the journey toward the full realization of our humanity."

So...suffering leads to joy. It allows us to realize, not only that we are broken, but that there is more to life. Much more, indeed. Jesus didn't come just to tell us about heaven. He came to show us how to LIVE. How to be ALIVE...NOW.

We are all broken and this world is dying. There is another path. The wounds can be healed. Be honest with yourself. Follow the light. It's scary but you'll find that, when you reach that light, you will never look back. It will soon be frightening to imagine life without this light. What this world needs is broken people who have COME ALIVE...

"In Him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it." -John 1:4-5