When you’re in the zone...
which is the proper mode of being...
which is the mode of Christ’s being...
...the target is huge. The bullseye enlarges to encompass all of you. You suddenly stand at the center of the magical fire. You can’t miss. Shoot.
I hate these bars.
I hate these chains.
I hate history.
Ok, but why hate? Why hate the thing you stand in the middle of?
Why not love? Or at least accept, which is the same thing since by any standard a good definition of love must include acceptance of a thing despite its limitations?
Bars, chains, and history just are. Limitations simply exist as a reality.
When Paul said—“I am exactly where I am supposed to be. How could I be anywhere else?”--
prison doors opened and chains fell off. This is the way to freedom.
When you hate your history you become the most hateful history.
Just ask the Bolsheviks.
The past is a cloud. A memory. A collection of thoughts and ideas as immaterially vast as it is materially insubstantial. An eternal memorial whose sole purpose is to help me live in the present. It is NOT a place I should live or even can live. For who can live in the sky?
My past permeates the heavens, looking down to inform my present; but it is not my present. In the same way my reflection on my experience, is not my experience: it is a reflection.
The “great cloud of witnesses” in the Book of Hebrews is a list of great and awful acts of faith from the past. It is both my personal and collective cloud. An "I" cloud. A storehouse. Not a dead and dusty one. No, it is a living storehouse on whose contents I may gaze and to whose clamor I may listen. But only if I lift my eyes and listen honestly, with the proper attitude--with my feet firmly on the ground of today--does this great cloud of yesterday look down and proclaim: judging each act of my faith. It floats above my ever-present life: praising and condemning. This cloud is a thriving witness of my life—not the other way around. I am not to drift upwards and away, bearing witness to yesterday's artifacts while turning my back on today. Otherwise my vast and light cloud condenses and ossifies. Then I become trapped in my cloud-turned-sarcophagus; and together we plunge into the sea.
I am not the past. I am alive.
The most damnable condemnation handed down to me by this immense shouting, screaming, bloody, struggling, joyously cheering cloud of witnesses from the past was this:
That I failed to recognize my present.
I was the brood of vipers to whom Jesus proclaimed: “The Ninevites will condemn this generation!" Jesus stood directly in front of me; but I could not see him.
To live in the past, to be defined by the past, was to become stuck and stagnant—to become memorialized. It is to become incased in stone, instead of contemplating the terrible and marvelous monuments of the past while shouldering the cross in the present.
But miraculously I, paralyzed in the past, was able to shoulder my mat and walk home. A miracle of strength only made possible by the Forgiveness of Jesus. The man-child fish who swam to the bottom of my soul and set me free.
Seeing your eyes limits your vision. Listening to your ears limits your hearing.
Being self-conscious limits your existence.
The gradual development of self-consciousness is almost by definition enculturation. Enculturation is one’s gradual ingestion of the surrounding culture until they become like it. It requires willing participation in the game. A child does not start out self-conscious but becomes so. It is when one begins to know that he knows, thinks, and judges that one forgets how it is he knows, thinks, and judges. He forgets from where his golden gift came. He breaks Samson’s rule and “lays a hand on his head.”
It is when you think you know truth—that you don’t.
It is when you know that you are the judge that you lose the ability.
It is the difference between feeling enslaved by your responsibilities in the world and feeling free to keep the temple and everything in it.
Are you weak? Are you enslaved? Are you pushing the millstone round and round?
Then…you are also blind.
"Christianity" is not a Life 360 app (in the same way a parent is not an "all-seeing eye"). It is not an “application”—an external thing that applies only when you open it up. If so, then it is just one more technically complex hieroglyph to interpret incorrectly, view sporadically, and then use tyrannically. If so, it only increases anxiety and mistrust.
Christianity IS life; in the same way "to parent" is to bring forth life--rather than inspect, or suspect it. It courses through every fiber. To fully utilize this marvel; you can not simply turn it on and check on other’s locations compared to your own—and then call that true, and right, and safe, and good—THAT’S WRONG! Believing that WHERE someone is, has ANYTHING to do with WHO someone is: that is a lie; and one everybody begins to believe. That my position relative to you, tells me who I am and where I am relative to God? That’s the exact trap Moses laid for himself: a stranger herding sheep that weren’t his own. You must go. You must journey to Egypt and do battle. You must uncover the Rosetta Stone engraved upon the heart! The secret stone which interprets all hieroglyphs, all complexities. That stone—that key— is what you give your children. It goes inside and turns locks. It works inside out—not outside in. It fills every crevasse of their world; reaching into places you can never go; telling them who they are no matter where they are.
I began to see spiritual truths in the old book where I had not seen them before; finding them not in scriptures scrubbed of all grime and paradox, but in dusty tales of donkeys and dragons. How did I not see them before—these glints of gold in the dirt? It’s terrible enough NOT to see. But one sure way to make it worse is to think you can. NOT to find is awful as well. But, again, the only way never to find is thinking you already have. I was a self-deluded arborist stupidly smacking my face on the one tree, it so happens, for which I no longer looked. And it was this about myself—this dilution of myself—and these constant bloody noses: because I believed I possessed truth; because I believed I possessed sight; I was like a man with a fatal illness he did not yet know he had; who somehow, unbeknownst even to himself, wound up at the doctor’s office. My brazen ego alone confident of health, but all else below that proud little scrim, everything deeper within and further without the cosmos was unsure: “Oh, it’s nothing doctor. Just a vagueness here in the pit of my stomach. Just an achiness there in sunsets and starlight.”
Maybe I was sick.
There is a part of blindness that is sheer. A part that is utter. But there is another, sicker part that is volitional: not that can’t look, but won’t. And that kind of blindness is a lie. It is a willful blindness. No sane person would choose to blind themselves. But it is precisely what the rational person chooses all the time. They rationalize. As long as there is a good reason to see, they will see anything. As long as there is a good reason NOT to see, they will see nothing. Like the emperor who refuses to see the empty spinning wheel, because to see AT ALL is to admit he was wrong. This kind of blindness is the first step in drying out a heart of flesh. The pharaonic lie: to look down from tyranny and call it ease. It hardens the heart into a stone that gazes upon freedom and calls it betrayal.
God is saying to the Israelites through the symbol of Moses’s raised serpent, “That feeling of discomfort slithering and squeezing around your midsection is a sign of undealt with truth in your life. All those parts of your world you once felt ok ignoring...denying—have become obstacles—a sign of your unredeemed state—your suffering highlights your need for salvation. They—the undone things—have turned your landscape into a place where you can no longer peacefully ignore; no longer make things irrelevant. This desert of discomfort is not a place of peace. It is a place of broken relationships littering the ground around you—a place of not working on what you are supposed to be doing —of not becoming what you always should have been—of truths avoided; not ‘faced.’ I will not help by ’taking it away,’ I will help you by drawing your eye sharply to where you need to look the most—to the point of truth. If you really want help, it’s time to look here—to face the snake. Here is the hope lying within. I promise you, you can do it. I have created you to be able to handle snakes."
Can you sense the relief that the problem is actually you? For if the world is the problem; then that is hopeless.
The moment he is called out as the chosen one and the spirit newly rests upon his shoulders like Elijah’s mantle, Jesus is lead by the spirit into a wilderness of suffering and insufficiency—because that is the state of all man. And in that state, in that place, he faces the ultimate representation of adversity--The Adversary--that which opposes all man. Why? Why at the beginning?
Suffering--vulnerability--want--death-- is laid out before him at the beginning, because that is where his journey will end. And before he can minister--transform--change--before he can relieve the world’s suffering--it is absolutely fundamental that he confronts the question of what to do about his own suffering and insufficiency—of the temptation of not having, but having the power to get.
What does he do in that wilderness—in that state?
What do you do? That same wilderness of suffering and death is of course your natural habitat. What do you do?
Do you have the power to change lifeless green paper into bread and satisfy yourself? The world says you do. Jesus says to the world, “I don’t need what you are offering.” He is stating that in your chronic condition of suffering, life is not about getting what you want--it is about accepting it. And those are very different things. Opposite actually. It is facing it. Not avoiding it. He knows real life actually exists outside of your wants. Transcends it.
"More than bread alone" is the tap on my wife—Betsy’s shoulder in the grocery store by the cash register worker who she talks about all the time and cares for and prays for and has developed a relationship with; and says things like, My friend is not here today. I wonder where she is? How she is?
What is the goal of a trip to the grocery store? Where does life happen in the grocery store? Is it the exchanging of a plastic card for bread?
But then, right in the middle of our lives, right in the middle of “I don’t have. I must get,” right in the middle of the grocery store…a tap on the shoulder. It’s her! And look! She was on her break and she saw Betsy and wanted to see her. Then, two people smiling at each other in the middle of their lives. They talk about life. They talk about hurts and joys. And Jesus looks over to the Adversary with a smile on his face, “See, where life is?”
When Betsy gets to her car, she realizes she inadvertently stole a few items at the self-checkout and has to go in to pay for them. Why did that happen? Because she had left the wilderness of want and inhabited the kingdom of heaven. And, she, a creator of new worlds, takes joy in that moment, too.
Where is life? It transcends our sufferings and our wants. It is more satisfying than a break at a work. It is worth more than bread alone.
Is “must” a command or a condition? We often confuse this.
“You must hold your breath when you go under water.”
This is not a command. It is just a condition of existence. “You must be good rather than evil.” In the same way this is also not a command, but simply a condition of existence. It just “is.” The life you live when you understand that morality is a condition—it is just the state of affairs of Being—not a command, is somehow different. It is outside the zero-sum game of winners and losers, right and wrong, mountains of blessings and curses, morality as a heavy suit of armor you won’t wear, but command others to wear. To escape this, is to see the two mountains well for the game-like nature that it is--to make a show of dividing into two teams and shouting from two mountains equal, but opposing, views of life. This reveals that both are always there, the negative and the positive, always in your landscape. That one does not exist without the other. And in the land of promise, in Paradise, you must always see them. And seeing them—seeing the two opposing mountains of sin and grace—seeing the tree with divided fruit in the center of the garden—helps you understand the paradoxical relationship of law and sin and “so should we sin more to make grace abound?” No. That is missing the point, Paul and Moses are describing—one in theological terms, and one in dramatic terms: One day—one day!—you might be able to escape the place you are and go to the place you were always supposed to be—your home—a place gushing with wonder and peace. In that place you will finally see life; this game; your life for what it is. And then seeing—understanding the spectacle of your mountains; you can begin to experience real life.
At the edge of the swimming pool, imagine being completely under water with bubbles rising all around; weightless and free; enjoying the experience of swimming just for the thing itself; with no ulterior motives. The moment is right before you. So Jump! Smile! Hold your breath! It is not a command. The water is not opposing you. It just is. You and it just are. At the edge of your life, imagine being really alive; celebrating the joys of a victorious race. The moment is now. So Go! RUN! Run for the joy of running itself! LIVE! Run the race! Cast the shouting mountains to the east and to the west! Dance before the ark naked! Pick up five stones and shout in the valley of Elah with the heart of God! Walk in the room with sinners and dine! Neither take the game too seriously like the pharisee nor shun it all together like the nazarite—Do it sincerely, perfectly—like Jesus! You can—you must—CHOOSE LIFE!