Yada

I would like to know things. I would like to undress and embrace the truth of a thing, to take a truth into myself, to become one with it and bask in the transparency of it, the inerrancy of it, to bear all and see it, its edges, its meniscus, the audacity of its swelling to the limit of its fullness. I would like to know things.

I would like to dispel with trust and faith and know without fail or fear the fullness of a truth. I would like to know the ways in which a truth can be utilized, the ways in which a truth can be bastardized, the ways in which a truth can be heterogenized and woven effortlessly into a milieu of a thousand other fully lusting truths.

But I can’t know all this. I hide with shame because I cannot fully know another truth until I allow myself to be fully known by that truth–until I am fully exposed and bare, banned from blockading and burying myself in myself. And I’ve never seen all of me before. I’ve never owned all of me before. I’ve loaned out, bruised up, shot down and hidden from things till I am only fragmented completion.

I hide behind questions, dancing around the periphery of a truth, perfidy and cowardice loaded into magazines and bound like Kevlar to the barely beating breaths in my blood. I am afraid of what the truth will demand of me if it pierces the unprotected pieces of my being, so I simply seek to know about a truth rather than to know it. This way, I can dualistically, hedonistically, euphemistically have more than one truth for myself. Fidelity to a truth is a terrifying commitment, so I like to keep my options open. I like to keep my foot in the door so I can pull out from, disengage from a dominant truth. I’d rather lie with a small truth than be loyal to a big one.

In the Old Testament, the word yada is used when Adam and Eve knew they were naked–when they stood bright and brittle at the dawn of man, when they stood as drops of dew off the lips of a beautiful God and they felt shame. Yada is used when the Lord says that man had become like him knowing good from evil. Membranous eye-lids meant to sift out the unquenchable sun now punctured and undulating in the wind of the world’s first cold gale. Like a child yada hunger for the first time. Like a homeless man yada the encroaching winter for the first time. Like a young girl yada fear of a man for the first time.

Yada is used when Adam knew Eve for the first time–their fall, so fresh in the spring of their lives. Their purposes altered as a result of a desire to know. Their joining, a eulogy singed with the ashes of shame and still the roots of new life were found in the echoing refrain of a lament. All children born now smell like fire.

To the author of Israel’s Bildungsroman, to know something was the same as being intimate with that thing. To share without condition. To exist with no thing between two entities. Edenic in nature, Edenic in purpose, Edenic in relation. The exposure demanded by intimacy was never meant to be processed through the filter of shame. The exposure demanded by intimacy was never meant to hold conditions on that which was being revealed. The revelation of truth does not depend on one’s ability to accept that truth. The desire to know must persist until that desire is fulfilled, but consider first the cost of that fulfillment.

Chronos

I am…an existential mess, made of arrogance and apologies and little less. I am capable of only myself. A concentric ego.

The church once believed itself the center of the universe. An egocentric con. And I grew up in the church, so it makes a certain amount of sense that I would adopt this belief as well.

If I chose to stop and consider the weightiness of a timeless, cosmic God, I would effectively remain motionless for the rest of my life.

To presume sense of this sort of scale is actually kind of stupid. As a self-proclaimed existential mess, I demand that the universe–from neurons to nebulae–submit to my understanding, submit to my sense. And then, when I run across something I can’t make sense of, I choose to believe that it couldn’t possibly be as a result of any of my own shortcomings, but because this timeless, cosmic God has failed me.

God does not fall into the gravitational well of my own hubris.

This has had a corrosively cascading effect on me and the manner in which I interact with the minutiae of the world’s operations.

As someone who tends to swing to extremes, my current see-saw partner is my own sense of self-importance. I am in the ‘none of this matters’ phase of my early thirties. I go around claiming admittedly small victories over the senselessness and chalk it up to sheer dumb luck–the Universe handing out truffles to a blind pig. But there is arrogance even in this.

Because even after Time itself has bent down to whisper correction in my ear, I still parade around in arrogance, believing myself to be of some importance in the cogitation of the stars. As if the universe would bend on my behalf, as if time itself cares to correct me.

This is the thing that blows my mind. Time itself has in fact bent down to whisper correction in my ear. Universe has in fact, bent on my behalf. And not just my behalf, but yours as well.

Now I can’t personally speak for our vision-impaired porcine companions, but I would imagine the joy to be experienced upon finding a truffle every once in a while and I would imagine thus, the hope that–just maybe–there is another truffle out there.

And this weight simultaneously compels me forward while also covering me like a blanket on the night that you finally realize Autumn is proudly displaying its plumage. Because in my near-constant state of anxiety about far-reaching consequences to every word that spills from my mouth (or fingertips), and the repercussions of every fiber twitch, I have to realize that so much of it only matters in the context of a me-centered universe.

The terror that I feel only exists as far as the edges of my flat-earth. Beyond that edge is the real universe, in which I truly believe to exist a Being so far outside my capacity to fully know.

And thank God for that.

 

Who is to Come

I was watching my two-year-old nephew the other evening. We spent about five minutes opening a door, and then closing it–and then opening it again, and closing it again. Then, we opened the same door, and closed it. And opened it. And closed it. And each time, he giggled and laughed. I watched and participated, constantly providing the catalyst for him to continue, and it got me thinking.

The newness of the unknown was once approached with childish wonder and awe is now often met with fear and apprehension. The puerile simplicity of small action was once met with simple joy. Now it is often met with apathy. Upon experiencing something new, we as adults, should be hurried back through the years of domestic predictability to when we were children, and simple things, such as opening doors and finding rooms on the other side, were enough to fill us with delight.

There is a series of realities that my nephew is trying to wrap his tiny brain around. First of all, something that he is doing is causing change. The action of wrapping his hand around a door-knob and turning it, is causing motion to occur. That motion is literally opening doors to an entire new dimension of sensory activation. There is depth and color and light and shadow in whatever lies on the other side of that door.

At some point in his life, that sense of newness and discovery will wear off. He will open the door to his room and know that his bed and his mess is on the other side. He will open the door to the bathroom and will not give the placement of the sink a second (or first) thought. It simply will be, because it always has been.

I have been thinking about the God who is to come–the God who says he is the Door (John 10:9), the facets of the God who we understand and have understood as a result of what He has been in the past. The Old Testament God of wrath, separated from us by our own sin, the New Testament God of reconciliation, reunited with us by his own determination. They are one and the same God and yet the paths to relationship with us are manifested so differently that it’s seemingly impossible to reconcile the two seemingly disparate facets. Two thousand years of church history, theology, and experience have given us only fragmented ideas of who he used to be, and who he still is today.

But what about tomorrow?

I am engaged to get married. In less than three months, I will be promising love and fidelity to a woman that I barely know. She and I have been dear friends for four years, we have been dating for about eight months, engaged for a total of three months and will be married for the next sixty-ish years before we leave this world to spend the rest of eternity together at the feet of an Unending, Cosmic God.

I have seen fragments of who my fiance was. I see bigger pieces of who she is, and I have no idea yet who she will be. And while there is some human-inspired trepidation concerning what we are getting ourselves into, we are also both swimming in the awe and excitement of stepping into the unknown together–of opening a door without knowing what’s on the other side.

I want to delight in the God that I do not yet know. I want to step into an unknown room and find delight in the newness of who He will be over the course of my lifetime and beyond.

I’m going to make a dangerous statement, one that might raise a few red flags, but I cannot ignore the sense of unease I would feel leaving them unattended.

I don’t believe that all we have been shown about God thus far is all we will be shown ever. Now, I don’t question the authority or validity of the Bible. I believe that all Scripture is God breathed,

but…I don’t know whether Scripture is all that God breathed.

Let me try to explain this without writing a whole theological treatise or bundling up sticks by which I might be burned. We know that God breathed into Adam the breath of life. We know that God spoke the world into existence. We know that speaking words requires breath. We know that the Word of God is living and active. It was living and active two thousand years ago, and it still is today, and it will be tomorrow. We know that Spirit, and breath are the same word in Greek. We know that when we are born again–we are given new life, new breath.

So by my infantile estimation, as long as there are people being born again, the Spirit will be working in those people, and those people and their stories will be good news. As long as peoples’ lives are being transformed by the eponymous act of sacrificial love and a never-ending fountain of grace, God will be opening doors into new rooms that should shake us from our apathy and create in us a sense of child-like wonder and delight. The revelation of God will be achieved by the yielding of good fruit in the lives of his children. The newness of what God creates in the hearts and minds of his prodigal sons and daughters come home should have us unashamedly giggling and laughing like a two-year old who is just excited to experience something new.

I think it’s essential to lean on what we have known to be always true. What we are shown in the Word of God is inspired by God and has been faithfully consistent and true over thousands of years, but to say that this is all there is to know about God seems…incomplete. Our lives, in the fragments of minutes and hours that comprise our days, should be revealing to us who God is in this moment. Who God was and who He is now, should be preparing us for who He will be in a thousand years. This speaks to His unflinching consistency of character, but also–I hope–to the way He molds and moves in response to who his children will be in a thousand years.

There is no faith required to know that God has been good in the past. In the same way that I don’t need faith to know that my fiance has loved me for four years. I have seen it myself. It does, however, require faith to believe that she will still love me when I am no longer strikingly handsome and have run out of puns by which I may charm her.

We have seen it in our past, on a timeline spanning across thousands of years to about two hours ago when he provided the perfect solution we hadn’t even thought of to an only mildly inconvenient problem, that God is good–that every time I open the door, walked through the door, shut the door, bang on the door or asked for a different door to open–God is present. Now let me learn joy in the God who is to come.

 

Parabole

I was asked to share at a retreat recently and much of what I had written was not shared due to some technical issues, so this is what I had written in full, for the perusal of those who might be interested.

 

I made the mistake of watching one of the Hobbit movies the other day. As a Tolkien fan-boy, this is a grave offense and one that is hardly justifiable, but it did provide a catalyst for basically everything I am about to share, so I’ll call it bittersweet.

“In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and oozy smells, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down or eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.”

I don’t think anyone has ever wondered why a hobbit hole is in the ground rather than in a tree or at the bottom of a lake. I doubt that anyone has ever challenged the word of Tolkien concerning the contents of hobbit holes or why they aren’t muddy or sandy. We just take the word of the author as being what it is and continue on with the story.

I never questioned the masterfully guided hand of J.R.R. Tolkien. Before he even began writing, he had in his mind a beginning, a middle, and an end. He had an image of how wide Bilbo’s waistline would be, how many wrinkles Gandalf would have on his face, and how long Thorin’s beard would be. I have never wondered if Tolkien would mislead me or disappoint me. I never even considered it. I was given a sentence to read and I read it. I suppose I could have questioned the content of the next chapter, but the only way to find out what would come next was to move forward. No amount of hope or fear would change what was already written. I simply had to read it and then trust that the characters I had come to care for would be led well through whatever trial they happened to be facing.

And yet when I look at the story that I am a part of, I dig my heels in at every possible point and insist on changing the direction of the Author’s story. And it’s an odd thing to consider, as I sit and write this out. It must be really annoying for an Author to place a character on a page and say, “I have a beginning, middle, and end in mind and you’re gunna love it. It’ll have adventure and intrigue and failure and love; you’re gunna fall, but you’ll get back up and people will read your story and they’ll ask, ‘Who’s it by?’ and then you can tell them I wrote it.” And the author will have this giant grin on his face because he’s an awesome story teller. He’s written a billion stories so he sort of knows what he’s doing, he has been creating things since the beginning of time. He takes joy in doing it. He gets just as excited for fall colors every year as we do. Because he delights in what we delight in. Look at a child’s painting and the pride he takes when it’s put on the fridge. He gets just as stoked to watch flowers sprout from the ground, to watch frost grow on cold branches, to watch wind sift through summer fields. He watches the main character walk into the classroom and sit next to a girl who, a few chapters from now, will be walking down a different aisle towards the him. He creates conflict at home with the hope that the main character will understand that without tension, without conflict, there is no growth. And no one wants to read a story that doesn’t become something more.

And the first thing that the character does is try to jump off the page of his own story.

So know now, that I try to jump off the page all the time, and God always has another page underneath for me to land on. The story is always shifting and changing because I am never content to stay on one page. See the problem is, that I either, in my arrogance, presume to know better than Him and can write my own story, or in a state of paralyzing fear, refuse to move forward on a page that I don’t fully understand. And sometimes, to be honest, I just want to jump. And I think God delights in proving that I will always land on another page that he’s written. And all of this has become its own story.

My father left when a cop door closed between he and I. My dad re-entered my life when a coffee shop door opened eighteen years later. Between the first door and the next, there was a lot of stumbling around. I was raised in a good church but I didn’t know that. I mean, I knew a lot of things, but didn’t actually know them. I could recite scripture all day long but didn’t know the first thing about honoring my mother or respecting my sisters or resisting temptation. I could go to church camps and sing worship music and lead Bible studies but didn’t know the first thing about denying the self or walking with God at all.

I sort stories into one of two categories. Stories are either externally driven or internally driven. There are elements of both in every story. But the development of a character is fueled by external circumstances and internal influences. One typically catalyzes the other. The elements of my story that provide both unchanging presence and non-stop change are the people whose own pages shuffle into mine for sometimes just one chapter, or sometimes all of them. These people are felt rather than seen. They don’t often make headlines and yet without them, my story would be shallow and monochromatic. This means the unsavory people as well, like my father. He is just as essential a piece of my development (good or bad) as anyone else might be. This is a hard truth to accept.

I have struggled for three years now to comprehend the importance of my position in my father’s life. I know absolutely that I am my father’s son. This terrifies me. In this way, his absence from my life may be considered a blessing. His immediate physical influence was blessedly mitigated. The influence of his absence clung to me like smoke long after he left.

I screwed up a lot between then and now. But God’s faithfulness and long-suffering in my life should be dropping me on my face in front of him. I grew up with a fractured and incomplete understanding of the Church. I was an immature, isolated human tasked with trying to comprehend the weight of an unknowable God. And that leaves a lot of opportunity for misunderstanding scripture, misapplication of poorly-understood theology and a lot of metaphorical resetting of bones. I understood one truth very intimately from a fairly young age. I am not good enough. You can thank my father for some of that. This truth is absolutely right. And it is absolutely incomplete.

So I became intimately and inexorably married to a works-based lifestyle. It was a transactional interaction with the people in my life. As long as I performed at a certain level people would remain in my life. As long as I worked hard enough, said yes often enough, did the right things, gave enough of my own time, listened to enough sermons, highlighted enough bible verses, I could prove that I was worth loving.

This led to absolute exhaustion and disenchantment with the church and with God. I couldn’t (and still can’t) comprehend the weight of the price that had already been paid on my behalf and I was violently insulting the decision that Christ made in going to the cross by saying, “What you did isn’t enough. But I can work harder and then I’ll decide that I am worth being loved.” This idea was crafted insidiously while I struggled with lust and the idolization of my own selfishness. I could sit at a computer, get what I needed from it and then close tabs and go back to my life. Without an understanding of repentance and belief that I could change, I simply overcompensated by weeping harder and making glass promises.

Even during this time, while I was the center of my own world, God was crafting and planning and weaving pieces of himself into my story. Hindsight is a painful blessing. One that I did not acknowledge for a long time. At the time though, I began to realize that the knowledge I had grown up in–without any action–led to hypocrisy. And rather than doing anything about this, I simply stopped wanting to attain knowledge. I couldn’t be a hypocrite if I didn’t know anything worth being hypocritical about.

At some point in time, my dad entered back into the picture. I’m not going to call it a coincidence, because it wasn’t. I’m also not going to call it enjoyable, because it wasn’t that either. I will however call it a mud-covered blessing. Because I immediately was given father-shaped fuel can to propel me towards change.

That fuel for transformation instantly became, “I don’t care who I am, as long as it isn’t my father.” Which sounds great on paper, but that’s a lot of room to become something even worse. And I didn’t like that either, but I was still working and still fighting and still trying to prove that I could be better on my own steam. At some point shortly after my father came back into my life, I hit what is popularly referred to as ‘rock bottom’. But rocks are stable and make great foundations. I had hit rock bottom before and had made a castle out of it. But this time, something was different. My bones were tired. I was weary of trying. Surrender had never been an option before because that was obviously giving up. And despite the knowledge I had about the presence of God, I did not believe that anything would be there to meet me in my surrender. I had tried too hard to craft what little I had achieved. It was a passable creation and I presented it to the world with hesitant pride, but some deep, childish part of me just wanted to be held for once, and I’d never let anyone do it. So in a moment of absolute uncaring, I gave up trying.

God met me place of my father. The fear of abandonment, the pride, the fear of being alone, the fear of not being good enough are loud at night. But I am held now. There are beautiful people fighting on my behalf and gently correcting me and providing a loose example for what it means to follow in Jesus’ footsteps. I say loose because I have not been written to follow Jesus the way Jamie does. The fear and the joy of being in a story that God has been writing me into is that he’s been writing it with me in mind since before light was created and I am challenged now to enter into it with God. I get to partner with Him. I can give suggestions and ideas of what I’d like to do and who I’d like to be with and how I’d like to go through life. And he, as an omnipotent Author, incorporates my hopes and my wants into the grand story that he’s been crafting since before time was even a thought in the mind of an eternal God.

I think age brings perspective. Every month that passes is another month in which I can look back and see the provision that God has written into my story. If, or when I write this again twenty-nine years from now, I will have a compelling story so long as I continue to recognize the underlying theme. It’s all gospel right? It’s all pointing back to what or who meets me in my place of surrender. It’s trusting in the masterful hand of an Author who has a perfect story in mind, who created galaxies millions of years ago with the same level of delight as he did the sunflower I just passed on the road this morning. I think there is great comfort in that.

Nine to Five

Two and a half thoughts dominate my mind this morning. Firstly, I eat far too many waffles. There is no particular significance to this thought beyond the immediate dietary ramifications of having a coffee shop that serves waffles within five miles of your home.

The song that’s currently playing–the one that’s providing fuel for this rarified literary journey–is coincidentally similar to a song that I heard last July. Give or take a few days, I was on my way home from a literal life-changing trip to California. It wasn’t life-changing in a grandiose or ostentatious manner. It was the subtle maneuverings of an under-current, a shifting of the tides in a way that allowed me to understand the depths of a body of water in a far more holistic manner. It’s hard to explain. I would encourage you to scroll down and find a post called “Electric Fences,” for I wrote that as an immediate response to the trip I am now referring to.

If you put ice in a glass and fill it with water, it presents a fairly normal experience. It’s ice water in a glass. But put your fingers on the rim, the thin, curving fence separating containment from formlessness, and spin the glass. The glass moves immediately, but the ice and the water inside it respond in a glacial, almost begrudging manner. As the glass continues to spin, the ice water gains momentum until it is moving at the same speed as the glass. If the glass stops spinning, the water inside it will continue to move, and then slow down, and then stop, the ice cubes settling back into contentment like a sleepy child in a blanket.

I was moved slowly this weekend, wind rocking a hammock between trees standing sentinel over a small strip of land owned by the same name for generations. I heard no car engines, no ticking watches, no electronic receipts, no distant highways, no running water beyond the edges of a lake that spun the bodies of water inside them. For that is what we are, is it not? Water and blood and love and a desire to be held. This desire transcends all things. This desire is the look between newly weds, the look that holds the hope of a lifetime in the space between touching foreheads. This look is the reaching arms of a six year old who feels he has not been paid enough attention in the last ten minutes. This look is the mother responding with a desperate want to pour all of who she is into her youngest child. This desire is a young couple learning how to dance. Sometimes you step away from your partner, sometimes you step towards them, sometimes you spin around them, but always are your hands connected, and never does your gaze break from theirs. Such is life.

There was this flashing annoyance in the back of my mind during my experience, surrounded by clear skies, the calls of fireflies and frogs, and the love of a wonderful family. I have to go home eventually. The recognition that despite standing on a drop of land between water and sky, my bathroom needs a deep clean before company comes over this week, I have to go into work for a few hours on Wednesday before the financial audit, I need to get my brakes checked out pretty soon, and ignoring my phone for a few days does not negate the texts, emails, and calls that I need to respond to as soon as I put my watch back on.

I draw closer and closer to embracing what American culture has demonized as the “9-to-5”. The stability of mediocrity, the regularity of a ticking watch, the predictability of traffic patterns, things that–particularly the younger generation–has wholly rebelled against. Perhaps there is nothing new under the sun. Perhaps every generation has dealt with the same transition, to recognize the joy of a horizon full of freedom and the necessity of containing that horizon to a three-by-three wooden frame built into a building on the corner of 494 and France Ave. Perhaps I am now “adulting” more effortlessly. Perhaps.

I do not yet know how to navigate the shifting currents in my life as my priorities change from experiencing freedom for myself, to facilitating that experience for those who have yet to see a full horizon. I speak in metaphor, as freedom coalesces differently according to the prison that individuals find themselves in. Perhaps I am wanting to drive the boat now rather than be pulled behind in a brightly colored intertube.

It’s all a rather foreign and poorly understood shift in priorities. I am navigating through this with as much grace as I did the knee-board that I failed to triumph over two days ago. (I blame the knee-board. Abbie said it’s not as good as the last one and also says I am terribly proportioned for kneeboarding. Abbie is a good girlfriend.) And yet Abbie’s mother, who is nearing ** in age, flew effortlessly around the lake on a slalom ski and dismounted with a grace attained only through years of experience.

I hope to attain that same grace. In the mean time, I live with the knowledge that conflict indicates transition and transition indicates growth and even if hard, growth is a good thing.

 

 

 

Camino de Santiago

I had a conversation last week with my boss about things that I want. It’s actually a really frustrating question for me to consider–what I want. Because I don’t really know. I’m not really good at wanting things. I can experience a thing and realize that I am quite content with whatever that happens to be. Whether that’s a really busy day at work, a really slow day at work, a 40 mile bike ride, an hour or two in a hammock with a book or playing video games for an entire afternoon.

I am intimately aware of my own visceral desires. I hesitate to use the term ‘carnal’, but this context probably provides for the most accurate use of the word. I am good at responsiveness. Experiencing a moment, and responding to it either positively or negatively. I am terrible at proactive happiness. I’m not terribly good at saying, ‘I know this will make me happy, so I will pursue it until I am happy.’ I have no idea if a Master’s degree would make me happy. I’ve never had one before. I have no idea if having a family would make me happy, I’ve never been a father or a husband.

At one point during this conversation with my boss, he said, “You have to do what makes you happy.” And some part of my spirit rebelled against that statement. So I asked him, “Why is it about my happiness?” Why do the decisions I make need to center around my own happiness? I don’t even know what would make me happy. So why would I make decisions based on something that I don’t even know? That’s like driving into a city you’ve never been to without directions or a map and deciding that you need to take a right to get to a restaurant you don’t even know if you want to eat at.

I just video-chatted with a friend. I feel a bit odd calling her a ‘dear friend’. We’ve exchanged a handful of sentences via instagram chat in the last seven months and occasionally she calls me a fat American and sometimes I call her a British bastard. But we sat on a curb in Oxford and sometimes you don’t need to know someone for long to feel connected to them. It is one of those chance meetings in life that can hardly be considered chance. But I just saw her face for the first time since I left her in September of last year. And I got to hear a genuine British accent for the first time in seven months and it was like slipping into a bathtub full of golden retriever puppies. Our conversation was brief because she was in the middle of a 25k walk through the Camino de Santiago. I will not attempt to explain anymore, because my words would not do it justice. Spend some time googling it and let me know what you think. Just know that my carnal response in recognizing what would absolutely make me happy was brutal and overwhelming.

She is a deer that popped up in the middle of the night while driving down a forest road. I’ve been stable and in cruise control mode and things are normal and then she showed up and I had to swerve violently off to the side to avoid a collision that and now I’m all over the road trying to course-correct but also wondering why I need to course-correct at all.

Happiness is a bizarre thing. Degrees of happiness are equally bizarre. Why are we using a transient emotion as the baseline by which we compare the successfulness of life? Why do I want so badly to experience a different part of the world? Why is the contentment that I thought I had two hours ago, all of a sudden a dim flicker of terrified light in comparison to the blaze of green on the other side of the fence? Why does wanting to experience more seem like such a selfish thing right now? I don’t have any answers to these questions. And I feel almost magnetically pulled to the other side of the world but equally repulsed by the idea that I am struggling so hard in this moment to be content in the world that I’ve been a part of building in the last year. I don’t regret one second of the brief conversation I had with Isabella and Adrianna. I regret only that I hesitated in answering why I couldn’t go out to visit them.

I guess the question then is where is my baseline? I was hammocking with some friends yesterday and while trying to set one hammock up, Abbie had to stand on a second hammock in order to reach what she needed. She immediately began to swing back and forth as her footing was only secure in a linear way. Imagine accidental slack-lining. I immediately reached to brace her and stablize her balance. Partly because that was the right thing to do, but also partly because she’s my girlfriend and I need to impress her with my physical strength. But she trusted me in that moment to ensure that she wouldn’t fall off and hurt herself.

Right now I need people to brace and support me while I swing back and forth trying to catch my balance. The issue is, I don’t want them to. I’m trying to figure out why I’m even trying to stay on this damn thing to begin with. So, this is me not having answers. And I hope I don’t have any next time I write either, because I want to struggle with this.

Original Things

There once was a boy named Edgar who wished desperately to create something new. He would sit at his desk just as soon as the sun allowed for it, and he would strain to build an original thing from the scratch and shavings of a thousand previous attempts. He would then present his works to the public by pacing between street corners, yelling and raving that a truly original thing had been crafted from the mind of a truly original crafter. The sounds would echo off the faces of buildings and people alike, and one might stop and inquire. And the boy would discuss with fervor how he had created this new thing. And the passerby would politely reply that they had considered such a thing several years previous. Edgar’s desperation would dwindle into resignation as the passerby would discuss the results of Edgar’s original idea and Edgar would return to his desk to wait for the next sun, in order that he might try again.

Edgar created a word one day. Gwyphling. It was a word selected carefully from a collection of letters that had never been combined in that particular order. And he presented the word between two street corners yelling, “I have done it!”

It wasn’t really necessary to go into further detail concerning what he had done, as Edgar’s presence on that street corner had become rather well-established by this point. Passerbys would pass by with mild disinterest while the boy continued to flaunt the results of his single-minded pursuit.

He was in the midst of yelling “Gwyphling!” repeatedly, when a woman in aubergine slowed to a stop and looked at him curiously as his excitement reached a pitch. “Gwyphling, Gwyphling, Gwyphling!” He continued to cry, his face about as aubergine as the dress of his single audience member. After several moments of objective curiosity, she interrupted him with an ahem, and then waited patiently for him to finish yelling.

“I’m sorry.” She said politely, as the echoes of gwyphling declined towards silence. He turned to look at her and she continued. “I couldn’t help but notice that you have created something entirely new and original.” He nodded his head excitedly, motioning with his hands towards her to continue with her line of thought. “Well, I thought I might ask what your new word means.”

“I beg your pardon?” He asked as a slight pallor came over him.

“It’s definition…” She continued, “What is it?” Edgar took a step back from her. His mind picking up speed as he sought to reconcile his creation and his creation’s purpose.

“I uh…” He started, but she interuppted.

“See I just thought that surely the creation of such a lovely word must have an equally lovely definition as a word is really only an entrance to its meaning. A shorthand, as it were, to deeper understanding.” Her hands unfolded and began to trace the air as her own excitement grew.

“‘Love’, for example, has inherent weight, a kinetic potential that belies its deceptive four-lettered simplicity. I can say the word ‘love’ in various situations and it will have different meanings according to he who speaks and she who listens. And even then, the speaker and the listener have experienced the manifestation of love in different ways. A stern father disciplining his child according to his love and a comforting mother holding that same child according to her love. Each love differently, yet singly.” The woman began to pace.

“So for you to create such a phonetically pleasing collection of letters, and to thus proclaim them so boldly between street corners must therefore infer that its definition is one to be shouted not from street corner to street corner, but from city to city and beyond. For that is a word’s purpose, is it not?”

The woman stopped midstep and stared at the man, hoping that her string of colored thoughts had been well-presented to the young man who had so beautifully portrayed originality.

“I’m not sure.” Edgar responded. His voice was a colorless monotone next to the heat of the woman across from him. The woman looked at him, her eyes searching for something in his own. A long silence held between them, his mind frantically searching through his own memories, searching for the deeper understanding this woman spoke of. The woman’s mind was still, waiting for a reaction that would direct this odd conversation in only one of two directions.

“It’s a comfort!” He said suddenly. His mind latched onto a small experience from years ago. “Gwyphling is a noun. It’s a title for someone who brings comfort.”

“I see.” said the woman, her tone lowering to match the colorless monotony of several moments previous. “And why does it mean that?”

“Because I have a memory.” Edgar began to pace now in response to her stillness as his idea began to solidify in his own mind. “I was sitting on a porch on a fall day. My mother had just gotten news of the mining accident that took my father’s life. And the wind slipped through burning autumn trees while my mother cried behind a screened window. The boy who lived across the street came in the evening. And fall turned towards winter and he sat with me on the porch while my mother mourned. He was a gwyphling.”

Edgar seemed pleased with the conjuration, glad that he had managed to connect something to such a beautiful word, and stood waiting while rouge returned to his face. And yet this woman seemed put off.

“I’m so sorry to have troubled you.” She said this definitively, and turned to leave without any further explanation.

Triangles

Yes, yes. I know. It’s been a while. Please don’t expect anything profound except for the sense of disappointment you may experience as a result of reading this. How’s that for a ‘welcome back!’?

I have this little tattoo of a triangle on my left forearm. I have it placed perfectly so that I can’t not flex upon being asked to explain it. Don’t question me. Just let me work what few angles I have working in my favor. People ask what it means and there are about ten different responses I give according to how long I think I can hold their attention. I’ll start with the longest one, because I delight in this as an act of cruelty.

If you plug the word ‘sonder’ into Google, you’ll find no official definition as it is not viewed by lexicographers as being a literal word, and yet the established literary giant, Urban Dictionary, will tell you that ‘sonder’ is a realisation that each stranger you sit next to on the bus or pass on the way out the coffee shop has a life as vivid and colorful as your own. It’s a call to context–to recognize that the red-headed student sitting next to me is also a daughter, and maybe a sister, and maybe a girlfriend, and a coworker. Each of these ‘titles’ speak into a wholeness of character. You find consistencies within people as you see them in more and more contexts. The more facets you can view of a gem, the better understanding you have of that gem as a whole. That’s why jewelers should be handing out those glasses we use to view solar eclipses. They hope to show every possible facet of a diamond by shining lights from every advantageous angle.

(Fun fact, as I am writing this, I am listening to a playlist on YouTube and the next playlist in the queue is called ‘Sonder’)

So let me discuss a new facet of Brandon. Another point of context in which I get to be viewed that allows for you to better understand me holistically. (At least three different contexts > three points on a triangle > triangle tattoo.) Some see Brandon the brother, Brandon the son, Brandon the friend, Brandon the employee or coworker. If an observer were to watch me in these different contexts they would see consistencies of character that inform them of who I am as a whole. I may not swear as much at church as I do at work. I may not engage in theological inquiry with my coworkers as I do with my family, but I am–as a whole–always eager to serve people. Now, to add an extra facet, there is Brandon the boyfriend. That is most of what I will say concerning that particular title due to the fact that Abbie the sister, Abbie the daughter, Abbie the friend, Abbie the employee or coworker, Abbie the girlfriend, might not want her name mentioned five times in a single sentence. But…we’re still learning things about each other so, I’ll let you know if there were repercussions for this set of statements.

Here’s another explanation for the triangle tattoo. It’s the simplest of the explanations I have for it, but I have to be careful using the phrase ‘Trinitarian implications’ around certain people as that is nine syllables shared between two words and sometimes people don’t like polysyllabic explication. (Also nine. count it. Didn’t even plan that. #genius)

At least three points of context. A wholeness of understanding. Attempting to undertand each point of this triangle (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) allows us to better understand the character and role of the other two points in the triangle. They build into each other, compliment each other, challenge each other, and demand from an ‘outsider’ that we seek out the other two points also so as to more completely grasp a wholeness of character.

One more explanation for the tattoo and I’ll release you from this particular chore. In the Greek language, the fourth letter of the alphabet is Delta. In the realm of math and science, the capital Delta is signified by a triangle and it denotes ‘change’, or ‘difference’. Now take a look at the things I’ve written on this blog and tell me that doesn’t fit me to a T. What I’ve experienced and grown in as a result of submitting myself to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is an undeniable story of change. And this is where it all ties together.

I am being added into. God has watched this growth happen and has decided that I can be trusted with a new context. I get to be Brandon the boyfriend. An ‘outsider’ looking at me in the different facets of my identity can now seek out a second point of my triangle and say,
Oh, look at Brandon’s girlfriend. I have a better understanding of who he is based on who she is and how he interacts with Abbie. In the same way, people can say,
Oh, look at Abbie’s boyfriend. I have a better understanding of who she is based on who he is and how she interacts with Brandon. As a result of her introduction into my life, an outsider has a better understanding of the change she and I have both experienced at the hands of a loving Father. Now factor in the third point.
Oh, look at Brandon’s God. I have a better understanding of Brandon based on who God is and how he interacts with God. In the same way, people can say,
Oh look at God, I have a better understanding of who He is based on how He interacts with Brandon.

How insane is it that the Trinity gave us something that is so supremely beautiful and satisfying as healthy relationship with each other in order to better understand him? There is no losing here. There is absolutely no downside to increasing in identity with ourselves and with each other as we increase in identity with Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It’s all relationship. It’s all context. It’s all change. And it’s all rather wonderful.

Neutrality

I took one of those personality tests last week. The ones that successfully contain your entire being into a list of four letters. Then you read the results and go, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s sooooo me.’ It’s difficult to approach those sorts of life-defining tests objectively. Facebook is rampant with them. Which Disney princess are you? Which Lord of the Rings character would you be? (I got Aragorn…obviously.) Which color are you? What beer would you be? Are you O.C.D.? Take this test and find out. We joke about them, but clearly there is precedent for them because they continue to pollute the internet.

The consideration I gave the Myers-Briggs knock off test warrants a deeper look at what we as a culture consider formative to our identities. The test presents a series of hypothetical  statements that you must agree or disagree with. There is a scale from Strongly Agree to Neutral to Strongly Disagree and it is suggested before you begin that you avoid Neutral as much as possible in order to get more conclusive results.

Anyone who has suffered through discussion-based college courses is well-acquainted with the phrase, ‘It depends’. I sat through a year and a half of literature courses. I learned to hate the phrase by the end of the first week. The instructor would ask a divisive question and before anyone could be bothered to percolate on it, some know-it-all would go, “Well, it depends on the situation.” And I would roll my eyes and mentally throw a very large dictionary at their face.

Neutrality is safe. There is no boat-rocking when a neutral statement is made. As a caveat, I recognize that there is wisdom in the phrase ‘it depends’, however much it may irritate. It indicates an empathic consideration of a situation. That’s an admirable quality. And yet the ‘yeah but…’ can impede growth. Some of the scenarios I was given during this personality test demanded a certain amount of recklessness.

“You do not usually initiate conversations.”
“You are usually highly motivated and energetic.”
“You consider yourself more practical than creative.”

There are exceptions to all of these and it’s difficult to justify ignoring those exceptions. I am practical at work. My job demands a certain amount of practicality in order to operate smoothly. I spend a lot of time at work, therefore I spend a lot of time being practical. And yet I participate in poetry slams and unwind by grabbing my guitar and goofing off with it. So my answer really depends on the situation.

But a decisive statement needs to be made in order for me to have definition. And that scares us millennials–so much in some cases that we often refuse to make statements at all and end up existing in cloud of obscurity.

I think a blank canvas is a beautiful thing. It represents inherent potential. Every mark you make on it is a statement. Every line drawn and every word stamped tunnels opportunity into fewer and fewer options until you’re left with one inevitable result. My character rebels against that. When you read what I write, you collect my written thoughts and begin to conclude certain things. You read the first line and say, ‘where is he going with this?’

And you now read this line and say, ‘okay I see where he is going with this.’ I have restricted the personality of this post to one outcome as a result of making a series of statements. The more words I put down, the better understanding you have of its purpose, direction, and its eventual end. The more words I write down, the less opportunity for this post to be a poem or a children’s story.

Who I am as a human fights desperately against that containment. There are realms of my life in which statements have been made, and there has been tangible growth as a result of those statements. But I could have picked something else. I could have chosen differently. What am missing by making this choice? As a result of it, I stay still. Because it’s familiar here. This state of shapelessness is safe. To be seen is to invite scrutiny. And I don’t know if I’m prepared for that.

Satisfaction

I am not good with truth. it’s difficult for me to accept the simplicity of a fact as being what it is. There has to be a reason for it. I think this is a good thing. At least, I’ve convinced myself that this is a good thing. But it leaves a very unsatisfactory taste in the mouth.

I have to know why. I need more.

It’s an odd thing to wrestle with dissatisfaction after having spent so much of my life sequestered in the dark corner of my potential. It’s an odd thing to even consider potential as a twenty-eight year old male with half of a degree and abnormally developed penchant for smart-assery and and badly-timed puns. And yet here I am, at the end of a lambent calendar year, confronted with the task of coming to terms with the direction my life has taken in the last twelve months.

I had a frustrating conversation with one of the elders in my church over the summer about wanting ‘more’. I have been confronted with human limitations and decided that I am not satisfied with the leash I am attached to. And so I asked for a greater capacity; an extra hour per day, an extra twenty in my wallet, an extra gallon in my tank. To realize that even if I were to maximize the use of my time to the nth degree, it still wouldn’t be enough. He asked,

“Enough for what?”

And I can’t answer that. The problem with fast-tracking growth is that it is still far too easy to see what you have changed from. The shell from which you have molted becomes more reprehensible purely because you are still so closely tied to it. And there is a very real human fear there. I don’t want to return to who I was, to how I lived, to what I considered essential. Because none of it applies to who I consider myself to be now.

So I need more: more proof that I can’t go back, more time to show that I deserve what I have been given, more opportunities to return the favor.  And I think this belief is flawed, because it has to be. But it simply doesn’t compute with my current understanding.

“There is nothing you can do.” This is a truth I have been told my entire life and it has seriously deformed my understanding of God’s character. I fundamentally and absolutely disagree with it.

This is truth: “There is nothing you need to do.” And I can’t accept this either, but for different reasons. I feel like a blind man trying to view the breadth and color and wonder of the world by putting my hands on a map. I can’t accept the simple truth that I don’t have to *do* anything to be loved by my Father. I have to know why He does. And the answer is a simple truth. And, full circle, I don’t do well with simple truths.

I have dared God several times in the last year to do certain things in my life. And he has delivered in spades. If you’ve read anything I’ve posted here this year, you’ve seen proof of this. I have dared God again. Because I need the next twelve months to dwarf what I’ve shared with you thus far. Because I believe I have been called to more. Because we were created in the image of God and I believe God is a story-teller. And I just so happen to like telling stories.