A Lesson from the Wilderness

Hollow. Empty. These words best represent a feeling I’ve wrestled with over the past week. It was something I could feel in my chest, but couldn’t easily explain. I didn’t recognize it until I found its opposite for a short time on the road home from Dallas. My mind wandered into a day dream filled with passion and purpose, and for a time I became suffused with energy. It awakened me enough to see the marked difference between my dream and my present day to day life.

Many I know would characterize my days of late as a wilderness. Despite great promise and opportunity, I am consistently met with obstacles and disappointment. Many seeming promises are ever on the horizon, always drawing just near enough that I lift my eyes in hope before I’m met with yet another delay. I admit I may be impatient. I may also be unready despite believing I am ready. However, knowing that does nothing to assuage this feeling of being stuck. I’ve realized that this feeling of being stuck has led me to an poor, old habit. I’ve lost my sense of purpose in the struggle for survival. I’ve mired myself in a pursuit of the means to chase a dream rather than losing myself in pursuing the dream.

How do I know this? Because I was faced with, among other things, a situation that might have forced me to look for another job. I love my job, and I’ve been attempting to work towards a promotion so that the job might actually become a career and give me more freedom to move forward. But when I was confronted with this decision, I knew I wouldn’t really care if I had to go elsewhere. Right now, even this job I love is a means to an end, and my stress was largely as a result of the path in this job appearing to be blocked. I had placed my hope in this job to give me freedom to move and to begin making a home and helping build a community. When I was faced with constant delays and the real possibility that I might not find that hope fulfilled there, it suddenly obscured my purpose. I couldn’t see where I was going anymore. I got lost. That imagery helps me understand a little better what it is to be in the wilderness.

You see, lost in a wilderness without purpose I find that passion is quelled, and when the way forward is mired in obscurity and delay, hope fades. Without passion and hope, it’s easy to forget what led me to the wilderness in the first place. I came to the wilderness because it is part of the journey. Even my time here is not without purpose, and it is part of the path leading to a future destination somewhere on the other side. I hope it is part of the path to realizing my dreams, and realizing the dreams God has for me, but in reality the only one who knows the future is God himself. All I can do is hold fast to purpose, chase my dreams with passion, and cling to hope for the future. All the while, trusting God’s love and his sufficiency to sustain me and bring me through.




A New Wind Home

Friday night I crossed the Mississippi for the first time in a couple years, beginning a drive to Dallas that I have not made in far longer. I felt uneasy. I’ve never been one to worry about the perils of the road. More often than not, it simple doesn’t cross my mind. So why was the start of this journey so different?

A five year old boy who didn’t want me to go.

His concern bled into my thoughts, making me far more aware that any trip bears the risk of being the last. I was a bit surprised just how dark my own thoughts could be, and what fantastic visions my mind could create for an untimely demise. I had a few laughs at the absurd stories I told myself, even as I felt the unexplainable fear that spawned them. A fear that I later realized wasn’t really my own. That realization came as I filled up the tank just west of the river. It was a gift of the wind. The wind that came from nowhere, a note of refreshing chill cutting through the summer heat, a preface of the storms to come, and, for me, a herald of adventure. It’s the wind that always makes me hunger for a journey. It’s the wind that ten years ago, nearly led me to follow a friend into the airport, buy a one way ticket somewhere, and leave everything behind. I love that wind, but as I began my trip I realized that there is also a new wind blowing in my life. It’s the wind that will always lead me home.

Right now, there are people who need me near. One of them is that five year old boy. And, truth be told, I probably need them as much as they need me. It’s nice to discover a new wind blowing. The wind of adventure still blows and it still fills me with excitement as it invites me to wander, but now there is a wind that reminds me I have a place to be, a place called home. One that feels like home because of the people who wait for me there,



Rising on winds of faith

Last night I once again sat in the pews at Second Presbyterian Church. Only a week has past, but I don’t feel the distance as keenly as before. For a while I was home once again. That sense of home came in a scripture reading and the blessed reminder of the Gospel message of Christ. Once again I was enveloped in gracious arms welcoming a broken sinner. Once again I could rest. As I sat with eyes closed, I found myself in the midst of a strange vision.

In it I rose quickly into the air like a leaf blown suddenly by a gust of wind, but as quickly as I had risen I fell only to be tossed about in all directions before being thrown up once again. Does anyone remember the devices used to draw the lottery numbers on live TV? Ping pong balls swim about on gusts of air in an enclosed space. Sometimes they might ride the gust in what appears to be a shaky balance before rocketing off to another place in the chamber. That image is the best description I’ve been able to come up with for what I experienced in that moment. Carried upward to the heights of heaven before plummeting into shaky and violent gusts of hope and distress, anxiety and struggle, joy and pain… in a word – life.

As I sat there contemplating the vision before me I realized the lifting wind is faith. Belief in the finished work of Christ and trust in His declaration of love and salvation. And the church reminds we saints that we are sinners redeemed by grace. Men and women saved not by any work of their own, but by the finished work of Christ. These reminders, like sign posts, point the way to updrafts of faith that we might be lifted up once again.

I know my life will probably always resemble that ping pong ball caught in the winds, at least this side of heaven. Faith is also a moment by moment walk. But maybe one day I’ll walk buoyed by the air of faith as one who walks among the clouds. Until that day I’ll keep looking for those rising gusts to lift me toward the heavens. Thankfully, God’s given me a family here to help show me the way – His Church.



Estranged Son

Last night I had the first opportunity in weeks to attend a church service. I feel a hint of shame even as I speak those words. Walking from the parking lot to the sanctuary, my mind turned to the image of the prodigal son. I wondered. Am I a prodigal myself?

I did not expect the quick response. A sense of peace spread over me and I knew at once that I was not, but I also felt very keenly the distance between me and God. The best way I can think to put it is that I’m a long way from home. As I’ve had more time to think on it, I find myself somewhere between the two sons. No longer purely the elder son of my legalistic church upbringing, but neither am I the rebellious son in a far off land. It might be easier to be one or the other, and at times I’ve hungered for the simplicity of both, but that is not who I am.

Thankfully, I walk away with at least this small bit of comfort. I am His son. Even if I feel the distance between us. Even if I feel estranged from my Heavenly Father. I am His son. He has yet to let me go. Just as the Father of the two sons waited expectantly for His sons, longing for them to know Him and accept His love, so too does He wait for me. In one way, that knowledge is in itself a homecoming of sorts for an estranged son.

I wish I fully understood what the words I’m about to utter mean. I wish I understood exactly what they mean in a practical, applicable way, but I don’t. I only know that it’s time to come home. Home, that is, in knowing my Father. So that, no matter where I go between now and the day I really return Home, I’ll carry home with me.



Living the Story

Question followed question. I interviewed one person after another trying to get to the bottom of the mystery in front of me. Their was nothing left of the witness I had been waiting all day to question but a bloody stain. He’d killed himself, or so the head of the Sanitarium would have me believe. On top of that unwelcome news, the crime scene had been tampered with. Three hours was apparently too long to wait for the authorities in Shadespire. Ominous words directly linked to my investigation stain the wall. Words written in the victim’s blood. Feasible he might do so, he was a crazed fanatic in a ritualistic cult. Feasible, at least until the moment I examined the body. There was no way he could have written those words. They were scribed after he was left hanging like a slab of meat on the twisted bars of his cell door. To add insult to injury, the men here would still have me believe he himself had pulled the bars free dislocating every finger, tearing muscle in shoulder and back in both arms and then thrown himself quite precisely on the upward angled bars, and all in a matter of thirty seconds while the orderlies made their changes. Either something miraculous had occurred or someone was lying. I was far more inclined to believe the latter. So I examined and cross examined. I took every angle I could think of with every witness. I went over the crime scene and examined the body time and again for something I might have missed. Each new little piece giving a more complete picture devoid of any real answers.

What happened here? I had to walk away with the knowledge that I wouldn’t find the answer to that question within the walls of the Sanitarium. So I left, angry and deeply frustrated. Knowing that something nasty was going on and that I was powerless to stop it. At least for now.

Such were the goings on in a Dungeons and Dragons campaign I’m currently playing. As you might guess, I’m an investigator and our Dungeon Master has given us one heck of a mystery. I’ve enjoyed myself deeply, and despite extreme frustration in the midst of Monday night’s events I will still tell you that it’s fun. But now I might add that it’s also educational. I’ve always heard the benefit of role playing. Most of the time in relation to business. This is the first time I feel like I’ve felt the benefits of role playing. By playing the part, I gained a whole new insight into what it would feel like to be a gritty P.I. The joy of discovery and seeing pieces fall into place, and the deep frustration of knowing things don’t add up while being thwarted in every attempt to shed a little more light on the story. And that insight is a gift for my writing. By playing the part I’ve learned things that will add depth and authenticity to a character trying desperately to solve a difficult mystery. I have gained a deeper knowledge of what it feels like. That is an incredibly valuable gift!

Such is my experience living the story. I’m curious if you’ve had a similar one. Anyone care to share?



Art: Living in the Question

U2 has been a long time favorite of mine when it comes to music. There is a raw authenticity to their songs. To me, they exhibit that bare naked honesty I spoke of yesterday, especially when it comes to their faith. That honesty is most striking to me in its unabashed questioning. For example, in the song “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for”, the lyrics make a profound declaration of faith. It says,:“I believe in the Kingdom Come. Then all the colors bleed into one, bleed into one, but yes I’m still running. You broke the bonds and you loosed the chains, carried the cross of my shame. Oh my shame. You know I believe it.” Yet another clear declaration follows that one. “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.”

I remember reading a young man’s question in a forum a few years ago. He was wondering if it was OK to listen to U2. I still remember the response that was given. A man, possibly a pastor given the context, told him it was indeed OK, but he counseled him to be careful. His reasons stemmed from a recognition of the questions in their music. Questions like the one implied in the lyrics I quoted above. Here is a declaration of a gospel faith, believing in Christ and the coming Kingdom of God, but also a yearning for something more. A search for something that goes deeper. Sadly, I’ve known far too many people who are terrified and threatened by that question. For me, I am more than ever before, living in that question. Believing, but at the same time, knowing there must be more, and I want it. That is not always a comfortable place to be, and I can say from experience that is has led me down some paths that would make some “Christians” uncomfortable and cause them to question if my faith is real at all. That doesn’t really bother me all that much. I’ve also wondered if my faith is real on more than one occasion.

The thing is, hiding from these questions won’t make them go away. I think that it’s only in embracing the questions that we can find truth, and sometimes that means living in a mystery. When it comes to God Infinite, there is no way to know and comprehend Him in His fullness. To think we can do so is pure hubris on the part of man. So we struggle and search and hope and trust.

So, what does all this have to do with art? Well, this is the second thought from last week’s meeting. Artists are far more comfortable living in the question. I think that art is often, and maybe should always be, a quest for knowledge. The work itself represents a moment in the journey. For that reason it is sometimes an answer, sometimes a question, and sometimes something much bigger and wholly other. When we try to distill it into being something else or fake it, we lose something in the process. That is an important lesson for me. You see, until recently I’ve felt like my art always had to be the answer. That perfectionist demon I bear within me whispering in my ear that the message must be right. The problem is, I don’t even know the perfect answer, and I probably won’t. How can I share what I don’t know or understand? And, as I sit here writing, I also realize that giving answers is rooted in others. So long as I’m giving answers, I don’t have deal with my own questions, my own struggles, my own reality, my own problems. It’s a rather safe escape, but it’s a shallow art.

So I must learn to be as comfortable creating in the question as I am becoming in living in it. That means sharing the struggle and the journey in the act of creation. We are meant to be a people of community, and it is in sharing the path that we often find, or are given, our answers. But in order to do this, I have to be vulnerable and honest, willing to look a fool if that is what’s required to gain truth. That if I myself do not learn, maybe someone else will gain wisdom from the example. Who knows? Either way, it is important to become able to live in the question, acknowledging the journey in hope of discovering some truth. Artistic creation is part of the journey. I hope to find freedom to be as open with my questions as my answers, even when the answer may be a lifetime in coming.



Art: Bare Naked Honesty

Last week I had the opportunity to sit down with fellow artists. For over two hours we talked about faith, art, and life. I don’t want to go into the details of that conversation right now, but I do want to address the first of a couple thoughts that have clung to me since that evening. We, as artists, need to cultivate what I’m going to call bare naked honesty.

This thought began with a conversation about Christian discipleship. As we talked, it became fairly clear that many of us had developed most as artists under the leadership of atheists and non-Christians. One young man in particular pointed to atheist teachers who challenged his honesty. When they looked at his work, they felt he was not being entirely honest with himself. His work was only skating along the surface. It needed to go deeper. That challenge led to personal development as well as the exploration of anxiety and identity in his sculpture. I had the opportunity to hear his story that night, and to see his beautiful work. Work he had only been able to create because he chose to be vulnerable and honest in sharing his life, his identity and his feelings.

The interesting thing about honesty is that it leaves you vulnerable. You stand exposed. You are naked before others. You are naked before yourself. Rarely have I met an individual who is completely comfortable with that level of vulnerability. But it is that very vulnerable nakedness of identity that allows us to grow and to explore truth, and I believe truth is a key facet of artistic expression. When we are stripped of pretense, when we are stripped of others’ expectations, when we are stripped of our own overly simplistic ideals, we find freedom to ask the questions we are otherwise afraid of broaching. Often art is the visual representation of the question and the journey. Often art is a quest for truth, but truth can only be found where there is complete honesty. Honesty with ourselves and others that stands exposed and open even to opposition and pain. I hope that I can come to stand as courageously as those I met that night. Men and women who are naked before the world, sharing their struggles and their questions in their music, their painting, their sculpture, their art, so that they can find something more. So that they can discover truth, and, for those who share the beliefs I share, in so doing to find God who is by his very nature Truth.

I can only hope that my life and work will also come to be characterized by such bold and bare naked honesty.