Tuesday, August 28, 2012

I shall not die but live and declare the works of the Lord

Last year we received a book called Prayer Passport to Crush Oppression by Dr. Daniel Olukoya. In one section titled "Dismantaling Cancer" there is a prayer, "I shall not die but live to declare the works of God, in Jesus' name." That, my friends, is my plan. Science has said it has nothing left. Food cannot save me. There is no medical miracle yet to try. It is time for us to declare God is the one who gave me life and he is the only one who can declare when it is over. I have been sitting for weeks depressed and angered at this second diagnosis because I am not a man done with life no matter what my body says or what science predicts. There is still work to be done. And, my brother in Christ, Dr. Stephen Sesi, from Kenya, held this same verse, Psalm 118:17 in his heart, "I will not die, but I will live and tell what the LORD has done." Lord, I repent for not taking the authority you have given me. Sitting around, waiting to die felt like a blanket of shame and despair. And, my friends, it was. I have stood up, thrown off this blanket, and, I am not moving into my name's meaning, "Resolute protector". I have allowed the subtle, powerful arguments of science to manipulate my mind into standing next to them in agreement. I will not stand, letting God's power be robbed any longer. Science, you say you have nothing you can do. Well, Lord Jesus Christ, I pray, show forth your power and reveal to the world today, the world under the spell of science and medicine, that you Lord are the Divine Healer. God, you are the giver and taker of life. I had been led to forget and forsake these truths. And, I pray my brothers and sisters will stand with me as we make a stand to see God restore one cursed by science unto death. God, I do not know what you will do or how you will do it, but, I know you are faithful, all-powerful, and, real. Lord Jesus, send your Holy Spirit to unite the hearts and minds of men, women, children and families around the world. Let us declare great works oh God, not that I, Will Steele will be honored, but, that your righteous and holy name shall be shown as great and glorious. If you my brothers and sisters want to stand with us in this journey, we will lift up prayers in coordinated efforts and the unity of the Holy Spirit. Send prayers, words, dreams, visions, and, other divine revelations to will.steele@live.com so that we can have sages, prophets and prayer warriors lift them up to offer them to God that His Will may be done. God, I refuse to accept the words of man. God, I shall stand for nothing short of your words from this day forth. May a line in time be drawn and may the great power of Jesus Christ shine forth as it did in days of old.

Monday, August 27, 2012

What is this blog about?

Taking another step back, I feel it is important to explain why I chose the title of this blog: Faith, Rationality and the Unknown. Early in high school I encountered the first of what would ultimately be many philosophy and theology books that follow a somewhat clever, but, extremely obvious pattern. In philosophy, many folks explore a single concept, or, maybe, two concepts in a book all by themselves. The concept was to take two seemingly unrelated concepts, and, explore the ideas, by themselves, and, then, the relationship of the two ideas to each other. This way, folks could take two major philosophical (or theological) themes, much as composer might, and, write themes, variations, fugues, concertos, etc, on the ideas as if they were symphonic pieces.

Some such title are Being and Time, Being and Nothingness, Being and Event, Totality and Infinity and Hope and History. The whole idea is to take two ideas and study them from every angle you can to exhaust any insight or information you can from them before, theoretically, moving onto some new idea (or ideas). In my case, I decided to shoot for three themes, or, if you do the math, six. So, we have this fundamental set of ideas to explore:

  1. faith
  2. rationality
  3. the unknown
  4. faith and rationality
  5. faith and the unknown
  6. rationality and the unknown
  7. faith, rationality and the unknown
It may sound, dry, boring and dull, but, I look at a list like that and get excited. I see ideas, journeys, explorations yet to be had. With three main themes, and, all their interrelationships, exploring all of the aspects of each concept and its interrelated connections could take years. This blog was meant to be a sounding board as I wrestle with some of the key concepts. I don't have any specific goal in mind. That is to say, there is no central point I am hoping to prove. No key thesis I hope to establish. This is not an academic exercise. It's the mental wanderings of a dying man. Many of the real world struggles I have to process in order to deal with my own death fall very easily under the umbrellas of any of these topics. Hopefully, as I process these various topics I provide a framework for others to deal with other issues in a meaningful way. Perhaps, if nothing else, my musings can serve as the ground work for some new tools meant to work with complex, if not, impossible tasks. I know sometime the unlikeliest of work can lead to new research later.  Although it is a bit ambitious, I hope, in the back of my mind, these writings can truly serve others by giving the ideas, discussions, logical approaches to topic not yet covered, at least, not in this method.

So, when I ask myself, "What is this blog about?" my answer is, "this blog is a place for consideration of the strengths and weaknesses of faith, rationality and the unknown, as central ideas in grappling with mortality and being." In reality, that is, back here on earth, away from the ivory tower, I use these ideals try and, as one philosopher said of what philosophy is all about, make sense of things. In this case, I am trying to make sense of what seems to be my fate: death resulting from incurable cancer. As a Christian who exercised, followed the law, didn't abuse my body and actively put Christ first, I find my situation absolutely mystifying. Basic, obvious questions are the foundation of my search for truth. Why, God, are you allowing this to happen? What good could possibly come from this? In short, that is the essence of what the blog is about. I could go on, but, I think have addressed the main question and will save up the rest of my ideas for other posts.

A little context to the story

I feel as if I have set an unfair standard for anyone reading my blog. Most folks know me a bit, but, don't really know my background, so, I thought it would only be fair to put a little of my background to help contextualize my ideas and ramblings. Although undergrad degrees don't necessarily mean anything, in my case it does help tell some of the story. When I was in 7th grade I started reading, and, reading heavily. I began reading Kierkegaard, Kant, and, Nietschze. Now, to be fair, I was reading them. Not understanding. But, even though I was too young and too underdeveloped intellectually to get what these great minds were talking about and dealing with I kept at it. Ultimately, I branched into math, literature, religion and art. Nonetheless, most of what I read really escaped me.

When I got into college I started focusing on math, but, ended upon passing through literature as a major, then, finally settled on Religion and Philosophy with a minor in English. In my case, the degrees really were just pieces of paper. What ideas I was exposed to is what really mattered. I really enjoying wrestling with heavy ideas, tracing complex relationships, and, writing about it. Granted, that was 15 years ago, but, even though the topics are much closer to home, and, the conclusions really involve life and death, my draw to these sorts of questions still is strong.

So, I want people to understand, when I write these blog posts, part of it is real, unfiltered thought, where I am exploring the connections between my feelings, and, questions that arise. At the same time, my philosophy background kicks in when I wrestle with this stuff. I still sort it, parse and organize. That is, I do all the routine mental tasks to create a well-structured, thought out answer to the question. Systematic thinking and well-organized approaches to try and find truth. I think of it as a doctor preparing for surgery. Are all my surgical tools present? Check? Am I scrubbed in? Are my nurses present? There are steps to be taken, even in my own mental ramblings, just because of my make up. After reading a 1,000 books along those lines, I have gotten used to doing things a certain way. And, it's important people are aware of this as they read my posts.

I don't know where things are going, but, as I strive for answers I try to use the best approaches I can. Exactly what I hope to find? I don't know. Heck, in all of this, there is a lot I don't know. That's one of the key points of the blog: faith, rationality, and, the unknown. In this case, there are so many unknowns, it's virtually impossible to determine how many are in play here. The key is that in so many of my explorations focus, whether directly or circumstantially, the unknown is always somewhere in the discussion. It's in the form of death, or hypotheticals, or, concepts with too many questions to answer. As I write, there will be ups and down, uncertainties, but, the constants will be, as the blog is titled: 1) faith 2) rationality and 3) the unknown. Hopefully I will be able to share something that helps others, and, this post will give some framework with which to make sense of my posts. If nothing else, it may help explain why I focus so much on the "big questions".

While I recognize, as a basic assumption of this blog, there are some questions that cannot be answered, I still think wrestling with the ideas can be meaningful. If nothing else, it can spur on new discussion and lead to new connections between ideas. But, I have to be honest: I know there are questions that will not be answerable, will not make sense, and, will not build faith. Hopefully, if I run into questions like this, I can be upfront and tell folks when my wrestling with a question is more to help give some background or to put some context to another set of ideas. So, if you see something that is completely absurd, please give me a chance to resolve it from place of tension in the melody of ideas. In the end, my conclusions are what will matter, not my starting points or the paths by which I reach my endpoints.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Real Theology

A few years ago, some time after I had been diagnosed, I found myself pondering what real faith and theology were. I confess, theology, and, my real passion, philosophy, sound, at best, like guilty pleasures for brainy believers. No matter what anyone said, I have never been able to rationalize theology and philosophy as spiritual callings. I am sure hundreds of thousands, if not more, would argue with me. But, to those that may feel insulted by claim theology is not a spiritual calling, I simply ask, hear me out. When a pastor walks out his or her calling, they directly impact the lives of others. They cry with others, pray with them, console broken hearts and restore broken souls to faith. Evangelists use words and lives to convince people how significant and meaningful their faith happened to be. They are working in the fields, harvesting, sowing, reaping and transforming lives. Again, true evangelists impact the world so clearly and effectively, it is impossible to ignore their lives' work.

I could go on, listing calling by calling, discipline by discipline and show real world, positive impacts of each of the major gifts. And, then, there are the rest of us. I sit on the sidelines, sort of a spiritual bench sitter, watching the main players. Friends I have had for years, profoundly change the lives. A dear friend of mine, Christen, is now an excellent colo-rectal surgeon. He saves lives every day in his normal, day job. Yet, I believe, if God gave him the freedom to do so, he would walk away from surgery to be a missionary and evagelist. In fact, he was the man who led me to Christ. Even as a teenager, his gifts were impacting the lives of others. And, I a wall flower, sat back, longing to put my gifts into play. Others I have known for years also used their gifts. The main idea is out of Ephesians where Paul talks about the church body buying build up by those with gifts using them to edify each other and lift up Christ.

For years, I have felt useless as a Christian. At one point I began searching for my place in the universe outside of the Church. Even after a lot of exploration I didn't really find my place. It was not until right before I came back to Christianity that I stumbled onto some new age areas. Needless to say I explored things I probably shouldn't have. In the end though, I found some things in the Church that resonated with me. I had, after a lifetime of searching, found what God created me. Well, I thought I had. As it turned out, not only was I wrong, it began a series of disappointments with God that I am still reeling from. I had, though long experience I won't go into here, the believe my life was set aside by God to become a "spiritual ecologist". For 15 years I searched, explored, prayed, read, sought and hoped to begin realizing what this meant. When I began my work as an ecologist I would be moving into what God had created me for.

Only one problem: incurable cancer. Or, to be more precise, two incurable cancers. The ideas that has sustained me through the hardness of Texas, the barrenness of ideas and relationships I longed to have brought from my imagination into reality, the hope to see God. And yet, what I found: disease. Medical misdiagnoses. Sickness. Pain. Alienation. Loss of hope. Meaninglessness. Death. And, despair. God, I clearly missed the mark if this is what you made me for. I used to see theology as an amazing field. A strategic place where the minds of men and women could seek God and interact with the world to defend the minds and souls of people by fending off theological attacks in the guise of cultural wars, pop culture, media driven onslaughts, and, explaining the plans of the enemy. In short, it was a way to unveil the attacks against the church to provide a way for the church to defend itself.

Yet, what am I to do when the one thing I saw as a redeeming grace, a place where I could still have a mind and be a Christian--that is explore ideas though thelogy--, fails to be able to address my own very, personal attack. I turn to theology, I turn to Christ, and, I turn to God in hope the miraculous power that raised Christ from the dead, that supported the 12 disciples in their early days, and, the same power the testified to the world the God is alive and his son, Christ, is the Messiah. And, I sit, waiting, unanswered, silently, patiently, waiting. Indeed, prayer, when it is a matter of patience, requires a transformation. Many prayers are uttered and their being answered (or not being answered) relates to issues that can be seen as having been answered quickly and easily. When I prayed for healing, I though it was a trivial tasks for God. After 6 months post-surgery I waited on God a lot. I had stood, believing God would heal me and I would be able to stand before my oncologists praising God because God irradicated his need. And, yet, I was wrong in those prayers. Those surgeons, not a miracle where surgery was not required answered my prayer. Well, that was a major blow to my theology, but, I thanked God nonetheless. I was still alive.

Now, we stand at a different crossroads. Science, in all its power and glory, has his a glass ceiling. No more miracles, no more hard, but, effective therapies. In short, the doctors are crying uncle with the admission of their limitations, "We are sorry, there is nothing left for us to do." All right, now, that is an entirely different matter of faith. In the past it was a question of "God, give me the strength to fight this battle no matter how difficult." Now, it is a very dark, much more sober struggle which may lead to utterances like, "God, I don't even know how to love you any more. You may not have done this but you certainly aren't using any of your infinite power, wisdom, and, love, to help me grapple with this. So, in the face of all this, I have stopped, done the proverbial clearing of the desk in my mind. I'm starting, as it were, with a blank slate.

In the midst of pursing truth, of trying to find answers, we often lose sight of the thing we are after. An initial question, partially answered, brings with it its own questions. Sometimes these secondary questions become a study in and of themselves. A few more rabbit trails and complications, and, suddenly, you really have no grip with the original question and any semblance of what you were originally trying to understanding is long gone. In my case, I feel my waters are pretty muddy, so, my hope here is to clear my mind, refocus, and, see anew what I really am working with. Perhaps, in that sort of mental and spiritual reset, I can find real answers, solid insights and glimpses of truth that I once sought, but, in the madness of the pursuit, lost track of.

To put a clear line under the question before me: "What good will there be in my death?" Rephrased another way, "Why am I dying?" In all honesty, I have moved past the first round of questions, "Am I dying?", "Will I get better?" and "How can I keep my faith through this trial?" Many of these questions have been answered, at least in part, but, my main assumptions are: 1) I am dying 2) I don't see any meaning and 3) I don't know how to keep my faith in tact through this process. In many ways, I think my theology is very simple. Jesus is the Son of God, and, we, his adopted brothers and sisters. He himself said many great things would be done in his name, including healings, miracles, and, prophecies. I do not see much of this in the church or the world today, but, in spite of our sinful times, God is timeless and his promises still stand. Longing to see him move in the ways he used to I have held onto a antiquated, idealistic vision of who God is and how he reveals himself to the world. Sadly, my beliefs have done little more than fill me with despair and hardness of heart. God, how could that be you?

My hope, to create real theology, is to find God again. To throw away the dead, useless ideas that I have amassed over the years and connect, if it's even possible, with the God of the universe. The Father, my brother, Jesus, and, their spirit. Relics, artifacts, momentos, reminders all, of those special moments we had, a unique experience, a touch from God or the Spirit. Once their power wears off, they are just trinkets. In many ways, our ideas are much the same. Truths from an age, generations ago, which once held power, but, now, are just historical in nature. God, I am hoping you will talk to me, you will give me a real touch, and, a reason to pick up a new stone as a new momento to store away for a day when we need to recall God's closeness, a hope to recall who he was in that rare, precious moment.

Some years ago I made the connection with a verse saying, "Jesus is the way, the truth, and, the life." Simple. Straightforward. But, what I realized was anything but obvious. If Jesus is the truth, and, we seek to "know the truth and be set free", it is Jesus through whom we find truth and through whom we find freedom. In my case, I am trying to find truth, to find real answers to my questions, about my suffering, about my pending death. And, now, I have this exercise, to find the truth about my fate. To discern what God wants to do with me and my so-called life. In fact, this is a question I have been pursuing for a long time. Right now, I am trying to figure out what sort of meaning my death could have for the kingdom of God.

Kerri and I talked about it. I kept hovering around these ideas, these questions, and, she said maybe I need to focus on the last days of Jesus life. The garden of Gethsemane. Jesus had to, in his natural self, be feeling much like me, "God, there must be another way." I stand here, this way, lost in confusion, unaware of what to do, how to try and get through this with my faith in tact. Lately, I feel like so much has been lost already. My faith has been dissolved, bit by bit, and, what I have left is desperation. Hardly a noble point from which to start a theological pursuit, but, an honest one. And, I think honesty, truth, realness, those are the things I must gauge off of. Paired with the fruit of the spirit, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, etc, etc, truth and realness may be the only ways I can find some sort of answer, a response from God.

It is my prayer, Lord, that you create in me a pure mind, a new vision and perspective on truth, on you, that will allow me to begin hearing you, knowing your ways, and, understanding what impact my life, and, through this path you have led me on, my death will have on the lives of others. I pray, Lord, that I am not giving up, and, what hope I may have, would be rekindled, to what end, Lord, only you know. But, God, I do not want to die and I pray, you Holy Spirit, would take what little strength and energy I have and put them towards whatever chances I may have. May my pain, my suffering, and, my desperate longing for the real God of the universe help me get  back to a place where I can clearly see, know, and, realize you are good. You are faithful. You are taking this horrific life and somehow using it for good. At this point in time, I can't see what its for, but, maybe, like the servant in the desert, you will open my eyes and let me see what is really going on. At that point, I would be content to say I have done some real theology.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Hospice, seriously?

There no word to describe how surreal it is for me to say I am now on hospice. Honestly, I find how bizarre it is to be more comical than overwhelming. When I stop to think, I am somewhere between weeks and months away from dying, it seems hard to believe.  But, when I stop and look, I sincerely can't, don't and don't know how to believe I am dying. Yes, I recognize I am sick. My labs are bad. I am tired, much worse, and, much more regularly than I was. And, I see the obvious signs. Horrible petechiae, extreme bruising, weakness, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. It is clear, my body is failing. Yet, my mind spins at how insane all this is. I don't sleep much, so, my mind is not as sharp as it normally is, but, I don't feel like a man dying, body weakening to the point of ceasing. I have so much I still want to do, things I have a hard time pretending like I won't be able to see through. And, yet, the realist in me tries to rise up and tell the dreamer, stop hoping, stop dreaming, stop looking to the future. It is not there. In fact, you are on borrowed time as it is.

It is here, in the midst of such conversations with myself that I stop and wonder, "Is this satan?" "Would God allow me to live a life, and, succumb to a death, like this?" "Who am I in the midst of a failed battle with cancer?" On the one hand I look at my kids, days away from starting a new school year. Exciting at the prospect of a new year, new teachers, and, unknown experiences yet to be had. And, then, back on the other, myself being absent, a void in the shadow of this life that once was, a life that should have been. Who really thinks their life will be cut short? And, more over, who gets to watch it crash to a halt with full awareness, and, a total lack of power to stop it? Such a horrible fate God laid out for me. I am no longer able to stand and pretend like I can praise God for my life at this point. Even if he didn't cause this, he allowed it to happen. He allowed my children to lose their father. He allowed my wife to lose her love and the man with whom she envisioned herself growing old, and, struggling through adolescence, college, marriage, grandchildren, and, when it was all said and done, time left to ourselves.

No. God has not blessed me with that fate. If he has blessed you with that fate, stop, now. Find your wife or husband and tell them you love them. Go hug your children and tell them how much they mean to you. For me. I cannot do this and it is such a simple joy in life. But, I sit here, as if painfully ashamed to have paid money to go see a movie I knew in my heart couldn't really be as bad as the ads made it out to be. And, yet, it is unraveling, day by day, loss by loss and disappointment by disappointment, into a tattered fray, a broken shadow of the well-lit, dream of a life I once lived. No one I know can even pretend to come up with an answer as to why. All the oracles in my life, who proclaim God in the worst of times, have gone silent. And here I sit. Alone. Waiting for death. Unsure how it will finally visit me. Will I be awake? Asleep? How shall it finally end? Right now, I see no great moment coming. No famous last words. Just one moment I am here. And, the next, I am not.

I have given up hope for powerful stories. For exciting testimonials. The disappointment I have had with God has grown so replete in the past months I don't even know where to begin looking for hope. My life is coming to an end. No matter how many time I say it, it still sounds ludicrous. Liam, when we told them the other day I would more than likely not be getting better, asked for a piece of paper, grabbed a marker, and, asked how to write, "I know daddy is dying." Talk about heart breaking. He was trying to wrestle with what it meant to say that, to write that, to see it real, and, coming from his own hands. I never imagined someone, five years old, stopping and trying to find out how real his father's words were. I never stopped him to tell him it was a joke, a horrible joke, or, he was wrong. There was no correction to what he heard, and, what he was writing. I can imagine, being that boy, writing that, and, realizing, how horrible it was to realize, "My dad is dying." God, you want me to praise you and love you? Yet, you make me do something like that to my own flesh and blood? How can I do anything but hate you.

Am I a horrible Christian? Probably. Am I sick of God's "love"? At this point? Yes. I don't know how I am supposed to justify the position I find myself in and what I am expected to do. You know, in the Bible, we praise people who basically take insane positions. Abraham was praised for his faithfulness, and, yet, God asked him to kill his son. Were it not God asking him to do this, we would have put him in prison, and, probably called him insane. Jesus himself, allowed himself to be crucified at the hands of brutal heathens and sinner. Yet, we praise this as the most noble of all acts. So, if we take Biblical history as the grounds by which I should just my potential responses, insanity seems to be the basis by which I should make my decisions. And, yet, considering what I face, that seems par for the course. Me, a perfectly healthy 33 year old man comes down with not one but two types of rare cancer, a second one so rare no one knows what it is, and, as the Bible would have it, I should be screaming with joy at the position I find myself in.

I just don't know how to do it. Frailty. A will to live. Normalcy. Lack of faith. Hundreds of labels seem to be viable for application here, but, I just want to have the life I thought was mine. A loving wife. Three great kids. A job I liked. And, a life through which I could reach out to share God's love. I don't ask for a lot, but, apparently, asking for this was too much. God seems discontent to give me this. He asked for more. He asked for my life. And, when I look, I don't know what I am supposed to see as being given in return. Oh, wait, God is not obligated to give anything. He is not expected to have to explain himself. We just suffer his love and thank him for it. No questions asked. No regrets. No sorrows. From where I sit, nearing death, I don't know how, at my young age, to reason through the set of predicaments that lie before me. If anyone else can see the meaning in this misery, please, share your vision of God's goodness. For I am blind and lost and Jesus has not yet found me. In case you need directions, I am right here God. Right where I was when you left me two and a half years ago...hoping you'll come back as my father and tell me, "No son, you heard me wrong, you are not dying." How I would love to share THAT moment with my family. "No son, you heard me wrong.  You will live!" Lord, is that really too much to ask?

Saturday, August 11, 2012

I hear God's word in the unlikeliest of places

Secular music has always spoken to me more than church music. Maybe the way I'm wired, or, my sin nature, but, I hear meaning is thick, heavy waves when I listen to songs outside the church in a way that I don't often get inside the church doors. A few weeks ago I as going to work and I hear a Mumford and Sons song, The Cave, playing on the radio. Now, I had heard this song may be 50 times, so, it was hardly an issue of newness, but, something washed over me when I listened to it this time. God gave me some insight into the song, and, from there, myself, the church, and, human nature in general. The song, which you can listen to below

the lyrics, particularly the ones that kicked of this stream of thoughts, are, right here,

It's empty in the valley of your heart
The sun, it rises slowly as you walk
Away from all the fears
And all the faults you've left behind

The harvest left no food for you to eat
You cannibal, you meat-eater, you see
But I have seen the same
I know the shame in your defeat
You can refer to the entire song's lyrics, though I suspect a few of them are wrong, at this link: http://www.lyricsmania.com/the_cave_lyrics_mumford_and_sons.html.

Now, I don't want to perform a full-blown spiritual post mortem on what happened, but, I think going through the lyrics, and, sharing my thoughts will help shed some light on why it impacted me so much. If people think musicians outside the church are not wrestling with spiritual truth it may help to know that the song drew its inspiration from GK Chesterton's biography of St. Francis of Assisi, Chapter V. The last two lines of the second verse were what really grabbed my attention. As I hear these lyrics, I envision a man, looking at another, recognizing and understanding the lengths to which desperation will draw them. But, more importantly, I heard, and, connected with, the idea that one who succumbs to taking desperate measures in dire straits. And, from this willingness comes a shame born from the loss of pride and incomprehensible depths to which the will to survive will draw us.

From this thought I saw many related notions branch out, a brief, flicker of connected, brightly lit ideas. In life today, in all of life, people find themselves torn between an overriding sense to take action. In the lyrics we see this depicted by one who would normally rely on a harvest, "The harvest left no food for you to eat", being forced to eat the flesh of men to survive--"You cannibal, you meat-eater". Such a transformation, from one who thrives on the bounty of nature to survival coming from the horrific, the inhuman, acts of cannibalism. This simple picture encapsulates a great image of mankind, a grand creature depraved by necessity to a state no different from that of a beast. In such a case, one would feel defeat, one would feel lost, one would feel deprived of their very humanity. Indeed, one would forever live with a sense of shame. That shame and sense of defeatedness stems from our very nature. It is this willingness to do whatever one must to survive which leads to the shame seen between souls. 

In today's world, I see everyone living with some similar weight. From children to the oldest of our societies, we hang our heads, defeated by our own survival instincts and necessity. It is this shame that we must contend with on a constant basis. In fact, I think it is one of many spiritual conditions common to all of man. We, as Christians, war with shame, as well as guilt and fear, simply by virtue of being alive. This is one of the most common wars we fight, every moment of every day. The little wars we wage with others, and, at times, with ourselves, are efforts to alleviate this sense of shame, or, if we have a rare moment of blessing, to escape its haunting presence. Much of our actions are focused, whether we realize it or not, on trying to recover lost innocence, on trying to neutralize shame, on, in a way, trying to escape the human condition. Many of our passions are really coping mechanisms. Ways to try to kill this immortal sense of defeat.

When we fight with others, we struggle, in tiny ways, whether to race to be first to the red light, or, to overpower another in argument...to silence a challenger. These are all moments when we are given the choice, "Do you want to regain your pride?" We see others as threats, either having taken in the past, taking now in the present, or, foreseeing in the future, one steal more of our life. In a way, when people force us to act, we perceive their actions as threats to our pursuit for shamelessness. In James, Jesus' brother says this, "1-2Where do you think all these appalling wars and quarrels come from? Do you think they just happen? Think again. They come about because you want your own way, and fight for it deep inside yourselves. You lust for what you don't have and are willing to kill to get it. You want what isn't yours and will risk violence to get your hands on it.  2-3You wouldn't think of just asking God for it, would you? And why not? Because you know you'd be asking for what you have no right to. You're spoiled children, each wanting your own way." I never understood what this was really about, but, after seeing the human condition of shame I now recognize much of our lives are spent running from it. Looking for opportunities redeem ourselves from who we are.

That is it: we are trying to redeem ourselves from who we are. But, this is impossible. We are who we are. Not to spout the obvious or find meaning in tautologies, but, it is a fundamental struggle people face. We want to be who and what we are not. Our actions are largely driven by the desire to overcome necessity and escape ourselves. If you could get people to honestly answer you, how much of their behavior would really be an effort to become or feel like they someone else? Drugs. Exercise. Workaholism. Relgion. Sex. Food. Most of the problems that plague people grow from their efforts to escape, to have an ecstatic moment where they truly realize what it is like to not be who you are. Many pursue God because his redemption converts, transforms and eradicates who we were by nature and replaces it with who we are in God's Kingdom. 

Another song which captures tiny glimpses of this imagery, of a person at war with themselves and those representing the lost self, that part we need restored, is John Mayer's Say What You Need to Say. You can read the full lyrics for this song here, http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/johnmayer/say.html, and, hear it by playing the video below.

The lyrics that grabbed my attention here, again, were early in the song. Mayer sings,
Take all of your wasted honor
Every little past frustration
Take all of your so-called problems,
Better put 'em in quotations

Walking like a one man army
Fighting with the shadows in your head
Living out the same old moment
Knowing you'd be better off instead,
If you could only . . .
Here I see phrases, "wasted honor" and "one man army/fighting with the shadows in your head/Living out the same old moment/Knowing you'd be better off instead". The same theme, captured here in poetic phrasing, touches on a very real phenomenon all people face. Woundedness. Lost honor. Glory stolen. One man armies. Wars against our minds. All of these things depict the mental and spiritual battles we face all day, every day. How often have you put someone down for no good reason, but, merely as a way to make yourself feel better. You have stolen another's glory and honor for yourself to get a hit, a little bump, just like a junkie, to get you by for a little while. You know that pain, that shame, that guilt, tearing at your soul will come back, slowly, predictably, and, it is you. The memory of moments of weakness, of defeat, of powerlessness ushered in by necessity. There are times in life when you cannot win. There are times in life of which you cannot be proud. These are part of who we are, but, in our world today, the unspoken dilemma presented, picture by picture, subtly crafted into our worldview, is that we must be more than humans. We must be better than perfect. We must be supernatural.

We are assaulted by these impossible tasks endlessly. And, most people don't even realize it. Our lives are an eternal response to impossible challenges, and, most of us never stop long enough to realize there is a way out. There is an escape that allows you to be human and live with your humanity. It is the way of love. In the first song, after we are painted a picture of the defeated man, we see the hero, one no longer controlled by shame saying in radical fashion,
But I will hold on hope
And I won't let you choke
On the noose around your neck
And I'll find strength in pain
And I will change my ways
I'll know my name as it's called again

Cause I have other things to fill my time
You take what is yours and I'll take mine
Now let me at the truth
Which will refresh my broken mind
These positions, stand contrary to the image of our first, defeated, fallen soul.  But is the cry of contradiction, the stand against a willful submission to one's lost nature. He is vowing to hope, be strong, restore himself and refresh his broken mind. Brokenness is an eternal challenge which we must answer for as a part of the human condition. Injustice, pain, suffering, and, misery are as natural as life itself. However, our response to them can be one of admission and acceptance or one, as we see in the lyrical counterpoint, one of rejection and, in my mind, of a supernatural choice to not let the human condition chain one's soul. Life shall always seek to overcome you. The universe is bent towards entropy, destruction, loss and pain. Live long enough and you will see this truth. However, we, as humans, are aware of something else, something, even though it may not be seen, greater, equally as eternal, to which we, in our minds, must cling to be more than beasts. If we live, letting nature be our Lord, despair and meaninglessness are but the natural, obvious outcomes. However, if you choose to place hope in something above, something unnatural, something, potentially supernatural, our fate is determined by our hope, not our lives. Our lives are, then, but, a testimony to our hope, a messenger of redemption found beyond necessity. For necessity is but what is required for all to be as it is.

I urge people to not waste any more of their honor on waging war against yourself. Quit letting nature, in the form of defeat, insult, and, offense, constrain you to this broken world. Reach up for something higher, the next level, the place we cannot see until we get there. Shame and fear and guilt seek to not just represent your defeatedness, but, at every turn, steal your life, your honor, and the glory God has placed within you to give away as love. Do not misuse that resource trying to make up for what you can never regain. Quit seeking restoration for meaningless offenses. By no means should be we let injustice prevail and I pray that we beg God for his presence to represent the good, just nature that is his own in, to, and through our lives. However, we are all defeated. It is whether we choose to remain that way. Allow God to overcome who you are with who Jesus is. For he is the one who can show us how to stand when we are broken, to hope when all is lost, and, to believe when nothing deserves it. I hear God speaking to me in my defeat, my loss, and, my despair and I hope others can as well. For, it is not in the loss we find God, but, in recognizing that what we lost was never ours in the first place. Stop holding onto things to which you have no right and defeat will lose its power very quickly. Listen in the dark places of your life and see if God is speaking to you and come out of your cave too!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

How honest is honest?

One of the platitudes I am tired of hearing these days from people is that "God could do the impossible." Yes, I know God could do the impossible. I have read my Bible, studied religion, philosophy, and, theology for decades, and, probably thought about these things a lot more than most people. To say "God can do anything" is just an insult to my intelligence. The question is, have you really thought about God's miracles? I am not trying to sound mean-spirited, callous, or, jaded. I just want people to stop and reflect on what they say before they say it.

You know, if you run the numbers, Jesus probably literally saw at least 100,000 people during his ministry, not to mention during his lifetime. And, yet, if we look at Scripture, how many instances do we have of Jesus, the son of God, healing people? A couple of dozen? Sure, there are events, healing, miracles, and, the like that were not recorded, so, it is a bit of a flawed statistic to cite. Of the 100,000 people Jesus saw in his life, let's say he healed 5,000. So, that's 5% of his face-to-face interaction. Let's complicate the situation, and, put Jesus in heaven and turn over this set of jobs to the Holy Spirit and the church. Now, we see less healings and less miracles.

To further complicate the situation, we, as people thousands of years and dozens of generations, handful of languages, and, cultures away form truly knowing what happened, have to rely on scripture and the Holy Spirit. Most people today lack the zeal, love and faith Jesus and the apostles had. Furthermore, our world today is essentially a sin-filled, unholy, anti-spiritual age. So, when people want to tell me, "God can do anything," I hear a statement which, on the surface, is true, but, if you reflect on the truth, it belies people who just don't get God anymore. Jesus himself said God would reject people who did miracles in Jesus' name but did not know God the Father. In your life, you, the person reading this blog, how many people do you personally know who truly and really would qualify as one likely to be a vessel through whom God performs such an action? Me, I have met maybe 5 in my life time.

There are lots of pretenders, posers, wannabs--heck I am a wannabe--and lots of never were's. With this in mind, I hear people tell me, "You never know, God could heal you right now." I stop, look back at my life, reflect on my sins, think of the lifeless faith I have, and, stare at the man in the mirror fully aware of a man who does not know anyone who really could serve God in this capacity. Top it off with the fact that I am the least worthy of such people, and, I see a recipe for disappointment, despair, and, lost faith. Yes, God will heal, but, it is on His terms and His conditions. I know, in honest reflection, I have not sought Him enough to even be worthy of asking.

Now, here's where the literate Bible person chimes in with the "grace" theme. And, that too is something I am well aware of. None of us deserve to be healed. Yeah, I got it. It's not by my works that I am saved. But, stop for a second, and, listen to that message, "it's not by my works that I am saved." Salvation is a free, unmerited gift from God. But, miracles, the Bible says nothing to that effect. In fact, faith is a key element of the miraculous. Either one performing the miracle, one receiving the miracle, or the body surrounding the one in need of healing have a measure of faith. Jesus himself made it clear, faith is needed. Miracles don't just happen the same way that salvation does. Can it? Sure. But, is that the design as shown to us in the Bible? Not really.

The miraculous, as it existed in the Old Testament, really spoke not to the supernatural. No. That word, and the concept that it goes with, didn't come around until the nineteenth century. The church has to get the idea that miracles are automatically supernatural out of its collective head. Back then, miracles represented a "great work of God". Sometimes it was a healing. Other times, it was a victory for the nation of Israel. And, yet, at other times, it was the fulfillment of a prophetic scripture. But, to be honest with ourselves, we have to get past this concept of miracles as supernatural intervention on God's part.

Now, back to my story. God could heal me. Yes, I get it. The question, then, becomes, how will my healing be a "great work of God"? If I get healed, but, God never receives praise, the loving kindness of God goes unrecognized and His name is slandered through our unwillingness to lift up his holy name. So, when people tell me God performs miracles all the time and He could heal me anytime, it does not bring me comfort or joy at the possibility, but, rather, it fills me with contempt and despair. Of all the hope I have had, the things I have done, the prayers prayed over me, and, the desperate pleas I have laid at His altar, to use all that flowery talk, and, I stand alone, diseased, faced with the near-certainty God will no save me and healing will never, for me, be anything more than a fantastic concept. How am I supposed to find solace in a salt-laden, burning wound?

I am not trying to slander God. I am, rather, trying to get people to not use His name in vain and speak foolishly of the great works he has performed. There have been over 14 billion people to have lived on the face of this planet? I am just another face. If you look at Scripture and really study to see how much God intervened for His people, you will find less reason to believe a miracle will be set aside for you, and, more opportunities to choose, if you so desire, to become despondent, bitter, faithless, and, lost. Do I want to live? Absolutely? Do I want to praise God for His saving me? There little I would like less.

In the face of reality, I have to be honest, as Jesus told us to live in truth, and, admit to myself, "God will probably not heal me." So, if you feel compelled to try and warm my soul with the reminder God can heal, please, do not. It merely serves to weaken my faith and give the bitter roots of anger against God an opportunity to dig further into my soul. Indeed, vain hopes are very much like the cancer rotting my bones. I seek nothing but truth, love and Christ. Ask God if He is going to heal me before you tell me He can, otherwise, you good intentions, when not prompted by the Holy Spirit, breed lies and I vehemently refuse to believe lies.

Is this to say, "Don't talk to me about God?" Absolutely not. I love talking about God. But, if you are going to talk to me about Him, have enough presence of mind to consult Him before you just say "the right thing". Sometimes "the right thing", that is, something that sounds pleasant, but, is untrue, hurts more than it helps. I would rather you sit with me in the depths of despair and be real about that than try to prop me up with things God neither ordained nor authored. If you are unsure of what God wants you to do, the best thing is to do, as they saying says, ask yourself, "What would Jesus do?" If you don't know, go spend some time with Him and find out. It is in the presence of people who live in truth, ugly, painful, real truth, that I find joy. I am unable to idly pretend that meaningless niceties do anything but enrage me. Be honest and in me you shall find a friend.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

A dark lense

Tuesday we learned that the cancer spreading throughout my bone marrow is more than likely a mutated form of DSRCT. While I would like to say I was suprised by the news, the truth is, I am not surprised. I had very little reaction as a matter of fact. Looking across the facets of my life I see that lack of response, that numbness to be a characteristic trait of weary soul these days. On the physical plane I find myself more and more exhausted each and every day. I drink two to four Mountain Dews a day struggling to find some jolt of energy, hoping, with each sip, to activate some deep resevoir of energy. And, with each sip I am reminded that the well is dry. Time is running out. And, I am, without a miracle, dying. This is the first time I have actually written those words. As I did, I sighed. Not because it was the first time I admitted this to myself. I have been talking about it, planning, coordinating, and, thinking through what all needs to be done so, when I am gone, my family is taken care of as well as I was able to before I passed.

What makes this so surreal is the lack of shock. The lack of overwhelming fear. I was afraid at first, afraid the cancer would come back and put me in so much pain, in such embarassing ways, in so many horrible states of mind and being, that, I would dread every second. Yet, as it is turning out, I feel that life is just slowly seeping out of my body. I have pain, but, it is no worse than it has been off and on the past few years. Energy, however, seems to be what I bleed. At work, I sit there, drowing under waves of fatigue, staring mindlessly at a screen blurred by sleep-deprived eyes. When I walk, my  knees ache, a deep, endless ache that stabs me in the depths of my bones and musles. As I try to write, read, or, talk with the kids, I will find myself neither asleep nor awake, but, somewhere in between, trying to reserve some little bit of what I have left for a later time. And, yet, they continue to slip away.

For the first time, I am beginning to realize that it may not be an infection or uncontrollable bleeding that kills me. Rather, a plain and simple lack of energy. There are days where I open my eyes and I cannot tell whether I am awake or asleep. In the middle of the night, I may go the bathroom and I find myself leaning against a wall too afraid to walk for fear of possibly falling down and breaking something because I had a brief episode of narcolepsy. I have prayed that God would heal me, that he would restore me, but, even those deep, desparate prayers are slowly ceasing. No force remains to give me the drive to push through every day. Resistance and power are gone. Distant memeories. Literally, as I write, I have to stop, close my eyes, and, take deep breathes, hoping to not fall asleep and hit my head. Transfusions may help, but, they get closer, more frequent, and, seemingly, less effective. I am close enough to sense that my end may not be anything dramatic. It will just be that moment when I stop for a moment never to start up again, with my eyes closed, never to open. This is dark. There is no poetry, beauty or justice in this road. Only loss, despair, darkness and the slow series of daily robberies. Hope. Gone. Strength. Plundered. Power. Dried up. And, for what? Still born hope.