Monday, June 29, 2009

Is your life a spiral or helix?

A spiral is an interesting line. When flat it can be referred to as a whirl, when three dimensional it becomes a helix. It is common in both nature and human design, being a symbol for sun, starlight, and even hypnotism. It is a strong and efficient design as found in staircases and it is easy to doodle when one is bored with a lecture. My favorite spirals when I was young were those made by my Spirograph toy. I could sit for hours watching my pen create layers of colors and lines. Perhaps I was unknowingly practicing self-hypnotism.

A spiral could be a good metaphor for our lives. We often feel like we are traveling in a circle with the illusion that we are getting somewhere cruelly dashed as the same sight comes into view, once again. We try to venture into new territory but part of us wants to remain tethered so we simply travel in circles. I believe this describes my journey with sin, quite nicely.

I am losing my love for spirals.

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.
And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good.
As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.
I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.
For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.
For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.
Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. Romans 7: 15-20

I think I am getting a little bit dizzy.

Now with a helix, the story is a bit different. A helix is a spiral with the center pulled up, like the curved edges on a screw. With a helix you are still traveling in a circle, you are still tethered to the center, but you are making progress by moving in space. If you draw a spiral on a piece of paper, then take a scissors and cut along your line, you can attach a string to the center and hang your helix from the ceiling. It will spin and twirl with the air in the room.

A helix is a more apt metaphor for what our life in Christ can be. We move about our world with our faith tethered to God's word and as we move about we progress ever closer to Him. It is a slow process. It is a careful process. And, in this process we are moved by the breath of the Spirit.

The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And He is not served by human hands, as if He needed anything, because He Himself gives all men life and breath and everything else.
From one man He made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and He determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us. 'For in Him we live and move and have our being. Acts 17: 24-28

In a helix we still struggle with our tribulations and our sins. In a helix we remain tethered to the Word of God. As we move about the world, the faith God has given us will keep us from wandering away. But, in a helix we don't just travel in circles; we make progress. We live and move and have our being; as the Spirit moves us ever closer to Him.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Hardwired for Faith

The PBS Nova show was about chimpanzees and how they learn. Through demonstrations of experiments we saw that chimps can solve problems, work together, use tools and copy the actions of a human, but they do not learn. They may work together accidentally, but they cannot coordinate their efforts. They can copy what they see but are not hardwired to learn. They don't look to each other or to humans as a source of learning. But humans do. In fact, the earliest example we see of this is a baby pointing at something he wants a parent to pay attention to. The baby expects the parent to look and give a response. And the baby will understand when her parent points. A baby chimp will ignore pointing, because its brain does not look to another chimp or human for the purpose of learning. This explains how chimpanzees have developed differently from humans. Of course, according to the scientists, this was all planned and designed by evolution. Funny, I always thought evolution was a theory about a process; I didn't realize it could "plan" or "design."

The experiment was fascinating to watch. The chimpanzees would copy the humans when the answer to solving the puzzle, that resulted in a piece of candy, was not readily apparent. As soon as the answer was made obvious, the chimps stopped copying the humans. When the same activity was tried with children, they followed the directions of the scientists even if they didn't need to. They were learning from the scientists, and they had faith that these adults knew best even if their actions did not match what the eyes observed.

Once our brains and our faith reach a level of maturity that allows us to understand things at a more abstract level, our lives become a constant journey of reclaiming our child-like faith. We see evidence all around us that the world is a sinful, evil place and we are sinners amongst the rest. We know the world is dangerous and possibilities of disaster loom, always, just ahead. The only way we can survive the mess we create, and the mess in which we live, is to cling to the faith given to us. That faith must be the faith of a child. We must be able to hold on to God in spite of what our senses tell us, not because of what they tell us.

We can see evidence of God's love and care, all around us. We experience His healing; we are spared many trials and helped through many troubles. We can see God everywhere, but, we cannot prove Him. Still, He is more than a theory. He is our Designer, Savior, and Comforter. He has hardwired us for faith and learning.

Hold on to instruction; do not let it go; guard it well, for it is your life. Proverbs 4:13

Often our lives take an unexpected turn. Our human side may think we know the wisest course of action, but, through our faith, God tells us otherwise. This is when God helps us to look to Him for learning and direction, in spite of what we see around us. This is when He blesses us with childlike faith. This, I can confidently say, is part of His design!

My youngest child suddenly looks so much older as he asks to borrow the car to run an errand. Then he comes back from a youth choir servant event to show me the 5 pound jawbreaker he got at the Mall. Sigh, he is still my little boy. Likewise, his sister has grown into a fine adult who handles a budget and makes plans for her future. I must admit that I still treasure the times she comes back to me and figuratively sits in my lap asking for a small piece of advice. No matter how big they get, no matter how mature, no matter what adventures await them, I pray they are always blessed with a childlike faith in the Savior who loves them dearly.

He called a little child and had him stand among them. And He said: "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven." Matthew 17: 3-4

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Now Cats

Our cat is 22 years old and she has gone a bit senile. She pretty much sleeps all day with only one exception: 6:00am. When the radio alarm goes off the cat alarm comes on. She becomes a diva, planting herself between us on the bed and howling away.

For this cat, there is no past: even though I have been fed every day for years, today might be different.

For this cat there is no future: why should I believe they will feed me in a few minutes?

For this cat there is only "now". "Now" is hungry and "Now" knows that there are cat-food-giver people in the bed. Although, "now" probably wonders what the people have to be so grumpy about.

If Face Book had a "What Biblical Character are You?" quiz I am sure I would score as an Israelite wandering in the desert.

For the Israelites there was no past: so what if God performed countless miracles and wonders to get us here, what has He done for us, lately?

For the Israelites there was no future: how can a land of milk and honey be better than slavery?

There was only "now": I am tired of eating the same thing and not being allowed to worship what I want to worship. Here are my earrings; make me a golden calf.

That is sooo me.

Never mind what God did to get me into a degree program that people in the Ed/Psych department gently try to talk me out of. Never mind that He has a future planned for me that will bring blessings. What has He done for me, lately? I am a "now" cat; I want everything fixed and easy and wrapped up in a package with a bow. Oh, and I want it "now". Being a "now" cat makes it really hard to trust.

I have been reading Acts and find that Peter has a different kind of ""now"" issue. His is more of a "now" what?" situation. A vision tells him that everything he thought he knew about Jews and Gentiles and segregation was changing. Generations of warnings of no intermarrying, intermingling or interfaithing, was to be set aside for a new future. "Now" was being turned on its head. This was a new kind of trust. This was a new world for faith. This was God's love and mercy for all mankind.

"Surely not, Lord!" Peter replied. "I have never eaten anything impure or unclean." The voice spoke to him a second time, "Do not call anything impure that God has made clean." Acts 10: 14-15

A "what now?" faith is the kind of faith to have. It is a faith that, while it isn't usually ready for a surprise, can handle one none-the-less. It is a faith that can make a 180 degree turn because it is a faith that is ready for the way God's plan unfolds. It is a faith that can respond with the words "Yes, Lord." It is a faith that reminds us that God loves us and cares for our every need. It is a faith that fills our heart with gratitude at the prospect of serving Him. This is the kind of faith God gives us. A childlike faith that moves through life with the confidence that, even though I am clueless about what is going on, this is how things are supposed to happen. This is the faith God gave me at my baptism. This is the faith that the Spirit nurtures when God teaches me through the Word. I was given this kind of faith. The question is: "What have I done to it along the way?"

At that time Jesus said, "I praise you, Father," Lord of heaven and earth, because You have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was Your good pleasure." Matthew 11: 25-26

Restore my childlike faith that reminds me that "now" is about God, His plan, His love, His mercy, His grace, now.