Tag Archives: God

Stroke of Insight

My wife, Merrilyn, read this book a couple of months ago, and given that we are both interested in neuroscience, I was intrigued enough to read it. Fascinating to say the least. The author is a neuroscientist who had a hemorrhagic stroke in the left part of her brain. All she had functioning was the right side for awhile. Being a neuroscientist, she was able to describe what it was like to experience this. It took her eight years to fully recover, rendering false the prevailing wisdom that whatever you don’t recover in the first six months you lose forever.

With her left brain silenced, at least for a short while, she was more keenly aware of what goes on in the right side of the brain. Part of this was a greater awareness of the “spiritual” part of the brain. She recounts a blissful state of feeling “one with the universe”, not unlike what occurs when people engage in deep meditation. (Hey, I’ve been there a few times when I have practiced contemplative prayer, although I would describe it as feeling “one with God”.)

The author asserts that it is possible to calm the left side of the brain, the part where all the “brain chatter” happens, in favor of experiencing the serenity of right side. This, in my opinion, is what meditation is all about, and it piques my curiosity about research of what happens in the brain when people have spiritual experiences. Fascinating stuff.

The prevailing question is this: Do people imagine spiritual experiences whenever the “God spot” in the brain is activated due to purely physiological causes? Those who would answer yes would say that this proves that there is no God and that religious/spiritual experience is all in the head. On the flip side: Does the “God spot” circuit in our brain become activated in response to encounters with a power greater than ourselves? I.e. is it an external supernatural (or perhaps extradimensional) force that lights up this part of the brain? I personally answer yes to this second question. I believe that we are “wired” for encounters with our higher power and this part of the brain exists for this purpose. And although this is my view, I certainly understand and have respect for anyone who holds the other view.

As with all things, no one can prove or disprove the existence of God or a higher power or whatever you would choose to call it. Faith is faith. Science is science. I have profound respect for both and see no inherent conflict between the two. Conflict occurs only when one co-opts the other to “prove” some kind of point. Good luck with that.

Leaving these lofty questions aside for now, I have a revived interest in contemplative prayer and am starting to practice it. I will write more about this in another post.

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Balance

I have been rereading Stephen R. Lawhead’s “Empyrion” series. (It’s a two-book series, not sure how to refer to that, probably not a “dilogy”.) Lawhead is best known for writing fantasies and historical fiction, all laced through with Celtic lore. He also wrote a little science fiction.

Empyrion is the story of a planet colonized by Earth. The main protagonist of the story, Orion Treet, sets out from Earth to visit the colony that was established a few years before the story begins. When he arrives, he discovers that he is 3,000 years into the future. (Due no doubt to the crazy things that happen when you travel via wormholes–you know what I’m talking about.)

He discovers two societies have developed over the millenia. One, referred to as Dome, is an agoraphobic, paranoid and evil place of darkness, a society that has developed inside an immense dome (think “Truman Show”), shutting out the rest of the planet, using fear and violence to subjugate the population.

The other society, Fierra, is just the opposite. People at peace with themselves, their creator, and all of the riches of the planet. No poverty, war, disease. Complete freedom. Pain? Of course. In, fact their society at one time had been obliterated by the inhabitants of Dome. But they rebuilt their society, responding to pain with grace, a refusal to make war, rejecting the concept of retaliation, no longer “an eye for an eye”. A wonderful vision of what life could be if we let go of our fear, our aggression. I see it as a picture of what some of us refer to as the kingdom of God.

All of this is backstory to what I am blogging about…

In the story, one of the protagonists is being instructed in the arts. Her instructor explains the importance of balance:

Do you see it? Balance! As in life, all elements are equally important. It is self-evident: Exclude one and the work is flawed. Without the physical, there is no substance; without the emotional, it has no heart; without the mind, it has no direction; and without the spiritual, the work has no soul. All elements are necessary. All must be maintained in balance.

I love how this sets the tone for this new season in my life, my new venture.

There are things that I have to do. Practical things. Physical. I need to use the computer, play my instruments, attend to physical self-care by taking walks. I have mentioned before that a mantra for me is “Do what you love.” to which I have added: “And love doing it.” The former is my intention, but the latter must be what puts the wind in my sails. It has to come from the heart. I also need to work my art with skill and intelligence. Songs must have form. Melody and harmony must have pitch, rhythm and orchestration.

Body, heart, mind, and finally: soul. What I have to give is a gift given to me by the Creator. In order to touch others, to serve, to bless, to love, I simply need to let go my own agenda and take the creative gifts given to me and make something beautiful and inspired. I must sculpt using only heavenly clay. I can’t do this out of my own strength, emotion, and intellect–well I suppose I could, but it wouldn’t be of any lasting value; it wouldn’t transcend.

To create from the Center, in perfect balance, in love: that is how I want to live. As a good friend of mine says: “Let the kingdom come!”

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Linda Perry

You may know who Linda Perry is. She is a contemporary songwriter and producer for the pop market. She has written songs such as Pink’s “Get the Party Started” and Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful”. Every year, she leads a session at the ASCAP Expo.

This year she did something a little different.

In this most recent event, she randomly picked people out of the audience and had them perform a song they wrote. After each song, she would provide her feedback, and she would invite two or three people to provide their feedback. They had mic’s set up between each of the three aisles for people to give the feedback.

For a while everything went smoothly. People behaved themselves.

Then, one of the people giving feedback siezed the opportunity to ask if he could come up and present a song. Gutsy. But Linda praised the person for his initiative, saying something like “This is how you get somewhere in the music business.” And she let him come up and do his song.

I’m not sure she realized that this would turn the session into pandemonium. Now people got up to the aisle mics to no longer give feedback but to campaign for performing their song.

The last 10 minutes became especially unruly. At the very end, people were starting to rush the stage to get up to the stage mic and perform their song a capella. Utter chaos.

I sat through the whole session, politely raising my hand when she asked for people to present their songs, but I, along with 95% of the other attendees, was never chosen. Oh well.

I didn’t go in with unrealistic expectations, but I wonder if I should have not been so polite but rather try something ingenious or gutsy to get her attention. This is so contrary to the way I’m wired.

But it gets me thinking. I have never been very good at promoting myself. I see other people promote themselves and sometimes I find them rather annoying or narcissistic.

I have generally lived a passive and non-intentional life with the mindset that whatever will happen will happen. I suppose I have been resigning myself to fate. I am starting to realize that I can’t wait for things to happen anymore. I need to go out there and take the initiative. If God doesn’t want me to go in a particular direction, I am confident he will throw up a roadblock.

So I have a lot to chew on. A lot of ideas from what I learned at the Expo. This will be quite an adventure.

Curious to see what other people think. When does self promotion get too much?

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Timing

This has been a crazy year so far. So many changes. I am incapable of believing that all is just random chaos. There has to be a Conductor, Someone who is orchestrating everything. How to reconcile the idea of God in control with the gift of free will is beyond me. Brilliant philosophic minds have been grappling with that one for eons, running the gamut from “there is no such thing as God” to “there is no such thing as free will”. Like most of us, I pick somewhere in the middle. And it’s a big mystery and I’m okay with that.

I could write quite a few blog posts about the crazy events of the past couple of years and reflect on how timing was such a crucial factor. If things didn’t happen when they happened, things would have gone differently. Of course, that’s true about everything. But I am intrigued about the timing of things that have happened to me lately.

Here’s one. Merrilyn and I have been involved with this church just north of Seattle called Vineyard Community Church for the last eight years. I must say that it is one of the coolest churches on the planet. Here is a church that actually puts their money where their mouth is when it comes to helping the poor, addressing injustice, etc. She and I have been involved with leadership to one extent or another for the past three years, primarily in worship leading, coordinating, pastoring.

Yet, by the beginning of this year, it became obvious that I was not the person to take our worship program into its next season. Our time was done. We felt it for many months, but because I don’t like to feel like I’ve let people down, I hung on much longer than I should have. It’s hard for me to let go of things.

Here is where timing comes in. My dad got very sick in March and is still in recovery. I can’t imagine what it would have been like to deal with that crisis and still be responsible for coordinating our worship program at church. I would have had to let it go anyway, but it would have been even more difficult to do so because of the stress I was under. I am relieved that my involvement was over. The timing was right.

I can also see how the timing of the loss of my job at Microsoft (and the end of my IT career) was not coincidental. I couldn’t continue in that line of work because of my hand injury. And obviously I needed to be free to deal with our family situation.

As things start to settle down, I find myself now out of two jobs. But I am now embarking on a new career doing what I truly love to do. It is exciting and scary all at the same time. But I am convinced that the time is now. Timing is everything.

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Checking In

I haven’t written a blog post lately. Life has been a bit hectic. My dad is fighting for his life in ICU at Harrison Hospital in Bremerton. He went into surgery last Monday to reattach his colon which had to be diverted into an ostomy in November when he had a twisted and obstructed bowel. After three months of recovery it was time for him to get hooked back up, so to speak.

Things seemed to go well earlier last week, but he didn’t start to bounce back in a way we would expect.  Instead, the newly reattached colon burst and dad went into septic shock. He has been in ICU for three days now and it is touch and go whether he is going to recover or not. Your prayers are greatly appreciated. Specifically, his body needs to fight off the infection and his kidneys need to start working. Although he is 86, he is strong and it is obvious that he is fighting hard.

People react differently in times of crisis. I find that I am pretty stoic, I don’t freak out, I look at things fairly objectively, I try to remain positive. I have read that the most effective component in prayer is when the person who is being prayed for knows that people are praying for them. In Dad’s semi-conscious state, we have let him know there are a lot of people praying for him to pull through. So I am just continuing to pray.

When it’s Dad’s time to go, then afterward I will most likely fall apart. Now is not the time. I can’t extend Dad’s life by worrying. This is all in what some call the “God Box”, i.e. it is something that I have absolutely no control over.

Well there. I have eeked out a few thoughts. We’re all hanging here at the hospital, waiting for progress.

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More on Ecuador

Wrapping up my thoughts on this memorable trip… I had a few more observations about the country and the culture that I was going to share, but decided instead to give a more personal reflection.

First, I love serving others in this way, so I was grateful for the opportunity to serve and felt enriched by the experience. As mentioned before, I have the tendency to not think of it in terms of sacrificial giving when I simply do that which I have gifting and talent for, which is of course, music. So when I do music, I tell myself that I’m not really serving, compared to something like living in a hut in the sweltering heat somewhere helping to build a dam or something. I am realizing that this type of thinking is utter nonsense! I have been given certain gifts to give away, and when I use them I am living according to my purpose, and it should be enjoyable, fun, rewarding. And it is!

It was cool to see God do his thing. We just show up and serve and create a space for people to take time out of their hectic lives and give their full attention to God.

I have been going through the past several years deconstructing my belief systems. What this means is that I have discarded professing to believe certain things that I used to “believe” because I thought I had to believe them if I were to call myself a Christian. Instead, I have become honest about what I really believe and have suspended the rest for further analysis.

Lately I have read things that have given language to my journey. The idea that faith in Jesus is more a “way of life” than a “system of beliefs”. Jesus taught that he only did what he saw the Father doing. Likewise, I am only interested in learning what it means to follow Jesus and pursue that as a way of life.

In an effort to keeps things really simple, I have put a lot of the Christian stuff on hold. I have been generally suspicious and non-interested in the excesses of charismatic and pentecostal spiritualism. I have seen so much weird stuff over the years that I have lost all taste for it while I’m trying to just sort out the basics.

But after the experiences of this trip, and also because of recent experiences of good friends, I realize that I have thrown the baby out with bathwater, the “baby” being the supernatural work of God, the “bathwater” being the aforementioned charismatic craziness that has sent me packing. I realize that my self-proclaimed “open” mind has been pretty closed in some ways, and I tend to file some things under the “I am not sure what I believe about this anymore” file.

We participated in a conference called “Naturally Supernatural”, which is a phrase coined by the late John Wimber. The idea is this: The Kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed has been a reality here and now ever since his arrival and is not some far off thing that only kicks in after we die, or in some new-heavens/new-earth dimension. The whole point about the Kingdom of God is that he wants to use us to make this world a better place: here and now. Part of that work involves the ongoing supernatural work of God which we get to participate in, what John Wimber described as “doing the stuff”.

It was very cool to see people “doing the stuff” once again. People’s lives were changed. Some were healed physically and emotionally. People overall were touched and blessed and left feeling a greater sense of God’s presence in their lives.

Prayer Ministry Time at Naturalmente Sobrenatural

Prayer Ministry Time at Naturalmente Sobrenatural Conference

So, I still don’t have a lot of stuff figured out, and perhaps I never will. What I do know is that I had a refreshing reminder of God’s love and power in the here and now. And I am very thankful.

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Simply Human?

I just picked up a copy of Thomas Merton’s “No Man Is an Island”. Right off the first page of the Prologue, I am intrigued:

No matter how ruined man and his world may seem to be, and no matter how terrible man’s despair may become, as long as he continues to be a man his very humanity continues to tell him that life has meaning. That, indeed, is one reason why man tends to rebel against himself. If he could without effort see what the meaning of life is, and if he could fulfill his ultimate purpose without trouble, he would never question the fact that life is worth living. Or if he saw at once that life had no purpose and no meaning, the question would never arise. [Italics mine.]

Now my apologies on behalf of the late Mr. Merton for his insensitivity to gender equality, but he wrote this in 1955.

The sentence I put in italics is quite intriguing. If only we could see without effort what the meaning of life is. Is he suggesting that this is possible, or is this strictly rhetorical? And what if we could fulfill our ultimate purpose without trouble?

Without effort and without trouble. If only.

We humans have quite the inner struggle that the “lower” forms of life are not burdened with. A bird, for example, fulfills its ultimate purpose by simply being a bird. Same with a fish or a horse or a tree.

I doubt that my dogs wrestle with the meaning of life. They seem most interested in food, walks, treats, and a little love and attention. They also stand guard against that which threatens us all, namely squirrels, bunnies, and the occasional trespasser.

To the contrary, our waking days are filled with the more complex questions of existence. Why am I here? What am I supposed to do with my life? What makes life worth living?

I love to quote from the Westminster Confessional: “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” Love it; love it.

But what exactly does that mean?

Do squirrels and dogs and  birds and azaleas and centipedes glorify God? I most definitely believe they do. How? By simply and un-self-consciously being squirrels and dogs and  birds and azaleas and centipedes. No more and no less. A bird really doesn’t know how or pretend to be anything other than a bird, now does it?

What about us humans? Can we be simply human, no posing required? Clearly we have not and never have been content with the notion of being simply human.

You see, I think that is how the whole mess started. Humankind was not content with being simply human. Instead, we wanted something more. We overreached ourselves. We wanted to be more like gods.

Did it work? You tell me. Do you think that humankind, wanting to become gods through the abuse of money, sex, and power, has become more godlike? Or less human? I think we did ourselves in. History is filled with examples of people wanting to become gods only to become less human.

So the question in front of me today is this: What would it take to be simply human? No more; no less; no posing. Just one day at a time.

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Interrupted, part 3

I just finished reading the memoirs of a current TV personality, Craig Ferguson. If you don’t know who he is, he is the host of one of the late-night shows. He follows David Letterman on CBS. And he is one of the funniest people on TV.

In his book, he tells the story of his 15+ year battle with alcoholism. He’s been sober now for about 18 years. At one point, Craig refers to God as someone he still doesn’t really understand. I bring the alcoholism thing up because the AA tradition refers to “God as we understand Him”. So Craig, having been through AA and sober for 18 years, still doesn’t think he understands God much.

And my first reaction was, “oh, that’s too bad”.

A lot of people who, like me, have decades of Christian religion under their belt, express similar sentiments when we encounter people who just don’t seem to “get it”. They can’t quite figure out God. We shake our heads.

But then this got me thinking. How many people can honestly say that they understand God? That they’ve got Him figured out? That they know what He’s up to in light of things that happen?

Let’s be honest.

Two violent events occurred two weeks ago, one global, one local. First, there was the devastating earthquake in Haiti, resulting in 150,000 deaths, many more injured, countless more homeless, flattening the city of Port-au-Prince. And on the local front we have a young man whose parents go to our church, who was senselessly murdered in his apartment.

Life interrupted.

So, to be totally honest, I have to ask God, “why?” Is that okay? Is it okay to ask God, “What are you up to?” Is it okay to have doubts? Violent, life-interrupting events like these open up the age-old question about why God allows such devastating things to happen.

Yes, there are those out there who like to pretend they know what God is up to. Pat Robertson recently stated that the Haiti disaster was the result of a curse on a nation that has “made a pact with the Devil”. Similar proclamations were made by John Hagee after Hurricane Katrina–that New Orleans “had a level of sin that was offensive to God and they were recipients of the judgment of God for that”.

Is God really like that? Powerless on the one hand and condemning on the other?

I personally don’t believe so. Here are two things I believe with every fiber of my being: I believe that God is love and I believe God is in control. How such beliefs can be reconciled with events like these are beyond anyone’s ability. I am not going to pretend to have the answers and I don’t think anyone else should pretend to either.

Setting these questions aside, (what else can we do?), I am deeply touched by the love, support, and care that people have poured out to those in such dire need. When awful things happen, do we philosophise, do we pontificate, or do we respond with love? I never cease to be amazed at the power of love through action.

To quote Lenny Kravitz, “Let love rule.” I just looked up the lyrics to that song on a website called “answers.com”. Isn’t that ironic?

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Interrupted, part 2

Today I am not using dictation software, so I will need to type judiciously. I’m thinking of trying out DragonSpeak. It’s got to be better than what’s included in Windows.

So, more about being interrupted…

As mentioned, I make a living with my hands, whether it is from computer work or from music. For most of the past three decades, I have made my living primarily by doing computer-related work. It has been my job, I have done it well, but it has never been my passion.

My passion has always been music. It is my true vocation. It is what I want to do when I grow up. And it is what I want to now spend most of my time doing.

For many years, my music has been about me expressing myself and hoping people like it. For many years, I have been hopelessly addicted to people pleasing, endlessly aching for approval. I suppose I could number myself among the masses of artists out there who suffer from similar insecurities. “Here I am. Here is my art. Please accept me.”

Given that I have been such an approval junkie, it is probably a blessing that I haven’t been doing music full time. Having it be on the side (or back) burner while making a “normal” living has kept it from totally consuming me. It has kept things somewhat manageable while I have lived the responsible life. But marginalizing my true vocation has left me frustrated and discontented at times.

However, what music means to me has morphed over the last few years. It doesn’t seem to be so much about me expressing myself for my own sake, i.e. in order to make me feel good about myself. It is becoming more about me recognizing that I have a creative gift and I can use it to touch others. I am coming in touch with the concept that a “power greater than myself” (who I refer to as God) has released in me this wonderful creative energy and it is my pleasure and responsibility to touch and bless other’s lives with it. I am not saying this out of any grandiosity; I believe all people have been given gifts to share.

I have been sensing for the last year or so that I am in a season of transition…transitioning from a day “career” that I can barely tolerate to realizing my life passion…a new coming of age. I am excited about this. To spend most of my time doing what I love to do… wow, what a concept!

So it is with some consternation that I grapple with my current disability. It begs the question, “God what are you up to?”. To me, that is not a rhetorical question. God will be a recurring figure in my blog posts. There will probably be a “God part 1”, “God part 2”, etc. I have much to say about God, and mostly in the form of questions rather than answers.

But my fingers are complaining so I’ll stop for now. I have more to say about life interrupted, and what I have to say is not about me, but about others who have had their lives seriously interrupted.

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