Friday, November 18, 2011

Is It Sticking?

First snow today. A little anticlimactic. First snows usually are. My niece (4) and son (3) and I watched the big puffy flakes falling and whirling around. "Can we make a snowman?" Zac asked. "No, there's not enough snow to make a snowman," I said. "It's not really sticking." "Sticking?" Zac asked-laughed.

We live in a part of the world that is very close to getting loads of snow, but rarely does. Lots of rainy days in the high 30's. Or cold clear nights in the 20's. But the ingredients for snow have to be just right and we are usually just out of reach. As I child my brother Jesse and I became careful students of snow, and paid close attention to whether or not it was sticking. For it to stick the snow needs to be dry enough, and the weather needs to be cold enough. Some surfaces stick better than others. Wet pavement, gravel, grass not so great at the beginning. Car roofs, mailboxes, fallen logs, seem to fair better. The trick is really getting that first layer of snow going, then the accumulation can happen.

In my life there are so many things that I learn about, and so much if it doesn't stick in any meaningful way. This is one of the great frustrations of my life. Sermons, books, classes, conversations, forgotten. I hear you forget 80% of what you learn just by the end of the day! I read a book a few years ago called Made to Stick. The authors studied and presented a compelling case as to why some ideas survive and others die. They had some helpful acronym that I can't quite remember now (ha!). SUCCESS: Simplicity, Unexpected, Concrete, something, something, stories, etc. I try to remember (some of these) when i am writing, preaching, pitching an idea.

On the other hand, there are some things I wish I could unstick. Urban legends, rumors, ways of thinking, that tape playing in my head, an embarrassing moment from middle school, rejections, lies about myself, judgments about others, shallow thinking. Stuck. Mark Twain once famously said, "A lie can get half way around the world before truth has a chance to get its pants on." Or was it boots?

I sometimes wonder if spirituality is more about unlearning that it is about learning. When we unlearn some of the above mentioned, it seems like the environment, the conditions for learning Truth just kind of emerge. What are some other ingredients or conditions that make it possible or impossible to learn and grow and find wholeness? How does God's Spirit begin to break through?

St. Augustine wrote about his dramatic experience in his Confessions
You were within, but I was without. You were with me, but I was not with you. So you called, you shouted, you broke through my deafness, you flared, blazed, and banished my blindness, you lavished your fragrance, and I gasped.

This gasping is what some religious people call a conversion. Sometimes I think it's more about conversion(s), awakening(s), gasp(s), enlightening(s). These moments that not only change us but also change the way we see everything else. Game-Changers. The no-going-back experiences. Most of these transitions are unsettling and uncomfortable in the interim. They feel like being thrown out of the comfort and certainty of the garden. They feel a little like dying. We can't unknow what we learned from the tree of knowledge and we need to go through the flaming sword to eventually find a kind of second simplicity, as Richard Roar calls it. But I digress...

Maybe connecting this back to where I began. Snow. Sticking. Conditions. It seems that we live in a time and place of unprecedented resources and opportunities for learning, but perhaps no culture has been as shallow, empty, neurotic, depressed. Why? (This is where I find the snow metaphor breaking down, so I won't try to stretch it beyond it capability). There is a kind of momentum, an accumulation that can happen at certain points in our lives. Right? I think a radical openness to new possibilities and new ways of thinking is a terrifying, dangerous, and essential ingredient in the life of the Spirit. A second and related ingredient I have found is an utter reliance. When we are in control, we are so busy holding on to that control that anything we do to better ourselves will be ego-driven and doomed to failure. We will be too busy trying to prop up our own agendas and ways of thinking for any real transformation to happen. Which brings me to the last ingredient (certainly there are more), suffering. The discomfort, pain, failing, falling of life that brings with it the potential for real and lasting change.

Like Jesus, the Saints, the Mystics, say over and over again: The way up is down. The way forward is back. The last will be first. The poor are blessed. Those who die will live. The meek will inherit the earth. The way to find it is to lose it. Those who mourn will be comforted. The way to the Kingdom is to become like a child. This is the kind of good, tilled up, soil that Jesus says is needed to produce an abundant crop, to stick.

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