Saturday, November 15, 2014

No one can say it better than my brother

O God, you are my God; eagerly I seek You; my soul thirsts for you, my flesh faints for you, as in barren and dry land where there is no water. Psalm 63:1

Jesus said: “I am the bread of life. No one who comes to me will ever hunger; no one who believes in me will ever thirst.” John 6:35

He changed deserts into pools of water and dry land into water-springs. Yet when they were diminished and brought low, through stress of adversity and sorrow, He lifted up the poor out of misery and multiplied their families like flocks of sheep. The upright will see this and rejoice, but all wickedness will shut its mouth. Whoever is wise will ponder these things, and consider well the mercies of the LORD. Psalm 107:33-43

So this morning I cannot get beyond my little (only in the big-sisterly sense of the word) brother’s thoughts that arrived in an late night email. Sort of that deep calls unto deep word I got the other night. 

. . . 

So, back in the day, my dad was a six-foot-four rocket scientist who spent a lot of time figuring out formulas and vectors and bell-graphs full of statistical trajectories, probabilities and potentials. I remember when calculators kinda hit the junior high pop culture, my dad would outwit my best attempts at multi-column multiplication and division with his slide ruler. I’d be punching away at my calculator’s keys, certain that I would come up with the product or quotient long before my dad could look at those tiny numbers on that white ruler-thingy that I sometimes used for a straight edge on a craft project. But time and time again he’d be standing there with a deadpan look on his face when I looked up from my Casio’s tiny screen. He’d ask, “45,032?”; “206,768?”; “2,098,165.9?” Dang! How’d he do that? Later on, when I took trigonometry in high school and needed help, he would show me some tricks and shortcuts that convinced me that my dad had had a big part in inventing math (and convinced my math teacher that I used a cheat sheet on in-class trig tests).

Anyway, put on this guy a pair of horn-rimmed glasses (back before they were cool), a pocket protector, and a skinny dark tie to complete the picture of a numbers dude on top of his engineering game in the late fifties and early sixties.
After he left the engineering field and was working at various occupations, I remember when my mom would pack him a lunch and write “HB” on the side of the brown paper bag. HB? How did HB connect with Jonas Scott Coverdale, Jr.? Well, I hope I don’t reveal any family secrets here (sorry Mom), but the HB stood for—. Well, I kinda feel strange—but here goes: The HB stood for, uh, um—well—.

Okay, it stood for Honeybun.
I imagine that every kid, especially in the turmoils of adolescence, wonders what might be romantically attractive about either of his parents. Usually that’s because of some current, intrafamilial turmoil—that and the fact that most of Pop’s cranial hair has slipped somewhere and, instead of luscious locks, he sports some vigorous sprouts of ear and nose hair (and enough back-hair to supply a loom full of material to weave a Navaho horse-blanket). Anyway, back in high school, I was kinda lost about anything about my dad that would generate the somewhat soupy epithet of Honeybun. Obviously my mom had some other context, because I didn’t see it from where I stood. What kid would?

Some years ago, I penned a poem that turned out to be a bit of a watershed for my spiritual journeying. Those of you who have known me for a while, it’ll probably sound familiar because I have probably referenced it in some conversation. Back in those days, I was really sloughing the skin of what my perspective of who God was (with regard to His role in my constantly-constricting apologetical descriptions), versus who it was that I really hoped God to be. Here it is:

The Voice

Why don’t you shout
To me
O Mighty God?
Across this cavern of silence that lies between us.
I need to see a thousand forked lightnings
of your tongue.
Grind oppression
With the heel of your just hand.

Why, that would garner some attention;
Folks would sit up and notice:
Your Truth feared
My claims vindicated.

How I long for
Just a taste of the way it used to be:
Pillars of cloud and smoke
Fire in the mountains and
Glory-burnt prophets.

So many would step into line
(I, too, with my sometimes-hesitant heart)

Instead, your Son chose a different voice,
A lover’s voice, rather than
death-defying tricks from the top of the temple.

You, unsearchable God,
Who fingers mountains to existence
Only to melt them by your voice,
You, omnipotent, sovereign, limitless, You
Spoke as a lover.

You desire a vulnerable love
With the likes of us,
Because we, with our faltering words,
Can’t compete with fireflash and thunderclap.
You want us to tremble with lover’s longing,
Not trepidation.

The Voice, the Logos we long and thirst for
Is a more perfect way.
Able to speak in Pharaoh-devouring flood
And Herob-shattering earthquake

Chose to become silent.
In order to nurture our deepest longing rather than an obsequious fawning.
So, like Elijah, we can recognize
Through the cacophony of our lives,
The gentle, whispered wooings of our most desperate love.

What’s this have to do with slide-rulers and Honeybun? Somewhere along the line—somewhere along the limited linear experience of my life’s story, there had to be an intersection with an Omnipotence who defied all human concept of dimension. From His end, he had to knock Himself down to some language that wouldn’t snuff out the faint candlelight of my hardwired curiosity. For my part, I had to move past the veneer of how God must fit into an adopted, particular denominational/theological mindset. God had to speak. He had to take off the horned-rim glasses, put down the slide-rule and become Honeybun. But I had to talk to Him too, and be brave enough to toss preconceptions about just Who He Had Become to Who It Is He Is Becoming.

There came a time, as my poem indicates, that Jehovah-jireh may have worked in Moriah, but didn’t really cut it for me in the New Hampshire woods that stretched away from my backyard.

That’s when I asked God to name Himself. My kids and I had built “an edifice” in our backyard where the verge turned into a woods. I had images of grandeur: I wanted little Jennifer to consider it a fairy-palace or something. Due to my construction skills and tendency toward scrap lumber, it eventually wandered into the much more accurate moniker of The Shack. In those days, Reed tried to spend the night in it for a year, but except for use as an occasional home-movie prop or to store tomato cages for the next garden season, the place eventually became mostly forgotten.
But then something big happened: After a thoughtful reading of Exodus 33, I fancied turning the shed into my Tent of Meeting, a place where I purposed to God that I would meet with Him. I figured that if He really wanted to meet with me, then I needed to set up a place. And that’s what started the deconstruction, from Jehovah-jireh to my own name for God.

The first order of business was what He wanted to be called. Over the course of the next several months, I learned that in order to have an intimate name, I had to—well, fall in love with Him. There was nothing endearing about “The Holy Spirit” (or The Holy Ghost as my childhood KJV-Scofield edition termed Him). For me, that meant a lot of moonlit mornings, or lying on the Shack’s dusty floor as rain pounded outside, candles, guitar—you get the picture. And, in time, that rustic, toy-and-tool littered shed, became a hallowed sanctuary where I came to know Him--and He told me His name in kinduva cool way.
For a couple of years, I held His name secret—almost like a valuable possession that would be sullied if too many people handled it. Now, those who know me well know the name I call Him. Fewer still know the name that We next discussed in The Shack: I wanted to know my name.
My lover, Tracy, doesn’t call me Thomas Paul Coverdale—no one has, except my parents at my birth, the nurse in the colonoscopy waiting room, and the telemarketer who speaks in that broken Pakistani voice regarding the possible upgrade of my cable package. I wanted the lover’s name that God uses for me. Well, even fewer people know that name that I feel He knows me by, but it’s a distinction that he can use when He wants my attention. It’s a secret language, full of nuance, and it thrills me when I sense its use during my day—you know, kinda like The gentle, whispered wooings of our most desperate love.

I used to have this preacher friend who was pretty hard-core as far as doctrine and Berean-type exegesis.  It seemed that he spent a lot of time looking up the Hebrew or the Greek, and had a distaste for folk who kinda went for “the gist of the passage.” Anyway, in the midst of all my judgment about him, I couldn’t help notice that as he preached, he always had a pen in his hand. I never saw him use the pen during one of his sermons, but whenever I saw him delivering the Word, he would punctuate his statements with his pen-clutching hand, and it intrigued me. I asked him once why he always held the pen. “Oh, that’s in case the Holy Spirit says something to me while I’m teaching. I wanna be ready to write it down.” His response changed my own way that I began to look at Kairos—always wanting to break through the noise of my day, speaking in that clear, calm voice that I had come to know in the confines of The Shack.

I’d say maybe since I was in college, my brother, Scott, has always carried around a spiral notebook, or a pad of paper—some sorta journal, and whether we were in the Canyonlands on a week-long backpack, or sitting on a deserted Mexican beach somewhere, or driving Commander JEC through Jasper, Alberta, I could always see--tucked away in a daypack--a corner of the notepad, or see him return to our wherever-campsite was, usually around dawn with that notebook wrapped up in his orange-ish sweater. “Hey Tom,” He would say in his gravelly voice. Where he had been and what he had been writing down in that book before sunrise was anybody’s guess, but I now gather that Scott had been listening to “some whispered wooings.” (Those of you who know Scott, know exactly what I mean.)

His voice can be anywhere: a star-studded sky, an advertisement on the side of a bus, in the lyrics of an Eric Clapton song. A couple of weeks ago, Kairos rebuked me in my classroom in the words of my own lecture on Aldous Huxley’s message in Brave New World. I made a statement, paused in surprise (long enough to make five or six students look up hastily from their daydreaming), then chuckled a bit at His familiar voice, and looked for a pen on my lectern. Yesterday, as I spoke with our school nurse during a school re-accreditation workshop, I heard Him say, Are you listening Tom? Because, I am going to speak through Joyce.  Now there’s a scrap of paper in my wallet with some of His captured words about eternity, I believe, given to me through the words of my coworker (--and, by the way, I told my somewhat surprised colleague why I was writing down what she had said on the back of the NEASC worksheet).

At home, I compared those notes with His voice as I read the Psalms, Hosea, and 2 Corinthians in my sanctuary, early the next morning. Maybe it’ll be in the lyric of the Chris Tomlin song. Who knows—but it’s really kinda personal, anticipatory, exhilarating—just like words from a lover are supposed to be.
I’m not trying to insinuate that I am like a prophet-of-old who responded to all of what God says—walking around with my buttocks exposed like Isaiah, or marrying a whore like Hosea. I’m new at this. But I want the voice, His voice, as I walk along a dirt road, as I pass the greeter at Walmart, as I argue with one of my kids. I am beginning to believe that Kairos is wanting to break through the texts and conversations of my day, through the experiences of my life, even through the assumptions of my past.
“This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel
    after that time,” declares the Lord.
“I will put my law in their minds
    and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
    and they will be my people.
     No longer will they teach their neighbor,
    or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’
because they will all know me,
    from the least of them to the greatest,”
declares the Lord.
Jeremiah 31:33

And when I hear Him--when I hear Kairos, I want to write it down because those words have become His Holy Word, a whispered wooing that cuts im-mute-ably through the static of my days.
That’s an immutability that I want to claim, an immutability that he nurtures from my deepest longing rather than a theological obsequious fawning.
It’s the difference between Jonas Scott Coverdale, Jr. and Honeybun.