Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Me, In Exile

Today I came across many passages that reminded me of myself. I've been told by greater writers than I that I often speak and write in metaphor, that I need to control my language if I wish to be understood, and I understand that it's a truth I must learn to deal with. If the purpose of communication is to be understood, I can't express myself in the eccentric ways of my youth. I should even mention that this post is a severely edited version of the same idea I sat down to write earlier this evening.

In summary, what I read this evening brought me a great deal of comfort. I've noticed many parallels between the Old Testament and events in my life and human history that are too similar to be coincidental. As I've said before, that's one of the reasons the Bible has been such a surreal reading experience for me: not only is it divine in its authority and great truth, but it's written in such a way as to be relevent to every generation of every civilization that would succeed its composition. God did not write for the people of any given era but for all people that would exist. In earlier days, I would have foolishly sought after that standard. Tonight's post might have been one such example.

Since I moved back to Tusket in 2003, I've been asking myself one resounding question: "Why?" Why had I chosen unhealthy things that left me with so much uncertainty in life? Why had I always been so different, even in my youth? Why was I so unworthy of common things like more friends or my own family?

See, I had many things going for me for quite some time. I've always been eccentric, but toward the end of adolescence I had finally gathered an entourage of fellow intellectuals and deep thinkers. I didn't have to censor myself with these people. The Curse of James had been exposed for the lie that it was. This posed quite a dilemma for Satan. There was a great risk in me, a chance that I might open my mouth and express certain things. There was a lot of potential for me to see myself through the eyes of others, and that would have greatly contrasted the image of myself that Satan presented me with. Instead of loathing the uniqueness of my character, I might have learned to celebrate those differences, as I did where it concerned everyone but myself. And so, playing off my insecurities, Satan led me to believe that sharing oneself was the greatest vulnerability in existence, that loneliness wasn't pretty but it was darned safe. "You can't be serious, James," he would say. "The world that ostracized you would only destroy you. Perhaps you're unworthy of them, but if you march by your own beat, you will achieve singular greatness. Then you may approach them and dish out the humble pie."

I had an interest in writing, and that seemed the most logical approach. Through enough observation, study, and introspection, I could probably write something that just might change the world a little. "Change the world, huh? Give it enough time, and you just may do that."

I had been divided, and I was about to be conquered. I started to spend less time with my confidantes and more time experimenting with things I should have avoided. I made my bed with those who didn't understand me. I fled.

"You need experiences in order to write the truth, James. These might not be pretty, but they are very relevent to this world. You must understand this world to save it."

It was kind of relieving to indulge in certain vices. It dulled the mental multitasking that had consumed my mind since youth. You've heard of the scatterbrained? The artist prone to procrastination? I was that to the Nth degree. My head felt like Los Angeles at rush hour. Millions of thoughts, none channeled properly. I remember waking up the morning after I first got drunk; my brain felt logjammed. Aside from being kind of scary, it was soothing to just ooze intoxicants upon the synaptic eight-laners, to cover it all in a smoggy veil and forget reality for a second. Satan was okay with that; I couldn't spend every instant learning about the world, after all. Even the greats needed to repose at some point.

My time in the city was rife with transgressions. Prior to moving there for university, I hadn't so much as touched an illicit substance. Not a drop. For a while, my life followed that course. I treated university with the same nonchalance I had exhibited in high school. I dropped out in 2001, and things got a little messy over the next couple of years. I moved around the province quite a bit. In 2002, I made one last ditch effort to salvage a failing relationship and to eke out an existence in the city. I lasted just over a year before God had enough with my aimlessness. I had been greatly blessed in life, and certainly misled. Perhaps I was too weak to best my demons, but God must have believed that I was also unlike them enough that He could justify saving me. One thing was certain, though: the LORD had seen enough.

Jeremiah 24: 1-7
1 After Jehoiachin son of Jehoiakim king of Judah and the officials, the craftsmen and the artisans of Judah were carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, the LORD showed me two baskets of figs placed in front of the temple of the LORD. 2 One basket had very good figs, like those that ripen early; the other basket had very poor figs, so bad they could not be eaten.

Then the LORD asked me, "What do you see, Jeremiah?"
"Figs," I answered. "The good ones are very good, but the poor ones are so bad they cannot be eaten."

Then the word of the LORD came to me: 5 "This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: 'Like these good figs, I regard as good the exiles from Judah, whom I sent away from this place to the land of the Babylonians. 6 My eyes will watch over them for their good, and I will bring them back to this land. I will build them up and not tear them down; I will plant them and not uproot them. 7 I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the LORD. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me with all their heart.

In August 2003, I reached the breaking point. Less than a month from finishing my lease, I was let go from work. The worst job I ever had. In fact, I never would have stayed there if it hadn't been for the fact my parents co-signed an apartment lease. My credit meant nothing to me, but there was no way I was going to allow my bum luck to slander their names. So I trudged on, even after my ex left me with an expensive flat. Thanks to kindly neighbours, I ate more often than I might have. God even provided me with many believers as friends in the months leading up to August. I listened to them. I considered what they said. I believed in the LORD, but I didn't want to accept all His ways. I guess my faith was enough for Him to preserve my life. When my bank account approached the red, I knew I had failed. It was back to my childhood home, back to the scene of the crime, so to speak. But then, wasn't every place I'd stepped been as such?

Since my recent conversion, I had reached a point where I could examine my situation and not loathe myself for some of the decisions I'd made. But I certainly wasn't happy. It never occurred to me until I read Jeremiah's words that perhaps me being in Tusket was God's doing. Perhaps He took me away from ready access to vices so that I might grow in strength. Just as Joseph son of Jacob said to his brothers: it was not because of their deception that he was carried into Egypt; it was because God had the foresight and caring to put him in a position to save himself and his family. This feels so familiar now, much more so than when I read it in October. (To a much smaller degree, perhaps, but it reminds me of me.)

Pastor Jim would say that the church doesn't expect perfection; it expects excellence. No one is expected to do more than his or her ability. But see, I've always felt that nothing short of perfection would make me worthy of others. I'm the guy who habitually told himself that he could have anything he wanted...later. After I'd earned it, that is. But that time would never come. Ever. I see that now. Of course, it only applies to things that truly matter to me.

I guess it's no real surprise that I can relate to Jeremiah; he was greatly misunderstood. My past pursuits might not have been in service of God, but certainly I understand what it's like to believe in something and be shamed for it. That's just a part of my childhood that I have to accept. I was surrounded by folks who made me feel grotesque for marching to a different beat. Whether that was intentional or not, that's how it felt. Perception is everything, my friends. Why else do you think kids bring guns to school with shells in one pocket and a hitlist in the other? I had never reached that point. Instead, I adopted a holier-than-thou mentality. I had determined that karma existed in some form and would unleash wrath on all those who mistreated me. I'm not the only one who experienced such moments of weakness (Jeremiah 20: 7-18).

But, as I've mentioned to some of my closest confidantes, something happened to me in 2003 that effectively nullified my entire past. Something was unlocked in my heart that proved to me, beyond all doubt, that I wasn't just alive but I had been forged and created by knowing hands. That God was truly real. But I didn't like the notion that I had contributed to my [potential] demise. I couldn't accept that all my years of anguish were partially my fault. At least Jeremiah had the LORD to guide him. I tried to go it on my own terms. Even though I didn't deserve it, God stepped in. I'm healing in ways I never thought possible. I'm not completely over myself. I still cling to certain mental habits. But I'll get there.

I'm finally starting to meet people for reasons other than school or work. Perhaps I'm not a holy man, but I sure as dickens am striving to be one. My eyes are fixed on genuine truth and real ideals. Yesterday morning I woke from a strange dream and I was actually in mid-prayer. I can't explain it, but the very second I regained consciousness, I was thinking about and talking with God. That was one of the coolest most inspiring moments of my life. It's progress, I tells ya.

You know what? We have minds and eyes and the ability to examine things, but it's not what we see that we should be judging, it's what our conscience says that matters. Our eyes were given to us so that we might navigate this world, but the inherent risk of that, as God surely knew, is that we actually become attached or resentful of what they show us. The heart, my friends, the heart alone is what counts.

In closing, my favourite passage, and likely to remain my favourite:

1 Samuel 16:7
"The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart."

(For those who don't know, that's what God told Samuel when he looked at David and thought, "Nah, this guy ain't no king.")


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