Free Will: It’s not who we are, it’s what we are.

Grieving hard for my brother has brought me back to questions of free-will and forgiveness. I see his life clearly. He didn’t have a good start. Fetal alcohol issues gave him very poor judgment, massive dyslexia, and a mess of social and emotional secondary issues. None of that was his fault. They led him to do harm to others in a variety of ways, and each time it happened he was very sure that he was right, that he was doing the best he could, and that in some way someone was treating him badly. His actions were a direct result of who he was.

Following this, of course, come thoughts about myself and my own life. I dodged the fetal alcohol bullet, but took direct hits from post-traumatic stress disorder, abuse, and neglect. While I was there watching out for my little brother, no one was there watching out for me. Late in life now I look at all of it, of the expanse of seventy years of being me, and for sure I see immense damage. I see that my children wear the bruises, that injury is not discrete, not contained in a single life, that the harm is generation. And yes, I was always doing the best I could, working with what I could understand. Lost in some ways, in addiction, in some kind of dissociation, in the coils of PTSD, not seeing what was true, but always doing the best I could.

So how does one ask forgiveness for things one didn’t cause? My life made me what I was, and that’s never a person’s fault. The disturbing conclusion has to be that it’s not what we do, it’s what we are that causes harm. If I had perceived any kind of choice to do differently, of course I would have.

And still chasing this, I find that it’s not what people do to me that is hard to forgive; it’s the realization then of what/who they really are that’s so terrible. It’s not coming to terms with what they did; it’s how on earth they could have done it.

I’ve learned not to take credit for the good things I do, but to give it back to God. How does this work for the bad ones?

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Death of a little brother.

Yesterday was the first anniversary of my brother’s death. John Moore was 63 when he died of pancreatic cancer. It was quick enough. He was ill for a couple of months and then at Christmas became very sick indeed. He was in Florida at the time, and hurried back to Toronto. He flew to Buffalo and took a bus from there. Given how ill he was by then it must have been a truly horrible trip.

The tumour had been growing for some time, pushing into his intestine, which is what had been making him so sick for the first months. They didn’t see it. From diagnosis to death was less than a month.

He was my only brother, and till he died I called him Little Brother. I don’t think either of us could have made it without the other. We each came away with our own wounds and our own chronic damage, but I can only imagine how much worse it could have been if he hadn’t had me to watch out for him – we lived in dangerous and depraved circumstances and by that time there was no one else to watch out for him. And I don’t know how I would have got through without his innocent, pure, and unconditional love. Five years younger than me, in a way he was perhaps my first child.

So where is he now? Somewhat battered by life, brain-damaged from fetal alchol issues, he was definitively not a Christian. He was often angry, capable, like our father, of irrational violence. Yet he took his estranged and divorced wife into his home and nursed her by hand as she died of long and utterly horrifying (to anyone but him, who just loved and held her) Lou Gehrig’s disease. That two year vigil, poking holes in the membrane that would seal her throat, helping her cope with vast bedsores, all of it woke something in him. Yes, but after that even more definitively not a Christian.

What happens to people who die denying Jesus? I knew my little brother, in some ways as well as I knew myself. I know the damage that was done to him, and I certainly have a clearer idea of that than he did. I know his life wasn’t his fault, and that the pain and damage that came through him to the people in his life weren’t of his creation. I remember that little boy, fierce fierce blue eyes, utterly resistant to tyranny at no matter what cost, standing in front of my father, full of fury, commanding him not to hit me. Pure and clear and sharp as a diamond.

If there’s Heaven, and I don’t feel clear or sure about what that might be, how could he not be there? He suffered lots, and he found a way to transcend it by selfless love.

Jesus, those little children whose mothers brought them to see You didn’t know Your name. Nor did my little brother. I just want him to be with You. How could I ever imagine a Heaven where he wasn’t allowed?

Prayer. Crystal Tsunami.

Up until now I’ve been using this blog to figure out what I think about a number of things. I think last week was the end of that, or an end of one part of it. It’s time, I think, to start doing different work here.

Today I’ve been scouring Audible.com looking for books on prayer. It’s one of those times when I wish I could read. A lot of the Christian writing available in audio form has a strong evangelical bent, and while I engage with an evangelical community, one that mostly is able to celebrate the love of God without legalism, this isn’t always true in the literature I am able to find.

To manage a book on prayer I’m going to need to open way wide and let a teacher in.

I pray every day, morning and night. I don’t know if I do it right. Is there ‘right’ in this case? Increasingly I sing before I pray, and increasingly I feel the spirit move, my hands come up, and I feel the fire. I want to say ‘the fire of the Holy Spirit’ but I don’t know that. when a congregation is in worship, and the fire is moving, is that God, or is it just fire among the congregation? When I do it alone I am a little more sure of it.

And I pray generally two specific prayers. In the morning I pray that God will take each moment, each passage, the dross, the pain, the scruff, the small pleasures, the sorrow, all of it, and make it His own. That each piece of my life is owned by Him. In the evening I pray “You are my Home and my Destination. All my roads lead to You. Sometimes I’m lonely, lost, sick, or sad. But still I am on my way Home.”

I’d like to learn more about other kinds of prayer. I’m very uncertain about intercessory prayer. How can we be asking for things? If I am blind, it must be inside God’s plan, or I wouldn’t be. It seems to fall somewhere between effrontery and lack of faith to pray for my vision to be restored.

I feel my life changing a little. It makes me want more.

 

Thunder Egg

and so I came into Youas one might come into a garden
and being there suddenly find
that there is no other place
that the garden, which seemed bound from without
has no bounds within it
and that all experience was planted there

I am made a geode
brown scruff without
scruff that, since it thinks, must think itself scruff
holding within it momentless time
crystalline tsunami
a holy storm
a garden at its eye

Radical Obedience

The reading and reflecting I’ve been doing over the last couple of months have led me to thinking about obedience. Increasingly I’m not sure that obedience is about doing or not doing what you think God may or may not want, based on some external set of guidelines. We will, whether we like to admit it or not, pick and choose. No burning alive the pastor’s daughter because she’s sleeping around. No stoning our rebellious son. Yet God, in Leviticus, specifically commanded that these things be done. We feel okay about not committing adultery, though we tend to redefine it to suit the times. Among serious Christians there are wide latitudes of difference about divorce.

 

I’ve come to believe that there are no external guidelines for determining my specific behaviour. I think that’s entirely up to God now. If I’m doing something, it’s because God wants me to, or I wouldn’t be doing it. If I’m not doing it, it’s because He doesn’t want me to. This is a pre-conscious process, kind of running in the background. In the foreground I’m still assessing, figuring things out. And in the foreground I use only two filters. Love your neighbour, and love God. And if you get feeling uncertain about what ‘love’ is, go back to First Corinthians and read it again.

 

This could seem heretical. If I’m doing it, it’s because God wants it? What if I were busy torturing a puppy, visiting some appalling pornography site, cheating my room-mates on their share of the bills? Wouldn’t that mean God told me to? How else would I have come to be doing it? The answer it that I wouldn’t be doing those things. As I walk this one I find that my act is getting cleaned up on a deeper and deeper level.

 

One might ask – “How to you know who it is you’re trusting? Could be the wrong one, no? Better to follow the rules God gave us.”

 

That’s there is a ‘wrong one’ I have no doubt. At the beginning of every day, and several times through the day, then again at the end of it, I ask the Lord to accept each particle, each molecule of my experience, the easy ones, the hard ones, the pain or loss or joy and just the in-between parts and make them fully his. When the Book of Common Prayers says “To be a reasonable, holy and living sacrifice” I think that’s what it means. I don’t want to sacrifice myself to some set of doctrines that just leads to fear. The real sacrifice is to let go of all of it, all the deciding power. “Not my will, but Thine” with the rider that I can’t possible know Thy will, not be any book or precepts or code or commandment. The only way I can find out is by releasing into Your love, in complete trust that You will use my life in any way You choose.