YOUR INTERNAL PELICAN

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YOUR INTERNAL PELICAN

Steve Dresselhaus

The instructions given by the spiritual director were very simple.  “By yourself, go find a quiet place to observe God’s creation.  Sit quietly and listen to what he has to say to you.   Then record what you observe and hear in a journal.”  Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a nature loving John Muir wannabe; so this was the dream-come-true assignment during a three-day spiritual retreat at a beach-side resort on the paradisiacal shores of Honduras’s Caribbean coast.

For some western-trained, evangelical missionaries and pastors steeped in the worldview of ancient  Greece,  which separates the spiritual from the physical,  this assignment would likely to be a boundary-testing stretch.  Unrecognized as the branch of Gnosticism that it is, our separating of the physical from the spiritual has created two distinct, non-mixing entities. Unaware of just  how deeply evangelical Gnosticism pervades the American church,  listening for the voice of God in nature  could be,  for some,  pushing the limits of acceptable Christian behavior.   To think that God could, would and does speak to us through something other than a Bible, a sermon, a book by the current celebrity Christian author du jour or via some other acceptable tool designed to fill the head with additional Christiany facts, can be hard to imagine. Our given assignment was not to learn more about God.  Our assignment was to listen to him and then obey him.   Our assignment, if you want to call it such, was to know God and enjoy him, not just fill our mental filing cabinet with more information about him,  as is so often  our American custom.

As a long-time practitioner of the discipline of solitude and as someone who often spends time with God  via his creation,  I was eager to seek out a secluded spot and begin watching and waiting.  Over the years, during my annual  multi-day personal retreats, Jesus has never failed to show me life-changing truths  in deeply personal and  tangible ways.  It was while listening to God in the absolute solitude of a remote ranch in the desert of Mexico’s Baja California, or while solo kayaking to uninhabited islands in Mexico’s Sea of Cortez, that Jesus helped me develop my understanding  of the future, the nature and work of the church,  my role as a mission executive and a host of other things.  Currently I live in the Midwest, so the solitude of the wilds is more distant and harder to attain.  I now find solitude in a nearby convent where I hang out in silence in the company of a group of geriatric nuns.   Wilderness it is not, but the beauty of a convent chapel where well-meaning artists have attempted  to capture the beauty of nature and the glory of God  via sculpture, painting and woodwork helps quiet my soul in the rush rush world of  American Christianity.    Never, not once, have I been met with silence from God on any of these adventures where through solitude and my silence I seek him.

After making sure I was not in the direct line of fire from a falling coconut,  I sat at a wooden picnic table in the shade of a  palm tree.  The water’s edge was 100 feet away.  A gentle breeze came off the water, caressing   one- to two-foot waves into existence,  each one of which  took its turn massaging the shore line as it collapsed on the sand.  A lone pelican, surfing the gentle uplift of air on the face of the waves, glided by, scarcely moving his wings.  He was only inches above the surface.  In fact, periodically his wing tips would softly  tap the  sea’s surface.  While the grace of the large flying  bird was awe inspiring, his physical appearance when on land is so ugly as to be comical while simultaneously endearing.  His bill was as long as his body.  His stubby torso  was too short for his too long wings.  His brown/gray webbed feet were almost useless on land.  Walking  on terra firma turns this creature into a bundle of clumsy avian contortions.  But when he flies all his ugliness and onshore incompetencies disappear,  replaced by a ballet-like display  of grace.   He is only ugly when he is outside his niche, a place he was not meant to be.

As I watched the bird glide by, the Lord showed me I was like that pelican.  I was designed by the creator with a unique role, having a specialty niche King Jesus expects me to fill.  It is only when I attempt activity in a place I was not designed to be that my ugliness exceeds my grace and beauty.   A pelican trying to suck nectar from a hibiscus flower would not only be comical, it would be a dismal failure.  A hummingbird diving to catch a sardine…..it ain’t gonna happen.  By way of the pelican, Jesus reminded me  that I need to live in,  work in, and love the environment  for which I have been designed.  Anything less will end in failure, frustration and disappointment.

The American church and we American Christians need to find our internal pelican. Fill-in-the-blank cookie cutter cloning  has frequently replaced discipleship. Learning typically outranks living.   Our existing traditional church structures tend to mold everyone into an acceptable conformity.    This forces people to church shop till they find a place they fit. Those  faithful  who find their  fit are then selected to fill the  available programmed slots  such as preacher, Sunday school teacher, trustee or whatever.  Not too often is the ministry in a traditional  congregation designed the other way around where the gifting from God comes first and the ministry is built around the gifted person.   American parachurch seminary training  does little to help, as it squeezes potential pastors into a certain style of preaching. *   Never mind that preaching isn’t even one of the biblical  requirements listed for pastor; and, that of all the teaching tools and styles available,  lectures are far and away the least effective.  Institutional theological training, through the way it grades its sequestered students  and  through the  demands of  the evangelical industrial complex, nudges  us all into  becoming  hummingbirds when God desires some of us to be pelicans, or eagles, or geese.

What bird are you?  Get alone with God and listen.  Let God reveal your internal pelican to you.  Then go–and in freedom and joy, revel in doing what you were designed to do.

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 *There are some institutions which value character development as highly or even higher than they do academic development.  We should be grateful for them.

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ON MISSING WINTER

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Steve Dresselhaus

The winter of 2013-14 is now over – finally.  The  discredited prophets of man made global warming are back  hiding in the caves and grottos of academia  dreaming up their next  computer generated  end-is-nigh sermon series with which to frighten,  fool,  bilk  and tax the masses.*    Spring, real spring, not just the calendar spring is finally here.  The shattered  records for cold temperatures, amounts of snow and duration of the cold are now recorded in the history books, hopefully never to repeated.     Coats remain hung in the closet, boots are dry, the snow blower is put away.  Warm sunshine, green grass, budding flowers, trees sprouting new leaves; ah life is so good.  But is it?  Now that it is warm and sunny outside,  the American dream,  or should I say the American nightmare is staring me down, threatening my happiness and I  no longer have any excuse to ignore it.  I gotta take care of the house.  I have to start fixing all the things that winter  broke but deceptively  kept hidden from sight under  its snowy cloak of invisibility.  I sure miss the snow.

In that nano second, at that precise  but immeasurable moment when the last flake of snow goes from white to wet,  dandelions, in some kind of pre-pasteurian spontaneous generation  of life magically erupt fully grown all over my yard.   Chemical companies which produce lawn care products have cleverly indoctrinated us into believing  those cute little plants,  which in a few days will have pretty yellow flowers on them should be considered  evil, a plague, a nuisance needing to be eradicated.  Dandelions are to the American lawn what Hirohito, Hitler and Hussein were to our national security.    Just like Hallmark, which has managed to create a marketable $4.75 card for virtually every category of people, occupation and event,  lawn care companies have successfully marketed  upon us a view of what the  American lawn should look like and which to attain and maintain requires an addictive dependency on their products.   Like a Washington DC politician’s addiction to crack and coke, we suburbanites are chemically dependent on lawn care products.   What will it take to reeducate America’s  suburban middle class into accepting  dandelions as  pretty and  desirable, something  to be nurtured and appreciated and for which we should be grateful?

As my yard thaws,  becoming  the northern extension  of the Okefenokee, it unfreezes into a soft, wet muddy  mess that invites skunks to come out and root and dig for grubs making my lawn look like the surface of the moon.   After a long winter’s fast,  grubs have already begun feasting on the roots  of my grass turning my lawn brown and as splotchy as a woman’s face in a commercial for age spot cream.  Oh yes, and let’s not forget the ash tree.   During the winter it’s branches, murdered by emerald  ash bore larvae,  looked like every other tree branch, brown, brittle and leafless.  Now that spring is here all the other trees in my neighbor’s yards have a furry hint of green popping out but my ash tree remains, brown, brittle and leafless.  I can’t pretend the tree  is not there this year like I did last year and the year before.  Broken branches keep falling to my yard littering it like confetti in a New York parade.    The ash tree’s remains  have  gotta go, along with $600 to make it happen.

A quirky American trait is that we like to dichotomize everything.  Like a well coiffured  TV preacher, not a sprig of grass can be out of place in our lawns.    Our lawns must be manicured to perfection with nothing to disrupt  the monochromatic green.   Like a nose pimple on prom night, any imperfection in the lawn, tiny though it be, screams for unwanted attention.   We like order, perfection, sequence and separation.   We are a nation of OCDers whether we admit it or not.  Two follows one and always precedes  three.  A, B, and C are always in that order.  Who made up that rule and why?  Chinese, Thai, Mexican, and Italian  foods are all delightful bits and small pieces of this mixed with that and drowned in some tasty sauce.  Our American food, on the other hand, is cooked as separate  individual units, and then compartmentalized  and served  in conditions not unlike  those  of the Ebola isolation wards at the CDC.   Cafeteria food trays always have dividers so that our foods don’t touch each other.  There must be no contact between peas and meat.   Potatoes must not intrude on the carrots and the salad must be in a separate bowl all together.  Panic ensues if the mashed potato dam breaks prematurely  flooding the Jell-O salad with gravy.

Nowhere does our separation fetish appear more blatantly than in our sports.   American football is a dream come true for people liking rules, order and dichotomy – 100 yards, 50 yards, 10 yards, four downs,  quarters, halves, off-sides ,  time limits to kicking the ball,  extra points, measuring chains,  touchbacks, holding calls, no head butts, no roughing the kicker, no taunting, no late hits, timed and counted time outs.  Even the  cheerleaders get into the dichotomy act by wearing uniforms with two distinct parts,  the upper  reductionist part and the lower reductionist part, separated from each other  by as much of nothing as possible.   Football is a game designed by a committee of  Obamacare bureaucrats.

Our lawns, like our football, and like our food reveal our  national  obsession with OCD.  Grass must be kept at least  half an inch from all hard surfaces such as driveways or sidewalks.  The green lawn must end where the flower garden starts and preferably be separated by some kind of divider, be it plastic, stone or old railroad ties.    Brown spots  in the grass are like a great big red, Hester Prynne  “A”  sewn to the front of your shirt, a  sign of shame,  embarrassment and infidelity to the American dream.    What all this means is there is a never ending battle between  Joe Home Owner  and nature.   Nature is our tireless enemy committed to destroying  us by ruining our lawns.    The average American homeowner now looks at the Grand Canyon and thinks, “Dude, God forgot to put a downspout in the right place.” Or “ the timber line along the western  slope of the Grand Tetons isn’t even.”  Or, “ like bummer man, that  white sand beach in the Caribbean  bay  is curved and needs to be straightened .”   Our OCD  with lawn care has turned us against nature.  Just as a woman will pluck out her eyebrows and then paint fake ones above her eyes, a lawn of artificial turf, immutable, perfect  and eternal  is becoming an item to be desired.

Am I glad winter is finally over?  Yes, I think so,  but I’m already looking forward to fall when yard work and the nightmare of maintaining the American dream can be laid to rest under a delightful blanket of snow  for another restful  four or five months.   Oh, autumnal equinox, oh winter solstice, wherefore art thou?

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*Serious note:  While I am a skeptic, bordering on total denial of man made global warming,  I do fear the overall damage from the use of fossil fuels. The degradation of the environment caused by drilling, mining, transporting,  making energy portable, habitat loss and habitat pollution  are all reasons to rapidly seek other forms of  clean, portable  energy.    However, the biggest  environmental disaster challenging the world today is unrepentant  materialism which causes us to accumulate more stuff than  we need, whether it be stored in our house, garage, rented storage units or around our waists.