The Risk of Drowning in the Shallow End

Mallard Duck in Pool
I don't recall exactly when I began taking swimming lessons, but I would guess I was probably four or five years old. I do recall many early morning car rides to the community pool, more than a few lessons which were cancelled by ominous thunderclouds, and the occasional duck that would land in the pool mistaking it for the nearby lagoon.

An idea has been scurrying around in my mind as of late that has caused me to think back on those early swimming lessons. The idea is this: "What if it's easier to drown in the shallow end of the pool than in the deep end?"

While I'm all for pool safety, my concern here is metaphorical rather than literal. The real question in my mind is: "How many of our relationships flounder and fail in the shallow end of the pool because we fear that the deep end is too dark, too risky?"

Despite several summers of swimming lessons, I never became an accomplished swimmer. Still, I learned enough not to be afraid to venture into the deep end of the pool. (Admittedly, my forays into the oceans have filled me with a tinge of dread.)

I read a blog post today that I enjoyed for several reasons, but of particular interest at the moment is the connection it drew to this idea of moving from the shallows to the deeps in our relationships, whether with people or with God. Here's an excerpt:
"Shame makes me want to hide, whether it’s over a legitimate mistake or whether it’s someone else projecting their issues onto me. When I feel vulnerable and rejected, I hide.
This is not how we ought to be. Hiding my shame behind a veil is not healthy. It doesn’t protect me, any more than hiding behind fig leaves protected Adam and Eve from God after they disobeyed. Hiding is a symptom of our brokenness. Shame is the painful fall-out from our warped desire to control people."
(Taken out of context, that last sentence could be misconstrued as saying that an individual's experience of shame comes from his or her own warped desire to control other people while the blogger's intent seems to be quite the opposite.)

The point is that, regardless of why one experiences shame, the solution is not to automatically sound the retreat. Certainly, in some situations that may prove necessary, but every meaningful relationship requires a degree of vulnerability such that there is a possibility of rejection and loss. Meaningful encounter and engagement requires genuine risk. If we are unwilling to take that risk, then we resort to developing more and more elaborate disguises to wear to whatever masquerade party is next on the schedule.

Masquerade ball at Ch√Ęteau de Hattonch√Ętel, France 2008
The blog post continued with this thought: "Shame is impotent to love or help us grow – it is a prison. We must not succumb to the temptation to hide behind a veil, to pretend to be who we are not."

We can (and probably should) read this is a call to acknowledge our own sense of shame and fear, and see it for what it is: a prison. We need to sense the way it subtly undermines our relationships and interactions, and find ways to overcome it.

But if we were to stop there, we wouldn't have gone far enough. We need to become more sensitized to the shame that others are experiencing and the fears that cause them to hide their true selves. We need to extend a hand, offer an embrace, and invite others to join us in the journey from the relational shallows to the deeps. We need to invite others to walk the path with us which leads to knowing and truly being known by one another, and which ultimately leads to knowing and truly being known by God.

So, I'll pose the question to myself again, and encourage you to spend some time considering it yourself as well: "How many of my relationships flounder and fail in the shallow end of the pool because I fear that the deep end is too dark, too risky?"

I know I seem to be in the minority for enjoying the film Meet Joe Black, but nevertheless I'll conclude with a clip from what always struck me as the most significant scene in the movie. No, not the scene you are thinking of. I mean this one, between Quince and Joe:


Eucharist vs. The Lizard Brain

Typically, we think of hibernation as something that occurs only in the winter. As a more-or-less acclimated Phoenician, I can say that something akin to hibernation occurs in Phoenix not in the bleary cold of winter but rather in the blistering heat of summer. The mercury level rises; my energy level falls. It is difficult to be motivated when it's 106 degrees on the morning commute to work, 100 degrees when it's time to go to bed, and 116 degrees at points between.

Exhibit 1. Lizard, with Lizard Brain.
I believe this is the reason that many things go on hiatus during Phoenix summers. We go into a self-preserving, energy conservation mode. Work. Hydrate. Eat. Sleep. Work. Olympics. Eat. Sleep. As my friend Mary says, the primal ‘lizard brain’ takes over and all our energies and efforts are redirected to mere survival. The priority has to be to maintaining essential life support systems. The non-essentials can wait until later. But what is the most essential? In my experience, there is a danger in this hibernation: as I strip my life down to the bare essentials and let that ‘lizard brain’ direct me on autopilot, it’s all too easy for me to neglect what is truly essential.

Consider this example: One of the highlights of my week is the Thursday evening Eucharist at our church. This brief time to gather for worship, fellowship, exhortation, and edification is something I look forward to each week. I look forward to it even though attending means battling cross-town traffic after an exhausting day towards the end of an exhausting week of work. Maybe I shouldn’t be, but I am always surprised by the way that God uses that time to renew me, to change me, and to breathe new life into me.

Exhibit 2. Eucharist.
Our weekly Eucharist was on hiatus for the month of July. Last week it began again, and while I sincerely planned to attend, I ended up working late and ended up not going. In retrospect, my work would have been accomplished just as well the next morning (probably better), and I would have been happier and healthier had I prioritized worship first. Thursday rolled around again, as it is wont to do), and once again I was tempted to work late. After all, there’s so much at work that demands my attention, and it can give me such a sense of satisfaction to see all my tasks completed. Even more tempting was the thought of simply heading home to relax. Surely it would be understandable if I want to just hibernate at home until it cools off (sometime in October or so).

I had perfectly reasonable excuses not to go to Eucharist. Instead, I battled traffic, spent a few moments collecting my thoughts, and then had a meaningful experience worshiping along with a few others who had also braved the heat. In the midst of this humble, simple, intimate worship service, God was present to bless, to speak, to heal.

I suspect that there is a an important lesson in this: when we are stressed by external factors, when we feel taxed beyond our limit, there is strong tendency to retreat, retract, hibernate, to let the ‘lizard brain’ take control just to get us through until circumstances change. Perhaps sometimes there is no alternative but to put our heads down, drink lots of water, and focus on the bare essentials of survival. But I for one am tempted to take that route more often that is necessary. When I am stressed and tempted to retreat, I need to remind myself and be reminded by others that my retreat should be into the presence of God and into the gathered community of those who worship Him.

This doesn’t seem to be a profound lesson. Quite simple, really. Most of the important lessons in my life have been simple. If it’s like most, it is probably a lesson I have even learned before, and it may well be one I must learn again.


A Resolution

Resolved: not to make any grandiose (and vain) resolutions that I will post a remarkable, significant entry to my blog each day.

That being said, I have come to the conclusion that I must find an outlet for pent-up creative energies. Not to mention a way to mollify to those who incessantly prod me to write.

This blog may amount to nothing more than a haphazard travelogue of my intellectual meanderings. But follow at your own risk: sometimes meanderings are but the start of pilgrimages.


P.S. Also, this might be a fun place to show off all the big words I know.


Christians Wrong About Heaven, Says Bishop

I thought some of you might be interested in this recent interview with NT Wright in Time. He's talking about the sometimes unbiblical views Christians have of eternal life. I think does a good job expressing why it is important for us to be more careful in the ways we talk about eternity. When I was a young believer, I remember being taken quite off guard when I first learned that the Bible didn't teach a hellenistic (or gnostic) divide wherein the eternal soul was good and the physical body was evil. I just assumed that was true Christian doctrine and that being saved meant that instead of going to hell, Christians would be in an amorphous disembodied state for eternity. At that time I hadn't heard any teaching to the contrary that gave a clearer picture of what the Bible actually teaches. And you know what, it really does matter: when we're sloppy in talking about this doctrine it isn't harmless. It can have serious negative consequences in how we view our stewardship of our own bodies and of our surroundings. Moreover, it is much easier for us to look forward to and long for an eternal state which isn't either completely undefined or simply mis-defined.



We're taking a break from the study of John's gospel (which we have been working through for more than a year) and spending the next 6 weeks in the book of Titus. John's message on Titus 1:1-4 today was particularly excellent. He was emphasizing the distinction between chronos (as the seasonal, ebb-and-flow perception of time) and kairos (as a critical moment, an in-breaking of God or a moment of realization that something significant has just or is about to occur).

John was describing our experience of chronos as being primarily a function of our observation of sequential movement. A 24-hour day represents one rotation of the earth on its axis; a 365 1/4
-day year the full rotation of the earth in its orbit around the sun. Days, Seasons, Years, Eras, Epochs, all find their markings in our perception of motion.

So this fuels the resurgence of a question I've been kicking around for about 20 years now: Is time (in the chronos sense) a thing? Is time anything? If time is our perception, our making sense, our attempt to accommodate and understand the sequence of movements macroscopic and microscopic, then are we perceiving something tangible which really is? Or are we merely putting the tangible motions into a sequential framework so we can describe it and conceive of it?

If time is not itself a thing, if it is merely our perception of actual things, then in what sense can we ever say that we are 'in time' or that God the Creator is 'outside of time'? Even if time is something, from where do we get the idea that it is something which is localized or spatial, something which one can be either inside or outside?

Is the statement commonly repeated in pop-theology that because God is infinite and eternal, that because he is the Creator of space and matter and all that is, that he is therefore outside of time a true statement? or even a helpful one? If time is perception and not a thing in itself, then the best we could say is that God's perception is infinite whereas ours is limited: our perception has a beginning but no end, while his perception has neither beginning nor end.

I apologize for getting so cosmological here. I'm pretty sure that no one else cares about this. But do any of you have thoughts on this?