The Tenacity of Hope

Ronald Kok, The Tenacity of Hope, Markers on paper, 2018

If you’re like me, Hope is something you may have in short supply these days. But with that in mind I want to point out the almost-obvious: You still have a supply.

That’s the funny thing about Hope, there seems to always be some, even in the darkest of times and places. I know that depression and circumstances have driven people to complete despair, but, amazingly, this is not the rule.  It is astounding how much human beings can endure and still cling to Hope. Really, Hope is what has given people the strength to press on, to keep going, to shake off the awful stuff and get on their feet.

Hope is tenacious. I looked up “tenacious” in Webster’s dictionary. The first definition given was “not easily pulled apart: COHESIVE, TOUGH”. A synonym given was “STRONG”.  Hope is not easily broken. Hope is like super glue that way: A tiny drop of it can adhere to your heart and mind and soul so strongly that almost nothing can tear you apart.

Hope, really, is a testament to the human spirit. What is the source of Hope? We place it in many things – God, other people, our circumstances, our money – but when you think of it, Hope finds its source in us. If Hope was just external, it wouldn’t have the strength or cohesion we need to endure hardship. The truth is, we are the main authors of the Hope that sustains us. This is the true miracle – We have within us the tenacity we need to keep our heads above water even in the worst of storms.

The artwork posted here is my first finished piece for 2018. It came from an idea given to me by someone who saw my artwork on line. She envisioned a woman drowning, yet drowning in her own tears, and those “waters” were things like shame, abuse, depression, etc.; above her was a hand coming down, “Hope”, just out of reach. I took that idea and put my own spin on some things. Overall, the image is more melodramatic than I prefer, but that in and of itself is not a bad thing – Sometimes we need images to point directly to our internal battles. Artists can get a little too cute with making things obscure and I have certainly been guilty of that.

Hope soars down in the form of an eagle, a symbol of the Divine. To me, that can be God and/or the Image of God in all of us.

Ultimately, I have the hope that an image like this helps you see that there is always Hope. It is tenacious – strong, resilient – and so are you.

 

A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 113: Sunday God Quote – Pete Townshend

“Let my love open the door
It’s all I’m living for
Release yourself from misery
There’s only one thing gonna set you free
That’s my love”
Pete Townshend is famous for being the Who’s dynamic and dramatic guitarist and preeminent songwriter,responsible for monster rock hits like “Won’t Get Fooled Again” and “Who Are You”.  He also had some hits of his own off his solo albums. One of those was “Let My Love Open the Door” from his 1980 album Empty Glass. Pete has always been a spiritual seeker and has often written about God and faith and doubt in his songs. Despite that, listeners often miss the message. None of his songs have been as misinterpreted in that way as much as “Let My Love Open the Door”. Here is Mr. Townshend himself on the meaning and mistaken message of one of his most famous solo recordings:
Let My Love Open the Door is one of those songs where you end up shooting to write something really deep and meaningful, and what you end up coming up with is something that appears to be froth. That was a song about love, but this is actually about divine love. It’s supposed to be about the power of God’s love, that when you’re in difficulty, whether it’s major or minor, God’s love is always there for you. But I suppose, because I used the royal ‘we’ – I sang in God’s voice – it became a song about, you know, ‘Hey, girl, I’ll give you a good time, if you’re feeling blue, come over to my place, and we’ll catch a movie,” very much a soap opera version of what it was about, but a few people have picked it up.”
Here are the lyrics to that very catchy Top-40 hit about God’s love:
Let My Love Open the Door
When people keep repeating
That you’ll never fall in love
When everybody keeps retreating
But you can’t seem to get enough
Let my love open the door
Let my love open the door
Let my love open the door
To your heart
When everything feels all over
Everybody seems unkind
I’ll give you a four-leaf clover
Take all worry out of your mind
Let my love open the door
Let my love open the door
Let my love open the door
To your heart, to your heart
I have the only key to your heart
I can stop you falling apart
Try today you’ll find this way
Come on and give me a chance to say
Let my love open the door
It’s all I’m living for
Release yourself from misery
There’s only one thing gonna set you free
That’s my love
That’s my love
Let my love open the door
Let my love open the door
Let my love open the door
Let my love open the door
When tragedy befalls you
Don’t let it drag you down
Love can cure your problems
You’re so lucky I’m around
Let my love open the door
Let my love open the door
Let my love open the door
To your heart

The Jesus Experience

This summer I presented a brief series at my church called “Christianity for Dummies” about the basics of the faith. It was a four-part series with the first three parts being Knowing God, Loving God and Serving God. For the finale, I decided to write a letter to a fictional seeker, one who I imagined asked me about my experience with God, about why I choose Christianity. Below is that letter…

Pansy-Jesus

You’ve asked me to describe to you the experience of being a Christian. Why believe this way? Why Jesus? Why bother? It’s a big set of questions. I can’t necessarily address the “why Christianity” angle of these questions in the sense of comparing and contrasting with other faiths. I don’t know enough about other faiths to work out that kind of argument. No doubt I would horribly misrepresent what others believe, anyway.

Really, I can only speak from my belief, from my experience, from my experience of God – knowing God, loving God, serving God. Ultimately, I believe that experiencing God is at the core; that experiencing is all those things – knowing, loving, serving – happening all at once, all the time. And I believe that Christianity offers the ultimate experience of God. That belief statement hinges on Jesus. You can’t talk about experiencing God as a Christian without Jesus. That equation doesn’t work.

Funny thing, though: Many Christians shy away from connecting Jesus directly to any faith statements they might make. You’ll hear a Christian say, “I believe in God” or “I follow God” and seem to think that covers it; that is all that is needed to convince you of their devotion to Christianity. Though there is nothing wrong with those statements, there is also nothing particularly Christian about those statements, either. In fact, it could be argued that saying “I believe in God” is a very human thing to say, to believe. Belief like that is very universal in our world, one shared by literally billions of people, give or take a few million dissenters.

Knowing God, loving God, serving God – these concepts are at the heart of what it means to be a Christian. But these concepts are also at the heart of what it means to be Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, etc. Of course, Christianity puts its own particular spin to these concepts. And that spin has no momentum at all without mentioning Jesus. It is odd, then, that the name of Jesus is not often included in a Christian’s statement of faith. Perhaps they are afraid of offending (a not uncommon Christian trait). Perhaps by stating “I believe in God” they are just trying to fit in with the few other billion people on earth who would agree. But a Christian leaving Jesus’ name out of any statement of faith is like not mentioning beef in a recipe for beef Stroganoff. People might eventually notice and it won’t help anyone who is trying to cook up the recipe for themselves. I mean, “Where’s the beef?”

So let me make it really plain for you and very straightforward: I believe in God because I believe in Jesus. I believe in God because of Jesus. I believe in God because I likely would not without Jesus. And it is Jesus that I follow. My experience of a life lived in faith is all wrapped up in Jesus. And tied with a bow.

How does this impact my experience of God? How does it make things different? To understand that, you need to understand what I believe: I believe Jesus is the only Son of God, born to a virgin named Mary over 2,000 years ago in a town called Bethlehem in Judea, in Israel. I believe that he is (not was but is) 100% human and 100% God (Yes, I believe in a mathematical impossibility. Sue me – it’s why it’s called faith). I also believe Jesus was both human and divine for an extremely important reason: So that he could take on all the sin of humanity, bear the weight of punishment for our sin and yet conquer it too. As a human, he could represent us all completely. As God, he could save us all completely. In other words, he was the only person who has ever lived who could possibly accomplish this. I also believe Jesus lived among us to set a pattern for life, an example to follow, a way to ensure that your life is full of purpose and meaning. I believe he went ahead for us to mark out the Path – peace, justice, love, forgiveness, truth, grace, mercy, light and joy. I also believe that died but came to life again (Yes, I believe a scientific impossibility, too… faith, remember?), that he ascended back to his Father, and that he sent us his Holy Spirit to guide us in that path he marked out for us.

That last paragraph is full of stuff that most Christians, give or take a slightly different angle here or there, would be in complete agreement with. From a purely theological standpoint, there is nothing earth-shattering in what I’ve professed to believe. It is when all that theological stuff gets translated into flesh and blood, into my real walking around, eating, sleeping, working, complaining, laughing, crying, whining life that things really start to take off. When it moves beyond the head knowledge, beyond the theology to life practicality, the Jesus Experience really kicks in, and a simple human being like you or me can begin to understand every moment lived in the presence of God.

Now, I’m not going all mystical on you here. I know the language sounds mystical but the Jesus Experience is way more pragmatic than that. In fact, it is downright earthy, grubby, hardscrabble and lots of other gritty adjectives. This is where I believe the experiencing of God takes on a different feeling as a follower of Jesus; a follower of the God-Man, the One who became one of us to makes us one with God. You see, because of Jesus, in all the very things that make us human, God chooses to dwell. In all the things we associate with being a man or a woman on this earth, God imbues himself and his will and his love and his truth.

Sorry – this is sounding all mystical again. But what I’m trying to say is that you can experience God down to your very DNA because God created that DNA and God, in Jesus, is that DNA. Because God chose to express himself as a human, because he chose to pursue us and love us and save us all by becoming a human, because he didn’t despise us for the lowly humans we are, we can now experience him in every aspect of what it means to be human. We don’t have to graduate to some elevated spiritual plain. We don’t have to achieve some state of non-personhood. We don’t have to cast off our mortal coil to begin to grasp the immortal. We can experience God as fully as a fully human being can.

In other words, when I love I experience God because God is love. When I enjoy good food, good company, good sleep, good sex, good art, good music, good books, good movies, good days I experience God because God is good. When I create, innovate, speculate; when I think, ponder, consider; when I move, feel, breathe – God is in all of that and all of that is in God. As a believer in a God who is human, too – in Jesus Christ – all that makes me who and what I am is an avenue to experience God.

Of course, this means more than just the good and lovey stuff. Experiencing God because of Jesus also includes a deeper understanding of God in the pain, heartache, depression, doubt, anger, sorrow, loneliness. Jesus lived a truly human life and, therefore, lived a life like ours: a beautiful and terrifying thing. But because of Jesus, we realize that God is not removed from the miry clay, above the dirt and the filth; no, because of Jesus, we realize that God is right  there with us, up to the neck sometimes in the crap of life. So a great part of truly experiencing God is in the shadows, in the dark, knowing that he doesn’t pick and choose what aspects of the human reality to reveal himself; he’s there always, all the time, and in all moments and places.

The Jesus Experience is so interwoven with the Human Experience that they cannot be separated. God meant it this way.

That’s what I believe and why I believe there is no deeper experience of God than through Jesus. Of course, I am very limited to understanding God by my humanness and so are you. But isn’t it an incredible, amazing thought to consider that God knows that, too, so he made a way, through Jesus, for us to understand and experience him as completely as we can in our limited humanness? That sounds like a God who truly loves me… and you, too.

What do you think?

God, Good Fortune and My Kleenex Buddy

 

DSC_0073

I am just getting over a nasty cold. By my side through many hours of the fight has been my “Kleenex Buddy” (as my wife calls it), a brightly colored box of tissues. What is unique about this box is that it has Chinese characters on the side which, supposedly, mean “Good Fortune”.

As I shnorked my nose into another tissue from this buddy of mine the irony of those Chinese characters was not lost on me. “Ah, Good Fortune… Phhhhhhsssnnnaaaaaarchhhh!!!!”

I know, I know; it is just a cold. It isn’t SARS or Swine Flu or Typhoid or the Whooping Cough or the Black Plague. But when you’re sick, you’re sick and it is a tall order to see where Good Fortune is hiding amid the increasing pile of snot-filled detritus littering the floor at your feet.

However, having to look at that tissue box for the last few days has got me thinking: What does Good Fortune mean anyway? Luck? Fate? Seems like a nice thing to wish on someone but it is awful tenuous. It doesn’t feel very solid or sure; like the “Have a Nice Day” you receive in the robotic tone from the underpaid and underworking young person at the grocery checkout.

If my life really depended on Good Fortune maybe, possibly, hopefully happening but maybe not… well, that is just a bit depressing. And why should I experience Good Fortune when my neighbor just received a diagnosis of cancer or the guy I know at church rolled his car in a ditch or a family member of mine struggles with a debilitating mental illness?

Maybe I’m dwelling too deeply on my Kleenex Buddy. Maybe all that snot-expelling loosened up my brain a bit. It’s likely.

Have I experienced Good Fortune in life? It’s hard for me to say “Yes” to that because Good Fortune feels accidental and I don’t believe things happen accidentally. Sure, there are accidents in life and these include happy accidents. But even then I don’t believe those are somehow outside the plan, outside the purpose of my life. I don’t believe in an impersonal something that either does or does not bestow good things on my life. I believe in a personal God who is Good; and that God has a plan for me. Does that mean I understand it all, that I don’t have doubts, that I feel solid and sure every waking hour that my life is in His big and capable hands? Of course not. My life is like your life: At times it feels like I’m almost touching heaven and at other times like I am totally adrift in a leaking life raft in the middle of the ocean, surrounded by circling sharks the size of semi-trucks.

But choosing to believe in a Good God instead of Good Fortune puts my life under the auspices of the One who is love, who doesn’t create anything by accident, who doesn’t get blown back and forth by the whims of Fate or by my pathetic human whims either.

By believing in this Good God do I mean to say that nothing but good will come my way? No. Hell, no. I don’t believe in a Good God who has my personal happiness as his #1 priority. I believe in a Good God who has a Master Plan for all of Creation and I just happen to be an infinitesimal but integral part of what He is up to. That thought makes me feel very humbled and exalted all at the same time. Weird but true. God loves me but it also is not about me. He knows me personally but my personal fulfillment doesn’t trump the Fullness of His purposes.

More deep thoughts coming from a box of tissues. That rattling sound you hear is my brain.

I could be diagnosed with cancer one day. I could have any untold number “bad” things happen to me in the days, months, years I have left. That still doesn’t change the Good about my God. And it doesn’t change the good about my life.

I’m not trying to be morbid but if it all ended for me today…

I have been deeply loved by so many people. I have an awesome family that laughs long and loud and sings together. I have felt the profound love of one woman who I am bound to in this trip through life together. I have seen my two kids being born and have experienced the extreme sport that is fatherhood. I have traveled to Africa, Europe, around North America. I have climbed to the top of Pike’s Peak. I have created artwork and acted on stage and banged on guitar strings while singing my lungs out with a “Hey, Ho”! I have preached the Word. I have been witness to the death of my Mom and not been afraid. I have felt so much Good, so much God. I have lived. That is enough.

Life is never easy for anyone. But it can be so Good.

Life can blindside you with trouble. But God’s eyes are always on you.

That is solid. That is sure. That is what I choose to believe.

So Good Fortune to you? Nah… I’ll wish you instead a lifetime supply of a Good God for however long that lifetime is for you or for me.

Peace & Love, all.