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Rich Vanderwal brought this First Word to the meeting on Easter, 2003.


OK, here's another one of those "Life is a Roller Coaster" statements. When I ride a roller coaster, I'm acutely aware of how little influence I have on the situation. To compensate, I concentrate on the metal bar that's supposed to keep me in place. I shake it to test its range of motion, weight, and stability in order to hang on as best as possible, and then I don't let go of the thing until the ride is over. Sure, the ride is fun, but it's all about the metal bar. I can't help but feel those who aren't so concerned about that bar are having a lot more fun than I am. Ok, here it comes. Life is a roller coaster.

I think this metal bar thing is all about control. The book of Proverbs puts the situation down with a pretty sharp slap:

"In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps" -- Proverbs 16:9 NIV

There's a more spirited Yiddish way of saying almost the same thing: "man proposes, and God laughs" (according to David C. Gross, former editor of The Jewish Week).

What if all of my plans worked out the way I had planned?

If all went according to my own plans, at this point I'd be the founder of and the main performer in an over-achieving, highly successful rock band with an emphasis on strong vocals and annoyingly complex songs structure.

God's version of this is that I should instead slowly learn how to play simple lines on the bass, taking on a role more supportive of others and learning the exquisite joys of playing in an ensemble.

My version of my business is that I make a huge amount of money writing a massively multiplayer action/adventure game with nothing but my ingenuity and ego to support it.

God's version is that I almost accidentally fall into a support-based web hosting business with a great bunch of clients who are usually a pleasure to work with.

My version of spirituality used to be this: I somehow find time to spend a whole lot of time alone - I get a lot of work done and find inner peace.

God's version: I go to meeting where I work with a group of people to help get a larger picture of what God wants.

My version of what needs to be done usually has a lot to do with what I'm going to do alone. God's version usually has more to do with a network of other people.

As time goes on, the network gets larger - take leading music, for example:

For leading music, I usually have a loose plan about how things will go during the worship service. Then, when I work with April, the plan changes dramatically. Sunday morning before worship, we add another set of people - the speaker, the person doing 1st Word, elder for elder's prayer, etc., and the plan can change once again. And, during worship, everything is subject to change - the order, number of songs and pacing can change again with how the spirit of God speaks through the whole meeting.

Now, I have to admit that groups of people and changes in plan are not my strong point. However, the rewards are great. Time and time again, the inspired plans I make are replaced with something else that's confusingly implemented by several people and has a much more effective result than my version of what should have happened.

Gladly, I'm slowly learning to just let go of my megalomania and be more childlike, or more like the lilies of the field.

Now this all reinforced some years back with the reading of a short story by Leo Tolstoy. Near the end of this story, one of the characters, who has been transformed from an angel to a human, and back into an angel, confesses to his elders:

"I understood that God does not wish men to live apart, and therefore he does not reveal to them what each one needs for himself; but he wishes them to live united, and therefore reveals to each of them what is necessary for all."

Among some other ideas in Tolstoy's writing that ring true for me, this one is especially scary and intriguing. This sounds a lot like Quaker process. Normal Sunday Meetings here, Business Meeting, and other small gatherings throughout the week are an indispensable part of determining God's wishes.

I'm going to use this Easter as an exercise in relaxing a bit and choosing not to hang on to the metal bar in front of me for dear life. I certainly still have my ideas of exactly how a respectable Easter Sunday should go, but letting things happen as God speaks through us now seems to be more appropriate for an Easter celebration.