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negative space

Maybe I'm just cynical after being back in the suburbs for a year. The world is calling and I'll probably answer it soon.

I used to think that the quiet mornings when I woke up into the silence of a new day was wasted time. That the afternoons where I munched on cold cereal at home while reading comic books were just filler hours for the real highlights of my saga; my real life.

Now I see that they are all part of the same intricate tapestry which is, existence. It’s less of a series of good moments and bad ones—or exciting moments vs. dull ones—and more of a holistic artwork. A masterpiece.

It will have influences of Salvador Dali and heavy metal bands. Bright Eyes shaped my childhood, but cinema formed my 20’s. Regardless, the point is this: You’re alive and you’re the artist behind every minute you exist.

And it’s ok to have some of that negative space in the composition.

Paintings feel far too crowded without some open space to breathe. Those tranquil evenings alone reading a novel are not wasted, they are just negative space.

Moses, the Hebrew with an Egyptian name from the Bible, spent 80 years waiting for something significant to come of his life, and at the wrinkled old age of 80, he became a liberator of slaves. Two thirds of his life wasted….or was it? Or was it negative space on the canvas of a really good story?

Thinking of life through the lens of art and poetry and beauty seems more of a fitting perspective to me than thinking of it through the lens of a lot of American Christianity. You’ll find more truth in The Dead Poets Society than you will in most megachurches. You’ll feel more alive after The Brothers Bloom than you will after a $25 ‘worship night,’ where people sang flashy songs at you in very tight jeans.

I’d rather experience the One who promised me ‘life and life to the fullest’ in a way that feels like living, not pretending. I’d rather litter my life with episodes that look like mistakes and unravel into mystical and laughable yarns, than I would a safe life in the suburbs listening to safe pastors who are more concerned with my tithing habits than my life! My joie de vivre!

How did it get so twisted?

We go to concerts and movies to feel alive, but button up and straighten our faces when it’s time for church. When it’s time to meet with the God who made frogs and cliffs and sunsets, we’d better tuck our passions in and put them to sleep. None of that nonsense here.

Maybe I’m just cynical after being back in the suburbs for a year. The world is calling and I’ll probably answer it soon. And by ‘the world,’ I don’t mean the Pauline way of choosing between the Spirit and the World; I mean the rainforests of Brazil and midnight trains to Calcutta bazaars. I mean the crumbling castles of Scotland which still manage to stand on their foundations, and the Guatemalan taxis with their seatbelts cut out which rip across the cobblestone cities on shattered suspension systems.

Maybe this whole year has been a year of negative space; a season to recharge, get healthy, and write about what life was like when I was out there really living it.

A counselor, after getting to know me for a little while, once told me this while I was seeing him for help with my porn addiction: “Ethan, as long as you live in the suburbs you’ll be a porn addict.”

Think about it…

As long as you’re starving your soul for what it really needs—for the life Jesus was talking about—you’ll settle for little blips of dopamine rather than the deep satisfaction of a life well lived.

Some folks are satisfied to work their little jobs and go to their little (or in this case, big) churches and call it living. In my opinion, this is obedience and surrender, not to Jesus, but to capitalism. Think about it: The Apostle Paul met Jesus and suddenly couldn’t stay in the same country for more than a year or two.

On the other hand, I recently was talking to a high school student who was terrified God would call him to be a missionary overseas. He just wanted to work here in Colorado and live his best life here. I laughed at how nightmarish his dream sounded to me, and at his conception of a God who would call him to do what he hated.

I believe that our wired-in passions are one way God communicates to us and guides us. You don’t need to hear an audible voice or stumble upon a burning bush in order to hear from God; sometimes it’s as simple as asking a compound question:

What am I good at?
What do I love to do?
How do these contribute to the flourishing of the world?

I guess what I’m trying to say is this: figure out what that is and you’ll be happy and feel alive and flourish and make the lives of everyone around you better too. Make a list of things that make you feel alive:

  • Warm rain
  • Airports
  • Jumping into water
  • Low fog on the hills
  • Heavy metal shows

And maybe things that don’t, so you can narrow out what to avoid

  • Snow
  • Suburbs
  • Working for someone else
  • “Worship” as a genre of music

Figure out the intersection of all these things and I think you’ll be well on your way. It’s not about simply finding everything that makes you happy; that is small and won’t last. It’s about finding where your passions intersect with the hunger of the world. Find that out and you’ll be a very rich person indeed—and I don’t mean monetarily.


2 comments on “negative space

  1. Lambert Dolphin

    As usual your writing is eloquent and rich. I feel I know you and I certainly identify with you, though I’m 58 years younger than you. I sense your wanderlust and love of adventure. But your superficial commitment to Jesus is worrisome. I did not know Jesus even existed until I was 30 and I’m for sure a late bloomer. There is still time for you to give our Lord permission to take over as your Captain and CIC. I am praying for that. Lambert

    “When you see a small fire, go pour oil on it.”

  2. As always, you present some interesting food for thought. Some truth, some cynicism that may come from deep down hurts, and some really good questions. I believe God’s shaking the church – big or little places where we gather to worship together and hold each other up as we grow, like the supports that surround newly planted palm trees here in Florida – not the actual places, but the people who make up the body of Christ (church). He wants genuine, surrendered to him so those desires and dreams you mentioned can be realized. It may be traveling the world or writing books from home or being Jesus in the place we work, but wherever it is, the point is not to put on a religious we-go-to-church-on-Sunday, but a truly intimate relationship with Jesus, the reason we attend a place of worship as well as praise and worship him every day all day as we live the dreams he planned for us. “Negative Space” is never wasted. I believe you’re right in that it’s time to recharge, refresh, rest, ponder and sit in the presence of our loving God to let him accomplish that in us. Margin is a good thing. We rarely allow it. But I don’t think that is about capitalism or socialism or going to church or living in the suburbs. We definitely need to live our best life, and I think God’s the creator of that. 😉

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