My Zigzag Life
"A gorgeous argument for
living a complicated life."
-- Ann Powers on the music
of Martha Wainwright
Living the Complicated Life:
Martha Wainwright's Music as Illustrative
"Martha Wainwright is a polymath in a singer-songwriter's cloak. She's fluent in French-Canadian pathos and New York cool; the aggressive wit of her father Loudon and the wry insight of her mother, the late Kate McGarrigle; the experimental spirit of her bohemian friends (including this album's co-producer, Thomas "Doveman" Barrett) and the Wildean decadence of her brother Rufus.
A person inhabited by multiple selves: e.g., "wife, mother,
daughter, friend, rebel, nostalgic, and dreamer."
A person who is sometimes bent, crinkled, crooked, irregular,
askew, tortured, and sometimes just a little twisted.
A person whose life does not unfold in a linear way
and whose "wayward impulses interrupt her deliberate plans."
A person who carries a powerful dose of wisdom, a good portion of compassion,
more than a few ounces of creativity, and a strange kind of happiness.
A person whose life adds intensity to the Mystery precisely through
her unpredictability, internal tensions, and the beauty of her zigzagging.
Praise God from whom all zigzags flow.
My life is a series of zigzags.
Life is complicated, too.
A Ridiculously Sunny Faith: "When I have my act together -- either because I am spiritually awakened like a Buddhist, or because I have surrendered my life to Christ like an evangelical Christian - I will be whole. My life will become a pageant: simple, easy, meaningful, and resolutely guided by praiseworthy values such as compassion, wisdom, and courage. My relationships will be healthy, and I will be healthy, too. People will trust me and respect me. I will keep my promises and be stable, albeit with a touch of spontaneity that makes me interesting. There will be hills and valleys, I know, but I will face them with equanimity. O Lord, I will be who you created me to be."
Closer to the Truth: Well good luck. Truth be told, it is never this simple, at least for the twice-born. These are the people whose lives a series of zigzags, who are always a little bit at war with themselves, who do not have an overly optimistic view of the world, and whose wayward impulses often interrupt their most deliberate plans. (William James.) Often they have suffered some kind of tragedy early in life, and it has left an indelible stamp on them. They will never see the world with rose-colored eyes, and they will never be "pure" in the first-born sense. And yet they are deeply sensitive, sometimes in ways others can't see or understand. Their lives are complicated, and they need a God who understands and embraces the complicated life. For them, believing in God will not be easy. They are sensitive to the inextricable and ineradicable admixture of good and evil in the world, and they cannot see the world as a simple harmony, a simple unfolding of divine will. If God is a universal Life in whom all lives unfold, they will need to see God as somehow including, not excluding, the reality of zigzags.
-- Jay McDaniel
John Piper writes: "Twice the Bible says that God repented for something he had done in the past (Genesis 6:6-7 and 1 Samuel 15:11), and at least eleven times it says he repented or would repent of something he was about to do in the future (Exodus 32:12-14; 2 Samuel 24:16; 1 Chronicles 21:15; Psalm 106:45; Jeremiah 4:28; 18:8; 26:3, 13, 19; 42:10; Joel 2:13-14; Amos 7:3, 6; Jonah 3:9-10; 4:2)." Found in Desiring God Website, 12/9/2016
God's Zigzagging as Omni-Flexible Love
There are various places in the Bible where God seems to change "his" mind. John Piper names thirteen of them.
Influenced by the tradition of "open and relational theology" developed by Thomas Oord and many others, I cannot imagine God as willing evil and then deciding against it. But, with their help and that of process theology, I can imagine that God is always changing in God's response to the world, in a spirit of love. God feels the feelings of all living beings and then responds with fresh possibilities, again and again. Thomas Oord says that this is God's very nature; he calls it essential kenosis. See A Different and More Loving God: In Appreciation of Thomas Oord and Reading Thomas Oord if are Slightly Mystical. By virtue of this continual change, there is a kind of zigzagging in God, and it is deeply good. Divine zigzagging may sometimes be a little tormented, given the harm we do to one another and ourselves; and often the zigzagging will be unpredictable. But it is zigzagging love. Thomas Oord calls it "essential kenosis." I'll call it essential zigzagging.
God as Self-Righteous, Insufferably Stable Prig?
But there can be a danger here as well. It is that in believing in this kind of God, we can unwittingly imagine this God as too good, too consistent, too loving, too nice.
Mark Twain speaks of the self-righteous man who always does the right thing but in an insufferable way: “a good man in the worst sense of the word.” We might admire this person from a distance, but we cannot really relate to this person. We would not want to have coffee with him. He is a prig.
So how about God? Is it possible to imagine God as “a good God in the worst sense of the word”? By “worst” I do not mean that God is bad because God could exercise unilateral power and fails to do so? I mean that God is too good to be liked? Too perfect, too clean, too straight. We may be drawn to the image as a way of avoiding what seems like the alternative: imagining God as authoritarian, mean-spirited, and judgmental, or as responsible for the world’s tragedies. But along the way we may end up with a God who is so remote, so distant, that we just can’t connect with God at all.
Our lives may be zigzag whereas God’s life is too straight; our lives may be interrupted by wayward inclinations, whereas God never yields to any temptations, If God were in a coffee shop, we’d sit as far away as possible.
God made "God" by our Zigzagging
Perhaps process theology can offer a bit of solace. In process theology our zigzag lives are actually part of God’s own life – not in the sense that God wills them into existence but in the sense that God feels our feelings and understands them, as if they were God’s own. Indeed, moment by moment our feelings become God’s feelings, too. Our zigzag lives, with their flaws and their beauty, add to the richness of God’s own life, such that God would be incomplete without them.
The “essentially kenotic” God described by Thomas Oord is more like a truly good friend than a political ruler or even a kindly father. God’s kenosis includes the act of loving our zigzags and being enriched by them. Our flaws and even our failings help make God “God.”
Go ahead, have that cup of coffee with the Lord. And if you accidently put a little cream in the Lord's coffee, when in fact the Lord likes it black, don't worry. God will adjust. In the heart of God, our mistakes are some of the best things we ever do.
-- Jay McDaniel