What Does God Look Like?

KarenBaby2If you’re ever out looking for God, and you ask some people what He looks like, you might get a description something like this:

White male
70-75 billion years old
Shoulder-length white hair
Long white beard
Approximately 10 feet tall
Last seen wearing a glowing white robe
Armed and dangerous

That’s how He’s been pictured throughout history, isn’t it? Big. Angry. Scary. Not someone you want to meet on the street in the middle of the night.

But is that really what God looks like?

It’s kind of a trick question, really. God is a spirit. You can’t actually see spirits unless they choose to manifest themselves in some visible form. So what if God decided to come to visit planet earth? How would we know Him? What form would He take?

Well, according to the Christmas Story, God did cross the spiritual/physical barrier a little over 2100 years ago. Yep. Landed smack dab in the Milk Way galaxy, third stone from the sun, in the city of Bethlehem, Judea. He sent none other than the “Angel of the Lord” to announce his coming. And He chose a bunch of sleepy shepherds to get the amazing news first.

Imagine for a moment that you’re one of those shepherds. This week it’s your turn to pull the graveyard shift and keep watch over the flocks by night. You and your buddies are sitting out there in the fields, abiding your own business, when suddenly the sky lights up bright as day. Then the Grand Poobah of all angels comes swooping down out of the clouds, accompanied by a blaring trumpet fanfare. And this is what the angel says to you:

“Don’t be afraid! I bring good news for everyone. The Lord Your God has come to earth tonight, and He wants to meet with you.”

“Wow, we must really in trouble with the Big Guy”, you think to yourself. But you have to go. After all, this is The Lord Your God, okay? He sent His best angel all the way out here. Best not turn down the invitation. Anyway, the angel said it was “good news”. So maybe it’s not going to be so bad. Slowly you work up enough courage to stammer, “But say, uh… Mister Head Honcho Heavenly Vision… sir… how will we know who He is? What does The Lord Our God look like?”

And the angel answers: “He’s a baby, wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”

Wait a minute…

He’s a who?
Wrapped in what?
Lying in – don’t animals eat out of those things???

It all sounds really strange, and very unceremonious for such an event as this. But he has to be serious. This is the Angel of the Lord, right? He wouldn’t swoop down out of the clouds and light up the whole sky just to snooker a bunch of shepherds into looking for some insignificant little nobody.

Right?

So you and all the rest of the shepherds decide to go into Bethlehem, in the middle of the night, to find none other than The Lord Your God. But you aren’t searching for some big scary Moses-looking dude with a couple of stone tablets to crack across your sorry backside. No. You’re looking for this itsy-bitsy baby boy, wrapped up like a gift, lying in a – what? Really?

Unbelievable.

Finally, you get to the manger. And there He is: this little Jewish kid with a shock of dark hair atop His newborn head. He’s just like the angel promised. You watch in wonder as He wiggles and giggles with joyful new life. You marvel as His sparkling eyes dart around the room as He smiles at everyone. When it’s your turn, you edge in closer, and carefully kneel down by the manger. The new arrival looks right into your baggy old eyes. He wraps His tiny hand around your fat, grubby finger. That’s when your weary face melts into a big smile. You can’t help it. After all, He’s such a…

happy…
beautiful…
lovable…
wonderful…
God.

If you’re looking for God this Christmas, and you want to know what He looks like, there’s no end to the people who will give you their opinion. But if you really want to know for sure, ask an angel. Like the shepherds, I bet you’ll receive some good tidings of great joy…

And maybe a God like you never expected. 🙂

Merry Christmas everyone!


Posts of Christmas Past

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Elvis for a Day

Yep, that’s me, all dressed up like Elvis. Yes, the black bell-bottomed corduroy jump suit I’m wearing is the very same one I wrote about in The Closet of my Discontent. And yes, when this picture was taken, it still fit.

Sort of.

As long as I didn’t sit down…

The dashing black mane I’m sporting was store-bought, since my own hair was thinning by then. And that glorious sash? Yet another leftover from my 70’s wardrobe. (It was part of a costume from the musical group I was in at college.)

So why in the world would I squeeze into a tight jumpsuit, don a cheap wig and pretend to be Elvis? Well, there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation for that.

I think…

You see, the department where I worked in the ’90s used to have a Halloween party every year. So we’d all dress up in costumes, decorate the place up, and do the whole Halloween bit. The building we worked in was a former funeral home, so it lent some extra creepiness to the festivities. Our supervisors let us have that day for pure fun and just dealt with the reality that no work would ever be accomplished on October 31.

So one year I was Elvis. And because I do a pretty fair impression of The King (if I do say so myself), I brought along my guitar to showcase my formidable talents as an Elvis impersonator.

I had no idea what I was in for.

The second I began crooning something like “Love Me Tender”, a crowd would immediately gather around me and join in with the shtick. The women would all coo and sigh and pretend to swoon as I serenaded them with rendition after rendition of those iconic ballads and hip swivelers (although my swivel was somewhat limited by that jump suit).

Word quickly spread throughout the building. Before I knew it, I had a full-blown Elvis come-back tour. I went from office to office all day long, singing and being fawned over by my adoring fans.

I was a hit…

I was a rock star…

I was The King…

I was exhausted.

So okay. I had always wondered what it would be like to be Elvis. To put on the clothes, the accent, the attitude. Now I know. I’ll have to admit, it was kind of fun. But after one day it wore me out. By the end of the day, I was ready to ditch the jump suit and put on some regular street clothes.

So I could get back to normal.

So I could sit down.

So I could use the bathroom without stripping down to my skivvies.

Honestly, I don’t know how this guy Elvis Presley put up with it all. Because the truth is, he wasn’t really Elvis either. “Elvis” was a stage persona. In reality, Elvis Presley was a shy man with a quiet southern drawl as thick as the Mississippi mud he was raised in. But once he hit the stage, he became that swiveling, sensual hunka-hunka burnin’ bravado that sent teeny-boppers into hysterics.

Yes, “Elvis” was a phenomenon. Thousands of adoring fans attended his concerts. Still each night, it was inevitable. The applause would die away. The curtains would draw to a close. The klieg lights would fade to black. Finally, a deep, disembodied voice would announce, “Elvis has left the building”.

So where did Elvis go after he left the building?

Well, it depends on which one you’re talking about. “Elvis” the rock star was left  behind in the dressing room, along with his bejeweled jumpsuit and sweaty scarves. But the real Elvis Presley? Well, often He could be found sitting at a piano, surrounded by his closest friends, singing the beloved hymns of his childhood into the wee hours of the morning. Why? Perhaps he needed to ground himself, to reconnect with who he really was. After being the King of Rock ‘n Roll all day, maybe he found it comforting to settle down and just be a child of God.

I can certainly relate to that. After doing his crazy gig that one Halloween, I decided to put away the jumpsuit. It didn’t really fit me, anyway. I mean, being Elvis for a day was great…

But I think I like being me, after all.

ThankYaVeryMuch…

A Note to Teacher

To all those teachers who wrote on my report card, “Ken does not work up to his potential”:

I respectfully disagree.

Actually I was trying to work up to my potential. I just wasn’t doing what you wanted me to do. So you thought I was:

Restless.
Lazy.
Unambitious.
Uninterested.

Well, I was – when it came to succeeding at being a “straight A student”. But what’s that got to do with my potential? My potential is more than a collection of gold stars and perfect marks. It’s a spark of divine fire, burning at the very core of who I was born to be. It isn’t a catechism of outward behaviors and responses. Potential is the inward journey of discovery that ultimately reveals the true self.

Yes, I understand. You were trying to educate me. And personal discovery is not what education is about. Education is about conformity. About marching in step. About everyone having a No. 2 pencil to fill in those bubble forms. Education has the same answers for everyone. The teachers teach them. The students parrot them back. If I learn all the right answers, I am intelligent, open-minded. If I don’t, I am simply ignorant. Possibly rebellious.

Or maybe I am just not working up to my potential…

Deep down, I’ve always believed that truth is more than just the answers in the back of the book. For me, it transcends all those smug academic certainties. It is endlessly alluring, ever elusive, but ultimately – knowable. Still, you can’t just open up my empty brain and pour truth in. I’ve got to discover it for myself. On my own path, in my own time.

So I’ll admit, I tried to do things my own way. I didn’t always do what was expected. I didn’t always follow the instructions.

You knew all that. But you missed two very important points:

  1. My potential never had anything to do with your expectations.
  2. My truth never had anything to do with all those answers.

Thanks for letting me share my truth. 🙂

 

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Blogaversary: Celebration and Re-evaluation

This post marks two blogging milestones for me:

(1) Today is the 2nd anniversary of the start of Ken’s Back Home blog (yay!)
(2) This is the 50th post on Ken’s Back Home blog (double yay!)

I know many other blogs are much older and much bigger. And much more widely read. But honestly, I’m kinda tickled at how far my little experiment has come. As chronicled in last year’s Yearly Checkup post, Ken’s Back Home blog got off to a shaky start, and I really didn’t know how long it would last. Along the way though, I’ve learned a lot, connected with people all over the world, and gotten a lot off my chest. So it’s something to celebrate.

And I’m excited about all that. I really am. But as you may have noticed, I haven’t been posting much lately. In fact, I went most of April and all of May with nary a post on Ken’s Back Home blog.

Why?

Remember how in the last line of this year’s Easter post, I smugly remarked that the difference between bad news and good news is “all a matter of perspective”? Well, ever since Easter, our family and friends have been hit with a run of bad news that has left me with the uncomfortable choice of either finding some of that perspective, or eating my cocky little words.

Pass the ketchup, please?

It’s hasn’t all been terrible. In the midst of the mess, we’ve managed to squeeze in a friend’s wedding and a wonderfully relaxing vacation in the Smoky Mountains. But overall it’s been an emotionally exhausting few months, and I just haven’t felt up to writing. Especially about pursuing dreams and living in the present moment. Because a lot of the time, the present moment was the last place I wanted to be.

March to mid-April is always crunch time at work, with deadlines to meet and everyone pulling on me, needing this or that “ASAP”. I’m not even thinking about “living the dream” during that time. I’m just trying to juggle the flaming swords as they are tossed at me. By the time it’s over, I’m pretty burned out. I need extreme self-care. And I usually get a short breather in May to recuperate.

Not this year.

Starting Easter, the bad news started coming in, for both family members and close friends. And frankly, I just had no more to give. The only thing I could do is try to meet the minimum requirements for a caring response, while all the time my inner child was screaming, “What about me? When do I get a break?”

In light of that, I’ve had to stop writing for a while and think hard about the next step. I’ve had to ask myself how I let my heart get this empty in the first place. I suppose I need to start dreaming again. But there’s a big difference in “living a dream” and “living in a dream”. And there’s nothing like having my chain jerked a few times by Life on Planet Earth to bring me down out of the clouds.

After all, if my dreams can’t survive the bumps and bruises of real life, they are only illusions of my ego, not the dreams of my heart. The heart can persevere. The ego will just go crouch in the corner and pout. I need a dream that doesn’t require constant tending to a bed of roses. A dream that can still be beautiful, even when there are a few weeds in the garden.

So I suppose if there’s any “good news” here, it’s that Ken just got spun around and shown just how far away from “back home” he’s gotten. Now I’ve got some work to do. Each moment, good or bad, offers me a spark of Divine wisdom. About what’s real and what isn’t. About what will pass, and what will remain. The good news is, I get to choose where to place my focus. Whatever I do, I can’t let the bad news choose for me.

All this is easy to say, of course. Doing it is another matter. But at least I’ve got my freaking perspective now, so you can put away the ketchup.

For now…

Starting today, I need to make the words in this post a catalyst for real change. Otherwise they will likely be served up to me along with barbecued crow at the third annual Ken’s Back Home blogaversary party.

 

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Living with Kryptonite

When we were kids, my brother and I were obsessed with Superman comic books. I don’t think we ever missed an issue. The stories were like a serial, with each new issue building on previous ones. So of course we had to have them all. Every month we’d head over to the old corner drug store where all the latest Superman comics were arranged on a twirly rack, fresh for the picking. We’d buy a stack of them, then hurry home to devour every page.

Back then, as today, comic books were frowned upon as inferior literature to the all the “legitimate” hard-cover offerings that could be checked out from the local library. So when teachers would rave to my mom about how rich our vocabulary was, imagine their disdain when Momma told them “It’s because they read comic books”. But it was true. After all, where else could eight and ten-year-old boys encounter a word like “invulnerable? The Hardy Boys mysteries? Dr. Suess? I think not.

My brother and I knew what “invulnerable” meant, not because we looked it up in some boring dictionary, but because we gleaned it from the context of good old Superman comic books. Superman, you see, was “invulnerable” to everything.

Everything, that is, except Kryptonite.

Kryptonite, as the legend is told, is any of the millions of fragments of the planet Krypton, where Superman was born. It exploded when he was a baby, but his father Jor-El, knowing doomsday was imminent, put little Kal-El (Superman’s birth name) in a rocket ship and dispatched him to Earth before it all went went boom-boom bye-bye.

And don’t ask me how, after all these years, I can remember “Jor-El” and “Kal-El” when I can’t remember half my neighbors’ names. It’s a senior thing…

Anyway, these pieces of the ill-fated planet Krypton went sailing out into the universe, waiting for arch-villains like Lex Luthor to find and use against Superman, to take away his powers. Maybe even (gasp!) kill him. I think over the years Superman has died of Kryptonite poisoning about three times. He always comes back though, somehow. Sort of like the that guy on “Days of our Lives”. But he lives again only to face another chunk of the dreaded green (or red or blue or white or gold or whatever) stuff in the next issue.

Yes, even Superman – faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings at a single bound – has a weakness. One thing that can bring him down. One thing that is able to render him absolutely powerless:

The fragments of his past.

Just when everything is going great, the enemies of the free world are about to be defeated and victory is within his grasp – out comes the Kryptonite to spoil the party. And until he can escape it, the Man of Steel is reduced to a lump of wet fettuccine.

Sounds a lot like me some days. Not that I’m Superman by any means. Most mornings I can barely fall out of bed and crawl to the bathroom, much less race bullets, wrestle choo-choo trains and hurtle over skyscrapers. But despite my aging body’s limitations, in the core of my essence I am powerful. I have the power to dream, to create, to go out there and make my corner of the world a better place. Some days I’m strong, confident, grounded in the present and full of positive affirmation. I’m willing to take on anything. And just when I dare to believe I can do it…

Kryptonite.

It comes hurtling out of my brain, out of slights, insults and put-downs from long ago. I live daily with those little chunks of negative energy floating around in my psyche. They appear out of nowhere to rob me of my power. I drop to the ground, trying desperately to stumble away from their eerie, life-sucking glow. Egads! The time is now! The world is waiting for me! And where am I? Down on one knee, paralyzed by debilitating voices from the past. Voices of people who didn’t believe in me. Who said I was lazy. Or crazy. Who said I could never do anything right. All the voices that made me feel like a failure.

Including sometimes, my own.

After all, I’m just little old me. Who am I to dream? To believe? To create? To make things happen? To make this world a better place?

Seriously. Who do I think I am? Superman?

Or am I:

Not good enough
Not strong enough
Not smart enough
Not ambitious enough
Not spiritual enough

etc… etc… etc…

Sheesh!

It’s all just Kryptonite, people. It’s killing me. I just can’t keep this stuff lying around the house anymore.

Because someone out there is waiting for the guy in blue tights and red underwear to come strike a blow for truth, justice, honesty, integrity and compassion in their life.

And who knows? I just might be that guy…

All I Know About a Sunset

Let’s say I’m watching a sunset one evening . “What a beautiful, wondrous and mysterious thing a sunset is”, I say to myself.

The Little Science Guy on my shoulder perks up. “No mystery to it at all, my friend. You see, the earth is here and the sun is there and the rotation and the orbit and the blah blah blah blah blah blah blah and it looks like the sun is sinking but it’s really not.”

“But what about all those colors?” I ask. Aren’t they beaut…”

“No mystery there either”, Little Science Guy butts in. “You see, there’s light and refraction and reflection and blah blah blah blah blah blah blah and it’s really all just an optical illusion.”

“So I guess what our minds choose to believe is true, isn’t always true”, I say.

“Exactly”, Little Science Guy replies, with an air of erudite finality.

“But if that’s the case,” I ask, “how can you be sure all that stuff you just told me about sunsets is true?”

Little Science Guy perks up again. His mouth opens.

But this time, nothing comes out.

He looks up. He looks down. He scratches his head for a moment. At last, he settles cross-legged on my shoulder, and stares quietly and intently out into the horizon.

“What a beautiful, wondrous and mysterious thing a sunset is”, he says…

Urgent: Santa’s Elves Need Your Help!

The job market for elves at the North Pole has gotten tough in recent years. Advancements in technology have left many elves without the necessary skills to complete. Unless they receive additional training, many of them will be forced to step down from their long-held positions as toymakers and take jobs cleaning out those smelly reindeer stalls.

Back in olden times, working in Santa’s Shop only required a creative mind, a childlike heart, and a basic aptitude for things like carpentry, sewing, and working with metal. Armed with these skills, elves could make almost any toy a child could imagine:

  • Dolls that toddle and coo
  • Elephants
  • Boats
  • And kiddie cars, too.

But kids are a lot more sophisticated these days. They don’t want real toys anymore. They want tech-toys. Like Wii and XBox 360. Their Christmas lists no longer include items like rooty-toot-toots and rummy-tum-tums. Now they prefer to make all that noise with the Garage Band app on their iPad. Unless elves are retrained in newer technologies, the Toy Shop will close down in just a few short years, and Santa’s sleigh will sit empty on Christmas Eve. And that will be sad news indeed for our grandchildren.

So this year, we’re asking you to spare a moment out of your busy holiday schedules to remember all those wonderful elves who labored so hard to make every one of your Christmases merry and bright all these years.

But don’t send any money. They don’t use that stuff up at the North Pole.

Instead, just offer a smile, a kind word, or a helping hand to every person you meet during this holiday season. Each time you do, Santa will send one talented elf to the Tech Toy Training Academy. The more holiday cheer you give, the more elves there will be at the Academy, acquiring the skills they need to make every child happy for years to come.

It only takes a little extra effort on your part. So be good, for goodness sake.

Give big.

Give often.

Do it for the elves. Do it for the kids.

The future of Christmas depends on your generosity…
🙂