I was thinking about the way people live and the boxes that are being carried by them. Some small and hidden in the pockets, some larger and seen in their hands, and others awkward and bulky that obviously cause them to walk in a manner that shows their discomfort. In that, we tend to want to help the ones with the obvious distress since we can “see” that they need it and we can lend aid. Although it is easy to see, we can most often be too quick to help and too often help the wrong ones. Sometimes by intervening before the struggle has produced its intended results.
Here is a different way to ponder this issue.
Think about the following process: to refine oil there is a tall column and the product that you are refining. The oil is pumped in at the bottom, heated and then divided into particular items as they move from a liquid to a vapor. Hotter at the bottom and cooler at the top, the items that get broken down by way of a process called Hydro-Cracking because they are made up of Hydro-carbons and the more volatile are at the top and least volatile are at the bottom. So now we can deal with the column. Most often it is a 300’ tall tube that has a few trays in it at differing levels. The tray is perforated to allow the product from below to move up through the holes and to enter the next stage of the process. The holes are not like a simple screen that filters a certain size out, but rather they have a raised collar or ring around the hole to allow the product to condense and drip back onto the tray and run off to be collected. Some Combination of temperature and pressure is involved in this to “crack” the carbons and release the items at that level.
As a starting point the oil is pumped into the bottom stage and heated to about 300-500 degrees and the process of “cracking” begins. Not all “Crude oil” is the same. Some is called “sweet crude” and is nearly ready to use so a simple conversion to diesel fuel takes place in a quick run through. At the other end is “Tar Sand Crude” from the Canadian oil soaked sands of Alberta. It needs cooked just to get the sands to release the sludge and tar so it can be pumped to a refinery. Thick and gooey it is nearly impossible to get to burn in this state, and hard to extinguish once on fire. Obviously as a thick gooey mass there is a lot that can be had from the starting point, it is just more work to get it.
Bitumen. It is what you get first from the heavy crude. Tars, items for asphalt roads and shingles, paraffin waxes. These are the refined items at the first stage of the process. Much needed and easily retrieved these items are pulled off in volume and sent off for a number of items that are used in everything from candles and makeup to being baked in a no-oxygen oven into a charcoal like fuel called coke.
The next set of layers yield what are called the “solvents”. Starting with diesel fuel and moving through kerosene to jet fuel, these are all items that have a slick nature to them due to the oils still remaining.
After the solvents, is a group of products that form gasoline. This level is dryer and has no lubricating action. Higher in volatility, the ignition point allows for a faster burn at lower pressures. If you have spilled gasoline on your hand it feels dry quickly but evaporates and cools the spot it lands on. These items are called Hexane, Octane, and many more depending on the type of process used to get them. There are several to choose from and all produce a different version, so it is driven by the end user and what they want to do with it.
At the very top of the column is the most volatile called LP gas. With a highly explosive combustion and staying at a gas unless under pressure, it is good for many things, and worthless for others. Since there is no lubricant aspect at all the need for reducing friction requires additional systems to be put in place.
So what is going on and why the long story of a refinery? The sub plot of this story could be called Volatile Christianity. It is about the different types of products that are produced from different starting points or different processes to get the results that are needed for different uses. So, we all begin as “crude”, but some begin as sweet and some as goo, but all need to be put through the process to become useful. If you follow the above, you will see that there are a fair amount of what could be described as “bitumen Christians”. Simple in their process and functional but really not too concerned about the deeper things of God. Simple is not to be construed as ignorant or of little value, just less complicated by the things that are of little interest. To be more clear let me expand this to a different topic. I would be considered a “bitumen sports fan”. I may know that you can get a few points shooting hoops, I just never am clear about which gun to use. (work with me) I know that you can get a field goal in both basketball and football, but sometimes it is 2 points and sometimes three and sometimes thrown and sometimes kicked… Or I could be called a bitumen “socially aware individual”. Never really clear about who is popular in the current culture, or why, I wander through life stumbling into conversations saying inept things about the drama of the current moment. Mostly, I am good with this. You can be somewhat “bitumen” at work on different topics or direction of the company, or the subtle aspects of the H.R. department and why they won’t fire the obvious troglodyte in your department. So being somewhat “bitumen” is only by topic, education, exposure and interest, not intelligence. This is the same for all levels, and the issues that move one to a high level are found in the heat level of the goals or interest expressed. So you consume energy in study or tuition cost, time on task or the result of failed endeavors that cost you reputation or the coin of value to you, but you pursue that which is of value to you, and sometimes it is about the approval of your peers that you seek by these efforts.
The process to move to the next tier is found in being under enough pressure and heat for the right amount of time to break the “carbon chain”. Simple is a long chain, would be the basis of this idea. Short is volatile and dry, long is oozy and gooey. As you move up in the column you loose parts of you, by being broken, and some resist it at all points. The next phase is the solvent level, and most people move easily into it. Slick enough to slide into groups and to rub shoulders with each other without much friction, we enjoy like minded groupings. So if you were to look around at your circle of friends you will find they earn about what you do, drive like types of vehicles, not to many extra kids above the norm, and go to similar churches or events, even if they are not the same. They vote, eat and read about as much as you and the same types of books. Some are more to the jet fuel and some are the diesel but you are still in that same group.
When you get to the drier levels the ability to indulge is different. The folks that recite the stats from the 30 yr old sports teams would fall into this group. A bit of “to much”, can be found here for common company and light topics. Perhaps they mean nothing by it, but it has less smoothness about it. If you spend time talking about your last Star Trek convention or the coming version of the next Game of Thrones movie you might be in the group. Some may be into Tatting and that is not about tattoos, (but with string and making doilies), some may be into quilting more than you like, but they are all the same; personal preference.
The most esoteric levels are reserved for the ones that go to a whole new level. Cello, recipes from the 15th century in France, or any topic that drives and is driven in you can qualify. Could be Mel Brooks films or the Council of Worms, and if you know a lot about either you say a lot about yourself, but you will also seek out others to mingle with. That is fine, and in that setting you are among friends of a likeminded nature. You also did not come about this level by accident. Perhaps it started simple enough, but this is far from those humble beginnings. If you are the main speaker at that conference, then you are indeed of a rare form.
So what, you may say… and so I will close the loop this way. We need all of those levels and they are simply or complexly where they are. It is not to be assumed that they are above or below you, regardless of the level, for they are walking their own unique path with their own box in their pocket. It may be small, and not even noticed by others, unless they also carry the same version in their pocket. It could be from a long time back and healed over or still seeping from the wounds edge, but it is there, and you recognize it in their eyes...
The issue of the threshold and how to get to the next level is this; it is one of forgiveness. It may not look that way at first, and it may be unclear who is giving and who is receiving it, but that is the result. It may start with the issue of justice and the idea of betrayal or unjust treatment. That leads to a long carbon chain of things like recriminations and seeking the outcomes we long for. The justice for the wounding in our lives and limp in our walk. The forgiveness can be found in needing to forgive the perpetrator, or the one that allowed it to happen, or ourselves for the heated anger at having to deal with the results, but forgiveness is the ingredient that moves us through the barrier to growth and on to the next level of our lives.
The secret to be revealed is that the God of the Universe is not “slack as some consider slackness”, and that includes your growth and development. In the book of Job, the issue of Job’s pride finally comes out in the later chapters and he says, “I have spoken and should have been still”. Can’t we all say that… So it is with our growth, that we cannot “not grow”. That has been kept from us. We may be faster or slower than others, but that is as it is. Again, not a contest or an issue, simply a state of being and it will last until we die. If you think that the “bitumen” group seems to never grow, it is only that you don’t know the box that they carry. The pain of their position is found like yours, specific to you.
This whole process is called refining for a reason, that is what it is. Sometimes hot, sometimes hard, and always changing. It is about the breaking of chains. Chains that bind us to our pride, or fears. Chains that were put on us by our experiences or our heritage. Some are broken early with the help of a wise mentor with a gentle but powerful word, and some are only broken through the years of struggle, with a bondage to a flawed expectation and all of the pain that is associated with it. We don’t think as we did before we found out about Gravity, and as such sometimes we actually get better about using it instead of fighting it. It is the same with sin and grace and church and church people. The sooner we accept the bad news the sooner we have room for the good news. The good news about the people we like, and those we don’t so much.
So there is this list of questions, and you can make more yourself:
How do I know I am growing? What does that look like and what about a bad day?
How do I respond normally and when is there an outburst? That is the clue that something is needing to be dealt with on your part, not the initial action.
When was the last time it was hard to forgive?
If I were to ask those that know me well, would they say I am hard or soft about things like boundaries?
Do tears come easy or not at all…?
Who will I not forgive or be unwilling to listen to?
When did I last measure my growth?
Can I tell I am in the midst of a stage of growth and what does that mean?
What then? We can all make a list of the highly refined and powerful thinkers of our given column. Sports, theology, science and chess or music will quickly yield up their pinnacle and beacon performers. I think though that there are more than one standard at play and it needs clarified. We can say that the Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli would be high thinkers, even if you don’t agree with them. But you can’t put Mother Theresa and Billy Graham in that level. You see, they have firm resolve and strong beliefs, but they are solvents not ethyl’s. There is far too much lubricant in their walk through and among the people. Although strong beliefs, they are not rash or abrasive in their dealings with others. Their theology is held firm and lived out, but it is by no means esoteric and complicated. Simply lived is enough for them. You could say that the snake handlers and the flamboyant expositor of the faith would be in the bitumen segment, and so am I when I use less than the normal set of restraints on my emotions. The gasoline levels move from the more simple thinkers to the higher levels of Episcopalian and again, this isn’t about if you agree or think them wrong, but that you would find a place and group to walk with. That you can be challenged or stimulated to be growing and or more active about your walk is the test, not how highbrow and complicated your reasoning. It is about the active Christian life and those you are among regularly that your walk is seen.
The misuse of this is to think you are in a level you are not, or to think that your level is better, simply because you think deeper or more complicated thoughts about things. That may be, but it is not the issue. What’s more, to the rest of your peers you may be the bitumen example to them. To grow where you are planted, then, simply means that in your circle you are to be yourself. Be ok in the place you are with the firm knowledge that you will not be staying there.
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