Friday, August 31, 2007
My 16 year old son is going to school for the first time. He's been homeschooled all his life, as have his siblings. It was his choice, but it has still been a stressful transition, even in a small charter school. Yesterday he came home from school sick with a cold and very tired. He gave me a hug in the kitchen, and then asked me to come sit with him on the sofa.
He sat down close to me, threw his legs across my lap as he stretched out and held one of my hands. We sat in silence for a long time, then he talked quietly about how he was doing, who he was meeting, and how he liked his classes. I teased him gently about the girls he was meeting, and we had a few smiles and laughs. But mainly, we sat close together, connected, quiet, and companionable. We were probably there for 20 or 30 minutes, before he got up to get a snack and start his homework.
When you hold that baby and toddler on your lap, you don't think much about the time when they are too big to fit, or they feel too awkward to "snuggle." It's natural for them to seek comfort in a more "acceptable" or "mature" ways as they get older. But I have to say, it's nice to know I can still make this tired, sick child feel better simply by being there.
Thursday, August 30, 2007
Mother Teresa's Struggle
Pre-publication buzz about a book containing Mother Teresa's private writings, Come Be My Light, occasioned an unusually strong burst of media attention last week, including a cover story in Time and coverage on all the major networks. The big news was that the Albanian-born religious who devoted her life to caring for India's poorest and most wretched underwent a long period of spiritual doubt and torment. Beginning in 1948, the year the 38-year-old nun started the Missionaries of Charity, and lasting until her death in 1997, Teresa was haunted by the loss of God's sustaining presence in her life. Struggling through her doubts with various confessors, she learned to accept this painful condition as part of her Christian journey, as important in its own ways as the missionary work that she and other nuns in her order carried out.
At least as interesting as the revelation of Teresa's long spiritual drought have been the varied reactions to it. In addition to surprise and sympathy, many express even greater admiration for the woman who accomplished so much in God's name while feeling a spiritual deadness that drove her close to despair. But it is the reaction of the devout atheists that is perhaps most telling. In the Time article, Christopher Hitchens, a longtime critic of Mother Teresa (see his book Missionary Positions) who is now enjoying considerable celebrity for his no-holds-barred attack on religion, God Is Not Great, compares Teresa to the die-hard communists at the end of the Cold War: "There was a huge amount of cognitive dissonance. They thought, 'Jesus, the Soviet Union is a failure, [but] I'm not supposed to think that. It means my life is meaningless.' They carried on somehow, but the mainspring was gone. And once the mainspring is gone, it cannot be repaired."
To say this was Teresa, or any other believer who suffers what the Spanish mystic St. John of the Cross first dubbed a dark night of the soul, is to trivialize the experience of faith beyond all recognition. While many believers have claimed to feel a steady inner presence of the divine throughout their lives, just as many others—and probably more—describe it as a journey or struggle with high, low, and even absolutely arid stretches. Except for those who claim that feeling God's redemptive power is a paramount proof of one's salvation—a criterion emphasized by some Protestants and particularly evangelicals—many lifelong believers have never experienced that felt confirmation of their faith.
For many, the reality of faith is best described by St. Paul: "the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen," and often that "substance" is as elusive as the wind. Does that mean that their faith is founded on something as demonstrably flimsy as the communist ideal of the "end of history"? Or are the difficulty of faith, its changing and demanding character, and the fruits that it yields in acts of charity possibly the most powerful proof of its value beyond all merely worldly ideals?
Teresa's spiritual struggle may have been painfully long, but it was a struggle felt by most believers in an age of doubt and skepticism. In that sense, it was truly exemplary.
Sunday, August 26, 2007
Leonard Cohen - Hallelujah
You say I took the name in vain
I don't even know the name
But if I did, well really, what's it to you?
There's a blaze of light
In every word
It doesn't matter which you heard
The holy or the broken Hallelujah
I did my best, it wasn't much
I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch
I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool you
And even though
It all went wrong
I'll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah
Years ago I was challenged on this in the context of parenting. Did I parent out of fear? Were my parenting practices geared more toward control than training? That led to some soul searching, reading, praying and long discussions with people from all sides of the issue. My husband and I found we didn't like the way we'd parented, and we slowly made some major changes. Showing real respect for the likes, dislikes and wishes of our children was a good first step. We stopped assuming we knew what was best for them. We started opening our eyes to the fact that too much of our time was spent trying to protect them, and that desire to protect came from fear. We realized that there was only an illusion of control, anyway, so we might as well start living the reality and not buying into the illusion. How many parents are shocked to be the last to find out what their kids are up to? Too many. I learned (well, am learning...not there yet) to listen instead of talk. My "go-to" phrases now are... "Let me think about it." or "Give me a minute." Those phrases keep me from the knee-jerk reaction. Once the almost overpowering impulse to say No is passed, I ask for details and go from there. My kids are patient. They don't yell or press their point. They rarely argue with me. They wait and let me struggle through on my own and believe that reason will usually win. Over the past few years they've learned to trust. When I say No, they may be disappointed, but rarely mad. They know I have good reason.
I still worry way too much about my kids, their futures, their happiness, their grades. ;-) I still fight the urge to protect them- from others, from ideas, from their own mistakes. I spend some hours in quiet agony while they make bad choices I know they'll pay for, telling myself they'll learn valuable lessons from their mistakes. It isn't easy. I hate it, in fact. But I'm seeing benefits.
But fear as a motivator isn't confined to parenting. It drives job choices, clothing choices, housing choices and much, much, more. Fear closes our minds to new people, ideas, and adventures. Fear makes us refuse to question. This is especially true in areas of faith and religion, and it's reinforced by the hierarchy that tells us that to ask questions is a sign of apostasy.
For me, however, I've been much more driven by the fear within myself than the fear of what someone else will say or the fear of being rejected. I've been afraid of losing purpose and meaning in my life if I doubted or feared on faith issues. I've been afraid I'd lose faith, and therefore the thing that has given meaning to my life for 30 years. I'm still scared, but I want to move away from living behind fear to living the questions. Interestingly, since I've dared to ask the questions, I'm less fearful of the very thing that terrified me. I feel stronger, not weaker in my faith. I think that's because faith can't really be "protected." It has to be exercised and exposed in order to be strengthened. So I am, as it were, taking my faith out on walks to expose it to more variety.
BTW- fear of death is still a biggie with me. Anyone else have problems with the thought of their own mortality? I'd love to discuss it more sometime.
Saturday, August 18, 2007
This altered way of learning certainly has something to do with 8 or 9 years of interacting with a group of women online. We've "sharpened iron" so much we're all bloody from the shrapnel! But this newer method of learning definitely came to the fore when I decided to listen to a friend's challenge that I learn about the Catholic Church from Catholics, not from Protestant debunkers. I took the challenge and started to read the beliefs and practices of the Catholic church and their reasoning behind those beliefs and practices. It's been especially challenging for me to let go of the desire to argue first, listen later. But the habit is growing, albeit slowly, and I'm finding a peacefulness in listening to many voices. I'm finding I can be enlightened, strengthened, challenged and encouraged without compromising my faith. Perhaps, just a little, I'm learning not to live in fear.
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
When I've been on the computer the past week, I've been spending much of my time reading Scot McKnight's Jesus Creed blog. (See sidebar for link.) He is hitting on many points I'm thinking about right now, including the New Perspective on Paul and the search for the historical Jesus. Scot has a clear, concise, non-polemic way of presenting ideas for discussion. I'm being a lurker there since I don't have much background in what they're discussing, but I'm learning by listening.
I've been thinking about Mary, the mother of Jesus, too. Today is the solemnity of the Assumption of Mary in the Catholic Church. I don't know yet what I think about all the Marian doctrines of the RCC, but researching the reasons behind them has left me with profound sense of how little Protestants think of this remarkable woman. I think we can all assume one thing, Jesus loved his mother perfectly, not just as her savior, but as her son. She is the Ark of the Covenant carrying the Word of God. She is the Tabernacle where God dwelt for a time. Think about how holy God is. Isaiah couldn't stay in His presence without the angel coming to "clean" him with the hot coal. Just a glimpse of God's back made Mose's face shine so brightly he had to cover it before Israel. This God dwelt for a time inside Mary. That just had to change her forever. I may not understand it all, but perhaps we skip too easily across "All generations will call me blessed," and "Hail Mary, full of grace."
And blessings to all of you!
Saturday, August 11, 2007
Here are a couple of reviews:
From Publishers Weekly
Miller (Prayer and the Art of Volkswagen Maintenance) is a young writer, speaker and campus ministry leader. An earnest evangelical who nearly lost his faith, he went on a spiritual journey, found some progressive politics and most importantly, discovered Jesus' relevance for everyday life. This book, in its own elliptical way, tells the tale of that journey. But the narrative is episodic rather than linear, Miller's style evocative rather than rational and his analysis personally revealing rather than profoundly insightful. As such, it offers a postmodern riff on the classic evangelical presentation of the Gospel, complete with a concluding call to commitment. Written as a series of short essays on vaguely theological topics (faith, grace, belief, confession, church), and disguised theological topics (magic, romance, shifts, money), it is at times plodding or simplistic (how to go to church and not get angry? "pray... and go to the church God shows you"), and sometimes falls into merely self-indulgent musing. But more often Miller is enjoyably clever, and his story is telling and beautiful, even poignant. (The story of the reverse confession booth is worth the price of the book.) The title is meant to be evocative, and the subtitle-"Non-Religious" thoughts about "Christian Spirituality"-indicates Miller's distrust of the institutional church and his desire to appeal to those experimenting with other flavors of spirituality.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
"I never liked jazz music because jazz music doesn't resolve. . . . I used to not like God because God didn't resolve. But that was before any of this happened." In Donald Miller's early years, he was vaguely familiar with a distant God. But when he came to know Jesus Christ, he pursued the Christian life with great zeal. Within a few years he had a successful ministry that ultimately left him feeling empty, burned out, and, once again, far away from God. In this intimate, soul-searching account, Miller describes his remarkable journey back to a culturally relevant, infinitely loving God.When I read Blue Like Jazz it was simply different from anything else I'd read before. I haven't read Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott, buy many people say they have a similar feel. Miller himself says he patterned Blue Like Jazz on Lamott's book. He was taken with her honesty and openness. Blue Like Jazz was my first experience with anything resembling "emergent" or "postmodern" in the world of Christian thought and practice. It was like a breath of fresh air to me. I agree with the Publisher's Weekly review that Miller sometimes gets simplistic and introspective (read "naval gazing"), but it was well worth the read. I've bought several copies for friends, and as high school graduation presents.
Miller has the first chapter in .pdf on his site: http://www.donaldmillerwords.com/resources.php
Let me know what you think if you decide to read it!
Wednesday, August 8, 2007
"Yeah, I know I'm a sinner! Just like Paul..wretched man that I am!! See? I got sin right here. I can even cry on cue."
Don't get me wrong. I think sin is our constant companion, whether we want it to be or not. We sin because we are sinners. A life of righteousness is a struggle. But I still wonder if we aren't too comfortable with it. We talk about it so much, we preach sermons on it, we gossip about the sins of others, we deny it, we tsk tsk about it, we pray and pray for relief from it, and we genuinely cry over it. But there it is, like a big lump in our laps every time we sit down.
I wonder if our obsession with sin has anything to do with our relatively easy life. I somehow suspect that living at a subsistence level leaves little time for naval gazing. "Each day has enough troubles of its own." (Matt. 6:34) Hard work has a way of helping heal the pain of having sinned, too. At least I think it does. Hard work makes it a lot easier to think of yourself as worth something, as useful, as having a purpose. No wonder the Proverbs warns us against idleness. Not only does idleness give us opportunity to sin, but it gives us too much time to dwell on it afterwards. Dwelling on sin can cause a sort of fatalism that, in the end, can make sin harder to resist. "I'm no good. I can't help it. I've tried to do better, but I can't!"
This all leads to why I think the Catholic Rite of Reconciliation has real, solid, life-and-blood merit. It does two things. First, it gives us a place to put that lump that's been on our lap. You go and you unload it...all that sin. You confess it, out loud to a living, breathing person. That takes some guts. I think privately confessing it to God is easier, even if it shouldn't be. That might be another example of our level of comfort with sin, by the way. Anyway, there you are giving up this lump and going away without it. It's not yours to think about or talk about anymore. It's a done deal. Stop dwelling on it.
Secondly, a real, live, flesh-and-blood person assures you of God's forgiveness, out loud. You don't think that makes a difference? How many times have you confessed the same sin to God because you don't feel forgiven? It can be argued that confessing sin to another person is the way it should be done. (James 5:16) I think this is for accountability, to be sure. But it's mostly because 1) we need the prayers of righteous people and 2) we need to hear we are forgiven. We are relational creatures, which is why God sent his Son in the flesh, to walk and talk among us. Jesus was (is) personal, and that's something we can relate to.
But maybe we're so comfortable with sin that we're a little scared of what it would be like to walk away from confessing and be completely free of it, even for a short time. It reminds me of a character in Lewis's The Great Divorce, who couldn't give up their little sin, and stayed in hell instead of choosing to be free of it.
And have you read Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller? At one point he and his friends set up "Confessionals" on their campus, only they didn't hear the confessions of others. No, they quietly confessed their own sins to each person who sat down. I bet that was a freeing, even exhilarating, experience.
I hear that whether or not I join the Catholic church, I can go to confession. That sounds good to me. Someday. I'll get around to it I'm sure. But not right now, the sin is asleep on my lap, and I'd hate to disturb it!
Monday, August 6, 2007
You are a Leader
Your solid grounding in the practicalities of life, along with your self-assuredness and your willingness to appreciate new things make you a LEADER.
You're in touch with what is going on around you and adept at remaining down-to-earth and logical.
Although you're detail-oriented, this doesn't mean that you lose the big picture. (I'm not very detail oriented!)
You tend to find beauty in form and efficiency, as opposed to finding it in broad-based, abstract concepts.
Never one to pass on an adventure, you're consistently seeking and finding new things, even in your immediate surroundings. (Not so sure about this. I don't know that I'm very adventuresome!)
Because of this eagerness to pursue new experiences, you've learned a lot; your attention to detail means that you gain a great deal from your adventures.
The intellectual curiosity that drives you leads you to seek out causes of and reasons behind things.
Your confidence gives you the potential to take your general awareness and channel it into leadership. (I think I like following better than leading!)
You're not set on one way of doing things, and you often have the skills and persistence to find innovative ways of facing challenges.
You are well-attuned to your talents, and can deal with most problems that you face.
Your independent streak allows you to make decisions efficiently and to trust your instincts
You prefer to have time to plan for things, feeling better with a schedule than with keeping plans up in the air until the last minute. (This is very true of me!)
Never one to be found in chic boutiques or trendy clothing stores, you take an extremely practical approach to getting dressed. (Yeah..it's called boring.)
If you want to be different:
There's more to life than the practical - take some time to daydream and explore the aesthetic sides of things.
how you relate to others
You are Benevolent
You are a great person to interact with—understanding, giving, and trusting—in a word, BENEVOLENT
You don't mind being in social situations, as you feel comfortable enough with people to be yourself.
Your caring nature goes beyond a basic concern: you take the time to understand the nuances of people's situations before passing any sort of judgment. (Well, this is how I'd like to be. Not there yet.)
You're a good listener, and even better at offering advice.
You're concerned with others at both an individual and societal level—you sympathize with the plights of troubled groups, and you can care about people you've never met.
Considering many different perspectives is something at which you excel, and you appreciate that quality in others.
Other people's feelings are important to you, and you're good at mediating disputes.
Because of your understanding and patience, you tend to bring out the best in people. (My family might say otherwise!)
If you want to be different:
You spend a lot of time taking care of others, but don't forget to take care of yourself!
Sometimes you can get overcommitted, and when you sacrifice spending time with those close to you, it can make them feel unimportant.
Friday, August 3, 2007
One of my first posts was called A Bloggers Uncertainty Principle. In it I explored the fact that blogs have limitations. Part of the limitation is that it fixes things in time. By that I mean as we react to real people through our blog, we freeze them and their actions or words in time, thereby not allowing for them to grow and change as "real" people do. An associated limitation is the fact that blogs are often public, and therefore expose our thoughts to a very public audience. What we say can wound others, even when we don't mean to. It is limiting when you start thinking about who is reading along and what you really don't want to say "in front of" that person, who might take it wrong.
But today I'm thinking about another limitation that, for me, is much worse than the others. Blogs don't really off much dialog or discussion. It isn't the nature of the beast. Most of my computer life has been spent on forums, where discussions were the name of the game. The give and take of years of interactions have truly shaped who I am today. I'm better educated, more compassionate, less judgmental, and more open minded, for example. It's been difficult and stressful at times, but immensely rewarding. Blogs don't allow for that, and because of that, blogs are much less likely to be instruments of real change for the blogger. Blogging is the consummate MeWorld.
I find I am growing tired of MeWorld. I don't like just reading someone's opinions, and having no way to discuss them with the person. My experience is most bloggers don't like to be challenged, at least not on their blogs. That is the their place, a place to present themselves to the world. It is not really about discussion. I want discussion, even painful, stressful, challenging discussion. I've decided I'll take that over safety any day. Right now in my life, those kinds of discussions are only going to take place in real life.
So the fate of my blog is undecided. I'm not a person who likes to journal about my life. I've never kept a diary. This blog has never been about what my family is doing on a weekly basis. In fact, none of my extended family even know I have a blog. This blog has been about what I'm learning or thinking, mostly, and lately I haven't been posting what I'm thinking, for various reasons I won't even go into. But mainly, I wonder if the exercise is even helpful or healthy. Maybe it's not about me and what I'm thinking and feeling. Maybe it's about someone else. Maybe it's time to get out of MeWorld and into the life God has for me.
Thursday, August 2, 2007
I don't seem to have much worthy to say these days, so I'm happy to pass along the insights of others.
Wednesday, August 1, 2007
But one point did come up in a recent discussion that I think it worth pursuing. How in the world did we become such a consumer based culture to begin with? Perhaps the most important question to ask are not whether "big box" is bad, but whether our society's mindset of continual accumulation of stuff is the real problem. I'm not talking about buying food or essential clothing. I'm talking about all the other stuff we buy, almost daily. I've started being aware in my own life how much "stuff" enters the house in a week's time. Clothes, bedspread, sheets, shoes, books, magazines, deodorant, video games, DVD's, CD's, stuffed animal, pens, ice cream, cookies, milkshake, fast food, nail clippers, coffee, 1000 paper plates, storage containers, etc. The list goes on.
Of course, for most of the list I can argue we "need" the item. I don't want to go without deodorant (or let my sons, for that matter), and I'm sure coffee is essential to my mental health. But when did we get to the place that we simply expected all these things in our lives?
Our national pastime isn't baseball or Nascar, it's shopping. WalMart didn't happen in a vacuum. It filled a "need." Whether as a social outing in the mall, or at the computer, we spend a lot of time spending money. Why is that, and how did it happen?