In sloppy everyday speech we sometimes use purpose and meaning interchangeably as if they meant the same. But remember how we go about a given purpose and how, in contrast, we experience meaning. The difference is striking. In order to achieve our purpose, whatever it may be, we must take hold of the situation, take matters in hand, take charge of things. We must be in control. Is this also true of a situation in which you experience deep meaning? You will find yourself saying that you were touched, moved, even carried away by the experience. That doesn't sound as if you were in control of what happened. Rather, you have yourself to the experience, it took hold of you and so you found meaning in it. Unless you take control, you won't achieve your purpose; but unless you give yourself, you can't experience meaning...
What then is the opposite of work? It is play. These are the two poles of activity: work and play. And what we have come to understand about purpose and meaning will help us see this more clearly. Whenever you work, you work for some purpose. If it weren't for that purpose, you'd have better things to do than work. Work and purpose are so closely connected that your work comes to an end, once your purpose is achieved. Or how are you going to continue fixing your car once it is fixed? This may be less obvious when you are sweeping the floor. Can't you go on sweeping even when there is not a speck of dust left? Well, you can go on making sweeping movements with your broom, but your purpose was accomplished, and so the work, as work, is ended. Sooner or later, someone is sure to ask you why you are playing around with that broom. What was work with purpose has now become play.
In play, all the emphasis falls on the meaning of your activity. If you tell your friends that you find it very meaningful to dance around with your broom on a Friday night, they might raise their eyebrows, but they cannot seriously object. Play needs no purpose. That is why play can go on and on as long as players find it meaningful. After all, we do not dance in order to get somewhere. We dance around and around. A piece of music doesn't come to an end when its purpose is accomplished. It has no purpose, strictly speaking. It is the playful unfolding of a meaning that is there in each of its movements, in every theme, every passage: a celebration of meaning. Pachelbel's Canon is one of the magnificent superfluities of life. Every time I listen to it, I realize anew that some of the most superfluous things are the most important for us because they give meaning to our human life.
We need this kind of experience to correct our world view. Too easily are we inclined to imagine that God created this world for a purpose. We are so caught up in purpose that we would feel more comfortable if God shared our preoccupation with work. But God plays.
may you all find meaning and playfulness on this day. happy thanksgiving everyone.
so around here at the church we have had the good fortune of finding ourselves stumbling into something of a dance party. sometimes it is with neighborhood kids. sometimes it is just us being crazy. it is a fun playfulness that you don't really seem to find with just a couple roommates (unless you're a girl).
but dancing is good for the soul. so in that spirit i propose i dance off! find a friend, and then preferably a crowd of people to cheer and judge. pick your songs and then go at it!
now you can do this with any sort of variety of songs--you can have the dancers pick their own, you can limit it to a genre or exclude a genre (like saying no hip-hop increases creativity). but just in case your musical selection is a bit limited, here are a couple that you can use if you feel so inclined. i'm sure better dance songs are out there, but if you are reading this and you are skeptical--then i defy you to listen to these songs without moving any part of your body. really. i dare you.
passion pit "little secrets"
lonely dear "airport surroundings"
ps if you are alone right now, you have two options:
1. plan a time to come over to our community and we will accommodate you with a dance off.
2. challenge yourself to a dance off! maybe when no one else is home. trust me, it's more fun than it sounds. i mean, er, not that i would really know, personal speaking, of course.
i have these candles in my room. two of them. they are small glass votives, orange cream wax. they are sitting in small pottery votives, as if more casing was needed for protection. these green votives were made in taizé, a monastery in france. they both have a small plant glazed into their base. in between these two candles is a small oil lamp. it is pottery, also from taizé--but it is from my last visit, not the first. its flame burns high and straight. the other two flicker and waver, despite their casing. i have no idea why this is.
the candles were a gift from my mom. they came in a set of six nearly three years ago. these are the last two and they are almost empty. i have set them apart to be burned for a specific focus--and now they are almost all gone.
three years and a week ago i was in taizé for the first time. eight months ago i was there again. both times it has been something of a spiritual pilgrimage for me, though the cost of each was vastly different. i'm not talking about money.
it's something about this time of year--sometime around mid-october into december that i get caught up in the memories of my experience abroad and all that came with it. and each year around this time there have been different emotions with those memories. i'm not quite sure how to name these.
sometimes candles need to run out of wax. sometimes i can't understand how i carry so much for so long.
i've been reading a lot lately. it seems as if the extended reading funk i was in has ended. one of the books i've been reading is donald miller's new one, where he talks mostly about the story of our lives. are we living a good story? there's also a bit in there about fathers and sons. it is really speaking to me.
awhile back i was thinking about story and hollywood, and how great movies and most great stories have mostly the same arc. rising action up to the climax followed by the denouement, or wrapping up. all the stories we know work this way. or well, most of them. most the stories we hear anyway.
but then i was learning something about the bible, and how in the old testament actually a lot of stories operated under a structure called chiasm. it's called that because the greek letter "chi" is shaped like an X. you see, chiastic structure puts the meaning, or the "climax" so to speak at the center of the story. this idea really fascinated me.
because how many of us actually define our stories by how they end? ok some people will have some sort of romantic death where the end makes sense of all the rest--but while this seems to be the case in movies, it is rarely the case in our lives. no usually people's lives start to slow down as they get older and they look back on the days when things were really great. or people's lives don't always end the best, especially in the bible. think about david, or solomon, or jacob, or joseph, or lots of others. all their stories were defined by a central point or points in their lives. not the end.
the thing that's pretty amazing about this--to some extent you get to choose what that central point will be. what will you define as the core of your life's story? for too many it was the great days of sports in high school, of the freedom of college. "those were the best days of my life." we define our story by the pettiest things.
if at any point in your life you look back and shake your head at the center, you create a new one. or if you're quite old, adopt that familiar old story arc. for most of us though who are young, we can look to a center that is not too far off. we don't have to wait till the end of our lives to figure out what our story is going to be all about. we find it in the middle.
but then it isn't always so much of a conscious choice is it? some things put themselves right in the middle of our stories, even if we don't want them there.
i was reading another book not long ago by this austrian monk. it's an amazing book that i will end up quoting on here a few times i believe. but anyway this one part just made me laugh. let me quote it in full:
What does gratefulness have to do with courage? We might, at first glance fail to see a connection. But looking more closely it becomes clear that no one can say "thank you" for a gift and mean it, without trust in the giver; and to trust always takes courage. Take a simple example. A friend hands you a gift-wrapped package, and you say "thank you." You might think that you have expressed your appreciation for the gift. But wait! You haven't even looked at what's inside that package. How could you express you appreciation? What you really expressed was trust in your friend. A grateful person will say "thank you" before checking what's inside the gift-wrapping. If you wait to express your thanks until after you have examined the gift, you might be smart, but no one will call you grateful. True gratefulness is courage to give thanks for a gift before unwrapping it.
Now, it might not cost you a great amount of courage to trust your friend. True enough, that box wrapped in gold paper is just the right size to contain a medium-large time bomb. But who would even dream of that possibility? When life hands you a gift, however, it's a more serious matter. God has a way of putting time bombs into pretty packages. We know that from past experience, and now we get another one of those surprise gifts. To be there to say "thank you" and mean it does take courage. It is as if you were saying: "Watch it! This might be another one of those whoppers. It might blow me to pieces. But even if it does, I trust that this is just what I need right now." That's trust all right! And that trust in the Giver is the crucial point where faith and gratefulness meet.
God has a way of putting time bombs into pretty packages! ha! that made me laugh out loud. because i know all too well that it is true. but am i grateful? am i willing to trust in the giver? do i have the courage to be thankful again? even before i know how it will all turn out?
for whatever reason i needed all that happened three years ago, and all that has happened in the years since. and i needed it right then. i don't want to be fatalistic. and i don't mean to make it sound like it was all about me. but can i possibly see it all as a gift? and can i learn to see it not as only the huge thing that it was and how it changed so much, but at the same time how it does not define my story?
sometimes pain finds its way to the center of our stories. and sometimes it can go so deep that we think we will never see the experience anywhere outside of the middle. and then before we know it it has begun to define our lives. it has become our climax, and we cannot focus on the future or find the hope we need.
but joy costs pain. it's just that you didn't know the price was so high. and you, like the chronic gambler, will keep paying more so that you can somehow win your money back. but who can walk away from the table? who can cut their losses and let the story change? all of the sudden where you were once looking back to the heart of it all, now it has become something you once again look to in the future.
the two candles have all but burned out now. the flame in the center endures.
if you hate the christmas music has started in full force and it's not even thanksgiving. or if you love it and have been playing yours since october. or if you love christmas decorations in stores. or if you can't stand awful cheesy pop christmas music. or if you are die hard about getting a real tree. or if you substitute egg nog for water one month out of the year. or if you just care about christmas in any way and love the season, then once again let's approach the season in an appropriate way.
yes, forget black friday and loads of materialism. let us celebrate advent and christmas for it's real meaning. as this season of remembrance comes to a close in a couple weeks, we move into the season of waiting and anticipation. here are some things to check out to help:
an advent blog--wonderful art and contemplative reflections on the season.
you absolutely must go to this link, to see the most amazing painting ever. actually it makes me throw up a little in my mouth.
"'Communal allegiance to Christ and his Kingdom is the indispensable check upon the pretentions of the modern state. Because Christ is Lord, Caesar is not Lord. By humbling all secular claims to sovereignty, the Church makes its most important political contribution by being, fully and unapologetically the Church.' Yet it seems that universality should be qualified in the name of our service to democratic nation states as we can be called on to kill Christians from totalitarian states in the name of the relative goods of our 'open societies.' But then in what sense is the Church our first loyalty? Or, what kid of unity is it that would have us eat at the same table to which we have been invited by a crucified savior only to be told at the end of the meal that the peace of that table does not mean we cannot kill one another for the goods of the nations in which we find ourselves living?
"I do not see how loyalty to democracy in this sense is any less tyrannical. Rather it suggests that the democratic state is no less a state and it will respect the 'freedom' of the church only to the extent that it can count on that 'freedom' to underwrite its ends as a nation that knows not that Christ is in fact Lord."
so, i thought i would take this opportunity to celebrate. recently a friend of mine devoted a blog post to the birthday of his celebrity crush. never mind that it was about another man. that's beside the point.
so, happy birthday anne hathaway, one my celebrity crushes. you're 27 today, which means you are less than a year older than me. it could work. think about it, ok? if you say no i'll have to i'll just have to go to rachel mcadams, whose birthday is in 5 days (i'm not a creepy stalker, i promise!). she's a few years older, but that's cancelled because she's canadian. so now's your chance, because it's your birthday. let me know...
"True resistance against the powers of destruction can be a lifelong commitment only when it is fed by an ardent love for the God of justice and peace. The ultimate goal of true resistance is not simply to do away with poverty, injustice, and oppression, but to make visible the all-restoring love of God.'
26 somehow feels old. i know i know, it's not old at all. i try to tell this to my older sisters or my dad and they just laugh at me, just the same way my dad laughs at my sister for lamenting finding herself at 35. but lamenting is not what i'm doing. it's more just sort of realization coming from a question. what have i done in all these 26 years?
you see there comes a point when you are old enough to feel like you really should have done something, that you really should have accomplished something by now. you don't know exactly what that something is, but it would probably be really cool and a lot of people would know about it. like write a book. or climb a bunch of 14ers. or hold your first child. something like that.
i watched a kids movie the other day. i was tired and i put it on thinking i would fall asleep to the comfortable familiarity of a family movie. but i couldn't fall asleep. nope. i got sucked into the movie. i should have seen it coming really, because this movie is one that always gets to me. Hook is the movie about peter pan, after peter pan. really it is a movie about growing up. and for whatever reason it always makes me cry. several times throughout. not bawling panting heaving cry, but just some tears to my eyes. i think it was frederick buechner who told us to pay attention to our tears, because they usually mean that our heart is trying to tell us something.
Hook was the movie that made me realize i wanted to eventually get married. at the time i was questioning whether that was the right thing for my life. but like peter pan i think it was more rooted in not wanting to grow up than in noble pursuits. like him, i realized i want to be a daddy. i want to have a family and not miss it happening. but the selfish part of me really worries about that time when i will give most of my time and energy to my kids. what will be left for me then? what will i still get to do? and what will i no longer be able to do?
i think a lot of growing up is a constant learning how to be less selfish. though of course if this is the case we have a lot of peter pans out there.
i saw another "kids" movie recently--where the wild things are. i guess you may argue it's not a kids movie, but it is a coming of age story if i ever saw one. there are so many childish things in the movie--some beautiful, some disastrous. the one that keeps coming to my mind though is about the fort they build. it is amazing. it is so cool. but the reality quickly comes crashing down. when something unfamiliar and unplanned enters, it begins to break down. the old problems from before are still there, and the fort cannot protect them from all of that. at one point carol says "i thought this is the place where everything you want to happen happens."
maybe that's striking me because now i'm living in my own fort these days. we can all sleep together in a pile when it's fun and games, but then we realize some of the people smell. (of course speaking about the movie once again, not our community). or we don't like all the people there. or everything we want doesn't happen. we want to retreat but there is nowhere to go. if we try to build our own little secret compartment everyone will see us, and they will ask what we are doing, and why.
thankfully none of us are little children--or monsters! but are we really grown up either? no. and thankfully as well none of us are king. we can believe in the promises he gives us. but do we? do we hold onto those promises when things get tough. or did we even let ourselves hear them in the first place?
our fort is not a defensive place. no. our great paradox is that God is the refuge who sends us outside the city walls. he has us come out of the fort and not be safe. not get everything we want. not be comfortable.
we all build our own forts. and it doesn't matter how many people we let in them or how old we are--we all to some extent are still hiding under the cushions.
here's to growing up a little, hopefully a little more each day than we are a day older--that we might find wisdom beyond our years. that we would no longer be lost boys and girls.
so an interesting thing happened to me. i had a realization. oh don't be fooled faithful readers, it was nothing too profound. but to me it was significant. i doubt it will be the same for you.
you see i was at the gym, working out and watching some highlights on the tv screen above. it was actually sportcenter's top 10 segment. and they showed a couple of really nice football plays. and that's when it hit me, "oh yeah! so that's what a running back looks like."
let's be honest folks, larry johnson is terrible. extending his contract was one of the worst decisions the chiefs have ever made. we could have traded him for a draft pick and kept jared allen, who isn't worthless. in fact he's one of the best defense linemen in the league, and probably will be for a few more years. lj, well, suffice it to say he isn't the best at anything--except maybe talking crap and causing drama. he's definitely beating out TO these days.
remember when everyone used to talk about his famous "juke" move. it was comparable to pressing the L1 button on a video game. he would be running full speed and all of the sudden stop and juke to the side. it made defenders look bad. real bad. so when was the last time we saw that? actually when was the last time we saw larry johnson make any kind of move at all?
granted you gotta get some blocking to do something, and you gotta get out into the open field to be able to pull that L1 move--but bad blocking can only be blamed so much. even running backs with crappy lines still manage to pull off some good runs. but then again that would be a good running back.
ok maybe it's unfair to pick on just larry johnson--yes all of the chiefs are bad. but it was just a realization i had and needed to vent. when was the last time you saw this:
most of you are probably aware that following halloween is all saint's day. but perhaps you aren't aware that the day after that, today, is all soul's day. most of the church culture i've experienced isn't too big into the liturgical church calendar, but there has been some renewed interest in some circles. even with that, it may still seem a little weird for us to celebrate this day. our culture has done its best to help us forget about death, hiding our cemeteries to look more like parks you'd never want to visit with sporadic flowers spread all over. cemeteries used to be places with trees and benches and people would go visit them. and that's what all soul's day is for in particular.
in latin american countries this day brings a trip to the cemetery, with people bringing picnics to the graves of their family members. they spread a blanket over the gravesite and often bring food that the person particularly liked. a picnic with the dead may seem a little strange to us, but it is an act of remembrance and honoring those we have lost.
so i take today to remember my family who have passed on. i have had a couple family funerals in the last few months. as i get older i begin to see my parents age as well and think of the time when they will not be in my life. it makes we want to cherish them more now while i can. it makes me wish that i had spent more time with some people. it makes me think about how life is short and this place is not all there is.
but our lives do matter. so much. too much. more than you would think if someone were to look at how we spend our time most often. but people are worth remembering. so take some time today to remember someone who's gone, and to celebrate them and their life.
Year after year beheld the silent toil That spread his lustrous coil; Still, as the spiral grew, He left the past year's dwelling for the new, Stole with soft step its shining archway through, Built up its idle door, Stretch'd in his last-found home, and knew the old no more.
While on mine ear it rings, Through the deep caves of thought I hear a voice that sings:--
Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul, As the swift seasons roll! Leave thy low-vaulted past! Let each new temple, nobler than the last, Shut thee from heaven with a dome more vast, Till thou at length art free, Leaving thine outgrown shell by life's unresting sea!