all the preparation has kept me quite busy, along with everything else that already goes on in normal life. i haven't really written much of anything for some time now, but i miss it. ideas are constantly coming up into my head for stories, for blogs, for musings, for poems. and then that little voice that sneaks its whispers in, "don't forget, you are a writer."
it's sounds a little pretentious, i know. especially when you haven't published anything or made a dime off writing. but it's more of an identity thing. no, not identity. that's not the right word. vocation? you're supposed to make money with that too, right? how about that it's in my soul? yeah, i could say that.
there is something in writing that is cathartic to my soul.
you see, writers see the world a little differently. they see things from angles that express a slightly tilted world--one a little off from how you usually see it. they pick up the essence of a "character" in a short conversation with a stranger. they are usually a little strange, perhaps slightly "disturbed" as other people might call it. i like to think i do a pretty good job of hiding it.
so, all that to say, here's to writing again. which begins now, not tomorrow, not after the wedding or after this or after that. start where you are.
ok so back to this marriage thing. today we had our final meeting with the pastors who are marrying us. it was good, mostly going over final details and such, but also praying deeply about all of this. and in one of the prayers a phrase stuck out to me, "knitting our souls together." it stuck out, not because i got a mental image of a giant old man dressed in white clinking knitting needles together while he listens to prayers, but because this is a deep and great mystery. and the picture of knitting together captures a very small piece of that mystery.
i will begin and continue to experience this great mystery of love and union that is so powerful and unique. and i only am coming to that through an engagement of absolute commitment. i am very intrigued by the relationship between mystery and commitment, but i'm saving those thoughts for another venue (where perhaps i'll actually get paid for writing it! oo i know you're curious now, aren't you? i'll let you know, don't worry.)
the thing about knitting together souls souls that is a fitting image rather than say, the melting together of metals (which you don't really hear), is that each one keeps its identity though it is interwoven within the other's. yes the busyness of planning a wedding and craziness of life at certain times can pull you away from who you are and the things you love, but that only for a time. true and healthy intimacy will always affirm and exalt the other person in who they truly are, and allow them the space to live it without suffocating for personal need/dependency.
it's the mystery that as you completely and fully give yourself to another person you actually find that you have become more yourself. i feel this is what so many people do not realize when they fear commitment or overlook the significance of marriage by entering into it without their whole selfs.
and that is where this all ties together (see i did that writer thing). coming closer to the time of marriage, and i'm sure after actually being married, i will only experience a greater desire and welling up of my soul to write, because that is who i am. and in my love for heather and her love for me i am compelled to be a better man, to be more fully myself, to live a life that is significant--and a big part of that for me is creating through writing.
ten days and i will be united with another human being in a way that is indescribable. and at the same time in ten days i will be more fully myself than i ever have been before. amen.
did i say ten? i think it's after midnight now, close enough right?. . . not that i'm eager or anything.
ok ok ok i know it's been awhile. and you probably thought this blog was dead. well i am still hopeful that perhaps someday i will have time to write more. things have just been crazy busy. i've got a lot going on right now--no time to blog! but today was so eventful i just couldn't let it pass without recording all the preceding events. so here's the run-down:
~ accomplished a bit more on putting together our wedding website. link will come when completed.
~ selected paper color and weight for our forthcoming wedding invitations
~ booked our registration for the ccda conference in september. volunteers pay only $25!
~ booked out honeymoon!!!! i'm not one for this usually, but this deserves all caps--ITS FREAKING AMAZING!!!!!!!!! heather's aunt and uncle so generously offered us a week on their timeshare, and after doing the research of what was availabe and what fit our dates, we're going to MALTA!!! now if you don't know where malta is, this might help:
for those of you who don't know malta is a small little mediterranean island south of italy. the resort is top notch and we feel so blessed to have been given this amazing incredible opportunity! it looks something like this:
oh and this is where we're staying:
yeah. i know.
~ then we went and got heather a car! insane i know! my brother-in-law was going to trade in his 2003 taurus and they didn't offer him very much, and he heard we were looking for a car so he just gave us it for the same as the trade-in offer! such another huge blessing.
~ then we went to pick out wedding bands. heather found a really great one and i am still deciding. it's tough. i mean, i'll have it the rest of my life!
~ and tonight we had fun with the community--community dinner, ice cream after at foo's frozen custard, followed by a viewing of run fatboy run, one of my favorite comadies.
to say the least, all in all it was a pretty great day!
in the second part of my exploration of american life, i would like to examine something that is perhaps the most frustrating thing to me about our american culture: polarization. primary political polarization, but it also at times expands into other areas. this is a large topic that brings out a lot of emotion from me--so organizing my thoughts may prove difficult. follow as you can.
recent polarization in america is rooted in politics. red state blue state. fox news msnbc. opposing political ideas is not the problem. emotion-based politics over rational politics is partly to blame. the political figure as celebrity over platforms of policy is another negative aid. but the heart of the blame lies in the two-party system.
now before you attack me as an enemy of democracy, let us first consider just how democratic our democracy is. democracy simply means a government by the people. and when you consider the two-party system, you must realize that as much as 49% of the people are not "for" the current government. "that's not my president" is a common bumper sticker of late. even less extreme is just the common disagreement and lack of any sort of representation for those whose candidate they supported lost. this creates the feeling within people that they have no voice. so they get angry and allow the angry anchors and figures at fox news and talk radio to yell for them. or they pride themselves in their "intellectual superiority" disdaining opposing views as antiquated.
but perhaps that's just the way it is--isn't that the nature of elections and voting? this is a very important concept: democracy is not majority rules. democracy, or rather what we actually have--a republic, implies representation. but is that possible to have everyone represented? unfortunately i think most americans just believe that it simply is not. however if you were to know about parliamentary systems in many european countries you would know otherwise. in their parliament (like our congress), the parties receive as many representatives as the percentage of vote their party receives. so if the christian democratic party receives 13% of the vote they get that many representatives. not only does this represent much more of the population, it also takes the focus off of particular individuals and onto the actual policies of that party. it also keeps politicians from straying from their party's ideals and principles.
i'm sure the parliamentary system has it's flaws too, and the whole grass is always greener thing--but facing the problems that we are it sounds pretty appealing to me. it sounds much more democratic.
but that isn't the system we are in, and so we experience polarization. we have "news" channels that are businesses motivated by the dollar and so they are much more concerned with selling their program than thinking about the effect that their shows have on their viewers as participants in a government system. let's also put talk radio in the same category. it's all about the ratings. they use hyperbole and loaded language and emotions to bump up their ratings with very little regard for social function. sure they believe the things that they are saying, but do they believe they are really accomplishing progress and help for the american people? maybe they do, but at what cost? polarization results in no middle ground to move forward, so extremes must be taken because the ends justify the means for the radical. this in turn creates further divergence and increases anger through the means of fillibusters, and in more extreme conditions further political corruption.
but at the more basic level this just keeps us from having intelligent conversations. we are unable to talk to people with normal conversations because we write them off by their label. liberal. conservative. fundamentalist. elite. or by the position they take on a single issue.
no the media is not solely to blame for this of course. we are as well for having listened to them. and there are many other sources of the error. we have become increasingly polarized, and i don't see how this will change.
if i had the skills and the desire and the ability to invest my energy anywhere politically, it would be to try and raise a third party that held to christian values on both sides of the political landscape. pro life both before and after birth. social justice and personal responsibility. etc. etc. etc. but let's be honest--financially it could never compete. and in the current system it could never get enough representatives to make any sort of difference. just ask ron paul.
what do you think can/should be done about polarization in america?
Some people flee from commitment because they are frightened that if they put down roots in one soil they will curtail their freedom and never be able to look elsewhere. It is true that if you marry one woman you give up millions of others--and that's a curtailment of freedom! But freedom doesn't grow in the abstract; it grows in a particular soil with particular people. Inner growth is only possible when we commit ourselves with and to others. We all have to pass through a certain death and time of grief when we make choices and become rooted. We mourn what we have left behind.
So many people do not realise that in giving up everything to follow Jesus and live in community, he gives back everything a hundredfold.
not too long ago i watched the movie cold souls, with paul giamatti. it was pretty funny dark humor. it was about storing your soul and being set free from its burdens, and even being able to try on other people's souls for a time. this led to a large soul trafficking business operated by the russians. when the suggestion is made that they could not only send russian souls to america, but perhaps bring some back if people wanted them--that is when this line is said.
which struck me. in the movie the joke is that the only american soul with any value is that of an american actor. russian poet sounds like a soul someone would buy. but apparently the only thing americans have a soul for is pretending to be someone else. like the best of jokes, it strikes perhaps because there is some truth to it.
maybe not real truth--just perception. there are many talented and rich american artists in music and film. but many would say america is still lagging behind in literature and art. of course, according to who? well, the nobel prize people, but who put them in charge? of course they would preference european stuff.
i have heard it said though that america is in many ways much like an adolescent culture, in comparison to european culture which is much older (read: wiser). this is very western-focused, but isn't it true to some degree? don't americans look up to europe like the older brother who seems to be so much cooler? even though the younger brother has surpassed the older in prowess and ability. then could you say the same about rising cultures like india and china in how they view america yet have their great abilities and disciplines? i'm diverting a little.
still the question remains, "who would want an american soul?" what is the american soul? is there anything that makes it great? do we as americans have something of an inferiority complex--where deep down we wonder if we are really as inwardly rich as other cultures? does this lead to our arrogance? or is it just the position of power we have over the rest of the world that goes to our head?
as individuals, how do we see ourselves stacking up against the rest of the world? would you say americans are on a whole immature? what is our obsession with television and sports all about? why are our politics so juvenille like small children fighting for their side? why are americans statistically far more generous in giving money than any other nation on the planet? what are the other questions we should be asking?
i've found myself thinking a lot about american life lately. culture, the church, music, television, art, even a little politics. i want this entry to be the first of a series on american life. i know that's a broad topic, but i want to try to understand more. i want to know what is at the heart of the american soul. that's a lofty goal eh?
if you have any thoughts or ideas for topics please feel free to share.
recently i have watched two russian films and thoroughly loved them. now you may say but of course luke would love russian films. and that may be true. but i think you would enjoy them too, if you like cinema. not just movies, but film. especially the first. i recommend checking them out--if you're in to that sort of thing. (the great thing being that no one knows if they are or not because who of you have seen one single russian film? eh? eh? give it a try!)
i just want to say
that sitting outside
wearing flip flops
and a t-shirt
in the shade
because the sun was too hot
next to piles of snow
and budding trees
drinking hot espresso
is a little weird.
today is st. patty's day, which as most people are aware of is honoring st. patrick. of course very few of the people who celebrate the day most will know very much about the ballsy old scotsman. yes, that's right, he was scottish--not irish. he was taken as a slave to ireland, and return as a missionary after God orchestrated his escape. maybe people have heard the story of how pat chased all the snakes off the cliff, banishing them from ireland to this day. but there are much more incredible lore around the saint. i won't go into it too much except to point out perhaps the most ironic one on this day.
st. patrick never wanted people to wear green. green was the pagan celtic color which was used to draw in the presence of demons to your aid. patrick would never have wanted his day to be honored by people wearing the color that traditionally in his day was used to call forth demons. he probably wouldn't have even wanted his own day, but that's beside the point.
so today, as a means of truly honoring st. patrick, don't wear green. if you're wearing green, take it off right now (place appropriate of course). and if someone pinches you, tell them they might as well wrap snakes around their body and scream incantations to the underworld.
If the jewel which every one desired to posses lay far out on a frozen lake where the ice was very thin, watched over by the danger of death, while, closer in, the ice was perfectly safe, then in a passionate age crowds would applaud the courage of a man who ventured out, they would tremble for him and with him in the danger of his decisive action, they would grieve over him if he were drowned, they would make a god of him if he secured the prize. But in an age without passion, in a reflective age, it would be otherwise. People would think each other clever in agreeing that it was unreasonable and not even worth while to venture so far out. And in this way they would transform daring and enthusiasm into a feat of skill, so as to do something, for after all "something must be done." The crowds would go out and watch from a safe place, and with the eyes of connoisseurs appraise the accomplished skater who could skate almost to the very edge (i.e. as far as the ice was still safe and the danger had not yet begun) and then turn back. The most accomplished skater would manage to go out to the furthermost point and then perform a still more dangerous-looking run, so as to make the spectators hold their breath and say: "Ye Gods! How mad; he is risking his life."
now that the olympics are over, we can turn our attention onto something that really matters. don't get me wrong, i like the olympics, but in comparison--not even close. sure the medal counts are great and athletes devote their entire lives to standing on the podium, but how about literally an entire nation living or dying by the stroke of a foot? there is no greater sporting event than the world cup.
now i know this is hard for americans to grasp, especially those that aren't that into soccer. they might argue about the super bowl or march madness or even the grandness of the olympics. but nothing is more super, grand, or has more madness than the world cup. players have literally been killed because of mistakes they made in the games. i'm not saying that's a good thing, but americans must realize the intensity with which basically every other country in the world views this event. even the countries that don't qualify probably care much more than the average u.s. citizen. and that is just sad.
a blog i read reminded me that the games are under 100 days away, and i can't contain my excitement. it was one of the saddest things nearly four years ago when i realized i wasn't going to be able to watch another u.s. world cup game for another four years. the fact that it is so infrequent just adds to the insane excitement. and that day of thrill and joy is almost coming again, and hopes are high. we have drawn a pretty good pool, with england being our stiffest competition. but 2 teams make it through and we really should have no trouble advancing. but then again it's the world cup, and anything can happen.
i really want to encourage you all to take part in the games this summer. watch a couple matches, and try to watch them with people who are passionate about the game. even if you aren't a soccer fan, the energy that exudes from these games is unreal. after all, no one is really an avid speed skating fan--but you enjoy it during the olympics. this can be the same way. the games are so exciting and you know all the while that an entire country is more invested in the game you're watching than you have been for any game of any kind you've ever watched.
and if you have a hard time understanding soccer, again, watch it with someone who knows. i'll be happy to watch games with you if you like--i will be spending quite a bit of time watching as many games as i can. after all, it won't come around for another four years--and by then i'll be in my thirties with who knows what all else going on? i can't wait! here is a little video to get you pumped up:
the other day the new york times ran an article entitled "Learning from the Sin of Sodom," which talked about evangelicals in a mostly positive light. it was written by nicholas d. kristof, columnist and winner of two pulitzers. i don't read the times, but it's gotten some play on several blogs i read so i thought i would check it out. it's not very long, so go read it, and then continuing reading my post. or don't, and just keep reading.
my first thought after reading this article was "oh good, some positive press and exposure for the evangelical church--and actually from a really legitimate source." but then i thought about how the evangelical church would most likely botch this up--how they would get all excited about how someone if finally noticing how great they are and all the good things they do. chalk up a few good points on the board. maybe it's the cynic in me, but i can't help but think of it like this. like when christians get all excited about an athlete or a politician because he is a strong christian--like we should be for him cause he's "in the club." note the importance of the word "strong," which is an important modifier, lest we confuse them with the nominal faith of just about every politician.
this is not such a bad thing in and of itself perhaps. it is probably good for people to see that evangelicals are not all single-issue hyper-conservatives. and it is ok for christians to be proud of other Christ-followers doing well in the world. what i'm concerned about though is that evangelicals will be so happy to receive a little praise from the world, that they may fail to see what it is they are being praised for.
let's look at the conclusion of the article: "If secular liberals can give up some of their snootiness, and if evangelicals can retire some of their sanctimony, then we all might succeed together in making greater progress against common enemies of humanity, like illiteracy, human trafficking and maternal mortality."
doesn't that sound nice? a little cooperation and appreciation for one another and we may actually get some things done to make this world a better place. so what's the problem with this?
first let me draw up a distinction. i have been referring to evangelicals in the third person because i tend to not count myself among them. not because i disagree with the basic historical tenets that compromise evangelicalim (biblical authority, centrality of jesus, personal salvation), but because of all that term has come to represent. for awhile the term post-evangelical gained some vogue, but it was amorphous and often confusing. people mixed it up with emerging church and though this article was helpful, it is still rather unclear. probably most accurately it was a way to distinguish younger generation church-raised kids who were disgruntled at some of the abuses and narrowness of the evangelical church, or its perception as such. for me it was mostly because of perception, and the desire to draw from other christian traditions the richness and healthy components of christianity lacking in modern evangelicalism. that's a long topic though, maybe for another post.
i bring this up because this ny times article will really appeal to the post-evangelical (particularly) youth. social action is a big concern for post-evangelicals. it is one of their major critiques of the conservative evangelical church, concerned only with personal morality and gnostic conversion experiences (affects the soul alone). this was a healthy critique, but now the danger is that we simply go about trying to make the world a better place while not really giving attention to people's eternal destiny, or the acknowledgement of sin in humility and the need for repentence--what was once overemphasized is now often passively set aside or even forbidden. see world vision's policy reflected in the ny times article.
whether this is a misrepresentation of their attitude or not, it is clearly the reflection of the opinion of the secular world what is needed. "they can go and do all this good work as long as they aren't using it as a means to just create more converts." because this stands in the way of progress. don't try to convert, just work for the common good.
there's a theological side to all of this playing out in many emerging and next-generation churches, but i won't get into all that here. i write all of this i guess more just as a counter balance, for whenever the "world" praises us we should be not necessarily immediately elated, but rather immediately cautious. because the world is not supposed to like us, according to Jesus. we don't like to remember that because as people and as a group we want to be liked--and we want to have a good witness. and we should have a good witness, and we should really make sure that if as christians we aren't liked it's for the right reasons: because we are truly following the principles of Jesus, not because of our lack of love or our stubborn arrogance and superiority.
John knew all of this quite well:
I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.
If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.
This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother's were righteous. Do not be surprised, my brothers, if the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him. This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him. And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.
I John 3:11-24
for the next month or so our community will be endeavoring together to practice the discipline of simplicity. we've decided to strive together toward the Lord through the practice of one additional spiritual discipline or practice, along with our regular practices of prayer, bible study, and community meals.
starting with simplicity is a bit of a challenge, because it is easy to turn into an abstraction if left without examples but can easily become legalistic if you try to establish concrete actions on a regular basis. there are also many ways that one can seek to pursue simplicity. it becomes difficult because simplicity is a discipline that has both inward and outward implications. richard foster describes it as “an inward reality that results in a changed lifestyle,” emphasizing that it must begin inwardly and express itself outwardly. perhaps this chart is helpful (though i'm not sure i like the use of the word "offbalance"):
so how do we, as a community, seek to pursue inward simplicity first and then outward simplicity--especially in a collective and concrete way? well we talked a little about pursuing inward simplicity individually, but then thought it would be best as a group to pursue the outward things together that we all already had a bit of an inward reality towards. after several options we decided that a helpful way to practice simplicity would be in area of technology. technology can certainly be a blessing in a lot of ways, but it also has the ability to suck away our time and constantly take our focus away from the things we really need to be devoted to. and that is the heart of simplicty--to be singularly devoted to the Lord and his life for us.
so our collective idea was to spend one night a week removing ourselves from technology--an "amish night" if you will, as it has been deemed. we even refrained from turning on the lights, resorting to candles instead. we did keep the heat on, considering the weather and that we are ill-equiped to light fires in the church with no wood-burning stoves (though if someone has an extra we'd love to put one in our great room!). for dinner we ate red beans and rice, and afterwards we spent much of the evening praying in the chapel--which we usually do on monday nights already.
last night was the first, so i am a little hesitant to come to any conclusions. i'm not so sure that the practice led me to a greater pursuit of inward simplicity and less of a desire to engage with technology (which ironically i'm now writing about on my computer). it was good not to deal with technology for the evening--but then did i just have to catch up today on the things i missed last night? would it be more helpful to commit to practice this discipline on a larger scale? what about an amish week? unfortunately there are things like school that require some degree of technology--but certainly those things could be accounted for. are we selling ourselves too short? trying too little?
well those are things we will discuss as a community, and perhaps make adjustments. but also we need to pursue things individually. i am trying to cultivate silence today as a means of pursuing inward simplicity--though i can't say it's going all that well though so far. what are some ways you think simplicity needs to be pursued, in our culture and in your life? is simplicity something you think about ever?
i'd be interested to hear your thoughts if anyone would like to share. thanks.
two weeks later
another morning not quite so soft,
i had my same perch--
though my eyes given to pages
telling of crosses:
people and losses.
a woman walks in alone
with a flyer for a found dog.
not particularly striking,
her small moment in the cafe
blows simply away--
outside a smile to the passing old man,
through the glass i saw this all.
as one barista quips the trash,
another allows for slight hope--
though the paper set with all the day's sections,
won't last through tomorrow's edition.
my reading halts,
and i can't get past this scene.
it was the smile at the end;
something in her eyes--
let through from far below.
or maybe it was the simple act of kindness,
trying to return a beloved pet
where so many others had just driven on.
i catch myself romanticizing the scenario--
making this woman lonely and tragic,
so kind and caring
and perhaps my storytelling does her a disservice;
perhaps she is quite happy and loved.
i don't really know.
so why does my intuition so strongly disagree?
how can so much be caught in just an instant
and thousands of unseen memories?
can we be seen in only a moment?
or are those just illusions
until we are one day completely known?
can the eyes truly tell so much?
the soul's jalousie
or our programmed tv?
needed a new post if anything just to get past that last one. man i took some heat for that! thank you all for your gracious and caring responses in return for my forthright confession. see if i ever do that again!
well i suppose all i can do is try to redeem myself a little. this is another recent discovery for me, though their last album was 3 years ago. i am really enjoying this. but can you guys listen to this? i am having trouble playing these now--don't know if it's just my computer or something with the website. let me know please if you want. if you can't you can hear it on their myspace, so go have a listen. i think it's worth it--and not only so you know my musical tastes aren't a complete disaster!
ok, ok. this one is bad. sometimes these are little more than joking confessions and i don't really feel all that bad about what i have to share. but this time. oh, this time. this time my words will drip with shame. i am not standing in this corner whispering into the cold dark of the internet. no, i am cowering in shame, hoping that i can in some way be pulled up out of this place of filth and disease, hoping redemption is still possible.
but i get ahead of myself.
those of you who know me well know that i can be pretty opinionated. this is a fact that i've often tried to hide or at least subdue a little bit, though mostly to no avail. let me explain why i have tried though. my family on my dad's side is a heavy mix of italian and irish. it seems that the result was the opinionatedness of the italians with the bull-headedness of the irish. get my dad's siblings together and they will argue for hours about the smallest minute useless point. and not debate. argue. because each one knows without a doubt for certain that they are right. i would give an example if they weren't all so pointless that i've forgotten every single one of them. politics excluded.
this has so scarred me that i deeply fear that i might one day become them. so i try to somewhat subvert my strong feelings toward my opinions when i have them. those of you who know me well might laugh at that statement--but really it could be a lot worse. you don't even know. anyway, i try to limit my strong opinions toward things that don't really matter, usually matters of taste and personal preference. for example--restaurants, books, movies, and quite often music.
music. let's talk about music. for no reason in particular. well, perhaps because the grammy's were just this week. i don't need to go into how terrible the grammy's are, both in award catagories and in selections of artists. it really is a joke and so arbitrary. but that's not the point. the point is that there is so much good music out there and usually very little of it is reflected at the grammy's. it's much too difficult to judge objectively like you can with movies anyway.
but judge we still do. and judge i do. i am something of a music collector. if there is any part of me that you could call "hipster," it would be by music. i don't do it to be cool though, i just really like music. and i am usually less than hesitant to decry horrible music and belittle those who listen to it. don't get me started on country and that distortion you try to call music. and unfortunately the whole world decides that they want to listen to pop so the most overproduced and unoriginal shite goes to the top of the charts and lands on the playlists of millions of teens ipods. i try to catch these poor high schoolers and show them the error of their musical ways, but they rarely listen. sort of like the time i tried to tell middle school boys not to douse themselves with axe body spray. they give you that look like you don't know anything.
which brings me to my confession. it is to my great shame and dismay that i have to admit that i have fallen prey to liking one of these pop monsters. and not just any one, but one of the biggest. i don't even know how it happened really. i read an article that linked a video and i watched it and was hooked. i can't get away from the song. and i'm sorry to say that song is "bad romance" by lady gaga.
i know i know! it's horrible. i actually subjected myself to checking out the rest of the album--both discs, which is complete and utter crap. except maybe poker face, which incidentally sounds like essentially the same song with minor changes. so no i do not like lady gaga. i do not like her album. i just happen to love one of her songs. and i hate that i do. and i'm sorry. and i beg your forgiveness.
the thing is, i want to try to analyze it and somehow justify my liking by seeing some social commentary she's making. i mean, say even her name. lady gaga. it is a baby's cry. she is commenting on society that she can put out the most infantile music and people will run to pick it up like a wailing baby. but she's a lady too, because the themes of her songs are all about being a lady. a lady who has a lot of bad relationships and a fair amount of sex. well crap, i guess that doesn't really work. never mind. i'll accept it. there's no getting around it.
i realize this leaves me with little to no musical credibility. and any time i try to tell someone the music they are listening to is terrible, they will always have this against me. tragic i know, but i must come clean. and in that interest i have to also admit that she is a decent looking lady. no really, she has a nice face--when she actually has all that makeup off and isn't wearing ridiculous hats. and with that, i depart in shame.
i never really conceptualized that phrase before--"a hard winter." usually it was in conjunction with pioneers or little house on the prairie or something. now a days it usually means having to bundle up a little more to go out and shovel the driveway for an hour a day before returning to the heat. or having to deal with snow and ice on the roads. but hey, throw in a snow day and it makes that hard winter just a little bit easier.
now it's different. i am learning firsthand what a hard winter is really like. for the first time in my life i look forward to spring, not just with slight anticipation but now like a kid pines for christmas morning. "oh won't it be so great when we can take the plastic off these window and it won't feel like we're living in a milk craton!?!" "man it will be nice to not have my feet go numb when i walk to the bathroom in the morning!" "i can't wait till our gas bill is under two thousand for the month!" "it will be great to not need to wear 5 layers when i'm sitting in my room!"
smart wool socks have pretty much now become a permanent part of my feet.
i now know what it feels like to yearn for spring. to fight through a hard winter. and there's part of me that really likes that. the other parts of me are just cold. i don't know how pioneers did it. i mean i know how the pioneers did it--i just don't know how they managed to survive all the complaining from their wives! just kidding--mostly. girls complain about the cold a lot more! i think it's cause they're smaller and can't grow beards. yeah, that probably has something to do with it.
another thing about winter is that as our pastor says, "our folk ain't made for this kind a weather." well probably as a general rule most people don't enjoy this weather. and as a common result people don't like to be outside. our neighborhood just sort of shuts down in the winter. maybe you see people passing every now and then, but just about the last thing they want to do is stop and talk to you and spend one more minute than they have to in that bitter cold. life around here goes into a form of hibernation.
experiencing the seasons seems natural though. it seems somehow closer to reality. we live our lives largely independent of the weather, though we focus on it so much. i don't think there has ever been any culture so concerned with what the weather was going to be than ours is now. why is that? because we are also maybe the least affected by it. we manipulate our crops to survive more and more independently from the way the weather goes. we have waterproof and windproof and coldproof jackets. we have insulation and heaters and fireplaces and space heaters. we have air conditioners and fans and breathable clothes. we adjust our temperatures against the season with tons of money into heating and cooling devices. and that's not a bad thing--a lot less people die now.
but we do all that we can to function as if weather did not exist. we are so inconvenienced when it snows and we can't make our appointments. or rather sometimes we are relieved. but life goes on usually. and it is mostly unaffected.
it is kind of nice to have life affected by the seasons. it forces us to wait. it takes some things out of our control. and that makes us do some other things--like use this time to devote more to prayer, or to playing games with each other, or to working on things indoors. it brings us closer together. and it probably gets us more ready to get out and away from each other as soon as it gets warm!
it's this season. and though we look forward to spring, we can't make it spring any sooner than it comes. it's not worth wishing it was some other time. it is now. and so we live how we can now. and that helps us realize our limits. and maybe that's worth being a little cold. the girls may disagree with me, but i think it's worth it.
The emphasis in our civilization on data, on method, on technique, and on social science catagories misdirects leaders in two ways. First it directs them away from the reality of underlying emotional processes. Second, as long as emotional process is ignored, so is the sense of self, which will then undercut a leader's confidence in the uniqueness of his or her own personal being. All of this when what our civilization needs most is leaders with a bold sense of adventure. As I noted earlier, our nation's obsession with safety ignores the fact that every American alive today benefits from centuries of risk-taking by previous generations. While not all Americans share equally in that heritage, to the extent that anyone does, it is because every modern benefit from health to enjoyment to production has come about because Americans in previous generations put adventure before safety. We run the risk of becoming a nation of 'skimmers' who constantly take from the top without adding significantly to its essence.
By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. Hebrews 11:8-10
he did not know where he was going.
this my friends, is the anti-business model. this is not how to convince your family you aren't crazy. this is not how to plan for retirement. this is not how to recruit others to your cause. this is not what they teach you in school, or sunday school for that matter.
sometimes, every now and then when i am thinking about the community and all that we are doing, a question slips its way into my mind: what are you doing? it's usually followed by a few moments of panic. what am i doing? why am i down here? am i just crazy? and it's in these moments that i see the true foolishness of it all. it all seems so ridiculous. so contrary to conventional wisdom. how will this affect my kids? what happens when i get older? what if someone gets seriously hurt because of all that we're doing down here? these are not the questions that lead to peace of mind.
it's usually not long after those questions come that i remember something about being fools for Christ (i cor. 4:10) and something else about how the wisdom of the world is foolishness to God (i cor. 3:19). there is a little consolation in this, certainly. and in the precursor to those verses. but then again it can be easy to accept ignorance and irresponsibility on the pretense of being "fools for Christ." how could we even know the full weight of all that we're doing anyway? who's to tell what massive effects and impact this will have on our lives?
i don't find myself asking all this to be dramatic, but rather because the question sits before us: "what is at stake?" and the answers shake my bones.
fortunately they also shake my heart. there is much at stake. there is much to lose. oh but how much there is to gain! and then this is where it becomes difficult. because you ask, "ok, what is there to gain?"
before i try to answer that question, and even when i do it really can only be done with ideals and dreams, i remember that so often in the life of faith vision follows obedience. i'm not saying that this is always the case. but every now and then God calls us somewhere even though we don't know exactly where it is we are going. we are called to step out in faith. to take the leap.
and we're fairly comfortable with this as long as we know that it is just that one step. or the leap that we feel like will lead to us coming down on the other side pretty soon. but when that step is the first on a long path, it ceases to become a step and turns into a journey. it is no longer an action taken, but a life continuously lived. or to put it another way, if one sets out to cross a desert of unknown length, the first step will be difficult, but it will not be the hardest. nor will the final steps heavy with thirst and weariness. but just maybe the hardest will be those not long after the journey has begun, when your thoughts cause you to second guess, and you are still close enough to turn back. whether they are the very hardest or not doesn't really matter. what does is that they are hard enough.
you see because these days such a journey is no longer necessary. we have maps that can tell us how far it is, so we can prepare and know all that we need to complete the task. it's only practical. and we have the scripture to prove it. never mind it's about giving away your entire life. we should still be practical these days. after all, we an afford it. why take the risk when there are so many opportunities that are just as valuable and much more defined and accessible? like the ones with brochures.
we want to know the journey before we begin. we want to know the end of the book before we start reading, just so we know it ends well. we want the vision before we will act. in short, we want to know where we are going.
but this is so often not prudence or practicality. it is for our own comfort. so then faith becomes much less essential. we don't need to trust, fear, and obey. we have the vision and the promise. we know how it's all going to end. and unless we have that assurance we very rarely will even begin, or most likely we won't get very far. not without a purpose. we must have our clearly defined objectives and goals.
maybe that's just human nature. it's certainly in the books about vision casting and motivating people for a cause. sometimes i wonder if Jesus could have made it as a motivational speaker. it seems like too often his words and his demands caused people to walk away in sadness or grumbling.
who will go the way they do not know?
but here's the thing. our commitment is not a barrier to knowledge. no, our faith is not blind. often it requires great risk, but as that life is lived the clearer it becomes. or rather, the further along the journey you go the more the map begins to reveal the path ahead.
and so when i think about this community and how we don't have all the answers to the questions, and how we know more of what we're not supposed to do than what we are, and how we don't really know exactly where it is we are going--i remember that we're in some pretty good company. the path will unfold. and until then we continue to take the steps on the journey God has called us to begin.
we may not yet know our purpose, but we are not without meaning. and we believe there is so much at stake, so much to be gained. maybe another time i'll flesh out some of those specific things.
"If a man wishes to be sure of the road he walks on, he must close his eyes and walk in the dark." St. John of the Cross
a folded newspaper tucked under his arm he quips an offering to the younger baristas, genuine laughter turns the silent exchange into a five minute soliloquy. no tip is earned and the quiet young men turn to the entering pack of age-appropriate girls, offering so much more but giving far less. the old man strolls away with his coffee.
another holding his danish and coffee leans to look at a picture on the wall spilling three gulps worth across the floor completely unaware while the woman pointing at the frame catches my eye, and can't stop smiling.
the giant white poodle bounces on the other side of the window, wearing a red fleece jacket, which won't offer much against the soft grey rain. the aged golden a few minutes later stands in contrast, as it holds at attention, his red leash laying on the ground he waits for his master.
now one with a faded green tam brings in a bouquet of bright sunflowers adorned with miniature french flags. he sets the vase next to the baguettes, and with the chocolate croissant on my table but for the chattering older women going on in english-- this could be france. oh and the sunflowers, which seem ironic against the muted weather. do they have sunflowers in paris?
and now the place has mostly cleared out, except the old friend i've ran into meeting her friend for coffee and danishes. and i realize i'm that watcher sitting over his coffee. but my computer is my alibi. leaving everyone unaware, except maybe the people sitting behind me. and all the things i came here to do still sitting in my bag but to think, with my head in a book all i would have failed to learn.
ok it's time for the long-awaited third installment in the unending part series "books you should read!" according to luke. how is everyone coming on the last twobooks? i mean, people, it's been 9 months since the last installment. you could have had a baby in that time! and i know the brothers karamazov is super long--but that was 11 months ago! this series isn't called books maybe you could possibly pick up and peruse if you happen to have a few spare moments. it's the books-you-should-read-as-quick-as-you-possibly-can-because-your-life-as-a-human-being-will-be-greatly-enriched-and-how-can-you-possibly-put-that-off series.
but since i know that most of you have already finished the other two and are just itching for a new book, we'll proceed.
you may have guessed this was the book i was going to choose--gratefulness, the heart of prayer because i have been quoting it more than a fewtimes. suffice it to say this book is chalk full of quotable writing. the thoughts are very penetrating and insightful on a deep level.
"To live a life open for surprise, in spite of all the dying which living implies, makes us ever more alive."
but for all the quoting, this is a book that greatly surprised me with its overall cohesion. it's not that every chapter builds on the others--but the principles of relation that he applies to different virtues somehow always tie in with each other. he can compare the relation between faith and beliefs and somehow draw the same distinction between hope and hopes.
there is almost a systematic approach to the life of faith here, with gratefulness underneath it all. but to use the word "systematic" seems almost criminal. it's easy to read the book and just not realize it's all interconnected, to think that it is just another collection of random thoughts on the spiritual life--but it is much more. taken apart they are great, but put together a brilliance emerges that is beautiful. the poetry he often quotes is wonderful too.
"Take any period in history. Who is still convinced by the arguments of its politicians, its philosophers, even its theologians? But think of the poets of the same period or listen to its music...beauty, even in its most limited realization, holds an unquestionable promise of illimitable fulfillment... Our intellect must labor for truth. Our will must struggle uphill toward goodness. But our feelings flow effortlessly toward beauty, with a graceful ease that reminds us again of the dancing stillness of hope."
and yet is often reads with such a casualness that you might forget you are listening to a master. there is a simplicity in his writing that seemingly can only come from a monk. david steindl-rast was born and raised in austria, studying in vienna for many years before coming to the states, where he became a brother in a benedictine monastery in new york.
i heard about this book from an older brother in the faith. i wrote about him awhile back, and after reading this book i am even further happy with our literary kinship. i was telling him about how much i loved nouwen and merton--and he said that even better than them he loved this guy! that pretty much blew me away and i knew that i had to read this book. i'm not sure i would go that far but it has still been extremely meaningful and rich. i have taken my time with it and sat with its truths. it was a book i was sad to finish because it meant there was no more to read.
"Paradox boggles the mind. But the heart thrives on paradox."
now a few caveats. maybe it was just me, but it took me a little while to get into this book. it sounds so strange because it ended up being so rich. it could have been just getting used to the writing style, or that i wasn't in as a receptive place when i read the first couple chapters. i'm not sure. i have a suspicion that if i went back and reread them (which i will certainly) i would connect with it much more.
part of the hesitation also though was that i thought it may be a little new age and cooky. steindl-rast is an orthodox catholic brother, but he has written a lot on interfaith dialogue and exchange, particularly with eastern religions and monks. i haven't read any of these, so i can't speak for his perspective--but i can understand why it may give caution to some readers. whatever the reality is there, the truth found in this book is still very palpable. there just may be a few other parts that may cause you to pause and use your own discernment a little. but isn't that (or rather shouldn't it be) the case with any book we read?
this is another hard book to get your hands on, so don't bother looking in stores. online is the best option--and there are quite a few cheap used copies out there. if any of you do read it let me know what you think. happy reading!
let me tell you a story. it's a sort of parable actually. one day, Jesus decided to heal 10 lepers. to do this he sent them away to the priests to show them that they had been healed. after this they went on about their way, except for one, who decided to send Jesus a thank you note. he found Jesus' address, which was quite difficult because foxes have holes but this guy lacked a pillow. he wrote out the card, trying to figure out exactly what to say, since basically everything that needed to be said was written on the outside of the card. finally he settled on this:
"thank you Jesus for healing me. i very much appreciate the action and i will make sure to put to good use my now fully functioning body. you're the best. ~samaritan leper"
har har a little cheesy i know. but i was thinking about this the other day and it really got me wondering--what is the deal with thank you notes? i don't mean that question in a seinfeld comedy sketch sort of way, but for real. why have these things become such a cultural norm. not only are they a norm but they are expected and even often passive-aggresively demanded. "unless i get a thank you note well then maybe i just won't give you a present next year!"
you do something nice for someone, but then when you don't get the thank you note in the mail you feel somehow cheated and that they were ungrateful--even though they expressed their thanks several times during or right after the actual event. but that's not enough. we have to get the little card, to show they took the time to care. of course when we receive the card we read it over carefully, usually many times over, frame it, put it up where we can always see it. no! it usually finds its way into the trash very shortly, or for the packrats in some drawer. at best it sits on a shelf for a bit, but usually that space is more reserved for the prettier cards. the thank you note is just a mental checkmark to keep off the negative attitude you would have for not feeling appreciated.
contrary to its original intention, it seems as if the thank you note has come to achieve the exact opposite effect one would hope. not for the receiver, but for the giver. because it has become expected, the thank you note effectively voids any sense of true, free giving. it's not enough for the person to simply say "thank you." we expect the note. otherwise they are ungrateful and they just don't understand the sacrifices we made for them and the least they could do was sit down and write a little note and put it in the mail!
because it's really about us. it's really about them understanding that we have made a great sacrifice in some way through giving to them. i did something for you and you owe me this in proper fashion. anything less would be like the 9 lepers--so unchristian, so impolite. saying the words is actually the same way. we learn to say thank you from a very young age. so much so that when we don't people think we're rude.
just because you did something for someone does not mean that it is your right to receive a thank you. an expression of true thanks should come from the heart of genuine gratefulness, not customary response. and a gift freely given should not require thanks. a response much more truly apt like "de nada"--"it's nothing" rather than "you're welcome."
indeed i believe that any time a thanks is expected or even required, whatever was given was not given freely and is therefore less deserving of a true thanks. politeness has breeded disingenuineness.
or maybe i'm just an insensitive and ungrateful male. perhaps someone would care to correct me?
Everything depends, of course, on how pure our hope is, how deeply it is rooted in the heart. There is ample room for self-deception here. So how can we check ourselves?
Maybe we could subject our hope to a simple test. It's not a foolproof test. Nor is it very precise. But it may give us a clue. You may want to try it out on one of your pet projects. First list the various hopes you have in view of that particular project. That's step one. Next, use your imagination to picture every single one of those hopes going down the drain. You may want to dwell on that possibility just long enough to feel the degree of despair to which it would tempt you. The hope that is let after all your hopes are gone--that is pure hope, rooted in the heart.
We have made an important distinction here between hope and hopes. It parallels our earlier distinction between faith and beliefs. We saw that faith leads to beliefs, just as hope leads to hopes. Yet, faith does not depend on beliefs, nor does hope depend on hopes. We even saw that beliefs can get in the way of faith. In a similar sense, hopes can get in the way of hope, stop up and block pure hope's openness for surprise. It makes a world of difference where we put our wight--on those hopes out there ahead of us, or on 'the hope that is within.'
A person of hope will have a whole array of lively hopes. But those hopes do not tell us much. The showdown comes when all the hopes get shattered. Then, a person of hopes will get shattered with them. A person of hope, however, will be growing a new crop of hopes as soon as the storm is over.
last weekend our community took a retreat to the ozarks. why did we go to the ozarks in the dead of winter? because the house was generously offered to us and let's be honest--the lake is much better to look at than to actually swim in it--both aesthetically and biologically.
however there is a slight problem with going to the ozarks in the winter besides the lack of lake activity--snow. there are many large hills and the neighborhoods around the lake are many and the roads are largely uncared for. in fact the snow plow man for the area is 75 and it just so happened that he was sick at the time we happened to be there during this downfall. and he didn't want to go outside and possibly catch pneumonia. understandable, certainly--it's just that maybe that should be taken into account before you have 6 stranded people running out of food after a couple days.
such was our situation. things were getting dire, and we decided that we needed to rise up to the occasion. unfortunately there were no snow shovels to aid us in our process. so, armed with a push-broom and a bag of rock salt, we ventured out onto the unknown roads. that is after we spent quite some time just even getting out of the steep driveway.
it wasn't long before we came upon a pretty steep hill. we got our and started sweeping a path of the wheels up the hill. it was steep. and when we got to what we thought was the top we realized it went on much longer. about a 1/4 mile actually. we pushed the broom all the way to the top, working in shifts when we got tired. another team of 3 followed us carrying rock salt in cups up from the car. after quite some time we made our way back down carefully spacing out our tracks.
fortunately that was the only hill we had to conquer--the rest were already done in a matter of minutes but a giant truck. but ours meant so much more. and i'm convinced that whoever came upon that hill later could see the evidence of our toil, and i know they were impressed. and we had found victory in the survival situation, rescuing ourselves from assured starvation and future cannibalism. thank goodness.
this weekend i was taking a train from new york to boston. we had several stops along the way, but somewhere outside of providence rhode island the stop took a little longer than normal. i was listening to headphones and reading so i wasn't sure what was going on. but i did smell something burning. i thought it was coming from the vents but i looked around at my stuff just to make sure.
but yes it was coming from the vents and the engine had somehow burned itself up. giant flames were leaping from the lead car and we had to flee quickly into the surrounding woods which were buried in 3 ft. of snow. ok not really but the engine really was dead. we had to all transfer from one train to another, in the middle of the tracks, cramming into this other train for the remainder of the journey. luckily it wasn't that far and we all made it with only an hour delay.
then on my flight back from boston we arrived to kansas city only to find out that it was very foggy, snowing, icing, and freezing. we circled for about 20 minutes, above a very beautiful floor of sun-touched clouds i might add, and then headed off to st. louis to land and refuel. a couple hours later we finally made it back to kansas city. decending through the clouds it was very surpising to reach visibility only just above the runway itself. it was pretty crazy. pulling into the airport it seemed like i'd landed on another planet--some place like hoth or canada. and somehow i had to wonder why it had so regularly been so hard to get back to this blasted ruinous place.