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.