Thursday, July 29, 2010

counter culture

Within the last 2 days, I have been reading The Tangible Kingdom by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay, the book of Luke, and The Life of Evelyn Underhill by Margaret Cropper. The one thing that stuck out to me in all three of these books was how counter cultural Jesus was.

For the most part, our tendency is to want to be in the majority, to have our Christian values pervade society. We like Christian universities, Christian politicians, Christian musicians and actors, and Christian mentions in the media. We like it when our values and beliefs are respected and we are able to exert influence on what happens around us. We don't want immorality and excessive violence on TV. We don't want other religions or atheism invading society and influencing our laws. We want the freedom to do what we do and to have society applaud and imitate us.

What we sometimes forget is that Jesus was counter cultural. He was in the minority. Politically, he was seen as a dangerous revolutionary. Religiously, despite a real genius for ancient texts, he refused to climb the rabbinical corporate ladder and instead, aligned himself with the poor, the sick, the weak, the law-benders, the socially despised, and the relationally challenged. Pretty much a career-ender.

And I think that we do ourselves a disservice by not training to live as a minority in this world. It is a very useful skill to have, but it requires a humbling process to acquire it. I have often said that everyone should live as a minority at some point in their life. If you follow Jesus, you already are, even if you don't realise it.

Being in the minority means that we have to learn their language and customs instead of expecting them to understand ours. It usually means getting ridiculed, perhaps being refused access, and sometimes having the courts rule against you. It means having to find creative ways to do simple things like pray, gather together, worship God with authenticity, talk about Jesus, study the Bible, and help others develop spiritually. Society can never be expected to embrace these things or to give us much help with them. In fact, it will probably give us a hard time, and that's a good thing, I think.

One short foray into the history of the persecuted church, or any research on the underground church in countries that are hostile to Jesus in this present day will testify to the weak nature of our faith in contrast to those who "get" the counter cultural factor. Following Jesus is not proudly taking over our city, one city councillor at a time. Following Jesus is something that begins and ends at the heart level, not on the societal level. And it is probably the hardest thing we will ever do.

It is being light when all around you is dark. It is turning the other cheek when everyone else is ready for a fight. It is standing up to honor the name of Jesus when everyone around you is bowing down to the god of the day (read Daniel if you want to see how that turns out). It is keeping your eyes on Jesus while sensual, tempting images swirl all around you. It is solidarity with the outcasts instead of name-dropping and getting your foot in the door. It is tending to the needs of a stranger instead of your own entertainment, even at the expense of your reputation.

God is more than capable of upending our society any time he wants. But for some reason, he has chosen the humble, foolish, and ordinary to confound the smart, upwardly mobile, and popular. And I am with him on that. Humble and foolish, here we come.

But God chose what the world considers nonsense to put wise people to shame. God chose what the world considers weak to put what is strong to shame. God chose what the world considers ordinary and what it despises—what it considers to be nothing—in order to destroy what it considers to be something. As a result, no one can brag in God’s presence. You are partners with Christ Jesus because of God. Jesus has become our wisdom sent from God, our righteousness, our holiness, and our ransom from sin. As Scripture says, “Whoever brags must brag about what the Lord has done.” - 1 Corinthians 1:27-31 (God's Word Translation)

This is a picture of two cherries on my table outside. They were consumed immediately after this picture was taken.

Monday, July 26, 2010

the real thing

Cat mugs, cat towels, cat notepaper, cat pajamas, cat books. Though I don't openly display all of these items in my home, I do own them. However, for the most part, I did not acquire these kitty goodies for myself. They were all gifts from people who like me and know that I like cats. I guess some of them might secretly be cat lovers, too. And I appreciate the kindness that is behind all these gifts, but there is one major difference between most of the people who buy me these cat items and me: I have the real thing. And living with the real thing day in and day out is quite a different story from the, "Awwwww, how cute" response that a cat t-shirt or a kitten key chain evokes.

This week in my readings on mysticism, one author suggested that the more intimate the mystics became with God, the less they relied on symbols, liturgies, and rituals. Very interesting. As their relationship with God deepened, they didn't need a trigger to remind them that God was present. They lived their whole lives in his presence. They lived with the real thing and the need or desire for representations just faded away.

While I won't go into the strengths and weaknesses of that theory, I do believe it has a significant ring of truth to it. Cat calendars (there is a baby leopard looking at me from the July page) and cat napkins say so little to me about cats. In fact, I find much of the artwork and photography associated with the whole cat gift scene slightly unrealistic and trite. If you tried to dress Jazz up in a little fur boa and pose her reclining on a pink plush rug, she would threaten to remove your fingers and maybe an eye. Why do we dress cats up like people? Just let them be cats! What I really like about them is their cat-ness, not their people-ness! Sorry, I got off on a tangent there, but one could also say that perhaps we need to stop dressing God up like ourselves. What is really awesome about him is that while he did the incredible and became one of us, he is really very "other."

Anyway, back to the topic of cats. I don't need any reminders that I like cats. I just have to look on my bed. I don't need to tell the world that I like cats by sporting a cat watch. They find out soon enough that I have a very real and lively feline in my life. It usually comes out naturally in the conversation. They might say something like, "How did your arm get scratched up like that?"

I show I am committed to Jazz not by having a picture of her on my screensaver, but by providing good quality food, cleaning out her litter, paying regular visits to the vet, giving her a place to sleep, spending time with her, and taking her on the occasional excursion around the neighbourhood. My committed presence, my loving attitude, and my acts of service express my devotion, not my decorations.

I don't have a lot of Christian symbols in my life, either. I don't sport a cross necklace, put up religious pictures, or make a big deal out of praying at meals in public. For me, these things do not constitute an authentic connection with God. Others find such aids very meaningful, and I don't mean to negate that. But personally, I would rather go straight for the real thing instead of cluttering my surroundings with religious paraphernalia. It means that the warm, fuzzy, sentimental feelings that are sometimes conjured up by these icons and habits are subjected to a strong dose of reality. To paraphrase the words of C.S. Lewis: He is not a tame God.

Let me always be more interested in the real thing than any fancy facsimile.

The top photo is of 2 of my cat mugs. The one below is of Jazz during a walk in the park on Sunday. Big difference.

Friday, July 23, 2010

showing up

I am in month 2 of a reading course which will take about six months to complete. It will form the basic building blocks of the research for my MA thesis, which I hope to complete next summer. I have chosen a topic that is dear to my heart and that I believe I will enjoy learning about for a year, but some days, like today, I don't really feel like picking up a book on mysticism and taking notes. Today is one of those "just show up" days.

And that is worth more than we give it credit for in our present day and age. In fact, it is a rare thing in many ways. I was in a class a few semesters ago where about half the class did not show up on a regular basis. I don't know how they expected to do well, or maybe they didn't. One of the strong images from my childhood is the presence of my mother when I came home from school every day. For the most part, she didn't do anything special or amazing, but she was there every day, and that counted for a lot.

I have been doing an exercise regiment since I was in high school. I used to run a lot, but now I do different workouts 3 days a week. Some days I am full of energy and eager to punch, kick, and jump around for 30 minutes. Other days, I am tired and unmotivated, but I show up and do it anyway. I know that it helps me to enjoy excellent health and stamina, and most days, it makes me feel alive and strong. Dean is one of the most dependable people I know. He always shows up for people and lends a hand when asked. He goes to work every day, no matter how stressful the situation is or how unmotivated he feels. And he always comes home to me every night. Sad to say, divorce statistics reveal how unusual that can be.

I have been going to church gatherings all of my life. Sometimes it is exciting and sometimes it is rather uneventful. Sometimes it has even been painful. But I show up. Because showing up is important. I can't benefit from anything there if I don't show up. Over time, something gets built in me, even without my knowledge, when I regularly show up. I bring my happy or sad or motivated or lazy or hurting or tired or confused self to the table of God, and I partake to the best of my ability.

I know people who have taken a break from things, and I see how often they can't get back, or don't want to get back, or just slide into mediocrity. It happens with diets, exercise programs, resolutions to stop smoking, university classes, reading the Bible, praying, being part of Church, marriages, friendships, work, and learning a new skill. Many times the biggest battle is just to "show up." Showing up can be an act of worship. Showing up is the foundation of faithfulness. Showing up is always a vital part of something great over the long haul. I think of all the times I didn't want to practice the piano and just did it anyway. It all paid off.

There are times when I am tempted to take a break, but I have seen what a "break" does. It halts the process that has been begun in me. The process of transformation. And showing up is vital to transformation, to change, to growth, to maturity, and to loving. Let me show up for someone today. And let me keep on doing it.

And now, excuse me while I crack open another theology book and show up for my reading class.

This is a photo of LAX. If you don't show up at the airport, you can't go anywhere on a plane.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

attention

I sang at our weekly gathering of Church on Sunday night. Well, I sing every Sunday, but this time it was in front of a microphone. It had been a few weeks, so it was great to set up the keyboard, let my fingers flutter over the notes, and lift my voice to join with Dean's to tell of the wonders of an astounding God. The first song that we rehearsed in the sound check, one that I happened to sing the lead in, starts out very low and ends up really high, just on the edge of my range. I should have known better than to begin with that, especially without a warm-up. I squeaked, cracked, and strained my way through it and by the end, was feeling pretty sorry for anyone who had heard the sound check. I hoped I would do better when the time came to sing in front of everyone, but I wasn't too hopeful.

We ran through the rest of the songs, and then I headed off to the bathroom. My throat felt a bit raw and I berated myself gently for not singing and practicing more consistently at home. It was too late to do anything about it now, so I asked God to please help my voice and did a few vocal exercises in front of the mirror. Then I sat down in a stall in the toilet and reminded God that all I really wanted was to help people worship Him, and not to distract them with scratchy, pitchy vocals. Could he please help me sing clearly and strongly?

And then I heard his response: You are thinking more about your voice than about Me.

And Jesus was right, as usual. I actually sing better when I forget about myself and what I sound like and just believe what I am singing. This time it was the quality of my voice that had my attention. Other times it is the work I have to accomplish the next day, or the conversations I have had earlier, or what I am hungry for, or the shirt I am wearing that doesn't fit right, or how tired I am, or what a great movie I saw last night, or what did Dean mean when he said something to me, or what friends should I get together with? So often I am thinking about everything else BUT Jesus! And that is not worship at all.

It is really hard to give God my full attention, even for the space of a few moments (was that a text message? what are my friends doing?), but I want to. God is worth it. Nothing else is more pressing than presenting myself to God, all of me. Let me give him this present often, not just once a week.

This is a photo of a spring twig at the lake: small, but it grabbed my attention. My camera found it hard to focus on, but finally got it.

Monday, July 19, 2010

simple

It was a warm and sunny day yesterday, so Dean and I walked to the grocery store and bought a few items. It gave me the greatest delight, for some reason, to tend to the small details of life like selecting a piece of fruit and buying toilet paper on sale, and to do it with a very agreeable companion. On Saturday I awoke with intense gratitude that I had arms and legs, air to breathe, eyes to see, and ears that could hear. What a wonder to be able to experience the world by moving through it, self-propelled. And what a plethora of vibrant and variegated sensory amazements awaits me everyday.

I am a simple person at heart. I do not need much to be happy. I rarely go shopping for clothes (gifts and clothing exchanges account for much in my closet) and could eat the same diet of cereals, fruits, salad, and tea every day. I regularly give things away to avoid the feeling of claustrophobia that comes upon me when I see a stuffed closet or a crowded room. I believe I might have made a good monk, for all I need is a quiet place with a book (and perhaps a cat), a drink, a place to walk, and I am content for hours, even days.

It is when I forget the basics, the simple building blocks of life, that I get myself into trouble. That is when I start to compare, to complain, to see the negative side of things, to get overwhelmed by complexities and deadlines, to create scenarios of "what if," and to worry that things will escalate out of control. That is when I work in a frenzied manner, when I neglect to breathe deeply, and when I give room to jealousy, impatience, and the sense of entitlement. That is when I also forget to make room for the simple work of surrendering to love, when I neglect to embrace grace, and when I swat away the hovering presence of God that tries to light on me and promises to change me.

But life is simple. I get up, I breathe, I work, I play, I eat, I expel, I interact, I rest. I love simple, and I believe it might be part of what Jesus meant when he said that unless we become like little children, we will have a hard time being part of what he is doing (Matthew 18 and Luke 18). Simple means that I don't feel the need to complicate life. Simple means sitting with humility instead of chasing sophistication or recognition. Simple means that I have the ability to see and appreciate what is in front of me. What the children saw (in the Matthew and Luke passages) was Jesus. And Jesus is beautiful. As long as he is in my line of vision, everything takes on the glow of his exquisite and pure nature. And I am very content with that. Content and ecstatic at the same time.

Love people even in their sin, for that is the semblance of Divine Love and is the highest love on earth. Love all of God's creation, the whole and every grain of sand of it. Love every leaf, every ray of God's light. Love the animal, love the plants, love everything. If you love everything, you will perceive the divine mystery in things. Once you perceive it, you will begin to comprehend it better every day. And you will come at last to love the whole world with an all-embracing love. [1]

[1] Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs. New York, The Cross Road Publishing Co., 2003, p. 28.

This is a picture of a watermelon I bought last week. Absolutely magnificent to the eyes and to the taste!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

unplugged

It has been a pretty hum-drum past few weeks or even months. Nothing really exciting has been happening in my life, and I haven't been really happy nor really sad. Just somewhere short of a shrug. Which, if you know the dramatic flair with which I tend to jump and tumble through life, is a bit abnormal for me. I usually get REALLY animated about even the smallest things like a penny on the sidewalk or the idea of drinking a cappuccino. Maybe I am tired. Maybe my summer reading course is draining the emotional life out of me. We all have these seasons of numbness, even us drama queens. Why should I expect anything different, even in my interaction with God? I know that Jesus will not come out of the heavens every day to do an interpretive reading of the Bible for me, nor is it realistic of me to expect chills every time I pray for someone.

I was on the subway last night and as is my custom, cracked open a book. This particular evening I read about a guy who was finding himself responding callously and somewhat coldly to a person who asked him to help a girl in trouble. He wondered about his response and realised that he had been disappointed, had some issues of transference (I don't know exactly what he meant by that), and had his heart broken a few times when trying to help people in the past, so now he was careful how much he got involved.

He wrote, "...I would try to be kind, but I certainly wouldn't allow myself feelings of compassion or love for fear of becoming confused or causing confusion. Tears and empathy were certainly put away....What I didn't realize was that shutting my heart to the love of God for others affected me across the board. It unplugged part of my heart from God, from my wife, and from my children...and I didn't even notice. It also damaged my spiritual eyes. I didn't see others as God does, because I felt I mustn't. It might stir up emotion and even break my heart." [1]

Punch to the gut. I knew I was reading about myself. Yes, I had not felt strong compassion in quite a while. Yes, I have had some very disappointing relationships in the past few years where I gave a lot of myself, trying to help people and be there for them, and had my heart broken when some of them walked away. Yes, I have been very confused about what happened, not sure whether to blame others or myself. I was sure, however, that I never wanted to go through that again.

In trying to learn from the experience, I closed my heart a bit. I began to be much more careful in how I interacted with people and how much I gave my heart to them. As a result, my emotions were starting to atrophy. Unplugging one's heart does that. It numbs the ache, but it also keeps me from feeling compassion. It stymies my emotions so that they can't vibrate with a sweet response when the Spirit is moving. It makes reading the Bible dry. It renders talking to God boring. People appear uninteresting and church gatherings are a yawn. I am no longer alive to God or to others, because I am afraid to engage on an emotional level.

I don't quite know how to remove the callouses from my heart, but I want to feel again. I was made to feel. I am a person with strong emotions, and I want my heart strings to be fully responsive to the touch of God. There will be more slow, wailing, heart-wrenching notes to be sung, I am sure, but if I don't sing them, I will lack the necessary depth and breadth of range needed to hit the high notes as well. I cannot pick and choose which parts of the salvation song I will sing, because I am not the composer. But I can answer affirmatively to his question, "Will you sing?"

[1] Brad Jersak in Kissing the Leper. Abbotsford: Fresh Wind Press, 2006, 182.

This is a picture of some wildflower I found growing under my back stairs. It died a few days after I unplugged it from the earth.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

ingredient

I am learning how to skim read. I love it and I hate it. I like the speed at which I can get through information, but I hate not being able to savour each page. There is no time to stop and oooh and aaah over thoughts and ideas that tickle my imagination and curiosity. If they have nothing to do with my thesis topic (as undefined as it is), I must move on...quickly. Sigh. It's like only being able to sample one ingredient from a recipe. Or perhaps like looking through a whole book of recipes and notating each time baking powder is used and in what context. Does that really give me a good grasp of the fluffiness of this magic powder, dormant until it is mixed with other ingredients and exposed to intense heat?

A list of ingredients by itself is not that mouthwatering: cornmeal, iron, niacin, thiamine, riboflavin, folic acid, vegetable oil, whey, cheddar cheese, hydrogenated vegetable oil, corn maltodextrin, sour cream, artificial flavour, monosodium glutamate, lactic acid, colour, citric acid, salt.[1] It hardly invites one to rip open the bag and stuff said snack into your mouth. On the contrary, it can be off-putting. What is corn maltodextrin, anyway?

It is sad that certain disciplines have become associated with such dry and unappetizing presentations that most normal people have no desire to partake of them. Who wants to delve into the ingredient list of soteriology, ecclesiology, patristics, hermeneutics, exegesis, hypostatic union, and mysticism? Not really a list that makes you rub your hands in anticipatory glee, is it? Or lick your lips in hunger?

And that's really why I am studying theology. Because I think God IS exciting and capable of blowing my mind, filling all my senses, and exploding with flavour deep in the hungriest parts of my soul. And I want to mix these theological ingredients together in a way that reflects the accessibility of God (best exemplified in Jesus) and serves it up for others to taste. Not an original idea, by any means (see texts below), but it is what keeps me reading, studying, skimming, and writing. It is what motivates me to test out new recipes for introducing Goodness to others who are too intimidated or perhaps misinformed to crack open the book themselves.

Open your mouth and taste, open your eyes and see—how good God is. Blessed are you who run to him. - Psalm 34:8

You're blessed when you've worked up a good appetite for God. He's food and drink in the best meal you'll ever eat. - Matthew 5:6

I want to drink God, deep draughts of God. I'm thirsty for God-alive. I wonder, "Will I ever make it—arrive and drink in God's presence?" Psalm 42: 1-2

Jesus said, "I am the Bread of Life. The person who aligns with me hungers no more and thirsts no more, ever. - John 6:35
[1] The ingredient list for Cheetos.
All biblical quotes above from The Message.
I consumed a small bag of BBQ peanuts while writing this.
Above is a picture of 2 green things: one delicious and the other cheap plastic.

Friday, July 09, 2010

mornings

I am not a morning person. This simply means that, as a general rule, I do not usually function at peak capacity during the first few hours after I wake up. On the contrary, some of my most productive and creative times are between 10 pm and 2 am. And being a student with a fairly flexible schedule, I have been known to keep those kinds of hours. This makes for some interesting scenarios when interacting with the rest of the mostly 9-5 world.

Yes, people have called me at 10:30 am and woken me up. When I hear that familiar ringing and it rudely snatches me out of my unconscious state, demanding immediate attention, I leap out of bed. I say some practice 'hellos' just to get the kinks out of the vocal chords and try to sound sane and coherent when I press the talk button on the phone. It doesn't work all that well. People can just tell if you've been sleeping. I used to get embarrassed about it, but then I realised that if I called them back at 1:30 am when I was wide awake and working hard, they would be the ones stumbling towards the phone, shaking the grogginess of sleep from their head.

Going on a road trip with others is always fun as well. Some people, for unexplainable reasons that I have yet to decipher, like to rise early and engage in non-stop conversation as soon as their eyes are open. And sometimes they try to engage me. I remember being on one road trip with a youth group where a bunch of us girls were all sleeping in the same room. Around 8 am, the sound of people stirring and quietly chatting in the room began to rouse me from my slumber. I was slowly coming out of that underground cavern where I bury myself when I sleep, when one of those cheery morning girls leaped onto my sleeping bag, pulled back the cover(which I had purposely placed over my head, get the message?), and started to talk to me. I think there might have been questions involved, I can't remember. It was all very loud and definitely disrupting my usual hour-long transition time from hibernation to productive member of society. I pulled the covers back over my head and intoned in a long syllables: "Noooooo talkiiiiiiiiing!" Everyone laughed at my silliness, and Dean still tells that story because he thinks it's so funny.

I don't mind being made fun of regarding my unusual morning behaviour, and take all the teasing in good humour for the most part. I know I can be irrational and ridiculous just after I wake up, and I have learned not to take myself too seriously. But there is something that I do take very seriously. When I get internally frustrated, annoyed, angry, and foul-tempered with others, I don't like it at all. Just because it happens in the morning is no excuse. I can tell the difference between momentary irritation and being mean, petty, and unloving.

We were on a trip with some friends a few months ago. We went to bed late, all tired from a long day of driving, and had to be up early the next morning to finish the trip. That morning, I found myself in a particularly nasty mood. I was silently sullen, avoiding contact because I knew I would snap at someone. I hated it. I gave myself a lecture: Come on, Matte, if you cannot be loving when you are tired, then your love is of poor quality, indeed. It was true, but it didn't help.

I thought about it, asked God about it, and over the next few days, an answer emerged. I get my strength and equilibrium from interacting with God. If I don't take time to do this every day, I can tell (and so can others). The lacking-in-grace Matte emerges and it is not pretty. It becomes very obvious that in and of myself, I have very little in the way of love, mercy, and kindness. It is like my spirit needs to eat first thing in the morning in order to function well; I need to be awakened to God in order to be properly awake and alive to the world. If God is not the first person I talk to when I wake up, I can very easily get thrown off kilter and begin to function out of my own well of self-centredness.

Don't get me wrong. There is nothing evil about the people that talk to me first thing in the morning, but they are not the ones I gain my strength from. Waking up and falling asleep have been called liminal places by some ancient saints, in-between times when the spirit is vulnerable and easily accessed. It is when I sometimes have the clearest dreams, profoundest insights, and sense God's spirit the most. And for me, it is vital that when I am in this transitional place, that I turn my spirit towards Life, towards Light, towards Strength, towards Peace, towards Truth, towards Love towards Jesus. Otherwise, I have nothing to draw on except what I can conjure up on my own, and that ain't much.

Though it looks like a weakness, I believe this is actually a strength. Having to be dependent on God every day is a very good thing, an excellent thing. And I have made a practice of starting each day, when I awake and am still lying in bed, with this greeting: "Hello, God. Here is a day for you." And then I lie there for a few moments and just enjoy him. It starts my day off in the right direction, the direction of God.

This is a photo of me at 6 am on the beach in Cuba 2 years ago. The night before, I had asked God to wake me up if there was going to be a nice sunrise, because I wanted to get some cool photos. At 5:50 the next morning, my eyes opened. Cool!

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

bigger than

Sometimes I forget that God is bigger than anything else. My mistakes. My accomplishments. My future. My words. My past. My lack of skills. My relationships. The actions of others. World events. He is just bigger than it all. When I tend to focus on the minor stuff of life, I need something to help me jettison the small-mindedness and see once again that this ginormous God I belong to is leaps and bounds beyond everything. One of those helpful somethings is truth.

Truth is not a set of facts. Jesus said that he was the truth, so if I know what Jesus looks like, I know what truth looks like. But if I don't know what truth looks like, I can easily get confused, overwhelmed, deceived, or discouraged. Truth is consistent and alive, but not totally predictable (which is why I need to keep searching Him out and getting to know him better). And truth is bigger than my thoughts, my ideas, my understanding, my perceptions, facts, arguments, feelings, accusations, you name it. Truth cuts through it all.

God means what he says. What he says goes. His powerful Word is sharp as a surgeon's scalpel, cutting through everything, whether doubt or defense, laying us open to listen and obey. Nothing and no one is impervious to God's Word. We can't get away from it - no matter what. - from Hebrews 4, The Message

One red flag that lets me know that I am not really letting truth be present and big in my life is the attitude that, "This does not apply to me." Or the thought that, "That person is being an idiot and someone should teach him a lesson." What I am doing by copping this defensive attitude is taking myself out of the equation. I have removed myself from anything I might learn in the scenario, especially humility. I have made myself bigger than truth.

A ridiculously tiny example that is one of my personal reminders to embrace humility and truth is jaywalking. I know it is illegal. I know that the laws are there for everyone's protection, including mine, but sheesh, where there is not a car in sight, what's the big deal? The big deal is not that I cross the street on a red light, but that I think the law does not apply to me. When I get defensive about this minor infraction, I am forgetting that my actions and attitudes affect an entire community. When I do this, I have taken a step away from humility and instead, moved in the direction of self-important pride that separates me from God and undermines community.

An example from the Bible is David, who got himself into a bit of a mess by having an affair with a married woman and then murdering her husband to cover it up. When Nathan (a messenger from God) came and told him about a rich man who stole his poor neighbour's pet lamb despite having an entire herd of sheep himself, David was outraged. He demanded that the thief be brought to immediate and severe justice. Nathan simply said, "You are that man." Oh oh. (see 2 Samuel 11-12 for details).

David had totally deceived himself into thinking that certain consequences did not apply to him. The very same guidelines that he believed were good and right for the general public to follow in order to maintain a peaceful and functioning community, were adjusted for his own benefit. His personal agenda became bigger than truth. It is a very dangerous attitude to indulge in.

I continuously struggle to keep myself in the arena of humility where I can embrace the truth, no matter how inconvenient or costly it is. I am not bigger than the truth. I am not bigger than the law. I am not bigger or better than the next guy. If it is Truth, it applies to all of us and it applies to me. And I want to apply Jesus to my life, yes I do.

I need more truth in my life. I also need more humility that will enable me to hear and see truth. I get lost too easily without it's guiding light and clarity. Let my life reflect that truth is bigger than me. That God is indeed bigger than all of this.
This is a photo of me and my metro cart. From this perspective, it is bigger than me.

Friday, July 02, 2010

helpful

I helped two people move this week. Well, "help" is a rather strong word. I showed up for a few hours and did some small tasks. I carried boxes, rearranged things to make room for more stuff, and tried to be encouraging and calming. It seemed like very little. I am used to carrying more of the load, I guess, but here's the thing: you can pay someone to move your stuff for you, but you can't pay someone to be your friend. And I guess I am learning that I don't have to exert a lot of sweat and expend great amounts of effort to be someone's friend or help them out. I just have to show up on a consistent basis, be there at crucial moments, and then stand, walk, sit, listen, cry, eat, or laugh with them.

I finished reading Good to Great by Jim Collins this week. He said many things that got me thinking. And I believe that I have a lot more clarity regarding how to move forward with certain situations in my life, especially groups that I am involved in. Here are a few principles that smacked me over the head:

1. Trying to motivate people and keep them interested is a waste of time. It takes energy away from your real task, which is to do something unique and great that no other group can do. People will have fun because they love being involved in that amazing and challenging process. One leader said, "If you are not passionate about what we do here, then go find something else to do." Ouch! I have too often found myself trying to convince people that x or y is a great idea and they should get involved. In the end, my motivation or excitement is never enough to carry anyone else and people lose interest and walk away. People have to find motivation within themselves or it won't last. I am not sure how I can help them uncover it, but I would like to able to do that.

2. Being great takes no more effort than being mediocre. In fact, it might take less at times. Hard work alone does not get one to greatness. However, being single-minded, focused, facing the brutal facts, and saying 'no' to everything that does not fit within your pursuit of greatness (calling, passion, goal, whatever you want to call it) will keep you moving forward. Yeah, I've tried trying harder and it just makes you more tired and frustrated. It helps to take a hard look at what we can be truly great at (our unique qualities and opportunities) and let go of all those things that merely disperse our energies. Diversification is not all it is cracked up to be. We cannot do it all, so how about doing one thing really well? Oh, and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity is bad news unless it already lines up with what you are passionate about.

3. Who you do it with is way more important than what you do. If you don't have the right people around you (who are passionate and disciplined), it doesn't matter what you do, it will not succeed. If you have the right people, they will help drive any project with their particular set of skills and their passion. You can always teach a skill. You can't teach devotion or passion. My question is, how do people get these qualities?

4. Humility will get you further than charisma. Leaders who were humble (cared more about their company or group than about their own reputation) served the company well, but leaders who were "stars" eventually drove their companies into the ground. This was because their own personal status was more important than the success of the whole group. Unfortunately, I have seen this happen a lot in church settings. May I never rely on charisma to produce lasting results or be sucked into following a personality. Humility also attracts God. I like that!

This week I have been thinking about what we as a faith community (and me as a person) could be truly great at. Surprisingly, it has not been that hard to see. And once I saw it, I got really excited! A bit scary to see where it could all lead, really. And that's a good thing.

This is a baby's belly button. Helpful at one time in her growth, but now that she's matured past that stage, it's just darn cute!