Friday, September 30, 2011

Back to Mornings

I'm moving my writing time back to early mornings.

I had moved my time to later in the morning, both to accommodate my new schedule as well as to use the benefit of having a functioning laptop upstairs I could access, being out of the hurly-burly of morning preparation.

What I've found instead is that the most valuable thing in my meditation or writing is not what I do, or on what I do it, or even where I do it: it's the silence to do it in.

The key to my own writing is silence - true silence, the silence of myself up early in the morning with nothing but my thoughts and the keyboard.

Why is this? I'm not fully sure. What I have noticed is that when I am writing later in the morning, my thoughts becoming clouded and hard to follow. My mind has apparently already moved on to the upcoming day, to the background chatter of Na Clann getting ready for school, to having to finish everything I need to do before I go to work.

In contrast, writing (as I write now) is a much more fulfilling experience. There is nothing except myself, the tick of the clock, the hum of the refrigerator, and the clickety-clack of the keyboard as I write. It almost seems that the hum and ticking are foils for the internal silence (and frankly clarity) that I feel: when I stop for spelling or to think, the gentle noises serve as the background I need to recollect my thoughts.

Working to go to bed earlier will be a bit of challenge, of course - but the ability to write and feel I've written as opposed to writing to get something out on the paper is worth far more than any 30 minutes of slumber.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Epiphany of Love

I discovered last night what love really is.

Love is something which sometimes feels very hard to quantify, especially as one advances in years. Part of it, I suppose, is simply the fact that being with someone for so many years tends to dull the edge of what we grow up thinking love is: that bright, tingly feeling that makes every day bright, that makes every moment exciting, that makes the heart race every time one touches or sees or thinks of the beloved.

Another part is simply the confusion that our society has generated around love and sex. Simply put, for society love = sex. Our entertainment and literature glorifies it: love is physical involvement with someone else. If you're not - or not frequently anyway - you're not really in love.

The problem is neither of thing is love (as many others far wiser than I have written). If love is a thrill, then we will always be a people seeking new thrills and when that wears off, we will wander off in search of the next fix. If love is only sex, we will find ourselves constantly worried about if our physical life is enough, or if our partner will sudden turn on us, seeking the next experience.

What is love? The epiphany of love is that of a parent painstakingly care for their child, addressing every aspect of a condition that needs to be dealt with - not just the personal care, but the care of the ancillary items - and then doing it again, and again, as many times as necessary.

This example of service, of caring, of putting aside of one's own agenda for the sake of someone else, is one of the greatest examples of love I can think of.

Note that it is not even directed at the relationship between the parents. There are certainly no bright sparkly feelings, and no physical expression is exchanged. But this act conveys more about the underlying bedrock of what matters and what is important than the greatest Academy Award winning sex scene could ever do.

Physical manifestations change. More than likely, a sex life will as well. But caring and sacrifice as an act of love - perhaps the highest example of an act of love - is something which, I realized in a flash, is something so desirable and so understated it is often missed. And yet, the feelings and thoughts that underlay it are the very things so many people say they truly want.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Patience and Endurance

How patient and enduring am I?

Am I patient enough to diligently work towards a goal or objective that long term, even when I am mired in the day to day operations of life and everything is seemingly ineffective?

Am I patient enough to stay the course when the course itself is dark and cloudy and I seem to have lost the path - or worse, the path is washed away?

Do I have the picture in my mind of what I want to accomplish - that shining goal, that finish line- that I can hold before me as an icon in the darkness of daily life?

Do I even know what those pictures are? Without knowing, it is very hard to grasp them, to have any sense of going towards anything other than more darkness.

If I am becoming patient and enduring, what am I patiently waiting and enduring for?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Expecting and Working

"Don't go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first." - Mark Twain

I've been struggling this week - really, this month - with the dichotomy of success and the world.

On the one hand, I have Mr. Twain's quote. "The world owes you nothing." It's a profound comment - one that I think I have too often ignored or taken for granted.

For some reason, I think I've always believed that I deserved something from the world - you know, the "I've been good, I try hard, etc. Something should be coming my way." I have to accept, I think, the reality that it is simply not true - at least in the sense that it is meant.

The corollary to the point is that you have to work to get something. But here also I find a dichotomy. On the one hand, hard work is (in theory) supposed to advance and do all sorts of wonderful things. On the other hand, hard work and rewards are quite often not connected at all, due to the fact that while one controls one's work, one does not control the granting of the rewards. There are always personalities and political factors and rules that prevent such things from being easy transactions. So in a sense, one might say that hard work is hard work - and possibly something good might come out of it.

A second thought that comes to mind is simply that even with hard work and possibly "earning", there is often a bias against the rewards of the hard work. We have become a society driven by envy of one's neighbor on the one hand and a genuine sense of entitlement on the other: as a living, breathing individual, I am entitled to X - and you are not entitled to more, even if you have worked to earn it, because my entitlement overcomes your hard work. If we want to have a discussion about the roles and responsibilities, that's one thing; but I don't think we can equate the universe with societal norms.

Where does that leave me? Too often I find myself in any of these three positions: feeling I am owed something when I am not, or feeling I am working hard with no hope of reward, or occasionally working hard with the gratification of the reward. I need more of the last, less of the first, and a way to find a place or spot or activity or whatever in life where the middle one is true more often than not.

Perhaps I simply need to start with the basis: The world owes me nothing. Even in hard work, it owes me nothing. If there is hard work being performed and nothing is happening, then perhaps it's my job to make something happen - if not in that activity, then finding something else.

In this sense, I will not change the world. I can only change my view of it.

Monday, September 26, 2011

All I Needed to Know I Learned in the Highland Games

1) If you're trying, you're going to get scraped and bleed. It's just how it is. Keep going.

2) Prepare. Always wear something under you're kilt - you never know when momentum will take you down.

3) Sometimes the reward for doing something is doing the same thing, only with a heavier weight.

4) Kilts really are appropriate for any occasion.

5) When doing something, you will be most successful if using all of yourself. You cannot just muscle a weight to throw it; it takes your whole body.

6) It's about the competition, but it's just as much about encouraging those competing with you.

7) When heavy things start to fall, best to be out of the way.

8) Most often, the reason we can't do things is because we believe we can't do them. Try, and amaze yourself.

9) Balance - in caber and with life - is key.

10) There are only two groups: competitors and spectators. Be a competitor.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Confirmation

Nighean gheal is going through Confirmation.

Confirmation, for those of you not in the know, is a process (also known as reaffirmation of baptism) in at least the Lutheran and Catholic denominations in which the catechumen (fancy Latin word for "person being catechized") in instructed in the fundamentals of the faith.

Us being Lutheran and all, we have the benefit of having two documents already laid out for us: The Small Catechism with Questions (by Dr. Martin Luther) and Luther's Large Catechism (again, by Dr. Martin Luther). The process where we are is a two year, alternating Sunday program in which they study the sacraments (for Lutherans, Baptism and Communion), the Ten Commandments, the Apostle's Creed and other articles of the Faith.

It's interesting to me, both because of the fact that it reminds me of my own confirmation (now 30 years past) and as a re-grounding (as it were of my own faith) - I don't know that I can expect my own daughter to memorize things that I myself will also not memorize.

It also brings a bit into thought the whole process of how we treat converts and deal with our faith.

I've the advantage of coming out of both the mainline Protestant movement and the non-denominational movement. Both have strengths - the power of structure of one, often the power of enthusiasm and energy and adherence to the gospels. Both have weaknesses - the confinement of structure and dead orthodoxy of one, the potential of no authority and misguided teaching with other.

In either case, the reality is that Christianity is not just a visceral emotional reaction or feeling, it's also an intellectual framework of what we believe, how it functions in relation to the world in which we live, and how we accept, acknowledge and incorporate these truths into our daily lives.

What is baptism? What does it do? What is Communion? What are the differences in how Protestants and Catholics and Orthodox believers approach it, and what does that say about how we interpret the Bible? It's questions such as these, perhaps not the primary fundamental of Salvation but the not unimportant Tier 2 fundamentals of what we believe and why we believe it, that tend to nag me in odd moments.

Many children - my own included - can tell me everything about the world of Harry Potter. Can they tell me equally about their Christian Faith and the fundamentals of it? And what does that say of us as church - not that we should not participate in the world around us, but that we can treat the important matters of faith as not as important?


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Hierarchy

There is a hierarchy of goals and achievements that I had not previously perceived in life.

I have always understood that not all goals and achievements are the same, that some are more important than others. At the same time, I believe that I have discounted my larger aspirations to settle for the smaller ones.

Settle for the smaller ones. Is it really settling, or is it my inability to get beyond my greatest needs and fears (because these are always what limit us) that essentially "write" what I will and will not accomplish.

An example: I crave being liked more than almost anything, and so I step aside from hard decisions and hard conversations because I want to be liked. Of course, those decisions and conversations would actually propel me farther than the approval of peers, but because they are hard and because I shun conflict, I settle for the lesser.

For those that have achieved their dreams - however defined - there must come a time when the dream becomes more important than lesser things, that the going forward is more desirable than what is being left in place.

One thinks of those who have accomplished and achieved prominence: looking back in their life, there are undoubtedly situations and people and places that were left. It's the whole introspective interview with people stars grew up with: good friends and great times were passed through, moving to the greater thing.

Not all goals, not all achievements, are equal. The key is to figure out what you really want, and then move towards that.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Plateaus

I feel like I have plateaued in my life.

Plateaus, for those of you that may have forgotten your basic physical geography, is "a usually extensive land area having a relatively level surface raised sharply above adjacent land on at least one side". It can also mean "a relatively stable level, period, or position." The verbal form (which also works) is "to reach a level, period, or condition of stability or maximum attainment". Either way (and both work for the purposes of my discussion) it's a flat place which, while raised, is not continuing on any upward path.

Why do I feel I've plateaued? Because in so many areas of my life, I simply seem to be. I'm not really moving forward (at least in any measurable way I can notice); instead, I am at the same level I have been for some time.

Why is this? Is it because I've accepted the plain as the end of the journey when there are mountains in the distance? Is it because I have failed to realize that the journey continues on a dog leg, while I am sitting looking at the cliff, having missed the turn? Is it because it requires a new level of effort and I am simply lazy? Or perhaps that I have become too comfortable here on the plateau: it's flat, it's easy, and I already know all the routines.

Perhaps all. But life cannot be lived on a plateau forever - because plateaus, given time, wear away. It's either up the mountain or back to valley.

(HT to artofmanliness.com for their excellent article "Plateau Busting: How to Take Your Life to the Next Level", which got this thought train started.)

Monday, September 19, 2011

Monday Morning

Monday morning blues.

It is amazing to me how much my job affects other parts of my life. During the weekends, I have no problem at all sleeping 8 hours straight through the night. Sunday night, I inevitably wake up twice, always earlier than I need to, and inevitably feel tired as I prepare for the first day of the week.

Instead of the soaring feeling of waking up with a day of tasks to do (as on the weekends), I feel nothing but a low level of dull interest as I walk through the motions of preparing for another day. More and more, there is not sense of doing things for an accomplishment; instead, there is the dull roar of duty as I get ready.

How do I bridge this gap between these two land masses? It's clear to me that life can never be lived at its highest level as I continue to slump through week after week. At the same time, it's equally clear that the free fall of doing anything on my own without a well thought out (dare we say, God inspired) plan is not a recipe for success - it's the difference between taking the elevator down and cutting the cable: both will get you to the ground, one just faster than the other.

But I can sense it out there: the thing, that thing, something that gives me purpose when I leap out of bed in the morning, that gives me a sense of doing good here and in eternity, that makes every day rising like a Saturday. If I can only catch what it is.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Calling

How do you hear a calling?

How do you discern that something that bubbles to the top of your soul, something which has lodged deep within it, is something more than just a whim or a passing fancy?

I'm reading (slowly) Raising The Bar: Integrity and Passion in Life and Business; The story of Clif Bar & Co. by Gary Erickson (the founder). I like Clif Bars of course, and since the story involves food, it's certain to capture my interest.

But as I read through this man's creation, managing and successful implementation of a company that not only created a wonderful product, but has allowed a man to impact the world around him, I find myself hungering for that. Not only for the creation of a useful product, but the living out of one's values and making a difference in the world around one.

Living out of values. How wonderful a thing that seems to be, especially coming from an environment where values are not as nearly valued as the ability to get things done (in fact, values are not really considered at all).

So how does one know? How can one say confidently "yes" to a calling - any calling - and know that it is truly of God and not just one's own personal wishes?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Right Questions

Do we ask the right questions of God?

Yes, I know, we all question God. Often it's the cry of a hurting heart - "Why are You allowing this to happen, Lord?" - or just as often a heart that wants - "Why can't I have that, Lord?".

But how often do we ask the question "What would you have me do, Lord?"

I know, we all think we ask this question of God. I believe I've often asked of God myself - but have I really asked it, or have I mouthed words.

To truly ask a question, of course, is to wait for the answer and want to hear it. And that's often our problem with God - we don't really want to hear the answer, or we're not patient enough to wait for it?

Don't want to hear the answer? More often than we admit. Because if we actually hear the answer, we will have to take action. And we're (or at least I'm) often desperately afraid of what God will answer me. If I ask Him what His purpose for me is, am I afraid it's something totally opposite to what I would like or that He'll make me do something I am completely unfitted for and hate (the reality is He very seldom has, but I tend to forget that).

Not patient enough? God answers on His own timetable, not our own. In our data rich and accelerated society, we're used to receiving an answer immediately (ala Wikipedia) or really quickly from sales people eager to sell us something. The concept that we might have to wait days, or weeks or even years, for response to prayer is something we can hardly fathom. If we don't hear anything, too often our own assumption is that the answer is whatever we predetermined in our mind that it should be - an almost assuming unless the answer is "no", it's "yes".

But (at least in my own experience) God will not be led to a decision, or pushed into it. Part of the listening, part of the waiting, is the process of patience and dependence he wants to build into our lives. Were we to truly listen and wait, I believe we would hear God speak much more than we do.

So when we ask questions, is it truly God's answer we seek? If so, we'll be willing to do wait it takes to hear the answer.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Promise We Ignore

"Then Jesus told his disciples 'If any man would come after me let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.'" - Matthew 16: 24-25

How wonderfully focused I am on myself.

My world, too often, is bounded by me: my importance, my needs, all eyes on me. The lives of others - to the extent that the impact me at all - are measured on the convenience or inconvenience to my own life.

I can argue that it is natural, that God wants us to see to ourselves (He does of course, doesn't He?), that if I can't take care of myself I can't take care of others.

And then I am confronted (as I always am) by the words of Christ.

Deny yourself. Take up your cross. Follow me. Or to put it colloquially: Say no to yourself. Die to yourself. Follow in my footsteps.

That's where most people stop - myself as well. "Oh, the sacrifice" we moan. "Oh, the things we are surrendering. Say no to ourselves - what, say no to coffee? To a new book? Surrender my cherished goals - after all, if I don't do it in my life, no one will. And follow Christ - why, I attend church regularly, give, and even volunteer occasionally. That's more that most do!"

We stop - as I was going to initially stop - without the second part of the statement.

"Whoever would save his life will lose it" - not might, not probably, but will. Everything I do in the flesh to make my life better, to self-actualize, to be more fully human - if not done in Christ, will matter not at all.

"But whoever loses his life for my sake will find it" - not maybe, not possibly, but will find it. All the "sacrifices" we make of ourselves in the end will yield a far more rich treasure than anything we would realize on earth.

Do we accept this as Christians? Do we internalize it - not in the trivial matters of coffee and books, but in the serious matters of life and direction and building the kingdom of God? Are we so sacrificed on our small sacrifices we forget the huge sacrifice of Christ? Even sadder, do we fail to believe the promise of Christ himself that in dying to self, we will find our lives?

Is the fact that we often feel so powerless as 21st Century Western Christians due to the fact that we have never - really - denied ourselves and lost our lives?

Monday, September 12, 2011

Being True to Self?

How true am I being to myself?

I grapple with this almost on a daily basis - the constant back and forth of what I am doing, what I should be doing, and how it is impacting those around me.

Then again, what is the self to be true to?

Let's be honest - there are portions of all of ourselves that if we were "true" to them, would end in a constantly hedonistic lifestyle that used others, gave all attention to pleasure, and eventually would result in our own destruction. So even the idea of being "true" to myself is somewhat of a misnomer - perhaps more correct to say "being true to those parts of myself which are worthy being true to."

But then I wonder: is there anything that makes those "worthy" parts any less honest or straight than the parts that we ignore? Is there some objective standard by which we judge what is truly worth being "true" to?
Because even our best views of ourselves are foolish and often self centered. I am just as likely to consider those parts of myself worth being true to as necessary (but in reality, they make me feel good or I think I am skilled at them) as I am to ignore others that I really should be true to, but ignore for some reason (self sacrifice because I don't like sacrificing, being kind to others when I don't really want to extend myself).

So when I say I'm being "true" to myself, am I really saying I'm being true to the core of what I am - or merely the core of what I perceive to be myself, which usually coincides with what I really desire. How do I find that objective standard?

Friday, September 09, 2011

Hot

How ridiculous:
95 degrees feels
like winter has come.

Cool mornings chill me,
singing of a coming fall
hard to see from here.


Thursday, September 08, 2011

Being Wrong

"To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong." - Joseph Chilton Pierce

So often I am a creature of fear - especially, fear of being wrong.

You ask me where this fear comes from. I'm not sure that I can really answer it fully. But I think it started long after my childhood and teenage years, into my adult working life.

Why? Because the things that are encouraged in childhood - creativity, spontaneity, a thirst for knowledge - are often the very things which are despised in adults by those that employ them (although lip service is often given to the contrary).

The reality is that much of the modern world is actual built on dependable, reliable, reproducible methods. Think about it - do you want your medications to be manufactured a little differently every time, or your cars to have their brake systems installed differently on each unit, or your food to incorporate random amounts of undesirable products? Of course not - we want (yea, demand) reliable, reproducible results.

In this arena of reliable, reproducible results, being wrong becomes more than just an experimental trend, a spontaneous exercise of inquiry, a quenched thirst for trying something a little differently. It becomes a costly mistake, something that will wreak great havoc on the system. And so, manufacturing becomes systematized.

But with that systematization comes a loss of that creativity, that spontaneity, that thirst. Does it still exist? Of course - but it becomes the preserve of a privileged few, the researchers and developers. For the rest, being wrong becomes so costly - sometimes costing a career - that even the chance of being wrong is never taken.

And so we continue to exist, slowly watching that part of ourselves fade into the small folds of our lives where it can live, a short of endangered species which has been set onto reservations in our soul.

But if being creative means getting over the fear of being wrong, and being wrong costs a great deal, is it better to continue to subsist in the twilight of creativity - or simply acknowledge that what we seek is beyond the sight of where we are?

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Frustration

How do I effectively deal with frustration?

It seems to be a constant theme in my life at this point, from any number of angles. Even when I try and make the best go of it - "Today will be a good day" - something or other breaches whatever tower of inner peace I have tried to erect and leaves me gasping for air.

The net result? In some form or fashion, every day, I come home or go to bed frustrated.

Frustration, if you were wondering, is "a deep chronic sense or state of insecurity and dissatisfaction arising from unresolved problems or unfulfilled needs."

Hmm. Unresolved problems. Unfulfilled needs.

Unfulfilled needs I tend to steer away from - for my own part, much of what passes amongst society as unfulfilled needs are really unfulfilled desires, which are hardly the same as needs. But unresolved problems? Hey, I've got a fairly long list of them.

So here's a question: do I even recognize what they are? If I use a broad brush term like "unresolved problems", do I know what they are? Do I know what would resolve them?

So here's maybe a start: instead of just becoming frustrated, what would happen if I wrote down the problem each time it occurred: problem, what it would take to resolve it. Would that solve the problem immediately? No. Would it at least give me some sense of what the problems are in my life? Of course.

Through knowledge comes truth, and through truth comes resolution. Perhaps if I learn to see instead of reacting, I can more clearly understand what the nature of things is and what needs to be done.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

All About Me

"A preoccupation with ourselves, our agenda, and our pre-conceived ideas, and a motivation to achieve personal peace and prosperity (i.e. pride) will be met with resistance from our heavenly Father." - Chip Ingram, Holy Ambition

I'm reading Holy Ambition: What it takes to make a difference for God by Chip Ingram. It's the first fully Christian book I've sat down with in a bit, having had my shelf overrun with business and ducks and self motivation.

The book is challenging - which is good, but also perhaps bad in the sense that it points to how far I have fallen from the goal. Ingram (who I'm familiar with from years past on the radio) does not shy away from pointing to the gaps that Christians often develop in their own lives. He proposes a six step process towards developing Holy Ambition: having an intensity to their passion and spiritual faith and discovery what it takes to make a difference to God.

One of the big steps (it's actually in the second step, so I'm jumping ahead) is that we need to get our eyes off our own lives and onto what God wants.

This is actually something I'm pretty bad it. Most of my life, simply put, is about me and my problems and my needs. I'd love to say that I'm not any different that a great many other people (That, I think, is true) - but that does not excuse it.

It pushes me, because I have trained myself (consciously or unconsciously) to think that life is about me. Part of it, I'm sure, is the simple fact that we train ourselves to be responsible. Who are we responsible for? Ourselves, of course - therefore as we work to resolve the issues that affect us, we come to believe that all issues around us are about us.

The other part - the not-so-kind part - is that I am a sinner, and as a result, I believe that life should be about me. My plans, my goals, my pleasure. The motivational/self help industry is no assistance in this respect: it's all about your dreams, your goals, your aspirations, your fulfillment, your self actualization.

Which is 180 degrees opposite of what God calls us to.

The second part of the quote from Ingram reads as follows: "By contrast, a genuine sense of desperation and dependency on Him and Him alone (i.e., a broken spirit) will be met with grace, power, and supernatural provision."

But that desperation and dependency, that broken spirit, comes from a realization that God is God and we are not, of becoming progressively more consumed with God and His agenda that our own.

If I'm truly honest, most of my life is about me: my dreams, my goals, my "right" to have things that are, my pleasure, my wealth. And how have I done with this consistent focus on me? Not so well, on the whole.

So there's the challenge: am I willing to concentrate on God and His agenda? Am I willing to become more consumed with His will and His agenda than my own?

Am I will to look at my life and its results and learn from what has occurred? Or do I insist on doing it my own way, even to the ultimate detriment of everything I want to achieve?

Friday, September 02, 2011

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Powerlessness

I hate the feeling of being powerless.

I was reminded of yesterday as I left work: an e-mail, politely phrased and written in such a way as to seem as if the writer was doing a favor, but under the words was the concept "This is what we are going to be doing. Your opinion, while helpful, is not important."

It's times such as this that I feel so powerless about so many aspects of my life. Yes, I understand I have "the power to choose", but the power of choice is never an absolute that takes place in a vacuum; it is always constrained by the circumstances in which we exist.

Perhaps the most debilitating part of reminders of powerlessness is how they make me feel. Simply put, it drains the enthusiasm out of the activity in particular and life in general. Suddenly, the sense you can make an impact is gone, replaced by the real sense that you are essentially a "speaking tool" (as the Romans referred to slaves), there only to fill a particular purpose or purposes and nothing more. Tools, it may be recalled, have no power except that which is supplied to them. Likewise, the recipient of powerlessness is essentially the same: with the motive of the "blessing" of the activator, they simply sit on the stand, waiting.

The other debilitating part of the reminders of powerlessness is the how it impacts the environment. Spontaneity, drive, the urge to go the extra mile, initiative - all are drained away like a tsunami returning to the ocean, leaving only devastated fields and broken wreckage behind it. People may not always leave that environment but what it breeds - dullness, lack of initiative, lack of joy - would seem to be counterproductive.

But that, it seems to me, is not what they purveyors of powerlessness want. They often state they want strong individuals who are spontaneous, hardworking, takers of initiative - but what they truly want is individuals who will do what they desire with all of those qualities. Their need for power and control eclipses the ultimate need for the results they think they want.

Which, of course, is no fun for the speaking tools expected to produce such results.

It is a hard thing to realize that opinions and excellence in any part of one's life are not really wanted, that instead only the need to execute the demands of others is paramount.