Friday, August 31, 2012

Holding Ourselves to the Standard

Self-vision is a thing which is always difficult to measure and hard to assess.  We are ourselves, of course; the ability to move outside of that basic fact makes it difficult to perform the sort of assessment that we love to perform on virtually everyone around us.  There are even those among us who proclaim themselves to be masters of the self critique, of the (arguably) rare ability to drill down on themselves and know their faults.

My question is this:  in the pursuit of self critique, can these same people hold themselves to the standard that they hold others to?

Standards - goals, expectations, objectives, call them what you will - are dangerous to the individual who is using them.  They are in usually in some way objective, not open to interpretation.  A thing is either done or it is not done, the book written or not written, the conversation had or not had, the gossip made or not made. 

They are outside of the individual, and so the application of self critique does not specifically apply to them.  We may be held to them but they are not fully of ourselves, and so not fully self interpretable.

The difficulty?  Of holding one's self to that standard of performance.

Why is it difficult?  Because too often lack of achievement or even downright failure is the result and too many people are simply unable (or unwilling) to admit this.  It is one thing to say that I have an issue with anger or performance or overeating.  It is another thing to say I have failed to meet a standard on anger management or performance or overeating.  One is, eventually, defined by myself; the other is something which I cannot fully control the definition of success over.

And holding others to a standard which we ourselves cannot (or will not) achieve?  This becomes the height of folly evident to all, the sort of hypocritical  performance that can be the most damaging of all because it is evident to everyone but ourselves that there is a severe disconnect between the two.  Now not only are we not holding to a standard (although by self definition we think we are), we are attempting to hold others to the same standard that we ourselves could not make.

Standards - goals, objectives, achievements - are important things to have.  We just need to accept that it is not our definition alone of what meeting that standard is that defines the reality.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Giving In?

I wonder if at some point, there simply an acceptance of things about one's life, a sort of resignation that this is the way things are going to be for much longer than one had anticipated.

I say I wonder. I think I actually know the answer at this point - and it's not one I'm fully happy with.

I say happy rather than uncomfortable or upset.  Those don't seem to really be options at this point.  One can have emotions about things, of course; it's just that emotions in and of themselves don't really seem to resolve anything.

Action, someone says?  True, actions can solve things - but undertaking actions in the midst trying to live with all the consequences based on choices one has leads to either one of two choices:  a sense of complete exhaustion or a neglect of some important thing for something else.

It comes down to values, I suppose:  what do we value most?

It's odd, in that this sense of being held in place sneaks up on one.  In times past, decisions were not nearly this difficult to implement:  one simply decided and acted.  But with the addition of others in one's life, one's ability to choose becomes curtailed.  It's not just myself I'm deciding for, it's everyone who is influenced by my decision.  Suddenly, decisions which were easy at one time (such as "Yes, I'll take that job" or "Yes, let's move") become far more difficult ("That job would be impossible because of the money" or "Everyone else wants to stay here because we like it").

And then question of values comes up:  what do you value more, yourself and your development and pleasure or the group as a whole?

The thing that is slowly surprising me is how little this seems to be bothering me.  Is it acceptance?  Is it resignation?  Is it maturity (seems unlikely in my case, but a possibility)?  There is just a real sense that some of the things I wanted - or want - may simply never come to pass, because of circumstances. 

Is that a failure of my will?  Is it a failure of my drive?  Or it simply beginning to accept that if one is a mature adult, there are really circumstances which rate higher than ourselves?

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Reaction Drills

Last night in class we participated in reaction drills.

The concept is simple enough:  You are in the middle of a circle of your fellow students.  Everyone draws to chudon.  Then, randomly one by one, each student kiais (shouts) and makes an attack.  Attacks can be as simple or as complicated as the sensei calls for; in our case it was a single type of cut.

The great difference - and the great problem - of reaction drills is simply that things becme much less of an exercise in the art of iaido and much more of an exercise in simple survival. A constant series of attacks - even slower ones performed by fellow students - too often seems to drive every technique I've learned out of my mind.  As they say, we study for the dojo, but we practice for life.

But the one thing that was embedded last night in my mind - let us say re-embedded, as the thoughts were already there - was the art of letting the mind go.

When one faces a series of attacks, one's mind will tend to become rushed and confused.  To dwell on the attack that just happened - to try and consider a different way to do things, or reflect on how badly one did - is to invite being struck.  The mind cannot dwell on that which just happened; instead it must move on to the next attack that is coming.

Takuan Soho in The Unfettered Mind  discusses the same idea.  He makes the point that the mind must be free and stop on any one point.  If the mind stops at blocking the attack, it will not continue through to complete the cut and certainly not be ready for the next attack.  The mind instead must simply move through blocking the attack to responding and then moving to the next attack.

As in all things, of course, iaido mirrors life.  Too often we tend to cling to what just happened, the mistakes we just made, rather than simply move through the situation to the next incident.  Is this saying that there is no place for meditation and reflection upon our lives and how we act?  Not at all.  Consideration of and reflection on our actions is an important part of our growth.  It is simply a question of choosing when to consider such things.

Ultimately the point of iaido is to have the mind and body flowing as one, to spontaneously move the mind and body in responding to or executing to an attack.  I sure did not flow last night (though several of my fellow students did), but I saw the first great mental step:  we cannot flow forward in the stream if we cling to the rock that just went under water.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Cabinets Drawers of the Soul

Last week when I was poking around an area of work, I came across something that was almost 12 months out of date.  It was not obvious and had certainly been missed in periodic cleanups, as it was placed in a cabinet out of sight and due to a number of factors (personnel turnover, lack of use of the area) it simply was never discovered.  I pointed it out to someone, where it was promptly removed.

It reminded in general how little a fan I am of such things as drawers, cabinets, and closets.

Why?  They would seem to be terrible useful storage area, right?  We are always in need of additional space to store something or other, especially things that we don't always need right away.  And who is against organization, right?

All true. I am freakish on my own organization, especially at work, to the point of maybe I have a problem.  Clean and organized is the way I like my workspace.  No, my complaint against the innocuous storage device is simply that it enables us to keep that which might better not be stored.

We often seem willing and able to place something to the side which we fully believe we will use one day.  Waste not, want not, as the saying goes.  But things change, people change, priorities change.  Suddenly the thing that was so critical is now consigned to the dustbin of history, and things have moved on.  But having placed things away in cabinets and drawers, they are now out of sight and therefore out of mind.  It becomes a question of having the time to go back and sift through the detritus of time or simply move on with what is important now.

But to be fair, do we not do the same things with our souls?

We all bear pockets within ourselves of items not dealt with, relationships that ended badly or we simply just placed into limbo, of interests that we never really stopped caring about but really stopped doing, of feelings that we simply had no time for (or couldn't deal with).  And so, rather than go through the hard work of either organizing and incorporating them into our lives or simply disposing of them, we temporize:  we put them into the storage areas of our souls.

We never really deal with such things of course.  We find them every now and again as we go through our daily lives:  the anger at something that suddenly rages and we don't really understand why, the recurring interest in something we gave up years ago and was hardly healthy for us then, the thoughts of people that drift into our lives.  It's as if we were going through cabinets again, randomly finding things.

I don't wonder if use this storage device the way a pack rat stores things, that somehow these things are the potential lifeline in case of an event which may never happen.  Or is simply the denial of the life that we actually have, an act of resistance in keeping those things which we once held dear and have no hope of or ability to do?  Or perhaps we're simply lazy:  we've learned to clean our living areas, but not clean up our lives.

That's what it comes to, of course.  Cleaning out our lives.  Like a facility cleaning day, where everyone takes a day to simply clean out the contents of every drawer and cabinet and closet.  Get the garbage bins, get some pizza, start sorting through the detritus of some number of years, keeping that which is important or relevant, disposing of that which is not longer so or simply expired.

Because like most everything else, lots of things in our lives have expiration dates.  Keeping them out of sight prevents us from disposing of them, lightening our load, and moving on.

Monday, August 27, 2012


I became extraordinarily frustrated with myself this weekend.

It was around writing.  Specifically, it was around the fact that I simply could not get myself motivated to write. 

The idea is there.  The first few chapters are there.  But I just seem to have hit a wall.  And not just creatively.  Output as well.  Sure, I put together a list of how much I need to write each day, yet most days fly by and there is no output because I can conveniently find something else to work on, and the fact that the text is not flowing is no incentive either.

My frustration hit a peak on Saturday, when I had accomplished all I need to by noon and was feeling as if I had nothing else to do.

So I started writing.

It was not the work I have been toiling on - in fact, it is something completely different, something inspired by this blog.  I had written one chapter and part of another.  I finished the chapter, sat back and looked at it.

And wrote another.

Before long the afternoon had descended into a marathon of writing, of an intent - which became a commitment - to finish this thing I was working on.  To finish something.  To not, as so often had been the case, to have yet another idea hanging in the closet of my life, not quite finished with no real deadline for it to be.

It struck me as odd (the farther that I got into the writing)  how easily a fixation can become a mania.  In one afternoon, I seemed to pass the the line from not being able to write a thing to having to get a completed draft out on paper.  It's almost as if the underlying pent up frustration of not being able to move forward on this - or seemingly any - front of life manifested itself into a driven passion - almost frustrated anger - of filling up the empty page with its blinking cursor.

The remarkable thing:  after 5 hours of relatively focused concentration (and mania-like manifestations)  I had a draft.  A draft, of course, is hardly a working final copy and this one promises to be a bit rougher than most, but a draft all the same.

Looking at the file window with the chapter name neatly arranged, I wondered what had gotten me to to that point in the afternoon.  What had started me from feeling nothing was happening to a complete rough draft in an afternoon?

Pushing.  I pushed myself. 

I am not a man that typically likes to push himself to his limits.  I know this about myself, even as I despise it as a characteristic.  I don't enjoy the pushed, the driven, the times that I have known them.  They are too often socially inept, unpleasant to be around, so focused on their own project that they have no time for anyone else.  In so many ways, they make social interactions harder, not easier.

But they do get things done.  And this is the issue I need to resolve:  is there a method of pushing which does not involve collapsing into relational limbo, into a world so self and project centered that the great task of daily life that one becomes useful for anything else?

I hope there is. Because finishing a draft is the best feeling in the world.

Friday, August 24, 2012


Today I have an eye appointment - the what now has become an annual pilgrimage to the doctor to discover when the need will finally arrive for glasses. 

In getting ready for this - and because I don't know what will happen today while there - I did something I haven't done more than twice a year for the last 5 years:  I took a sick day.

I got up this morning knowing that I wasn't going to work at the usual time.  It's amazing how slowly the morning has progressed since then.  I'm not quite sure whether to chalk it up to unmotivation or simply a sense of "I don't really have to be anywhere in particular".

This always makes me question my commitment to anything, of course.  One should always practice something whether or not one is on a schedule.  Anytime I don't, I start to wonder if it is something I really wanted to do in the first place.

But that's as it may be.  Maybe, perhaps maybe, it might worth considering that every once in a while, simply being slow about getting moving and doing is not so much an indicator of any laziness as it is the simple self courtesy of allowing one's self, periodically, to simply wander into life instead of being enmeshed in it.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Making Peace with What Does Not Happen

To what extent is making peace with our lives a sign of giving up and to what extent is it a sign of acceptance?

This has always been a matter of some debate for myself.  If I suddenly stop trying on something, I feel as if I'm not doing everything I can and that I'm settling.  On the other hand, if I keeping chasing after something which at some point becomes self evident that is not going to happen, am I denying myself the pleasure of simply being?

Certainly the general sense of society does not contribute.  There is always seems to be a sense in which we should always be trying harder, trying again, pushing.  Very often we are told that a failure to succeed is a failure to continue trying - which holds in it a seed of truth.

But how do I reconcile this with the reality that always striving after things results in less than a happy existence?

To be always striving is to deny one's self a simple sense of being, of existing in the moment, in many ways participating in the life that one actually has.  To be constantly looking over the horizon means one's eyes are always firmly fixed on the future.  That's useful when driving down the road; it may create a life in which the scenery is always being missed as we focus on the dotted line.

The other danger is that having arrived to where we think we wanted to be, we found out it's not what we wanted at all:  the job we pushed and shoved for is not where we were meant to be, the relationship we positioned ourselves to have occur is less than we thought it to be, the thing we so desperately wanted is only a thing, not a life satisfaction.

Perhaps we need to simply accept that fact that the reason we do not seem to achieve or reach certain goals is not a failure of ourselves or our abilities but rather the gracious favor of a God who truly knows what will and what will not really satisfy us.  We fight against the fishbowl, not willing to recognize that all that lies without it is not at all what we wanted.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

6 AM

There is little worse in life than laying in bed awaiting the day you don't want to have.  It's even worse when the thoughts start showing up by themselves.

I laid awake this morning, vestiges of the night's dreams floating through my head - which, apparently, involved various Italian dukes of Ferra and Sforza from the Middle Ages - confusing me to no end.  Why were they there?  What possible reason could they have to show up randomly?  Why would I be thinking about them before I go to bed to invade my dreams?

Ah, Headache.  My old friend.  Apparently you missed the memo last night in which I requested we postpone our meeting until a later date.  No matter, I suppose.  You're here now.  We'll just carry on today, shall we?

Well, at least it's Thursday, the end of the week is near...What?  It's only Wednesday?  No wonder the week is feeling like an eternity - because it apparently is.  Sigh. There really is a whole additional day of work to be completed.

Hmm?  Ah, Work Plans.  I see you've taken the opportunity to visit me even though I have 3 hours or so before I actually have to start thinking about you.  No, I'm not really concerned with what documents I have to get done today.  Or tomorrow. Thanks, no, I'll pass right now on considering what I will say for the meeting I have at 4:00 this afternoon.

Interesting.  Hope?  Excitement?  Fun?  No, they don't really seem to be up along with everyone else this morning.  Maybe they've taken the opportunity to sleep in.

Maybe they're on vacation in Italy, visiting the villas of the Italian Dukes.


Why yes, I think I'll get out bed, thanks.  Who could resist these charming invitations?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


Last night at dinner, Nighean Bhan asks me "Dad, can we make Pepper Jack Cheese?"

Now my cheese making skills are still what I would define as being in a nascent form - the regularity is not quite there.  Sometimes I get great cheese, sometimes I get cheese that I can eat.  Additionally, making cheese seems to be like any other activity:  there's always a little more equipment you can acquire, something else which will enhance the process.

"I don't think so" I replied.  "I need a cheese press".

A cheese press, for the non-cheese educated, is simply a glorified press which, when used with a cheese form, allows a regulated amount of pressure to be applied to curds (here's an example from the good people at New England Cheesemaking Supply Company).  The ultimate purpose is to remove the water and condense the curds into cheese.  They're also a bit pricey - $160 for a simple unit to $279 for the Cadillac of Cheese Presses.

Finally,  I conceded that I would look at my cheese making book to review the recipe.

I pulled The All Powerful Book of Cheese and turned to the jack cheese page.  Sure enough, in the list of ingredients it stated "Cheese Press".  "Well, there you go" I thought to myself as I flipped to the second page to see what the pressure was.

And got a surprise.  It never defined a specific pressure.  It said "medium pressure." 

Medium pressure can come from a lot of things - in my case to date, it's come from a 1 gallon water jug with a plate under it sitting on the lid of the cheese form.  It's not elegant (as if this is suddenly a concern of mine), but it gets the job done.

I went and looked at another recipe.  Sure enough, it said "Medium pressure", not a specific pressure.

Suddenly, my cheese making world opened up.

Am I suddenly going to drop everything and make Pepper Jack all day?  Hardly.  It takes a long time to age and I like my cheese steadily, not making now and waiting for four months without any.  But what it did teach me was an important lesson that I need to apply to every aspect of life:  Just because something is listed doesn't there's not another way to do it, and double check everything before you say you can't.

The important people in your life - including pepper jack loving daughters - will thank you.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Clinging to The Past

Am I clinging to that which is past?

I was struck this weekend as I was contemplating projects that I wanted to work on:  did any of this really make sense?  Are any of the these things actually relevant to my life or what I am doing today, or are they echos of  a past that simply no longer exists except in my mind?

We passed our three year New Home-aversary this Saturday.  On the one hand, it's hard to believe that it has already been three years - which is a blessing, since it means (to my mind) that Na Clann and indeed all of us have blended in so well here that there no sense of time merely passing but of being engaged in the world around us..

But as I thought about this - and the realities of a life with a family - I began to look at what I was doing and wanted to do and asking the question "Why am I doing/holding on to this?"

The question initially started in the context of a random discussion about other potential places we might consider living.  The response was "If it's all the same to you, we like it here a great deal".

This was not the answer I was really expecting.

On the one hand I am exceedingly grateful for the answer, because as mentioned above it means everyone has blended right in.  On the other hand it was the answer I didn't really want, because it implies certain things about where we live and what we do.

Suddenly, I looked at the things I want to do - or dreamed of doing - and cast them in the mold of New Home.  Not surprisingly, many of them don't seem to immediately fit right in.

Which leads me back to the question:  am I clinging to the past?

How I - how all of us - spend the limited time and resources presented is based on a concept of how we believe life is going to be.  Over time, we collect interest, hobbies, things, even acquaintances based on the direction our life seems to be moving in.  Sometimes we take overt steps towards that end, but I suspect for most of us it's a careful balance of living our life and working towards where we believe (or want or hope) to be.

But what happens when that all gets moved aside?

If suddenly I'm thrust into living in a desert situation, my interest in Scuba may be interesting to me, but it will hardly make a difference with the live I am living most of the time.  Likewise an interest in running a cattle ranch  when I'm trapped in the suburbs may give me hours of thought provoking ideas on free range cattle but will not address the actual reality of where I am.

So if this is true - and on some level for all of us our lives are much different than we anticipated - the question remains:  Are we clinging to the past?  Are we clinging to ideas and interests and hobbies that don't reflect the reality of where we are?

Can they be transformed?  Of course.  A career dream of writing only can be transformed into writing meditations and an occasional book (for example).  A free range cattle ranch dream can be transferred to an urban garden with quail and ducks. 

But this change requires one thing:  an honest look at where we are and what we are doing and if what we are doing makes sense.  This willingness to question needs to be met by a second item:  the willingness to let go.

By clinging to that which has always been in our hands, we lose the ability to grasp that which is in front of us.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Shadow and Reality

A branch whipping fast
in the sun's shadow.  A storm?
No.  Just Syrah's tail.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Listing SIns

Have you ever made a list of your most prevalent sins?

This was thought that floated upward in my consciousness last night reviewing the days events, especially a conversation in which things which I had not thought would work their way to the surface appeared.  As I looked into my soul at the end of the day, the thought floated up "What is this indicative of?  And have you really thought about where it's coming from?"

Which lead me to try and list one prevalent sin, which lead to a list of five (well, six really).

The surprising thing to me was that as I made my list, I discovered the rather interesting thing that I seem to have become remarkably comfortable with my sins.  I say comfortable in the sense that as I made my list I went "Well of course that one is on there" and "Oh yes, let's add that one too.  I struggle with it awfully".

What I ended up was an indictment on two levels:  On one level, it pointed to the fact that have way more that six major sins in my life.  On another level, it pointed out how comfortable I have become with my sins, that I recognize and acknowledge them without really being impacted by them or concerned that they are still so prevalent in my life.

Have I become so comfortable with the thought of being a saved sinner that I have simply surrendered any intent of trying to eradicate the sin in my life?  That scares me if it's true, because that means that I have come to accept - nay, embrace - a certain amount of evil and failure in my own life.

Evil and failure.  Those are words that make me shudder as I write them, almost attempt to pull them down off the post.  It's not that I'm evil, I protest, it's merely that I'm a sinner who's saved.  Sinner has come to sound okay.  Evil is still stark.

But comfort is not the Christian's ultimate goal - nor should it be mine.  It's Christlikeness.  Will I sin free - never this side of death.  But can I deal more fully with the prevailing sins and move on to others?  By God's grace, it is possible.

But only if I realize that sin is something to be fought against, not lived with.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


In reading this morning, God brought to mind the story of Saul and Samuel.  It's found in 1st Samuel 15 where Saul, then King of Israel, fails to completely execute the word of the Lord as sent by Samuel:  instead of wiping out all the Amalakites, he spares King Agag and the best of the flocks.  When Samuel arrives and asks why Saul didn't obey the voice of the Lord, Saul temporizes:  first he blames the people, then he blames the need for perfect sacrfices.  The Lord's response through Samuel?

"Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrficies,
As in obeying the voice of the Lord?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
And to heed than the fat of rams.
For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft,
And stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the LORD,
He has also rejected you from being King."
 - 1st Samuel 15: 22-23

This sat on my mind after I read it, having just finished a part of Henry's Blackaby's book Experiencing God where he discusses the same fact: that in order to be on mission with God, we need to be obedient to God.

Which circled me back to my own life:  how well am I being obedient to Christ?

Not very well, I'm afraid.  Simply put, I feel as if I'm nowhere near where I need to be.  And the disappointing thing (if one can use such a mild term for something God feels so strongly about) is that I fear the impact that such disobedience is having on my own life and the lives of those around me.  Yes, I understand that everything going well is no particular sign of God's favor and everything not going well is no particular sign of God's anger, but I am struck by the fact that so often I hit those walls I have so often written about.  Could it be that those walls are really just the limits of my obedience?

Which, I suppose, is good in one sense:  disobedience is something which an be remedied.  Not easily all the time, of course, but remedied.  Certainly one of the great aspects of God is that in returning to Him He does not immediately demand supernatural feats of brilliance.  He just asks us to stop what we're doing, agree it's wrong, and start (in concert with His spirit) doing the right thing.

But this whole discussion leaves me haunted in one aspect:  Saul was rejected as King over Israel because of the incident listed above, even though he went on to reign for many more years.  Has my disobedience already cost me such opportunities as will never come again and can never be redeemed?  And if so, would I know?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012


Responsibility has been much on my mind of late.

Why?  It weighs heavily on me, in both my personal and professional life.  I am told that I am responsible for a great many things, yet somehow that responsibility neither empowers me to act nor results in the rewards of being being responsible.   It sometimes seems that responsibility is merely a word for shifting the burden of action and decision.

What is responsibility? 

Responsibility:  The quality or state of being responsible, as:  moral, legal or mental accountability; something for which one is responsible:  burden.

Accountability.  That's a word I'm certainly familiar with in my professional life.  It is a word that people love to seemingly hold above one's head.  "You're accountable for this"  they say, often almost seeming to take a perverse amount of joy in making the pronouncement, then leaving without any further assistance or suggestion.

Burden.  I had not anticipated that word being there but that is too often what responsibility feels like: a burden, something which must be borne in the face of daily living.

But is this what responsibility was meant to convey?

Responsibility with only accountability is not, I think, the entire story.  Practiced this way, it truly is a burden, something which must be carried endlessly.  The missing bookends are choice and reward.

Choice:  In being responsible, I am taking accountability for something that is the result of a choice.  Too often it is a choice I have not made and not been involved in.  To be truly accountable, I need to be involved in the initial choice that lead to that accountability.

Reward:  One holds one's responsibilities and is accountable because, in the end, one  has the hope of some reward, be it financial or physical or "Well done, Good and Faithful Servant".  The hope of reward may not even be something as definitive as that; it may only be the hope of victory or a better tomorrow.  In any case, there is the suggestion that there is a end and a treasure for the discharge of the accountability.

But notice that of the three steps - Choice, Responsibility, Reward - too often many people want to be involved in the first and last step but not the middle.

Charting a course?  Deciding on a goal?  That's important stuff. Of course people want to be involved.  It's exciting.  It's fun.  It's future.  And Reward?  Who doesn't want a reward?  Who won't show up for a party?

But that long center climb - accountability - ah, there's the rub.  That's work.  That's unrecognized work, more often than not.  It's thankless.  If you fail, the hyenas of any social group will be there to tear and mock.  If you succeed, well, that's just what you were supposed to do.  Carry on.

I suppose what I'm suggesting is a revolution - at least, a revolution in my own life.  A change - not only in how I perceive and understand responsibility, but how I practice it.and allow it to be practiced on me.  Perhaps by redefining the difference between a responsibility (choice, accountability, reward) and an accountability (something given to me with no choice before and no reward after).   

One, if practiced properly, leads to maturity, success and personal growth.  The other seems to lead only to hopelessness and despair.

Monday, August 13, 2012


"Many of us want God to speak to us and give us an assignment.  However, we are not interested in making any major adjustments in our lives.  Biblically, this is impossible.  Every time God spoke to people in the Scripture about something He wanted them to do through them, major adjustments were necessary.  They had to adjust their lives to God.  Once the adjustments were made, God accomplished His purposes through those He called." - Henry Blackaby, Experiencing God

What is God calling on me to adjust?

I've written off and on about feeling like I'm coming up against walls in my life, of pressing against the edge but not ever really able to break through.  Maybe it's time to ask the question:  can I not break through because I'm not willing to change, to make an adjustment?

That's a dangerous thing, of course.  When God takes change, He seldom discusses minor changes.  It's always for a purpose of course, and always to ultimately help us do His will better and glorify Him more, but they still are generally major sorts of changes.

What kind of change?  This is the part that I always stumble on.  I always tend to think of it in terms of things I have to give up or not do. But that's not the totality of change.  Change can be attitudes and directions as well.  It can be the giving up of things that are not physical:  dreams, goals, passions.

I dread the discussion, of course.  I've managed to create a comfortable sense of myself over the years.  Sure, it's not everything I could want and everything I might desire, but I'm comfortable - or at least, I've come to accept where I am.

But that is precisely where God does not want us.  He doesn't want us comfortable with ourselves, He wants us relying on Him, glorifying Him, doing those things that without His involvement would be impossible (thereby giving Him to glory).  Comfortable with ourselves and our lives tends to breed reliance on ourselves and allowing our world to be bounded by our own goals and dreams.  God calls us to more.

The question is, are we - am I - willing to make the changes?

Friday, August 10, 2012

Purpose, Submission, Self Confidence

One of the things I have always struggled with in my considerations of God's purpose and submission is the relationship of self confidence.

Full disclosure:  I have - for most of  life - struggled with self confidence.  Even when doing things that I am relatively skilled at, I struggle with having any confidence in myself and what I am doing.

Why?  There are probably a host of reasons buried beneath the surface.  The one that is germane to the conversation at hand is that it often impinges on my understanding of what submission to God and His purposes means.

The crux of my problem is this: if I am submissive to God and His purposes, seeking His plans, then I feel as if I have lost the ability to have confidence in my own ability to choose a path and my directions.  This lends itself to constant sense of looking over one's shoulder, of trying to ascertain if what one is doing is really correct or if it is a misdirection of what was intended.

Do this long enough, and what one finds is that one becomes immobilized, never really sure what direction one should be taking or failing to put full effort into what is at hand, fearing that it is the wrong thing to be spending time on but never sure how to figure out what the right thing is.

If you think this isn't crippling, you can't imagine the level of uncertainty - perhaps even fear - that enters one's life when one is never sure of direction or effort or if one is doing the right thing at all.  It makes days a thing of concern and nights a thing of waste (after all, you should be doing something more useful than sleeping, right)?

How does one resolve this?

I'm not sure.  I've just written, deleted, rewritten, and re-deleted a phrase three times in this spot.  I can come with the answer I think I should, but I'm not sure that it's the honest answer.  Matters such as these are too important to leave to trite phrases and passionless mouthings of things I have not really made my own, a form of rote chanting without understanding the words.

How does one bridge the gap between God's will and purpose and the daily self confidence to competently live one's life?

Thursday, August 09, 2012

The Act of Lowering

Submission:  The act of being submissive, humble, or compliant; the act of submitting to the authority or control of another.  Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Latin submissio/submittere, the act of lowering.

One of the ugly little not-so-secret secrets of my life is that I have a terrible time with submission.  I have problems submitting to authority of any kind - especially if I think the idea/thought/request is ridiculous or a waste of time.  But topping the list of my submission issues is my submission to God.

Frankly, I'm terrible at it.

Oh, I'm great at the things I want to be submissive about.  But as soon as we start to meander over into things that I think are foolish or silly - or worst of all, things I really want - the hackles on the back of my neck raise up and suddenly I become...."difficult".

Me, arguing with the God of the Universe.  Silly, isn't it.

The silliest thing about it is that submission to God is freedom, not control.  It's staying with the guardrails of living.  It's transferring the outcome of relationships, events, and even my life over to the authority of God.  "Do it my way"  says God throughout the Scripture, "and I take ultimate responsibility for the outcome - and the ultimate outcome is very, very good.  Do it your way - prepare to be responsible."

Why can't I get that?  Why do I constantly struggle with doing the thing that will bring ultimate joy?

Simple.  Look at the Latin root of submission:  the act of lowering.  When I submit, I make myself lower than something else.  In human terms in can be a government, a pastor, a business, a boss.  Ultimately, I make myself lower than God.

And to lower one's self is to lift something else above it.  Pride - that ever present sin, the one C.S. Lewis considered one of the greatest sins - bursts forth in a paean of self-praise.  You, it says, are equal to or better than all others.  You need to submit to no-one."

How do I learn to submit more? For myself, it's often as simple as looking at the outcome of what I have managed to accomplish on my own when I did it "my way".  Trust me, the track record is not that spectacular.  If we take on the responsibility of doing things our way instead of God's way, we take on the responsibility of the results in our life.

I have to ask myself this question:  "If I did X God's way instead of what I did, what were the possible outcomes?"  Yes, I know we can't fully know what might have happened, but I think we can safely extrapolate other things based on what did happen. 

It comes back to the question of pride:  will we lower ourselves before God? 

Because in the end everyone will lower to God - every knee will bend and every tongue confess that Christ is Lord.  It's when we decide to lower ourselves that has the eternal implications.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012


How does one find the purpose - or even a purpose - for one's life in the midst of all the other things seeming to offer none?

There seems to be a combination of factors in my life - a renewed realization of the amount of selfishness I possess within myself as well as level of instability - that is causing me to question what my old purpose was - indeed, even if I had a purpose - and what, assuming the old one is defunct, the new one should be.

In my career, I seem to be butting up against the wall of reality; that suddenly the limitless blue sky of possibilities - career advancement, salary - is coming to a halt, that I can perhaps expect the normal advancement of time but the dream of moving to a significantly higher position (with higher pay) has moved on. 

This then combines with factors of self-centeredness within my life - for me, perhaps, the escape valve of my life for doing what I would not really like to be doing - to create a situation where even though I may be at what and where I am for a long time, I cannot just "check out" with my own activities and life.

I'd love to say that I've had some blinding vision from God, some passionate uplifting dream to move me over this hump into the next phase, something so utterly clear that I cannot mistake it for anything else - but alas, I have not. I just have the walls of reality seemingly continue to close in on the circle of my life, leaving me with a smaller radius and and increasingly narrow view of the sky.

How does one find a purpose in the midst of this?  How can one take the ordinary, mundane events of one's life and craft a purpose of it or weave a purpose through it?  How does one find a purpose - not a canned response, but a real motivating one?

I can just make up my own or quote one, but it hardly changes anything - more of a justification of events that are already in place than a guiding statement. And eventually, I will see it as such and it will become irrelevant, one more in a list of things that I thought was real or mattered or I could do.

In the darkness of my soul I ask myself:  What am I doing wrong?

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Sin and Selfishness

All sin, ultimately, is selfishness.

That's a hard saying, hard in the face of a world that so often elevates the individual and individual achievement.  It suggests that in fact we should spend less time on ourselves - do we ever really get to spend enough time to suit ourselves? - and more on the things outside of ourselves.

A little enlightened self interest, sure - but sin?  Really?  That's a pretty drastic word for the unkind thought I think or the candy I sneak or the thoughts I have that I shouldn't.   That's more just catering to myself.  I do work hard, you know.  Sacrifice a lot. 

All sin, ultimately, is selfishness.

Sin is simply (if such a word can be used for so devastating a thought)  not doing as God does and not willing as God wills.  It can be anything - an action, a thought, a word.  But when I choose to sin (and as much as I'd like to excuse myself, I do choose it), I choose to do something other than what God would or not will as God wills. 

Why?  Because I have chosen to elevate myself and my desires (or my world, my "deservings") above God and His desires and will.  Whether it is a flagrant sin or simply something secret, the root is the same:  I, O God, am more important and know better than You.

Thus the danger of a culture that worships the individual, that indiscriminately tells us we are the most important thing in the universe and that we are here to self-actualize ourselves:  we believe that our interests, our lives, are the most important things that are going on.  We carefully learn to soothe any sense of "sin" beneath layers of being "God's Creation" and "Unique", forgetting what those words actually mean and imply.

All sin, ultimately, is selfishness.

I write this out of a sense of being first in line.  I have created a plethora of justifications in my life when I sin (and let's not bother with the discussion of if it's sin.  Let's just go with the fact it is).  In my case, I too often hide it beneath a veneer of the "sacrifice" I make by doing what I do (which is not what I love), that I am "owed" whatever pleasures and time I can scratch together, even if such things cause me to ignore the real responsibilities and tasks I am called to. 

I hate writing this, because to shine such a light is to reveal the shriveled thing my inner most self has become - by becoming "rich" in things for myself, I have become poor both in the things of God and the things of responsibility that I am called to do.

All sin, ultimately, is selfishness.

The cure?  Ah, the cure.  Just the most simple and most difficult thing a person ever has to do.  Die to self.

Die to self.  Live to God.  Let go of all that I claim are my rights.  Change my thoughts and my will into God's thoughts and will, my actions into His.  Start by rejecting those ways that I cater to myself, even in the smallest of things.

Repent, of course.  Repent of sin.  Repent of thinking that the clear is not clear, that good and evil are not gray bands moving between each other but clearly defined.  Repent of thinking that my needs outrank anybody else's:  my own, my family, my friends, strangers, God.

All sin, ultimately, is selfishness.

All God glorifying, ultimately, is selflessness.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Back on Schedule?

The problem with exceptions to the program is that at some point, you have to go back to the program.

This is what I'm facing now that the audit has finished.  I have to return to my life - which is fine, I'm ready to be back in it - but in order to get there, I have to get back on schedule. 

This is the difficult part.

I had realized for many years that I am a creature of plans and schedules.  I like to know what is coming up.  One of the most annoying things that can happen in my world - The Ravishing Mrs. TB says I get wild eyed when it comes up - is when someone comes up with a spontaneous plan when I've already got my mind set that we're doing something else.

But we're not at the spontaneous at this moment, we're at the point in which we are trying to reconstruct the morning and evening schedule of my life.  And what I'm finding is that it is drastically more difficult to get back "into the groove" than I had anticipated.  The interesting fact is that it does not take long for me to target - or in my world, lazy.

It suggests two things:  either 1)  I am really unmotivated or 2) I was fooling myself in what I was doing.

So now the re-evaluation process starts:  What am I doing?  Why am I doing it?  Is it the most important thing I could be doing?

Heady questions for a morning routine, I'm sure.  But the underlying theme - what I'm doing with my time - is one I take seriously, as I have come to appreciate more and more that time is in frighteningly short supply compared to all there is to do.

I got at least four things that I usually do done this morning.  Tomorrow I'll try for five, and we'll start rebuilding from there.  But always in the back of my mind I hear the clock ticking and the questions ring:  "Why are you doing this? Is this the best thing you could be doing with your time?"

Friday, August 03, 2012

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Instability or Boredom?

Which do I hate more:  Instability or boredom?

This is brought to forefront ever time I have to manage an audit.

One the one hand, audits do break up the boredom.  8 to 9 hours a day you are in a room, on your toes, constantly waiting for questions like "Can you explain this?" or "You don't seem to have..." or that worst of all possible words, "It looks like this is a non-conformity". 

On the other hand, audits are exhausting.  One exists constantly in  a state of heightened awareness, trying to end run questions before they arise, constantly dreading the words "nonconformity" or "observation".  Yes, you may not be responsible for it, but somehow it always seems to come back to you.

Then there's the going back after they've left to prepare for the next day, perhaps prepare answers in hopes that they will change their mind, and attend to the work that has had to go wanting over the last period of days while you performed the audit.

So the days are instable - but exciting.  On the other hand, most of my days are relatively stable - but boring.

Which one do I really hate more?

Wednesday, August 01, 2012