Monday, August 17, 2009

To Hell with Fear

So this weekend has been something of an epiphany for me. It's been a twofold process: on the one hand, losing my planner with some materials in them; on the other, reading Ray Bradbury's Zen in the Art of Writing. The result has been somewhat freeing.

In other words To Hell with Fear.

I have suffered from fear of most anything for a great many years now. Fear of anything, but it can really be traced back to fear of others. Fear of what they would think, fear of what they would do. If you never lived it, you have no idea how crippling it can be.

But it hit me yesterday as I was driving home from work that I couldn't control that. In regards with the planner, it was either gone or not. If not, someone will either call or not. Either way, I can't control it. If I can't control it, why am I afraid of it? The dark monster that we call fear is probably more often than not one that we create by ourselves, or at least inflate beyond its original size.

And the fear of others? In my work, my ability to work and succeed is based largely on the actions of others. If they don't do their job, I don't have one. So am I willing to sacrifice my job - nay, my career - just so folks that I will probably never see after this position (and at my typical job stay time, this is 1-2 years) will like me?

And the Bradbury reference? I'll have to expound on that later - suffice it to say that he writes passionately about the process of writing, of not caring what other say. Words I need to take to heart.

Life is too short to live in terror of what might happen.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Fear and Panic

Overswept by a moment of panic this morning, when I realized that the audits I hoped we were going to have another month to prepre for are coming in two weeks.


But in this moment, I need to make a decision: to consciously push down the fear and actually take action.

This is a often a problem for me: something happens, I get upset, and then rather than think of the action that I can take, I panic and think of everything that can go wrong and how we're not going to do well.

That's a good way to fail.

Instead of panicking, why not take a minute and make a plan of action? No worse than just freaking out, and who knows, might do okay.

Who knows, might even pass.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


As I walk around
where my life used to take place,
Look: full moon smiles down.

Last Night

At 9:40 PM this evening, the Ravishing Mrs. TB comments to me "You know, the first night we moved into this house, you spent the night here alone; now the last night we're here, you are again spending the night here alone."

In a way, that kind of sums up this entire weekend: a whirlwind tour of endings being the same as beginnings.

Our house was packed up into a van in about six hours; in a moment of almost sheer absurdity, the driver asked me to value our possessions (for insurance purposes). I almost laughed out loud: my physical belongings are reduced to a number on a sheet of paper and sum which I pull out my head with no real meaning (how does one place a value on sentiment?).

I was commenting to Uisdean Ruadh on Sunday night that in a way, this represented yet another slow falling away of The Firm (we used the commission on the house as part of the down payment) - the course that was set 5 years ago coming to it's tired conclusion, like Magellen's last circumnavigating ship limping home to Spain - without Magellan. "I failed" I told Uisdean Ruadh. "I failed to hold things together. I should have been able to keep the house."

"You haven't failed" he replied. "You did your best. No-one can dispute that. Sometimes things don't work out."

Sometimes things don't work out - or sometimes they're in God's hands. Either way, it leaves one feeling powerless and somewhat failed.

So I sit here tonight in a house devoid of everything, kept company by a dog, a rabbit, and a cat. The house is not the same as when we moved in: the walls are painted but scuffed, the backyard is landscaped but overgrown, the interior echoing not with laughter or voices but with silence.

But the biggest difference between when I moved in and tonight is that the house echoes with memories tonight: dogs, cats and rabbits run through it, family parties and friends over for dinner, the sound of daughters laughing and crying and arguing and praying.

The difference, I suppose, is that unlike painted walls, memories are things you can take with you. Sometimes, as Uisdean Ruadh says, things don't work out, but you do your best.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Hanging at Krispy Kreme

Today I got up for the first time at my new rental at New Home, checked on the rabbit, watered my dead grass carpet that is my new lawn (lawn care expectation: very low), showered, and then realized I had until 3:00 PM to figure out something to do. I wanted to check my Internet, coffee sounded like a good idea, and it is, after all, Saturday.

Lucky for me Krispy Kreme is nearby.

Not only did I get the Internet, coffee, and a doughnut, I got a sample doughnut as well - sort of a free two for one!

It's a bit interesting (not the doughnuts of course, although the lemon filled is tasty!), because I think this is the first time in at least a month I've gone out and actually sat down, and the first time I've actually gone with no other reason than to sit and eat and relax. I'd like to say it's because I'm trying to be frugal - and sure, that's involved - but just as much it's a sense of relief of the end being near.

I honestly feel a sense of relaxing, something that I haven't felt in some time. The move is happening, the last great drive is happening, home is finally "home", and life can actually start to get back to a sense of normality.

Oddly enough, I'm reminded of order as I sit here and watch the doughnut machine: Chains and platforms rising and falling, the tops of doughnuts floating through the oil, coming up on the conveyor belt on the line, then going under the line to get sugar. There is a calm sense of placid operation as I sit here at the window and watch the doughnuts slowly roll by in ordered rows.

Aha, you say, he's finally lost it. Doughnuts and order, 80's music playing in background, sitting on aluminum chairs and he finds some relation to "relaxing".

You're probably right - but at the same time, there's a feeling that a great weight is about to fall off my shoulders, of moving on with the next chapters of our lives. If that's encompassed in a Doughnut (lemon filled, no less!), so be it. You psychoanalyze.

I'll let the coffee wash the residual sugar down my throat and just be.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Ave atque Vale

Fergus the Timid left us yesterday.

Fergus was the youngest of our group of three cats - indeed, he was born in the basement of our home in August 1994. He was a coward - he lived most of his life under things, whether a bed, a series of boxes, or under a couch - but a loving cat when he was out.

His health was never good, but especially not after 2002, when he had a terrible respiratory infection. He survived, but apparently at the cost of a heightened immune system, which attacked the enamel of his teeth (causing him to lose all of them). It affected his digestion as well - his litter box was never a pleasure to clean up!

But he was generally a happy cat as far as cats go, happy to see you (once he got over being freaked out by you!), happy to see the girls, always ready to have a pet.

His death comes literally days before our relocation to New Home - the providence of God I suppose, as he probably would not have made it here. We will miss him of course - he'll be buried out by Sasha in the back yard - but in the miracle of God's providence, Midnite the rabbit has come - perhaps for the whole purpose of helping us with our loss.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009


I was overcome by a wave of despondency this morning as I drove to sign our lease in New Home - almost shockingly so.

I have no idea why. Things seem to be going along fairly well at work and with the move. Very soon, The Ravishing Mrs. TB, Na Clann, Syrah the Mighty, the cats, and the rabbits and I will all be together.

So why so sad?

As I finished signing the lease, got my keys, and headed back to work, I realized what it was: pride and sorrow.

We have had a house for the last 9 years. It was our house. We could do what we wanted with it. It was ours.

To lease is to be humble. To admit, at least for me, that in some small way, I am not in control anymore. To ask for permission instead of acting on things like pets or room colors. To pay only for living, making someone else money instead of ourselves. To be struck, in one brief shining moment, of just how little control I seem to have.

The whole weight of the everything that has happened came plummeting into my soul like a ton of bricks, held in my hand by a pair of jingling keys for home I will live in but is not mine.

This is not where I intended to be.

Little Rivers

"It is not required of every be, or to do, something great; most of us must content ourselves with taking small parts in the chorus, as far as possible without discord. Shall we have no little lyrics because Homer and Dante have written epics? Even those who have greatness thrust upon them will do well to lay the burden down now and then and congratulate themselves that they are not altogether answerable for the conduct of the universe. 'I reckon', said a cowboy to me one day, as we were riding through the Badlands of Dakota, 'there's someone bigger than me running this outfit. He can tend to it well enough while I smoke my pipe after the round-up.'

There is such a thing as taking ourselves and the world too seriously, or at any rate too anxiously. Half of the secular unrest and dismal sadness of modern society comes from the vain idea that every man is bound to be a critic of life and to let no day pass without finding some fault with the general order of things or projecting some plan for its improvement. And the other half comes from the greedy notion that a man's life does not consist, after all, in the abundance of the things that he possesses and that it is somehow or other more respectable and pious to be always at work making a larger living that it is to lie on your back in the green pastures and beside the still waters and thank God that you are alive.

And so I wish that your winter fire may burn clear and bright while you read these pages and that the summer days may be fair and the fish may willingly rise to your hook whenever you follow one of these little rivers." - Henry Drummond (1851-1897), Scottish writer and evangelist

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Bible Study and Prayer

Another question from my Failure Day IV list (I've taken the liberty of organizing them by personal, marriage, and family): How much time do you spend reading the Bible and praying each day? Is it commensurate with the time you spend in non-eternal affairs?

Something I've always fallen short in. It is remarkable to me that, being someone who loves to read, that I have such difficulty really sitting down and reading the Bible - reading it with intensity and and attention I would give a good secular book or a text for a test, really digging in and studying, making applications from the text. Too often, it's the sort of thing I do haphazardly if at all.

Prayer is the same way: More often than not, it's a struggle to get out of bed to pray in the morning ("You know, God doesn't care where I am and after all, I'm warm") or in the evening ("I'm so tired -really hard to focus"), or to pray during the day ("This sounds too short and foolish - prayer is supposed to be a formal thing").

The thing I notice as I write these is that in both cases, these involve our communication with God: in reading the Bible, we receive (hear) God speak through His word; in praying, we speak to God, bringing our sins and our cares, aligning our wills to His. That is interesting to me because I spend a lot of time every day communicating with people, and trying to ensure that they have a full and pleasant communication with me, yet I don't do the same thing with God?

And time spent in Bible reading and praying versus non-temporal matters? That's just embarrassing on the face of it. If I spend 30 minutes a day in prayer and Bible reading, I so often feel that I've "reached my max" - yet I can talk to folks on the phone far longer than that, or dedicate an hour or two every day to any temporal activity.

And I wonder why my life is seemingly bereft of God's power and wisdom.

I've made a few changes since I moved. Following the tradition of George Mueller, I now read the Scriptures kneeling morning and night (I use something to rest on if I'm losing the feeling in my legs - no sense in being stubborn about it). Mueller did it to demonstrate both his reverence for the Scriptures as well as his willingness to receive God's word. I will say that it has allowed me to focus more on what I am reading.

I've also changed up my annual reading program (there are many good programs out there that will get you through the Bible in a year), but have added to it by reading my main program out loud morning and evening. This forces me to slow down and think about what I am reading. In the slow down department as well, for books I am reading (secular and non-secular), I am sitting with pen in hand, underlining as I go - I find that this again forces me to slow down and ponder what I am reading.

In the prayer department, I am still woefully inadequate. I was one that was brought up praying eyes closed and kneeling, so prayer lists were not something that I was used to using. I have tried to be better about this for about 5 years - it's a long process, even just in the recalling of writing the requests down and remembering to pray over them.

One of the strengths of the ascetic tradition of the Catholic Church is that they take regular times during the day to worship and pray. This is something I should incorporate more fully into my life as well.

The motto of the Cistercian Order is Laboare est Orare, To work is to pray. This is also something that I think would improve my sense of serving God daily: that my work, done well, is another way for me to give glory to God (and something I could give glory to Him eight hours a day doing).

I can only state for myself, the lack of greater Bible Study and prayer means a greater lack of spiritual growth and power in my own life. The fact that my experience seems to reflect so much of the church today suggests that this problem is not unique to me.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Uisdean Ruadh a rithis

I spoke with Uisdean Ruadh tonight. He's been laid off - again. This would make twice in a year, both times in August. If you've a prayer or a thought for him, he'd be much in appreciation.

Spiritual Gifts

I started wrestling last night with the first of my questions to myself: What are your spiritual gifts?

That presumes a first question, which is what are the spiritual gifts? And that, as the saying goes, is the rest of the story...

It seems that there are a great deal of definitions concerning what are spiritual gifts, depending on where you find them, when you believe they are active (i.e. dispensationalism), or who you happen to be reading.

So I started a different angle: a quote I found from John Piper on the Internet:

“The conclusion I draw from these parallels is this: a spiritual gift is an expression of faith which aims to strengthen faith. It is activated from faith in us and aims for faith in another. Another way to put it would be this: A spiritual gift is an ability given by the Holy Spirit to express our faith effectively (in word or deed) for the strengthening of someone else's faith.”

Now there's a definition I can start with. If you dig a little more into reading, you find some additional thoughts:

1) A spiritual gift is not necessarily a skill or talent. It is something that is supernaturally given, something given only to those indwelt by the Holy Spirit. You can have individuals who are supremely talented, but are not spiritually gifted.

2) A spiritual gift is not given for the benefit of an individual, but the benefit of the body. If someone is using a gift to glorify themselves rather than build up the body, I would be suspect of their claim as a "spiritual" gift.

3) There are aspects of spiritual gifts which we should all manifest: e.g. we should all have faith, show mercy, give generously, serve, be evangelists, etc. It's just that some are spiritually gifted above and beyond such as George Mueller or Hudson Taylor, (Faith), Billy Graham (Evangelism), any of the great teachers that have existed through the ages (Teaching/Pastor).

The major New Testament passages for spiritual gifts occur in Romans 12: 6-8, 1st Corinthians 12: 7-10, Ephesians 4: 11-12, and 1st Peter 4: 10-11. In no particular order they are: ministry (helps), prophesy/proclaiming, giving, knowledge, wisdom, exhortation, leading (administration), mercy, faith, discerning of spirits, evangelism, pastor, and teaching. Other verses include celibacy, hospitality, missionary, martyrdom, and voluntary poverty.

(You'll notice I've excluded healings, tongues and interpretations of tongues, and prophecy as predicting the future, and apostleship. I'm of the opinion [with some other people much smarter than I] that these represent gifts that were given to the early church to authenticate its authority but are no longer active per se as spiritual gifts. Yes, God still heals and yes, he can still do tongues; however I question how these are used today versus how they were used by the early church.)

At least one place I found online also included music and writing (two which I actually think I do have). It was interesting because that was not something that is found up in the above list (well, maybe writing as teaching, perhaps), but certainly music is something which the church has benefited from throughout its history (if you've ever had bad music, you'll understand!). The references they made to music being an spiritual gift were in the Old Testament (which I think you could pull some other ones out of as well).

(Here is where I took the test. I make no claims for accuracy or veracity; however, it was a useful tool to start my thinking processes.)

So let's assume that music and writing are 1) legitimate spiritual gifts; and 2) I actually have them. Then the question becomes "How am I using them to build up the body of Christ?"

Music is easy - at least, it was. Moving has certainly changed that dynamic temporarily. I need to get re involved - in some fashion with music.

Writing is harder. Hard, you say? Yes, not so much because I don't like to write, but because I want writing to do something for me, rather than my first impulse to be something to build up the body. In my heart of hearts, I want writing to support me, to glorify me, to demonstrate my wit and erudition - and oh yes, of course to glorify God.

This, it seems to me, is the difficulty of spiritual gifts: when we become so enamored of us because of the gift rather than being enamored of the Giver who gave us the gift and blown away that we would be of any use at all. When I start saying that I am a writer blessed of God (the same as you will hear individuals claim they are a "Prophet of God" or a "Healer of God" and expect you to treat them accordingly), then I have stepped away from the exercise of the gift to build up the body and am confiscating the use of the gift for my own ends. God says He will give spiritual gifts (we all have at least one!) and that we are to exercise them; He makes no guarantee that we will be recognized or rewarded for them this side of Heaven.

What's your spiritual gift? Are you using it? How often?

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Failure Day IV Questions

As I mulled around my earlier entry (maybe go down and read that first), I started to come up with a list of questions, the kind of questions I typically ask of my temporal goals along with the dreaded application, measurement, and follow up. Here are a few that I came up with:

- What are your spiritual gifts? Are you using them?
- How do you glorify God every day?
- What do tithe? Why that amount? Was it a choice or an accident?
- What is your family’s mission in the church and the world?
- What is each family member’s relationship with Christ?
- How much time do you read the Bible and pray? Is it commensurate with the time you spend in non-eternal affairs?
- How much time does your family read the Bible and pray? Is it commensurate with the time they spend in non-eternal affairs?
- Are you praying with your husband/wife?
- What do you want your marriage to achieve for God?
- What do you want your activities and demeanor to say about how you view God and how you glorify Him?
- Is the way you present yourself – what you do, what you say, how your dress, how you act –giving glory to God or to you?
- How much Scripture have you memorized? How often?
- Is the focus of your time, talents and treasures on you, or God?
- How are you actively rooting our sin in your life? What progress have you made? What specific steps will you take?
- In all of this how can – and will – you monitor and mark your progress?

Failure Day IV

Today is Failure Day. For those who may not have been here before, it commemorates the day in 2005 in which The Firm was dissolved and I laid myself off. The great experiment was over. Much like Anzac Day in Australia, I use this day both as a reminder of something tried as well as a day of self assessment.

So what is the assessment this year?

I'm not sure how to answer that question.

The past year (from last Failure Day) has been quite a series of changes. I moved from one employer to another, then to unemployment for four months, then to a new employer in a different state. An easier way for me to think of it is that I was only employed 8 out of the last 12 months.

Financially, things are a mess (given this economy, I'm sure this is a surprise to precisely no-one). The reality is if you remove the paper money increase from our house, we are at approximately the same level as we were 9 years ago. Yikes. That was not a figure I enjoyed looking at when I saw it.

But in looking at it, the idea suddenly burst into my head "But is that the right goal?"

I looked at the presentation I was working on (for myself, mostly - I find that I think very well using a PowerPoint setup). It was about money. Mostly about money anyway, with some "goal" setting put in as well.

The remarkable thing was, it was all about the here and now, and very little about eternity.

The Pastor of the Church here in New Home said an interesting thought this morning, one that I have been chewing on all day: "The church in America stopped growing when it started going to church and stopped being the church" - in other words, when church, when Christianity, became something that we do rather than something we are, it becomes lifeless.

As I looked at my goals, my finances, my "things I'd like to do", it suddenly struck me how absent God was from most of them.

Oh sure, there were the usual tips of the hat: Pray 15 minutes a day, continue in personal Bible study, try a family Bible study, be involved in church. But the more focused ones, the more developed ones, were all things in which God possibly could be present, but not as the singular focus of the activity.

Damning indeed. Has church become something I've done, and not something I am? Certainly, this is one of the calls of Francis Schaeffer, who I've been reading over the last 2 months. He constantly stressed the need for purity/holiness and love, the Christian being the example (flawed, to be sure) of these two realities of the nature of God, as the witness both to the world and to Christians.

This is not the day of reflection I was expecting.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Offenses and Justification

"It (justification by faith) shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification." - Romans 4: 24b-25

This was another one of those moments reading the Scripture this morning that made me stop - the kind of moment that makes you wonder "How did I miss this - has this always been here?"

The part that grabbed me was not the first part - justification by faith alone in Christ alone, although you would think that would be enough to blow my mind. No, it was the second part "delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification" that literally had me stop and hold my breath.

"delivered up because of our offenses" - that sure doesn't make me sound like anything, does it? Christ was delivered up to be mocked, scorned, beaten, and crucified - because of my offenses. He was given in place of me. My offenses - the ones that I so often just sort of don't think of as being so serious? Oh, those offenses.

"raised because of my justification" - Christ was raised by the Father for me, for my justification. If there was no one else in the world, it would just be only me. God exercised His power to raise His son, who died for me, so that He could justify me, pay the price of my sin, so that I could live eternally with Him.

Does this stun me as it should? Does this create a sense of awe in me? Do I truly reflect on the heinous nature of my sins, the sins that Christ had to die for? Do I seek to completely destroy them in my life, or do I see them as not so serious, not so damaging?

For the price Christ paid, why do I cling so stubbornly to them and am willing to live so flippantly with them?