Thursday, December 14, 2017

Inaction in Action

Thursday 12/14/2017 4:25 AM
In my journal last week I wrote about my lack of action in trying to correct either the blatant or subtle injustices that are evident in our society. I often become aware of policies or practices that are unjust but seldom, if ever, do anything to change them.
In his book Alive in Christ, Maxie Dunnam writes of a conversation he once had with Metropolitan Bloom. “At one point we were talking about the connection between contemplation and action, and I asked Metropolitan Bloom to define contemplation. He responded, ‘Well I think this is where contemplation begins. Sit and listen – in religious terms it may be called waiting on God – but it’s simply listening or looking in order to hear and to understand. If we did that with regard to the Word of God, with regard to the prayers of the saints, with regard to the situations in which we are, to everything people say to us or what they are in life, with regard to our own selves – we would be in that condition which one can call contemplation, which consists in pondering, thinking deeply, in waiting until one has understood in order to act. Then action would be much more efficient, less hasty, and filled, probably, with some amount of the Divine Wisdom.’”
It seems that Bloom suggests that contemplation will lead to action at some point. I get stuck in the contemplation, pondering, and thinking deeply part. Over time I usually have a sense of the action I need to take but lack the courage or the will to act. The times I have obeyed God’s call and acted have resulted in great blessing but I am too often afraid of the negative consequences that may accompany my action. I need to be more trusting of God’s care for me.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Darkness and Quiet

Tuesday 12/12/2017 4:51 AM
Today is my last day of exams for this semester. Along with the last day of the semester comes the grading of exams, posting final grades, and then begin planning for the new semester beginning in three short weeks. I hope to finish writing my syllabi, planning my lecture and homework schedules, and making my lesson plans for the first week of the new semester within the next week or two so I can really have a relaxing time when Ryan and Kate and their kids come for Christmas. I’m teaching multivariable calculus again next semester and I have some new ideas to try out so the work for that class will be a little more intense.
As the years pass the time seems to move more quickly and technologies and teaching methods change while my energy level and stamina seems to diminish. The combination of those two things leaves me feeling more overwhelmed and intimidated with each new semester. I find that I need to be more intentional in my planning and more disciplined in doing my work or times slips away and I end up flying by the seat of my pants. I’m not a big fan of change. I prefer things to be the same as they’ve always been.
My relationship with God also goes through times of change. Sometimes I feel as if God is really moving in my life while at other times my relationship with God stagnates. Maria Boulding describes this process in her book, The Coming of God. She writes, “For those who pray regularly the time may come fairly soon when particular thought or words no long seem to help. Prayer seems to have gone dead. The relationship is moving into a new phase, and you have to change gear. At other times you may be able to find as much inspiration as ever in the Scriptures, in thinking about God and in the experiences that generally mediate his word to you, but when you try any of this in the time of prayer, you have the impression that this and real prayer are mutually exclusive. … Provided that you are refusing God nothing, you can probably trust the inclination to let it ride a bit. Wait in silence, attentiveness, stillness, just aware of God in some dim way and of your need of [God], but without particular efforts to formulate ideas or words, except perhaps just to bring yourself gently back when you stray. It is baffling and disconcerting, but in some way all-important to you to stay there like that in darkness and quiet.”
Just like in my teaching, I do not like change in my relationship with God. I am a creature of habit and routine and when my normal routine of spending time with God no longer seems to be effective in hearing from God I find it disconcerting. Maria Boulding suggests it is important for me to stay in the darkness and quiet. I would prefer not to do so.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Others

Thursday 11/23/2017 6:18 AM
Today is Thanksgiving Day. Throughout the day people will be acknowledging things for which they are thankful. Family, friends, good health, and other such things often top the list. In my experience the things for which I am most thankful are things that benefit me, that make my life richer. Today I read Psalm 4 for the fourth time this week and I saw something in verse 7 that gave me a different perspective. In the preceding verse David asked, “Who will bring us prosperity?” He then asks God to let his face shine upon him followed by this request, “Fill my heart with joy when their grain and new wine abound.” (Emphasis mine) David is asking for a joyful heart when others are prospering and doing well.
We live in a society where the individual is revered. Individuals within our society either accept or reject policies by answering the question, “What’s in it for me?” If there is a program that costs me something I am against it, even if it benefits another segment of society. If I benefit, I’m for it, even if it is to the detriment of others. We vote for, and support, things that enrich our lives, often without considering the effect on society at large.
How different our society would be if we would be happy and filled with joy and thanksgiving when others prospered instead of only ourselves. That is the kind of life David desired and that is the kind of life Jesus lived here on earth. Philippians 2:3-4 is a good reminder today. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Leaving a Charmed Life

Wednesday 11/22/2017 4:45 AM
I have always felt as if I have led a charmed life. Other than the death of my dad when I was thirteen I have had a great life. I have enjoyed good physical and mental health throughout my lifetime. I met, and married, a wonderful woman. I have three children who were healthy throughout their lives. I have healthy relationships with them and with their spouses. I have eight grandchildren with two more on the way and also have healthy relationships with them. I have been gainfully employed as a teacher for my entire life, working for only two different schools.
When I look at the lives of others around me it seems that many are beset by trouble and calamity at nearly every turn. Their lives seem diametrically opposed to mine. Today I read a quote from The Saviors of God, by Nikos Kazantzakis that makes me see things from a different point of view. He writes, “Everyone has a particular road which leads … to liberation – one the road of virtue, another the road of evil. If the road leading you to your liberation is that of disease, of lies, of dishonor, it is then your duty to plunge into disease, into lies, into dishonor, that you may conquer them. You may not otherwise be saved. If the road which leads you to your liberation is the road of virtue, of joy, of truth, it is then you duty to plunge into virtue, into joy, into truth, that you may conquer them and leave them behind you. You may not otherwise be saved.”
It has always seemed clear to me that someone stuck in a life of disease, lies, and dishonor should conquer that life, to leave it behind and, thus, be liberated. In my mind, when you leave that life you enter a life of virtue, joy, and truth and are liberated from all the things that cause the pain. What I find interesting is those on the road of virtue, joy, and truth, are also encouraged to conquer that life, to leave it behind and, thus, be liberated.
I have always seen my charmed life as something to be coveted and something for which to strive. The danger is that I see my charmed life as a consequence of my own efforts and I become jaded toward those suffering the evils of life. It seems natural to adopt a superior attitude toward others, thinking that if they only did things my way their lives would be different.
Lord, forgive me for my attitude of superiority. Give me the grace to leave my charmed life and to empathize with others, showing them the nature of the God who loves them as much as you love me.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Shaken Confidence

Monday 11/20/2017 5:03 AM
When I was younger I thought I had a lot of things figured out. I believed that as I matured in life, and in my faith, things that I didn’t have figured out would come into focus and I would become more knowledgeable about God and the things of God. Boy, was I wrong! It seems that rather than having more knowledge and understanding I am questioning even the things I thought I had figured out. What I thought were simple, black and white issues have become colored with varying shades of gray and the simple answers no longer satisfy the complicated questions.
I find that I often disagree with those in the broader Christian community regarding many issues regarding society and the Christian’s role in seeking the kingdom of God here on earth. This has resulted in my questioning my faith and my own relationship with God. I sometimes despair and wonder if I have wandered from the path that leads to God.
The first verse of John Pratt Green’s hymn When Our Confidence is Shaken provides some hope that God may still be working with me.
When our confidence is shaken
In beliefs we thought secure,
When the spirit in its sickness
Seeks but cannot find a cure,
God is active in the tensions
Of a faith not yet mature.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Stability or Balance?

Friday 11/17/2017 6:08 AM
I read an excerpt from Living with Contradiction, by Esther de Waal, today. “What I am looking for is some sort of balance in my life – a balance ‘so delicate, so risky, so creative’, as Maria Boulding puts it, that she likens it to a bird in flight, a dancer in motion.”
I’m looking for balance in my life too, but I think I don’t think it’s the same kind of balance she is looking for. My kind of balance could better be described by the word stability. I have a plastic bird in my office that has a center of mass at the tip of its beak. It balances on its beak on a small pedestal and teeters, swaying with every passing waft of air but never falling off the pedestal. That feeling like you might fall at any minute is not one that I appreciate. I like to have both feet on the ground, standing firmly planted so nothing moves me.
The problem with stability is that when the ground shifts underneath, the stable structure can topple and fall, evidenced by buildings during an earthquake. The balancing bird would remain on its pedestal while swaying with the motion of the ground.
I desire stability. God knows that balance is better for me. Life can be chaotic and extremely unstable. When I live with balance I will never fall. I’ll simply bob and sway in the chaos.

Friday, October 13, 2017

No Worries

Friday 10/13/2017 6:45 AM
Over the course of the past month or so different parts of world have experienced many natural and manmade disasters. Hurricanes Harvey and Maria devastated Texas, many Caribbean islands, and Florida, there was a mass shooting by a terrorist in Las Vegas, bombings in the Middle East, an earthquake in Mexico, and wildfires in California. Each disaster brought with it terror, devastation, and loss of life. There are stories of miraculous survival and also those of tragic loss. In addition to these disasters North Korea has been testing intercontinental ballistic missiles and they have detonated a hydrogen bomb while the presidents of the two countries wage a war of words that suggests nuclear war. If news sources are to be believed we need to live in fear of what may happen next.
What a welcome change it was to read Psalm 3:3-6 this morning. They provide a different perspective to that of the local and national news. “But you, Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, the one who lifts my head high. I call out to the Lord, and he answers me from his holy mountain. I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the Lord sustains me. I will not fear though tens of thousands assail me on every side.”
I do not believe that just because I believe in God he will keep everything bad from happening to me but I do believe that God provides for what I need regardless of what happens. In spite of what comes my way God will sustain me in and through it using the unlimited resources he has available. That allows me to sleep at night without worry in a world beset with trouble.