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.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Foolishness and Wisdom

Sunday 9/24/2017 5:38 AM
Lately it seems like all rational thought and common sense has left our society. Civility is no longer exercised in our discourse. In general, it seems like we behave like spoiled children, from the lowliest members of society to the President of the United States. What we need is a strong dose of wisdom from our leaders, not the attitude and behavior of a middle schooler.
Eugene Peterson describes wisdom in his book Earth and Altar. He writes, “The opposite of foolish in Scripture is wise. Wise refers to skill in living. It does not mean, primarily, the person who knows the right answers to things, but one who has developed the right responses (relationships) to persons, to God. The wise understand how the world works; know about patience and love, listening and grace, adoration and beauty; know that other people are awesome creatures to be respected and befriended, especially the ones that I cannot get anything out of; know that the earth is a marvelously intricate gift to be cared for and enjoyed; know that God is an every-present center, a never-diminishing reality, an all-encompassing love; and know that there is not living being that does not reach out gladly and responsively to [God] and the nation/kingdom/community in which [God] has placed us.”
I long for the day when our society tires of our dysfunctional way of living and begins to exercise the patience, love, listening, grace, adoration, and respect to which Peterson refers. A day when people and relationships are nurtured and appreciated and our environment is cared for, protected, and enjoyed. We need to turn from our foolishness and begin exercising our wisdom.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

A Cartoon Life

Tuesday 8/22/2017 5:37 AM
I had a number of dreams last night. In some of them I was teaching students in strange settings. One class met in a preschool classroom complete with small, undersized chairs. Another met in a hotel room located in one of the upper floors of a skyscraper in a large city. The elevators didn’t work so I had to climb many flights of stairs to get from my office to the classroom. After I got there I discovered I didn’t have a working whiteboard marker and had to get some from the division office, also located on one of the bottom floors. When I finally got back to the classroom my students were working together at tables, teaching the lesson to themselves and doing their homework. I walked around to answer questions but they had none. It seemed that I was totally unheard and unneeded. I woke to the strangest dream of all. I was in a barbershop getting my hair cut. The other people in the dream were cartoon characters, it was a silent dream, and the dream was in vivid color. The characters were extremely busy, running around the shop doing various tasks, and their mouths were moving as if they were talking but there was no sound whatsoever, either from their feet hitting the floor or from their conversation, and my hair was left uncut.
The last dream reminded me somewhat of modern western society. Everyone seems extremely busy, running from home, to work, to extracurricular activities, and then back home. They post pictures and comments about their busy lives on Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, and other social media, trying to impress others with their importance. The internet is full of websites containing conflicting viewpoints and conflicting facts, so much so that it is nearly impossible to sort out the truth from the lies. Political parties spin events and comments made by politicians to further their agendas, without regard to truth or accuracy. Groups of individuals meet to protest and counter-protestors also come to express their opinions and clash with one another, which often leads to violence. It seems the world is full of people running around with lives lived in full color for all to see, shouting vacuous words devoid of truth or accuracy. There seems to be a lot of hoopla and flapping of gums but little substance to bring about meaningful change.
My reading today included these words by Anthony of Souroszh from a pamphlet titled Meditations on a Theme. He writes, “… you choose your life, that is to say, you choose all the conditions of your life, when you choose the thoughts upon which you allow your mind to dwell. Thought is the real causative force in life, and there is no other. … This means that you cannot change your environment while leaving your mind unchanged, nor can you change your mind without your environment changing too. This then is the real key to life: if you change your mind your conditions must change too – your body must change, your daily work or other activities must change; your home must change; the color-tone of your whole life must change – for whether you be habitually happy and cheerful, or low-spirited and fearful, depends entirely on the quality of the mental food upon which you diet yourself. … We are transformed by the renewing of our minds.”
I do not want to be a cartoon character in the world, running about making a big commotion in full, living color, without having any impact on those around me. If Anthony of Souroszh is to be believed I need to change what I feed my mind in order to change my environment. The Bible gives instructions on how Christians should live in the latter part of Ephesians 4. Paul writes, “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. … Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need. Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. … Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” It seems the teaching of Paul in Ephesians is the same as that of Anthony of Souroszh, if I change my mind it will affect the way I interact with others, which will change my environment. I need to heed the words of Philippians 4:8, “Finally brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”
Thinking differently and living differently will keep me from being cartoon-like in the world and will give real voice to my life, one that others can hear.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Me or Them?

Tuesday 8/8/2017 6:16 AM
I often pray that God would give me eyes to see the world the way he sees it. The result of that prayer is that I am more aware of the brokenness of our world and I look at people with more compassion that I did before. It’s easy to become judgmental and cynical if you have no empathy for others. In the book Living with Apocalypse, Tilden Edwards writes, “Spiritual awareness for Christians, at its fullest, means seeing life through God’s sound eye. We could use other senses to describe this awareness: hearing life through God’s ear, touching life through God’s strength, feeling life through God’s compassion. … Saint Paul called us to live in the mind of Christ so fully that we can say with him, ‘Not I, but Christ, lives in me.’ The ‘I’ that no longer lives then is the one that sees itself as an ultimately self-willed, self-centered being. The new ‘I’ is one that lives moment by moment in the awareness that we are an intimate and unique expression of God’s joy and compassion, living freely by grace, called to reverberate the joy and compassion, utterly interdependent with Creator and creation. The test of any spiritual discipline is whether or not it assists this deep awareness for us. Without spiritual discipline we become easier prey to the old ‘I’ that is full of possessiveness, fear, greed, anxiety, violence, indolence, untrustworthiness, willfulness, confusion, and all the other marks of life disconnected from our true being in God.”
When I look at the society in which I live I see many people who are possessive, fearful, greedy, anxious, violent, indolent, untrustworthy, willful, and confused. This is not surprising if Edwards is right about the way people live when they are disconnected from their true being in God. The most troubling to me is these are also the characteristics of those who make the strongest claim to being Christian. It seems impossible that those who are looking at others through the eyes of Christ would be so self-centered, concerned only for themselves without concern for others. As the broader Christian community we need to be more compassionate and less judgmental. This, of course, must begin with me.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Contentment in My Work

Thursday 7/27/2017 7:11 AM
I have always enjoyed my work as a math teacher. I feel as if I were created for the job. Of course, as in any job, there are times when I become frustrated by the bureaucracy of education, but overall, it is a wonderful job. I am content in my work and, although retirement is inevitable, I am not longing for it.
Today I read a quote by Mother Teresa from her book Words to Love By that speaks of being content. “The work we do is only our love for Jesus in action. … If we pray the work … if we do it to Jesus, if we do it for Jesus, if we do it with Jesus … that’s what makes us content.” While I make no claim to have done this perfectly I have tried to see my work as something done for God. I am teaching people made in the image of God, who are children of God. If I can keep that in the forefront of my mind I am more likely to give my best, to work my hardest, to be more patient, and in the final say, be content in my work as a result.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Foggy Glasses

Thursday 7/13/2017 7:38 AM
I am sitting on the deck at Ryan and Kate’s house after having come back from my morning run. It rained during the night and this morning it was quite humid as I ran. I found it difficult to run and I stopped after three miles, hoping to cool down a little before I got back to their house. Currently I’m sweating profusely and when I put on my glasses to read my devotional material they fog up. The combination of heat and humidity cause my glasses to steam up, which inhibits my ability to see things clearly. The humidity and the temperature are supposed to go down over the course of the next couple of days. Hopefully my runs in the next couple of days will be more enjoyable and my glasses will remain clear allowing me to see clearly.
My reading today included an excerpt from To Walk Together Again, by Richard M. Gula. He writes, “When we begin to confine God to specifically religious areas of life, we are forced to turn away from the ordinary experiences of life in order to be touched by the gracious reality of God. Yet this is not the way it was for Jesus. The fundamental message of Jesus about God is that human life is the home of God. Do not look anywhere else.” One thing that has frustrated me over the past year or so is that I have little desire to maintain my daily routine of personal devotions. In the past, when I would go through a stage like this, God would speak to me through everyday things that occurred and passages of scripture would come to mind even though I wasn’t reading my Bible. Over the past year I feel as if God has been silent, not even speaking to me through my circumstances. It seems like my world is fogged over, similar to my glasses this morning, inhibiting my ability to see God or to hear his voice. I trust that as I move past the grief of losing my mom and the stress induced through other areas of my life I will again experience the reality of God’s presence in my everyday life as the fog that is currently inhibiting my view clears.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Abundance and Relationships

Wednesday 5/10/2017 5:20 AM
When I’m on my motorcycle I have an unhindered view of the world. All of my senses are bombarded as I ride along. I see the beauty of a cloud formation, the distant mountains, and a flowering plant in the median as I wait for a light to change. I feel the subtle changes in temperature as the wind blows across my face. I smell the pleasant fragrance of a bed of flowering jasmine or a street lined with jacarandas, which also overwhelm with their purple beauty. I smell the rancid odor of rotting road kill and the pungent odor of a skunk that had to protect itself.
Last night I was watching a television show about new, bizarre life forms that have been discovered by unmanned submarines plumbing the depths of the ocean. It seems the universe is a cornucopia of differing environments that are populated by a plethora of differing physical structures and life forms.
Yesterday I attended the funeral of Joe, a family friend. After the service family and friends gathered at their house to visit with one another, and to reminisce. Food that had been purchased and made by family and friends festooned the island in the kitchen and the dining room table. The food that was displayed mirrored the abundance that is found in the world, with a wide variety of colors, textures, and savory flavors. We sat at tables decorated with different kinds of flowers: daisies, mums, lilies, carnations, roses, snapdragons, etc., each with its unique shape, color, hue, and fragrance. White clouds floated across the deep blue sky as birds flitted among the trees. Different groups of people were sitting at each table aged from a few months to ninety plus years. Among them were musicians, engineers, nurses, pastors, factory workers, technicians, educators, businessmen and businesswomen, to name a few. Different personalities evidenced themselves as people interacted, some withdrawn, seeking quiet and solitude, while others moved from group to group like a honeybee visiting different flowers in its search for pollen and nectar. Each person there was unique. Each with his own set of circumstances, her own talents and abilities, and her own personality.
Today I read an excerpt from Earth and Altar, by Eugene Peterson, that reminded me of my experiences yesterday. He writes, “We do not begin life on our own. We do not finish it on our own. Life, especially when we experience by faith the complex interplay of creation and salvation, is not fashioned out of our own genetic lumber and cultural warehouses. It is not hammered together with the planks and nails of our thoughts and dreams, our feelings and fancies. We are not self-sufficient. We enter a world that is created by God, that already has a rich history and is crowded with committed participants – a world of animals and mountains, of politics and religion; a world where people build houses and raise children, where volcanoes erupt lava and rivers flow to the sea; a world in which, however carefully we observe and watch and study it, surprising things keep on taking place. We keep on being surprised because we are in on something beyond our management, something over our heads. In prayer we realize and practice our part in this intricate involvement with absolutely everything that is, no matter how remote it seems to us or how indifferent we are to it. This prayer is not an emotional or aesthetic sideline that we indulge in after our real work is done; it is the connective tissue of our far-flung existence. The world of creation interpenetrates the world of redemption. The world of redemption interpenetrates the world of creation. The extravagantly orchestrated skies and the exuberantly fashioned earth are not background to provide a little beauty on the periphery of the godlike ego; they are the large beauty in which we find our true home, room in which to live the cross and Christ expansively, openhearted in praise.”
I am not meant to walk through this world alone. God provides infinite stimuli to enrich my life: colors, textures, odors, and temperatures, each tickling one of my senses that are perfect for detecting the stimuli. People too, like the rest of creation, have a variety of personalities and abilities that enrich my life. I can live most fully when I engage with others in healthy relationships, bathing my life with the uniqueness each person has to offer.
Over the past months I have withdrawn from this lavish creation as I deal with the grief of my mom’s death. I’m quite certain that Joe’s family will experience many of the same feelings I have as the year progresses and they may also withdraw. Today I was assigned to read Jeremiah 31:11-14. Jeremiah is known as the weeping prophet but his message in chapter 31 is one of hope for those living in want and under oppression. “For the Lord will deliver (his people) and redeem them from the hand of those stronger than they. They will come and shout for joy on the heights of Zion; they will rejoice in the bounty of the Lord – the grain, the new wine and the olive oil, the young of the flocks and herds. They will be like a well-watered garden, and they will sorrow no more. Then young women will dance and be glad, young men and old as well. I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow. I will satisfy the priests with abundance, and my people will be filled with my bounty, declares the Lord.”
Today, in the middle of my sadness and self-imposed withdrawal, God brings me hope that joy will return, and the bounty of his creation, animate and inanimate alike, will fill the void. I pray that Joe's family will also have glimpses of this hope and comfort as they meander through their grief.