Monday, December 28, 2009
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Thursday, December 17, 2009
Saturday, December 12, 2009
Monday, December 7, 2009
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
2000 - Coldplay's Parachutes ; Nickel Creek's Nickel Creek
Saturday, November 7, 2009
All of my 5 classes at seminary have by now intersected on more than a few topics, and while I know this is by design in order that we would learn better by repeated exposure, I don't think they planned the intersection that has meant the most to me so far. That intersection is prayer. In some form or fashion, all of my classes have dealt with far-ranging things related to prayer, and it is as if the Chesterton book I read this summer is the matte-board to which they are all sticking.
We've gone over the Lord's prayer in interpretation class. We've discussed the theology of the prayers of the Psalms in Old Testament. We've examined the prayers of the early church in church history. We've thought about the deeper layers of prayer in spiritual formation. And we've even tackled praying in Greek class, going through a few short sections of the Scripture together.
While these points of emphases on prayer have not been underlined and highlighted by my professors, the little light in my head has been going off all semester as the Spirit has revealed connection after connection. And the central theme connecting everything together is gratitude.
Thomas Aquinas and Francis of Assisi learned through a long lifetime of obedience to see God in all aspects of life, from the tiniest parts of creation to the loftiest of existential questions. But this didn't just occur overnight in their conversion experiences. It was a sort of gradual process that was facilitated through daily gratitude. As they learned to give thanks to God for everything in their lives, these men of faith started to have the scales removed from their eyes, and I don't think we've had two such persons since who have seen God at work so actively in the world.
If we can't be thankful in the little things, what kind of heart do we have? If we can't thank God for the small moment of rest or the sandwich we had for lunch then what does that say about the alignment of the motives of our heart? Gratitude sees God, selfishness sees ourselves. Gratitude realizes that the gifts of life are from God, and are not to be possessed and worried over, but are to be thanked, praised, and enjoyed. Selfishness might not be as scary a thing on the outside as some of the more grievous, hard-hitting sins, but I venture to say (from experience) that it is the most debilitating disposition for the disciple of Christ to have.
Selfishness turns us sour from the inside out and affects every part of our lives. It grows scales over our eyes that keep us from seeing our brothers and sisters in need, and keeps us as well from seeing the beautiful gifts that God has given us through creation and through his more personal daily activity. In short, selfishness is a disease, and must be purposely fought. The great antidote to selfishness comes in the unassuming form of gratitude. Thanking God for the good times and the bad, for our very breath in the morning and the gifts he bestows upon us every day, for the big and the small. Slowly gratitude works inside of us to bring us new eyes and new hearts, through the wondrous work of the Spirit, and we begin to walk down the same road that the great disciples of our faith (including Aquinas and Francis) journeyed upon, and it makes all the difference in the world.
Monday, November 2, 2009
If you ever looked in your grandparents (or even great-grandparents) closet as a youngster, you will probably recognize many of the clothes represented in this slideshow of pictures. I found this story about a photographer from the 50's who recently died. He focused on normal every day people, and I enjoyed browsing these elegant photographs and stepping into another world. Take a look for yourself:
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
I've been reading a book by Eugene Peterson for one of my classes. It's called The Wisdom of Each Other, and it's a series of based-on-reality fictional letters between Peterson and a distant friend who has just converted to the Christian faith. Sprinkled throughout the letters are numerous one-liners that catch you off guard and make you want to put the book down and stop and think. And since most of the letters are fairly short in nature, Peterson really has to pack-in what he wants to say. I think he does a fine job.
One of the key themes he talks about in the book is church--what it is, what it does, and some of its pitfalls. In describing these elements of the church, I found myself really resonating with one particular description of the act of church, ie worshipping God with other believers. Peterson says, "every call to worship is a call into the Real World". Maybe that doesn't strike you as that astounding of a quote, but let me unpack it a little bit.
What he is referring to with regards to waking up to the Real World is what I experienced in my walk the other day. Our daily realities more often than not resemble the worldly conception of reality rather than the Godly conception of reality. The world's conceptions of truth, beauty, community, family, self-worth, freedom, etc., are like fractions compared to whole numbers. They work up to a certain point, but inevitably falter because they are too shallow.
The truth is, our conception of reality (which is most often just like the world's) is too shallow. We fail to see the invisible mysteries of God at work all around us or witness the tiny miracles of daily living, mostly because we are either too self-absorbed to notice anything other than ourselves (this describes me accurately) or we are running too fast on the treadmill of life. Church, then, or rather the act of worshipping together, reminds us of the Real World. It brings us back to the truth that God is big and God is in control and God is at work all around us. That is the story we enter in when we worship together on Sundays.
I need that wake-up call every day, especially in those days that feel like re-runs, like nothing new is happening, that all that is really going on is something that has happened before. It's in those times, more often than not, that the tiny miracles of God are embedded, waiting for me to notice. Waking up to the reality of God every day is difficult, but it is to discipleship what brushing our teeth in the morning before we walk out the door is to the rest of the day.
Monday, October 12, 2009
Friday, October 9, 2009
15 i He is the image of j the invisible God, k the firstborn of all creation.16 For by  him all things were created, l in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether m thrones or n dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created o through him and for him. 17 And p he is before all things, and in him all things q hold together. 18 And r he is the head of the body, the church. He is s the beginning, t the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For u in him all the v fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and w through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, x making peace y by the blood of his cross.
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Monday, September 28, 2009
Saturday, September 19, 2009
Saturday, September 12, 2009
Where have you lost hope today? Where in your life do you feel despondent, unresponsive, unable to see the hand of the Lord working? I think if we’re all brutally honest, not a day goes by without some area or another of our lives being affected by temporary hopelessness. You might say, wow, that’s a strong word to put on it: hopelessness. But really, that’s what is happening, even if it is just a momentary thing. It’s not just other people that struggle with hopelessness, people without Christ, but more often than not it’s we, the believers in Christ, who struggle the most with hopelessness.
Throughout the storylines of the Old Testament Israel repeatedly loses hope in God. Reading the Exodus narrative and Jeremiah or Isaiah show Israel on this roller-coaster-like faith journey. One minute they are up, doing the will of God, following and obeying His commands. Then they turn aside and turn inward to themselves (see: Aaron and the golden calf, ex. 32). They lose hope. It’s not the nations outside of Israel that have lost hope, because they have never had it in the first place. And it’s the same with us today. It’s not the unbelievers who struggle the most with hopelessness, because they have never tasted true hope found in Jesus Christ. We are the ones who have met the all-powerful Living God and have let our lives remain the same.
In my last post I mentioned how we can let our sinfulness become the controlling narrative of our lives. How when we focus so much on ourselves, it leads to us filtering our lives through ourselves and not through the lens of God and His promises to us. I think this is especially problematic for those of us who are more introspective in nature. Even good, healthy introspection, examining one’s heart, can turn into unhealthy self-centeredness if it is not done with God’s grand narrative as the backdrop.
When we take away the promises of God and have no framework of His amazing faithfulness, we are left with only ourselves, and that’s enough to make anyone hopeless. It’s the controlling narrative of God’s faithfulness, though, that has guided the Church ever since Jesus came and declared the arrival of the Kingdom of God. Think of those lengthy Psalms (104 & 105, for instance) which retell the story of God’s faithfulness to His covenant promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Think of Isaiah 40, where God, through Isaiah, reminds the people of Israel that he has never left them, that He does not grow weary, and that He is their everlasting God.
Remembering the faithfulness of God gives us hope for every aspect of our lives. By meditating and dwelling on His faithfulness, our fluctuating levels of self-confidence turn into complete God-confidence. We do not live in the power of ourselves, but in the power of God, so how much confidence we feel in ourselves doesn’t matter anymore. God-confidence chooses to remember the faithfulness and the promises of God, giving us hope and boldness in the name of Jesus Christ. God-confidence was a central ingredient of the Church in Acts. It ceases to matter if one person has more ability than another or if one person seems to continually make the same mistakes. God-confidence washes away our self-centered attitudes about our lives and puts the focus back on God’s redemptive work through Jesus Christ, which turns our despondency and hopelessness into life-changing and life-giving hope.
What does this entail, though? How is this kind of God-confidence something that can become the controlling narrative of our lives? There’s no quick solution here. It comes down to absorbing oneself in the Word of God, His eternal promises and plan of redemption. It comes down to choosing to worship and pray, even when we don’t feel like it, knowing that God is not interested in our ideas of efficiency. He just wants us. All of us. Here we are, much like Moses felt right after God told him he would be the one to go to Pharaoh to demand the release of the Israelites. But it’s God’s response that matters, and it is a response that has resonated throughout the Scriptures to bring hope and promise to lives that otherwise are broken and despondent:
“But Moses said to God: “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” He (God) said, “But I will be with you.” (Ex. 3:11-12)
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
Usually I leave class thinking about something the prof brought up, and the past few days it's all run together, centered around this question: Do I live like I really believe in the resurrection power of Jesus Christ?
Thursday, September 3, 2009
Well of course I got out of bed. But why was it so hard in the first place? Usually it's not a big deal, but today was just one of those days. Maybe it's the fact that I had a hard time falling asleep last night. It's usually not very hard for me to fall asleep, especially after long days at school and at the library studying. But last night my body and mind couldn't get on the same page, and as a result my mind raced right on by as my body called out for sleep.
I was thinking about something that is very simple to say, but is so nuanced once you start thinking about it and going deeper. I was thinking about this question: what does my life say? What is the message that my life is speaking? Is it a unified message, or is a discordant cacophony of mixed messages?
I want my life to speak of Jesus Christ. In all my life, every aspect, I want to point to Christ. It seems so simple, and in a way, it really is: look to Christ, continually, submitting to Him and obeying Him each moment of the day. But therein lies the difficulty. My selfishness wages war against this lifestyle of submission and obedience, and more often than not wins out. It's in the little things, the seemingly small and meaningless decisions of the day that the battle is won or lost. What I choose to think about when no one is around. What my heart holds dear and longs for.
Being a good person on the outside is not the goal. It's too demanding, and there is no fulfillment, because fulfilling the self with more self is like pouring water into a bottomless jar. I was not designed for moralism divorced from Christ. I was designed for Christ, for direct intimacy with Him, which produces the fruit that other people see.
So it comes back to the small, daily decisions, which no one but God sees. These are the crucibles where I grow, where I learn the way of faith through obedience and submission to Christ. I may not understand why it is so difficult, volitionally, to choose against seemingly innocuous things, but in my heart I know what the Lord requires of me.
It's not that playing the xbox is wrong, or watching television, or surfing through my favorite websites, even. It's not that these things in and of themselves are wrong, it is the wisdom of knowing what place they have in my day. The battle is not so much against the things I know are wrong, clearly wrong, but it's against the things that really are not bad in and of themselves, but which push me towards mediocrity, laziness, and complacency.
I need rest. I need time to relax and just hang loose. But wisdom is knowing when I need to drop those things and sit a while with Christ, resting before Him and letting Him breathe His Word and Spirit into me afresh. Daily submission and obedience to Him, even when I don't feel like it, and even when I don't even think I need it.
So what is my life saying? Well, I'll try to follow the advice of Jesus himself: "seek first the kingdom of God". And, as Keith Green liked to say, "he'll take care of the rest".
Monday, August 31, 2009
Not so in my new classes. I need every ounce of attention and focus inside of me in order to retain what I'm learning. I'm learning what Brother Lawrence termed "simple attention". He explains "simple attention" as the pathway He took to resting in the presence of God, allowing himself to be fully present in his current situation, not distracted by the events of the last few moments or the tyranny of the future.
This is a concept that is very difficult for me, especially with all the technology and other tools of distraction around me. Being fully present before the Lord is so essential in experiencing the joy of fellowship with Him, but it requires intentional self-sacrifice, a decision to shut off all other avenues that seek entrance into the mind. It's something that looks different for each of us as disciples of Christ. As a student, my distractions are different than those of someone juggling a job, marriage, or other commitment. But we are all the same in that we need the fellowship of the Lord.
Learning to "practice the presence of God" and to give Him my "simple attention" is proving to be a difficult journey, but one that has its rewards as well. With all the theology, hermeneutics, language, and Bible knowledge I'm learning in seminary, the garden of my heart can easily become crowded and choked with weeds if I am not attentive to keep the simple concept of "practicing the presence of God" before me continually. For what does it matter if I believe in Biblical authority yet never open the Bible to drink deeply from it? What does it matter if I know the ins and outs of Old and New Testament theology if it is not changing the way I treat other people?
Knowledge is good, but it puffs up. True wisdom is knowing Christ, and it starts with the fear of the Lord, being humble before Him. Only when I start with humility can I reach the higher plains of academia without becoming inflated by my own desperate ego. Simple attention. Practicing the presence of God.
Thursday, August 27, 2009
The rising of the sun each day reminds me of the evernew mercies of God. "For his mercies are new every morning". What a beautiful concept to remember. I need that mercy new today, just like I need to be reminded of the sacrifice of my Savior who defeated death and rose again to new life, offering me new life as well. The rising sun points to Jesus in that way, too.
Nature is laced with little reminders of God, and I can't think of a better way to start the morning than with a cup of good, strong, coffee, a Psalm, and a window with a view.
Monday, August 17, 2009
As I'm waiting for the computer to restart, I go over and take a swig of water, trying to stay somewhat hydrated before my run later that evening, but when I come back to the computer, I see that it's stuck on the white apple start-up screen. 10 minutes later I start to get worried. This has never happened with my computer, hopefully it's just a little glitch, right? I reboot the computer several times, all with no luck. That darn white apple start-up page is the farthest it will go. After 30 minutes of this, I start to realize something very profound, and it causes me to slightly panic, kind of like that slow, horrible feeling you get when you realize you've locked your car keys in the car...
I'm an idiot. I haven't backed up my computer in 4 months. Not a single file, since the end of school, is safely backed-up on a thumb drive or external hard drive. They are, all of them, trapped inside my computer, hostages from their creator. (it's okay, you can laugh) It's at this point that I am kicking my self, well, at least i'm doing so in my head. How could I be so stupid? Tomorrow I'm presenting all of my files to my supervisor, and here I am with zero access to them. How great will that sound..."uh, so I lost all my files last night, sorry"...
In the midst of my internal panic and fascination with the new depths of stupidity that I had reached, I started to finally get a grip. Come on mark, you know a thing or two about computers, put that limited knowledge to some sort of use here. So i try the few tricks I know, but they are all hopelessly falling short, reminding me that I am utterly and completely out of control.
I need some sort of miracle here, or at least i need my computer to start acting properly. I've tried everything I know to do, but still I'm completely helpless, in need of some saving grace...
Fastforward 2 hours, in which time i've succumb to the realization that I won't get these files back. I've started the tricky process of rationalizing this bizarre event in my head, coming up with clever excuses to feed my supervisor tomorrow. But there's that sinking feeling down deep, realizing that nothing I can say will hide my idiocy. "You mean in 3 months you didn't back up one single file?...wow mark, college degree taught you a lot, eh?"
I walk back to my computer, to the lost cause that it is, and give it a go one last time. It hems and haws, but then, strangely, and for reasons i still can't really quite put together, it comes back. Oh my goodness! I race to my room to get my external hard drive, sprinting up the stairs like i'm back in high school finishing a leg of the 4x100 meter relay. I get to my computer, plug the hard drive in, and set to work backing up all those crazy files. 30 minutes later, i'm done, and absolutely astonished at the events of the evening.
With my backup complete, I finally take that run i'd been gearing up for earlier in the evening, starting out way too fast and screwing up any notion of "pace" known to man. But I didn't care. It was great. I felt like a man with a monkey off his back. After cooling down, showering, and grabbing some water, I come back to the computer, turn it on, but get nothing. That's right, nothing...
Miraculously, in the long, slow, process of the death of my computer, I somehow got 30 minutes with it before it croaked. Like one of those old stories from the middle ages where the dying monk holds on to life until receiving his last rites, my computer somehow managed to give me 30 minutes before it finally died...
Needless to say, I gained a new perspective on mercy that evening. Undeserved, unmerited, mercy. I found grace watching my computer die.
Thursday, August 13, 2009
"Life without Jesus is like a dry garden, baking in the sun. It is foolish to want anything that conflicts with Jesus. What can the world give you without Jesus? His absence is hell; his presence, paradise. If Jesus is with you, no enemy can injure you. Whoever finds Jesus has discovered a great treasure, the best of all possible good. The loss of him is a tremendous misfortune, more than the loss of the entire world. Poverty is life without Jesus, but close friendship with him is incalculable wealth." - Bernard Bangley, paraphrasing Thomas a Kempis
Monday, August 10, 2009
Peaches: the soft, slightly fuzzy peach is one of my favorite summertime snacks. it's one of those fruits that I get more excited about as I eat. Each bite brings me more enjoyment, and the juicier the peach, the more fun it is. It's a total tactile experience.
Baseball: i'm not usually that excited about baseball in april or may, partly because i'm still in basketball mode, but once June hits, I usually start to slowly get excited about the baseball season. Maybe it's the fact that it's pretty much the only summertime sport to follow besides golf. Perhaps it's because the days are longer, and baseball just seems like the right thing to follow. Whatever the case, summertime is a great time to go to a ballpark and watch a good baseball game, or sit down on a weekend afternoon and snooze in between innings while in a comfortable chair. (maybe all of the above is an attempt to just rationalize my bordering-on-obsession with fantasy baseball)
Long Days: it's such a nice thing to experience the season of summer, when the sun stays afloat till almost 9 PM after going through winter, when darkness sets in before dinnertime. there are all sorts of things to enjoy about the longer days: more time to sit outside (if there's a good breeze), more reason to go on a dusk-inspired jog, even the simple joy of watching a nice sunset.
Good Music: okay, so i'm purposefully being vague here. insert your own favorite music for summer. mine always seems to be a mix of acoustic/groove/jazz. I'll go from listening to Mindy Smith to Woody Guthrie, to Guy Clark, to Art Tatum, to Wild Sweet Orange. And this summer, as it happens, my soundtrack for the summer happens to be the new cd from Wild Sweet Orange.
that's just a small list, and there's so much more. what are some of your favorite things about the summer?
Thursday, August 6, 2009
My eyes wander for a moment from the teeming skies above and land on a different scene. The lake is far enough away so that it looks a little bit tamer than it looks right up close, and from my vantage point perched on a hill a hundred yards away, the ducks that call it home look like little toys. They flap their wings as they fly inches above the surface, crisscrossing the lake when they get tired of swimming. But plenty of them are content with swimming, and they glide silently across the water, leaving tiny wakes that turn into big V’s as they continue on their journey. I don’t know why they fly and swim from one side of the lake to the other, but am glad they do.
It is all a drama, and it is all unfolding in front of my eyes whether I am paying attention to it or not. It is all there, and it speaks timeless truths to the discordant life. Maybe I should stop to watch more often.
Saturday, August 1, 2009
I’m seeing more and more that the method of “boiling it down”, “it” being situations, people, arguments, ideas, etc., is one of the worst ways to approach life, yet it is such a hard thing to unlearn. It goes like this: I’ve learned my whole life, through a wonderful education, that a quick shortcut to doing well in school is “boiling it down” to what you “need to know”. Don’t get lost in the trees and miss the forest. So, instead of really trying to wrap my brain around difficult concepts, I take the easier approach and memorize the acronym for the test, ready to sum up, in a nutshell, the main points of this argument or that theory.
It turns out that this method of processing information is terribly unsuited for really arriving at satisfying conclusions in life. But it just gets easier and easier to do. You quickly turn from boiling down the facts for the test to boiling down “those democrats” or “those republicans” to whatever label is easiest to understand. As this boiling down process starts to infect other areas of your life, it gets to be a kind of disease that paralyzes you from sympathizing with anyone that looks at life remotely differently than you do.
Before we know it, we end up looking around and all we see are people who look exactly like us, talk exactly like us, and think exactly like us. Maybe it’s easier this way, but it sure doesn’t involve any effort on our part to make our inner character translate to outer actions. The fact is, the most challenging and rewarding times in my life have come when I’ve been around people who’ve thought differently and approached life differently than I do. The summer I spent at Food for the Hungry with college students from all around the country, the year I spent on University Ministries council with people from different backgrounds, these were each moments in my life when my character was being sharpened.
These kinds of experiences have been good for me, I think, for several reasons. First of all, I’ve come to see the incredible value of truly listening to other people. I remember early on in my studies, one of my professors said that the whole idea of “putting yourself in the other persons shoes” was a terrible way to actually try and understand the perspective of someone else. And you know what, it’s true. It’s impossible for me to understand what another person is going through 95% of the time. But by opening my ears and heart and listening, truly listening, I can open up a flow of compassion that can speak to that person more than my feeble attempts to understand them. Listening really does matter.
I also found out quickly that one of the most important virtues I can seek from the Lord is wisdom. How do you know when to truly stand up for what you believe? How do you know when to shut up and listen? How do you, on the one hand, not cut off the other persons’ ear, and on the other stand up for what you believe even when it's not popular? It’s where the daily walk of faith is so vitally important, and where seeking after wisdom like a thirsty deer seeking water becomes a daily necessity. Wisdom is that intangible, and it’s only learned from the Father of wisdom. And, for those times when wisdom escapes me, it’s good to ask for forgiveness and seek reconciliation, for love covers a multitude of things.
I wonder how we each can see life so differently, but then again, maybe I’m glad that we do, because life wouldn’t be so interesting if everyone thought exactly like me.
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
This excellent biography of the much-beloved but oft misunderstood Saint from Assisi is often bundled along with the biography on Aquinas that Chesterton wrote as well. Such was the case with the book that I read. It came with both biographies bundled into one bound edition. In my discussion on the Aquinas biography, I spent more time talking about Chesterton as a biographer, trying to explain the traits and qualities that make him one of the most respected biographers of these two individuals. In this little review, I want to focus much more on the actual Saint Chesterton wrote about, Francis from Assisi.
Chesterton points out early on that it is hard to find a person who doesn’t like St. Francis if they know even the slightest bit of information about him. He is thus too-often over generalized and claimed as a champion of certain causes just because of the aura of his persona. He is the ultimate poster-boy for environmentalists, animal right’s activists, and the followers of the now trendy social justice movement in evangelical Christianity. It’s easy to see why when thinking of Saint Francis in only quant and idealized images. After all, he talked to the birds and renounced possessions in favor of spending time with the poor and outcast around him.
But to boil him down in such a narrow fashion misses the larger point that Chesterton makes so well. We like to focus on the Saint Francis who talked to the birds and hung out with the poor, but we don’t like as much to talk about his strict observance of the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, or even his deeply devotional asceticism. Many people want to boil down St. Francis to some mystical animal lover, with a rather detached sense of reality, more in line with a hippie of the American tradition than the actual vagabond that he was.
In reality, St. Francis was not detached from reality but rather so attached to it that we moderns have a hard time even understanding how someone can achieve such a state. When we boil him down we take for granted that he was a devout follower of Jesus Christ, who based his entire life around the concept that God created the natural world and we should thus revel in His creativity. We would rather point out his environmentalism and his social justice than his intense devotion and discipleship to Jesus Christ.
After reading this wonderful little account of the life of Saint Francis, I’m convicted to re-examine my own life and the reasons I do certain things. It was an unforeseen encouragement to read this book and discover, in so doing, that the devotion and relationship that Francis had with Jesus is something that you and I can cultivate deeper in our own lives. The Saint from Assisi lived his life in complete praise and thanksgiving before His Creator, and we who live in the Age of Progress would do well to spend a little time studying this man from Assisi who seemed to have his priorities in the right place.
I have never read more than a few selected excerpts from Thomas Aquinas, so I walked into this biography, written by G.K. Chesterton, with little background details of this famous theologian. I knew Aquinas mostly for his cosmological argument for the existence of God. But I quickly realized that what I knew of Aquinas was just a boiled down, over-simplified argument from one of the most brilliant minds to walk the earth.
Chesterton is a great writer, and he is great because of his versatility and his lucidity. He writes rollicking fiction, penetrating philosophy, and engaging biography, all the while retaining his distinct writer’s voice. He doesn’t get bogged down in the details of Aquinas’ daily life, which is the common cause for so many biographies being completely mind-numbingly boring unless you already care about the person. Instead, Chesterton chooses to tell the story of Aquinas, of his incredible intellect and his remarkable use of common sense.
The book makes you want to read Aquinas for yourself, and I think it gives you the necessary tools to do so. Chesterton shows not only the historical significance of Aquinas, but offers him as a bastion of clear thinking in an age we moderns like to look down upon. He turns our preconceived notions of the Reformation, the Enlightenment, and modern philosophy upside down, revealing the traits of Aquinas’ thinking that offer so much insight into our world today. And that is why I found the book fascinating. He takes Thomas Aquinas out of the tomb of compartmentalized history, shedding the rose-colored lens of progressivism that we tend to look through when we analyze anybody in history. What comes out is a story of a man whose way of thinking could be so useful for us today.
Chesterton doesn’t give the biographer’s usual golf clap to his subject’s life, making the person seem so far removed from the present. Rather, he tells the story of Thomas Aquinas, and along the way you get the sense that there are truths to be mined in the writings of Aquinas that speak to our current lives just as much as they did to the people of long ago.
All these traits make this book a solid read for anyone who enjoys a good story, and I think it’s safe to say that you will come out the other side with a fresh perspective not only on Aquinas, but on the broader realm of thinking in general.
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Outside magazine recently published an article entitled "How fit are you?", replete with charts, pictures, and diagrams to help you figure out how fit you are. They talked about different kinds of fitness: flexibility, core strength, cardio, power, etc., and had different exercises to try to see how fit you are with regards to each measure. I thought it was fascinating, and after I tried most of the exercises (some better than others!) I thought I'd try my hand at my own "How fit are you?" diagnostic:
Get winded after a leisurely jaunt up a flight of stairs? Try running for 30 minutes 3-4 times a week, incorporating some yoga or pilates, buying new workout clothes and eating high-protein power bars, because we all know fitness is all about making other people think you are fit.
Bored after reading or praying for 10 minutes? Try creating some Sabbath time each week, using that time to reconnect with God. Or, if that doesn’t work, go to your nearest bookstore and make yourself feel better by buying the nearest copy of Your Best Life Now or Your Own Jesus.
Go to the grocery store and have a hard time keeping track of your tab as you are shopping? Tired of being outwitted in conversation? Boost your mental acumen by checking out a few literary classics from the local library. If that doesn’t work, stand in front of your mirror and repeat the phrase “I am a smart person” 10 times per day (or until you start laughing)
Explode into tears as the slightest bit of sentimentality? Iced-over stone replacing your heart these days? Why don’t you try starting a journal. It can be a wonderful step to letting your emotions run their course. Or, if you don’t want to actually take the time to process your emotions, turn on a bit of popular radio or make a special effort to be a caller on the next edition of Delilah.
Dread the 10 minutes a day you spend without your closest buddies? Interact with more books per week than people? Try organizing a board-game party (note, stay away from throwing bored-game parties) or go on a weekend adventure with a few good friends. If those two options don’t sound appealing, spend an evening catching up on facebook statuses.
Does your room look like a yard-sale waiting to happen? Spent more time in the shower than outside? Why don’t you take a few moments and organize your room, develop a recycling system for your house, and take a walk around the neighborhood. Or you could just forget it all and read the latest national geographic “100 ways to save the environment” article.
Total fitness. There you have it.
Monday, July 20, 2009
I think we're all good at different things. Some people are really good artists. Some people are really good at making things and then fixing them. Others are good at sports. It goes on and on. And I think the same is true, to an extent, with our dispositions and attitudes. Let's face it, some people are better at comforting than others. Case in point: I wouldn't want my track coach in the room if i had just found out some terrible bit of news. But, on the other hand, he was really great at motivating and encouraging, and i'd sure want him around if i was given an incredibly difficult task that i didn't think i could complete.
But whether or not we're disposed to being more encouraging or more compassionate or whatever, that's not really the point. I'm re-learning (and i think it's a lifetime education) that effort alone does not produce the fruits of a life connected to God. More times than not, effort just produces temporary results and ends in a frustrating failure.
Knowing God is more important than my efforts to try to serve God. I keep thinking of John 15, about the vine and the branches. Too often I rush off to go and try my best to fight the ills of the world or to convince people that this or that principle is right or wrong. When this happens, I forget that the most important thing I can do is just seek after God.
There are boundless depths in learning who God is by being in relationship with Him, by spending time seeking after Him. His Words promise me that if I spend myself entirely on seeking Him, THEN will I bear good fruit. THEN all these things shall be added unto me.
I don't become a better listener or turn into a more compassionate person by trying harder, because that's like drinking sand when I'm really thirsty for water. All of those things proceed from a heart and mind and strength that is learning how to be in relationship with God. God has not called me to change the world or to try harder to help Him bring people into His Kingdom, even though those are noble goals. Instead, He is calling me to a deeper relationship with Him, to trust in Him instead of my own efforts. And out of that relationship with Him will flow grace, mercy, and love, because how can you come into real contact with the ferocious love of God without being changed?
I wouldn't become a great impressionist painter by just seeing a Monet painting in a museum and then trying really hard to paint like him. I may learn a few things if I cracked open a "how to be a better impressionist painter" book, but I still wouldn't be a great impressionist painter. But think about what would happen if I went and lived with Monet and learned from him, day after day, watching him plan and paint, learning the process of being a impressionist painter. I couldn't help but become a better painter.
It's hard for me to take an "effort siesta" when i look all around me and hear those voices in my ear telling me to try a bit harder, or that, no, what you really need is THIS"....
The path I need to follow is well-worn, but it is narrow and treacherous and difficult. I'm called to seek God, to walk with Him by faith, trusting and learning from Him. He knows the way. Maybe John 15 is a good place to start.
Thursday, July 16, 2009
I still remember the feeling of reading this book for the first time, of being guided through the imaginary land of Hogwarts alongside Harry and his pals. Being introduced to all the main characters: Hagrid, Dumbledore, Professor McGonnagle, Professor Snape, Ron, Hermione, the Weasley family, was like meeting a crazy family. As I made my way through this relatively short book (considering the length of the others) two things really stuck out to me.
First and foremost was the incredible world that JK Rowling had created through Hogwarts. I’m a fan of imaginative literature, but I still have a hard time getting my head around Middle Earth and Narnia and the like. They’re all of them wonderful imaginative places, but Hogwarts stands out. I like it because the characters make the place come alive, not the other way around. Rowling excels at creating characters who are so incredibly relatable. I mean, who wouldn’t want to be friends with Ron, Hermionie, and Hagrid? Also, it is a world full of humor. I don’t think I really caught all the humor as much on my first read, but since then I’ve come to absolutely love the little snippets of humor she wriggles into the story. Her little descriptions of the magic candy’s, her descriptions of the idiosyncrasies of the characters, they all go a long way toward making the story not just exciting, but fun.
And that leads me to my second favorite part of this book, the friendships that are formed. Each of the books seem to have their own key points that stand out, and by far in this book I’d say the theme that stands out is the friendships that are formed by Harry, Ron, and Hermione. The most pivotal scene in all the book, to me, is when Harry and Ron are running back to Gryffindor tower after Professor Quirrell has interrupted the feast by proclaiming that a troll has entered the castle. In a split second, Harry and Ron make a decision that will affect the rest of their lives. Harry turns to Ron and says “but wait, Hermione is in the girls bathroom (she’d been crying all afternoon and had missed dinner), we’ve got to go and get her!”
In that one single action, Harry and Ron decide that friendship is more important than selfishness, and the rest of the story builds from there. Thereafter they become a team that sticks together at all costs. I love how intricately interwoven this thread of friendship is throughout all of the books, and particularly this one. Few books in our time really explore the power of friendships in the way that the HP books do. And that’s why they are some of my favorite books.
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Joseph was a teenage boy. He was younger than all of his brothers, and he had a kind of cocky arrogance that can only come with being a teenage boy. You know that kind of arrogance; the certain feeling of invincibility that emanates like a pungent odor; the rashness that causes them to speak without thinking first, or maybe without even thinking at all. All of us who were once teenage boys (not so long ago for me) will remember that, um, special, time of life.
So it doesn't seem too harsh to think about Joseph's brothers feeling hatred toward him. After all, Joseph was telling his father bad things about his brothers, and that coat of Josephs sure did make it appear like old Jacob really did love Joseph more than the others. They had every right to have a certain amount of disdain for their young, cocky, lovable brother.
Hate is a powerful emotion, though. It creeps into our hearts in our most fragile moments, and begins spreading inside of us like a venomous cancer. Before long, the hatred that began with a little bit of disdain has become a monstrous, uncontrollable rage that has burrowed deeply inside of us. It is every bit as real as the clouds and trees and grass outside, and it has devastating effects on all parts of our lives.
Hate was there before any of Joseph's brothers did anything to him. It existed in their hearts long before they thought about hurting him. Just like it exists in your heart and my heart long before it explodes in our actions. Before we ever say a spiteful word or utter a mocking phrase of vitriolic sarcasm, hate is present in our hearts.
It's what Jesus worked so hard to warn us about in the sermon on the mount. These things like murder and adultery are first conditions in our hearts. It's why surrender, each and every day, to our Savior and Redeemer Jesus Christ, is the foundation of our new lives in Him. I have to own up to those things in my heart that look so tame, that elicit an "oh, it's just a little bit of ______. It's really no big deal."
What looks so tame as a cub, though, can grow into a ferocious lion. It makes me realize that I am in need of grace, and not just a teaspoon but a raging shower of grace across all parts of my life. And in the seeds of this story, Joseph was learning how powerful these two things are, hate and grace.