Monday, March 29, 2010

Holy Week Meditations

It’s difficult to really take the time necessary to slow down and get quiet when the world pays little attention to the significance of this week and keeps going at the same frantic pace as usual. I’ve found myself already struggling to quiet my heart and mind around the remembrance of this week’s events. There is just too much going on, and I set the bar so low for myself. Why is this?

Well for one, it’s not like my spirituality dramatically changes during the major events of the Christian calendar. These days were not meant to be more holy and spiritual than any other day, but rather they are beachheads, reminders, if you will, of the great story of God’s saving work in the world through Christ. So instead of trying to hype myself up for this week I simply need to slow down and open up the eyes of my heart and mind to imagination. I need not to construct more edifices of spirituality, but to clear away the muck of artificial idols that litter the landscape of my life. And in this clearer space the gruesome, brutal, difficult parts of the Christ story will invade the very parts of my heart that need it the most.

There is just so much to think about this week. So much happened in this relatively short span of time. And with such vast, upending implications. Like Christmas, it’s best if I can learn to just immerse myself in the story of Scripture and let the Spirit convict me and lead me to the places I need to go. And there’s no better place to do this than through the community of Christians he has placed around me.

So as I’m trying to clear away this area of space in my life, I want to leave you with a link to some wonderful holy week reflections by one of my favorite writers and thinkers, Andrew Peterson. Here it is.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Kindle: A Review

I’ve been using Amazon’s Kindle e-book reader for a few months now, and wanted to write about my experience with the whole e-book world. I was hesitant at first, because I was afraid that by capitulating to the Kindle I would, in essence, be condemning physical, printed books. There is this huge debate going on, centered mainly around electronic versus physical media. Like almost all debates right now in America, each side is so polarized that it’s hard to get a clear picture of what is actually going on. On the one side you have e-book users, who say convenience is supreme, and on the other hand you have old-school hold-the-book-in-your-hands people who think the e-book trend is a defamation of the sacred ethos of reading.

The problem is, once you actually use a Kindle (or any type of e-book, for that matter), you realize that the external debate is largely blown out of proportion. I love the convenience and simplicity of the Kindle, but I still enjoy holding a physical copy of a book and underlining the pages. And to my astonishment, you don’t have to give up physical books when you start using a Kindle. People would like for you to think that by purchasing an e-book reader you are inevitably saying goodbye to ever holding a physical book in your hands, but that’s just absurd. The truth is, living in both worlds is better than either one by itself.

For the physical book purists, I can see where the e-book format seems repulsive. But let me explain some of the benefits. For one, you don’t have to carry around multiple books (especially when you travel), as they are all stored in one device. As well, at least on the Kindle, the digital-ink that they use is the same experience for your eye as reading printed words, so you don’t experience eye fatigue like you do reading from a computer screen. The digital ink also allows the Kindle to be read even in direct sunlight (i’ve done it, and it is fabulous), which can sometimes be difficult even with a physical book (and almost impossible with a laptop).

The other advantage besides convenience and ease-of-use is the way that the Kindle brings different types of media into one location. I wasn’t familiar with the Kindle version of magazines and newspapers until I started using it, but as I started to investigate these features I found them to be some of the most compelling cases for owning one. Allow me to explain. Not only can you get most major newspapers and magazines delivered wirelessly to your Kindle, but you get them before the printed versions are available. Magazines tend to generally cost a few dollars more per year than their physical cousins while newspapers are usually about the same price or a little cheaper.

Most people write-off the newspaper and magazine feature for the Kindle because it doesn’t deliver the stunning graphics and pictures that you get with a nice, glossy magazine. I can see where that could be a problem. But, on the other hand, I’ve found myself actually reading magazines and newspapers cover-to-cover without the distraction of pictures and advertisements. For someone like me who gets distracted by all the extraneous elements in a newspaper or magazine, the simplified, text-only emphasis allows me to focus on what the writers are actually trying to communicate, and in so doing, I’ve found that I’ve had a much better experience with these types of media than ever before.

Sure, the Kindle and e-book format has its drawbacks, but on the whole I’ve enjoyed using the device and have found it a great counterpart to physical media. It isn’t going to replace the printed book any time soon (that’s just ludicrous), but there is definitely a niche for what it provides. Overall, I find the device to be great for what it says it will do, and as long as you don’t expect it to be anything more than what it promises, I think you’ll have a good experience with it as well. Finally (and I may decide to explore this further in another post), I think the e-book market is going to help change the publishing and writing world in a positive way by bringing innovation and leveling the playing field that has been marred by mega-publishing firms and their strangle-hold over the book market (from writing all the way to distribution). So, if you get the chance to use an e-book (and specifically a Kindle), go ahead, I think you’ll enjoy it.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Health Care Reform and Mother Theresa

Everyone has a strong reaction to Health Care Reform. Those opposed have let it be known quite certainly that they are opposed. Those in favor have trumpeted loudly their opinion on the matter. And even those in the middle and those who enjoy a certain level of political autonomy have joined the chorus just as strongly, except their line is “quit the bickering!” All sides have weighed in.

I am not concerned here with whether or not Health Care Reform (henceforth HCR) is in and of itself right or wrong for the United States. I am more concerned with how we move forward. How we, more specifically as Christians, move forward. So how do we respond Christianly in such a raucous environment?

“Seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness”
Disoriented. That is how I would describe most of our responses to the political moves in Washington over the past few decades. We have either thrust Jesus into the role of glitzy politician or divorced him from real life by relegating him to a distant “spiritual” realm. Both sides have been a part of both moves. People on both sides of the isle would like to champion Jesus as the raison d’etre for their cause. Just as equally, both sides have wanted to dismiss Jesus altogether and simply focus on the “reality” of the world situation.

After so many years of this, we have wedded ourselves to Washington. Instead of centering everything in our lives around the Kingdom of God and the hope therein for both present and future realities, we have settled for a kind of psychotic fixation on Washington. This means that we are either incredibly elated or utterly crushed by the decisions of politicians. Our responses are evidence of this. What does it mean, though, to seek first and foremost the Kingdom of God? Would it really change the way we respond to Washington?

“Fixing our eyes on Jesus”
We must strip away all the incorrigible layers in our hearts. We must do business with God, asking him to forgive us and cleanse us. In Christ’s life we find the way to move forward. Jesus lived a life fixed upon the will of his Father (read John for particular emphasis on this theme). This did not mean that he removed himself from daily interaction, though, as if he were somehow detached from the world. Instead, his close communion with his Father invigorated and established his activity and pursuits on earth.

What is establishing our actions and pursuits? Are we trying so desperately to create God’s Kingdom on earth that we are forgetting that He himself does this? Is our conception of Heaven so small that we think it must be some far-off ultra-spiritual realm completely different than this green earth that we live in now? We all tend to both directions throughout the courses of our lives, and I think the great difficulty right nows lies in cultivating the garden of our Hope in Jesus Christ.

In Him all things hold together”
Our very imaginations need a transformation, a radical centering around the hope of new life in Jesus Christ. His death and resurrection form the entire reason for our existence. In Him we find our orientation to the world and to the HCR situation specifically. We live in the hope of promise, the belief that God will continue His saving work on earth. This hope in Jesus Christ is the cornerstone of our activity in the world. Therefore we are not hopeless when things seem difficult and neither have we arrived when all seems good.

Our task as Christians remains the same as it always has. We are to love God with our entire lives and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. We are to embrace the broken, the despised and rejected of the world. We are to care for the spiritual and physical needs of all people. Simply put, we would do well to study the habits of saints like Mother Theresa, who have given their whole lives in humble service to others. Washington does not dictate the Christian’s response to the world. Our eyes are fixed on Jesus. He has told us what to do. But the hard task of doing it remains up to us. May we all humble ourselves before our Lord and Maker and ask Him to make us people who “live by the Spirit”.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Staying Informed

How do you get your information regarding what goes on in the world? How do you really figure out what you think about contemporary topics? I’ve been doing some self-examination when it comes to these types of questions, and I’ve been startled at what I’ve found.

I had to instantly separate the question “how do you figure out what you think about contemporary topics?” from “how do you stay current with the news?” There is a subtle difference in the question that hints at a problem with which we are just now coming to grips. I’m referring to the tendency we have today of falling into the trap of “news-byte” syndrome. Most college students or people my age are too cool to admit they watch television (unless it’s “occasionally Lost or the Office”) and so would immediately recognize the troubling trend on network and local news of watering down news items into 30-second clips. But this trend has been going on for a while, and people my age haven’t really watched network news for years anyway.

The new “news-byte syndrome” comes from the internet. From facebook, twitter, and the social networking worlds to the google news, yahoo news, etc., we are falling into the same trap as those who watch news on TV. We are staying current, yes, but do we actually know anything about what’s really going on? It goes like this: I check twitter, see an earthquake has happened somewhere, and click over to google news to figure out more. I quickly scan the bare-bones article and move on. I’ve now made myself informed, or so I think.

The problem is, I’m substituting a wide, sweeping, and generally shallow approach to news information for a more sophisticated, intelligent, and deeper understanding of what is going on around me. The problem isn’t necessary the news media. There are plethora of web sites and tv shows that give you a relatively “in-depth” understanding of an issue. I just don’t stay plugged in long enough to pay attention to them.

Our opinions (and i’m speaking here of people my age) and stances are being formed by our “fill-in-the-blank” approach to information. In this model, we pay attention long enough to think we have all we need, then we “fill-in-the-blank”, make the mental jump, and leave the topic altogether. After all, you have to find some way of organizing and categorizing the vast amount of information we are bombarded with on a daily basis.

But it gets really tiring to try to keep this model up. And you start to realize how shallow your understanding of issues is when you talk to people who are actually informed on issues. At least that’s been my finding. So I’ve decided to try and alter the way I’m taking in information and processing it. I’m reading magazines like BusinessWeek and Time in order to get deeper into issues I previously knew very little about. I’m watching video clips of the PBS News Hour so I can better understand what’s happening around the globe. These are just some small steps. And they aren’t really taking that much more time out of my schedule. I’m just using my time better.

I think what it comes down to is this: I can see myself slipping into this kind of “informed haze” where I know the basic facts about what’s going on, but have never engaged with the issues themselves in a deep manner. And then I’m walking into my local polling booth without any idea whatsoever about what I’m getting ready to do. And that’s just a lazy way out. That’s no way to show gratitude to the countless people who have sacrificed for my generation to have the opportunity to vote. That’s simply no way to be a good citizen.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

In Response

I don't have much in the way of coherent thoughts to offer right now, so I'm going to just post a poem I wrote recently called "In Response".

You skirt the edges of my mind,

You pound in my very chest,

You linger in a quiet thought,

You burst through the bleeding west.

Your love is like a roaring furnace,

like a journey back to home,

Your voice is warm, in thundrous silence,

calming me when I’m alone.

You are preeminence, august, glow,

You hold the world, its beams,

my hope.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

A Better Resurrection

A poem by one of my favorites, Christina Rossetti:

I have no wit, no words, no tears;
My heart within me like a stone
Is numbed too much for hopes or fears.
Look right, look left, I dwell alone;
I lift mine eyes, but dimmed with grief
No everlasting hills I see;
My life is in the falling leaf:
O Jesus, quicken me.

My life is like a faded leaf,
My harvest dwindled to a husk:
Truly my life is void and brief
And tedious in the barren dusk;
My life is like a frozen thing,
No bud nor greenness can I see;
Yet rise it shall - the sap of Spring;
O Jesus, rise in me.

My life is like a broken bowl,
A broken bowl that cannot hold
One drop of water for my soul
Or cordial in the searching cold;
Cast in the fire the perished thing;
Melt and remould it, till it be
A royal cup for Him, my King:
O Jesus, drink of me.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Snow, Roots, and Hearts

The falling snow this morning has me thinking about the parable of the sower. I'm not sure how or why this connection came to mind, but maybe it has something to do with the way the snow is falling so beautifully but melting as it lands on the ground. You could spend hours watching the snow fall and look expectantly down at the ground waiting to find a white blanket, but instead all that you would get today is a picture of soggy, saturated mud.

Our church has been reading and listening through the New Testament during the season of Lent. The goal of this endeavor is to become more acquainted with the Scriptures that we profess so heartily yet spend such little time with. As we have been going through the Word the past few weeks, I've been astonished at how much the Spirit can do through such a simple act.

Jesus' teaching on the Sower is found in Matthew, Mark, and Luke (the synoptics) and thus we can infer that it is pretty important teaching. The story goes that there was a farmer who went to sow seed, but the seed had problems taking root. Some of the seed was snatched up by birds, some of it fell on shallow soil that inhibited the growth of the seed, thus causing an immature plant to be scorched by the sun, and other seed fell among thorns, which choked the growth attempts of the seed. Then there is the good soil, which received the seed and there it flourished.

I wonder, if Jesus were to examine the soil of our hearts today, what would he find? Would he find shallow soil that is filled with the rocks of distraction, idols, and indecision? Would he find soil that is filled with the thorns of self-centeredness, deceit, and fear? I wonder what he would find.

The seed that fell on the good soil "took root". The seed on the shallow soil, "immediately sprang up, because there was no depth of soil". My heart is, more times than not, the shallow soil. I assume that if I do my Christian duty of spending a few minutes a day with God I am fulfilling what I am supposed to fulfill. But what a shallow approach! The seed of the Word, then, continually fails to take root.

Would that my heart be fertile soil. Would that I tend to the garden of my heart, digging up the weeds and clearing away the debris. Would that I clear time each day to calm down and receive the Word.

Because I know the power of the Word to change my heart, my life. But do I really want it to?