Sunday, April 24, 2016

Knowledge For Whose Sake

James Sire! Distilling Truth... I just finished reading Habits of the Mind and feel like a car coming out of the shop with an oil change, new tires and windshield wipers. It's all about the windshield wipers, because without them you can't see when it's raining, or when you forget that you parked under a tree during pollen season... Visibility is good in driving cars, careers, relationships... You know.

The last chapter even quoted Frances Havergal's song lyric that I was missing/lamenting in my last post, on offering the intellect to God!

It really is sad that we sacrifice our creativity to conform with standards or patterns that we assume are good because they've been passed down to us, when really it would be better for everyone to be taught how to think and to be given space to grow. Maybe I am just bitter because I feel overworked.

I also enjoy this quote from St. Bernard of Clairvaux:

There are many who seek knowledge for the sake of knowledge: that is curiosity. There are others who desire to know in order that they may be known: that is vanity. Others seek knowledge in order to sell it: that is dishonorable. But there are some who seek knowledge in order to edify others: that is love.

We might argue that there are cases when selling something to someone is loving, or on the other hand, when an attempt to edify actually does more harm than good. I just like how this quote gets at the motives behind our learning.

Overall I enjoy Sire's commitment to excellent scholarship and his challenge to Christian readers to more fully integrate the life of the mind and their career pursuits with their faith. He reminds us that what we teach or spout or write may have consequences, warning that intellectuals can do damage when we don't more fully consider the ramifications of ideas. I think he gives the example of Sartre, which I was also glad for, to temper and season some of my reading of his biography.

I hope to come back to Sire again and to recommend him to others. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Earthbound: the discipline of surrender part 2

My last post ended without resolving much, which I confess I like to do, because then I am not your work horse. No one is paying me to write this, so my only reward is the joy in writing. Which hopefully translates into some joy in reading, but I really can't be sure, because no one ever comments. But that's OK too, because then I am under the illusion that no one really cares what I write, so I am free to explore. Isn't that what blogs are for? A slightly more accountable form of journaling, but I digress.

I am here to address the paradox of this post's title, to hopefully understand why we love the idea of surrendering to something, and if and/or why this desirable state may involve some work.

Having grown up in a variety of Protestant circles and spending a large part of my adult life in music ministry, I can't help but notice a plethora of songs expressing the idea of surrender.

Sometimes the songs are explicit in the object or means of surrender, but sometimes they are more vague. Here are a few examples:

1) I Surrender All. The writer of this 19th century American hymn was an art teacher in Sharon, PA, but it quickly spread throughout the world. My friend from India says it is one of her favorite worship songs.

All to Jesus I surrender
All to Him I freely give
I will ever love and trust Him
In His presence daily live

I surrender all
I surrender all
All to Thee my blessed Savior
I surrender all

2) I Give You My Heart. Hillsong United produced this song in 1995 in Australia, and I sang it as early as maybe 1997 at a national youth conference. It soon became part of the regular song rotation at my Ohio church. At the time, it helped re-orient my perspective toward life as a focused pursuit of higher values, even if I didn't really understand what they were yet.

Lord I give You my heart
I give You my soul
I live for You alone
Every breath that I take
Every moment I'm awake
Lord have Your way in me

3) The Stand. This one also came from Hillsong United (a decade later) in 2005. The chorus lyrics imply a reciprocity, surrender as a natural response to Jesus's way of showing love, which was being both bold and humble:

So I'll stand with arms high and heart abandoned
In awe of the One who gave it all
I'll stand, my soul Lord to You surrendered
All I have is Yours

4) Take My Life And Let It Be. I remember singing this 19th century British hymn at home in Haiti, sitting alone at the piano when I was maybe nine, slowly following the hymnal chords and feeling so moved by the song I nearly cried. It is still one of my favorites, and different life experiences give it new meaning as time goes on (As a runner, I love the line about feet). Tonight I found a contemporary version that annoyingly omits the lyric about the intellect, go figure... Overall the song helps me imagine how different parts of my life might be...

Take my hands and let them move
At the impulse of Thy love
Take my feet and let them be
Swift and beautiful for Thee...

Take my silver and my gold
Not a mite would I withhold
Take my intellect and use
Every power as Thou shalt choose...

Take my will and make it Thine
It shall be no longer mine
Take my heart it is Thine own
It shall be Thy royal throne...

(As I was editing this post, I realized a word had somehow been added to the third line of that last verse, so that it became, "Take my heart it is in Thine own" so now I wonder what nuance the word "in" provides)

5) Undone. A Christian radio hit released by the American band FFH in 2010. It played on my husband's iPod in the car the other day and the chorus struck me:

Come undone, surrender is stronger
I don't need to be the hero tonight
We all want love, we all want honor
Nobody wants to pay the asking price

What is this getting at, 'Nobody wants to pay the asking price..." Is surrender costly?

Depends who or what we are surrendering to. If I surrender myself to the goal of running a marathon (unlikely; I have no desire to abuse my joints that much, but who knows, maybe I will need the hobby in middle age?), I will sacrifice time and energy in completing consistent workouts, adopting new eating habits, maybe adapting to injury, but I will enjoy some comraderie with a new community of fellow runners, gain new levels of physical fitness, experience some great endorphins... Working toward this goal would be a mix of well-planned suffering and joy.

Surrendering to the ideals of Christian marriage... Yikes! One friend spoke recently about how he "counted the cost" before committing to this path, which included a new sexual ethic. He seemed pretty thoughtful about it, and it struck me that I might not take it seriously enough.

Because the art of flirting. I kissed dating goodbye before I even really said hello and some part of me feels like it was a mistake. Even though I know I am supposed to accept my past as God's provision for me or the universe's plan or my own beautiful journey or whatever, the fact remains that I read my way into a fantasy that life would be great if I only was careful to save sex for marriage. It was mostly about protecting myself, when I think about it- not really a Christ-like attidude, at least how I internalized it. But I think Joshua Harris and other leaders also challenged me to learn to give in healthy ways.

I am still learning. Dear God.

This married woman prayed the other day (don't judge me) that someone would come flirt with me at work! I was really tired, and bored. T minus 5 minutes before my break, I hear a man's voice behind me, and turn to see a handsome, familiar face. He asks very sincerely how things are going, says we talked a while ago. I ask what we talked about and he says something about a church group. Shit, he knows I go to church, I have to be consistent. So I think quickly and recount a couple plans and then ask about him. He suddenly wants to get out of other customers' way and leaves. I think I ruined it, and laugh with my coworker about this spontaneous event while buying dinner. I'm still wondering about the mystery man as I'm sitting down to eat and suddenly he's beside me again! Offering his hand and his name, by the way. "Have a beautiful evening" and he is away into the night. I stare out the window wondering what just happened.

The thing is, it wasn't flirting in a dirty sort of way. I felt noticed and cared for. He could be a brother in Christ, I really don't know. All I know is my prayer felt answered in a way I didn't imagine or expect. Maybe God was reminding me it is good to talk to people, that not every conversation with a man has to be seen through the potential of romantic attraction. Maybe he thought I looked sad and just wanted to cheer me up.

One strength of the Evangelical church is how it promotes healthy intimacy among men (a thought that came to mind when I was reading about humanizing masculinity in America), how pastors encourage men (women too) to "do life together" and be honest about their struggles, to pray and care for each other... It is a beautiful thing to see a group of men so inspired, and I have known many of them. Men who laugh and joke lightheartedly, who banter about last night's game, who ask how you are doing and really want to know, who check in on each other on lonely Saturday nights to keep old habits from creeping in, who offer rides to friends, coworkers and strangers; who embark on community projects and goals beyond their personal means- selfless giving, consistent.

Dare I say it, discipline is sexy.

It means you are going to be there, here. Not chasing another woman, another high, another boost to your self-image. It means you care about more than yourself.

I have a lot to learn from men in my life. Women too, including Darlene Schacht, who is writing a book on navigating the real-life messiness of love. If only it were more simple...but then it wouldn't be as fun now would it? ;-)

Monday, April 18, 2016

Earth-bound: the discipline of surrender

Part of me doesn't want to write this post, because I don't want it to change how I think. I like being spontaneous, going with the flow, and doing whatever the hell I want.

But that only gets me so far.

I was playing tennis tonight, because it has come up in conversation several times and I realized my swing might be a bit rusty. After a few net balls and fence balls and across-the-neighboring-court balls, and one that a passing biker told us was "lost in the river" (but I found it lodged in a branch on the bank), I wondered if I wanted to keep playing. Like at all, ever again. 

My shoulder was still sore from my season debut over the weekend. At least this time I had my sunglasses.

What kept me going was a vague sense that the more we play, the better we will get. And it is fun to complete a quality serve and watch an opponent return it well. Even if I can't get to the other edge of the court in time. 

True confessions:

Pre-workout snack: Green smoothie with banana, strawberries and pineapple

Post-workout snack: Ciao Bella sorbetto (which almost takes me back to the shores of Lake Como, Italy)

Dinner: Cheesy pasta, pierogies, gummy vitamins

The thing about practice making perfect (or not-so-perfect, whatever) is not pie in the sky. Nor is it a delight-yourself-every-second kind of ritual. But please give me a second helping, so I can at least hold back on clich├ęs.

Tonight an over-heated frustration turned into the realization-or maybe just the remembering- thanks also to an email from Matt Frazier, that who I am becoming depends on what I do today. Like my team leader told me in my last work review, it's the little habits that can set me on an upward or downward trajectory toward or away from success.

Success: what a nebulous concept, but those were good words for me to hear! Because it is tempting to think that a few minutes late to work will go unnoticed, that not eating vegetables today won't really matter, that... A B C won't lead to X Y Z. But we live in a cause-and-effect-tempered universe. Science rules the day.

But maybe not the night? Cue mood music.

This post has taken a slight turn, because my tablet blanked out right as I was writing about cause and effect, because I forgot to charge it in time. True story. So after eating a plateful of peas and watching another episode of "Fixer Upper" and crying in the shower because I really don't see a future anywhere near to that level of comfort for my life, and reading a few emails from friends, and coloring a butterfly from Time-Warp Wife, I am back to consider the role of discipline in athletic pursuits, leisure, and life.

No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

To be honest, I am not sure we know enough about what righteousness is to actually be motivated by this statement. Peace maybe; we like a sense of well-being... But righteousness? Isn't that like, so last century? Last millennium? And around the world halfway? I wonder how an Inuit tribe would understand the word. 

Google brings up the definition as "the quality of being morally right or justifiable." I am getting flashbacks to an ethics class, in which we learned different foundations for decision-making, because not everyone subscribes to a moral code. So is it all relative?

It is relatively late, and I have been so busy writing that I forgot to turn on the music. 

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Floral Arrangement

A rose
Pink, shriveled, dry
Pouts silently, forgotten
Gently dropping its weeping leaves
On the faux wood bookshelf

An orchid
White, silk, open
Poses elegantly, erect
Softly displaying its affection for light
On the stonetop end table

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Remembering Chris

The other day my mom shared a photo of a group of us missionary kids at what was probably my first backyard Easter egg hunt in Haiti. I am about three years old, sitting on a shaded cement step in a row of other toddlers, a puzzled look on my face that could maybe be confused with squinting into the sun, or the expression of someone who is trying to figure everything out.

There is another row of girls behind us, a little older. At the top of the steps is a boy sitting in the sunshine on the grass. His smile is the broadest, and next to him is a Haitian girl.

The smiling boy, Chris, took his life on Valentine's Day of this year.

He was one year older than me. Our families lived in close community for the years our fathers worked in the missions hospital. I remember singing the cleanup song his mom taught us in preschool: "When we all work together, together, together, when we all work together how happy we'll be. When your work is my work and my work is your work..." as we picked up Lincoln Logs and other toys before it was time to go home.

Home. A place that changes a lot when you are a missionary kid.

The last time our families were together was maybe when his family came to visit us in Ohio when we were in middle school. I remember being outside with his sisters on our front lawn.

We lost touch after that, going through school and careers, like people do. His sister and I emailed a few times. Then she got married, and I got married, and email between old acquaintances became less important, or less interesting because we were no longer traveling the world.

The day Chris died, I was playing basketball.

I didn't know until 5 days later, when my mom texted me the obituary.

I cried three times and couldn't sleep, imagining the pain his family must feel. I wondered at how similar and different Chris and I were.

We both studied medicine and enjoyed being outdoors. We each married and were part of church communities. We both loved to read.

He was the middle child, I was the firstborn. He had a professional career, while I labored in technical and service paths. Sometimes we reached out to people when we were feeling troubled, except he didn't this last time. He carried out his ideas; mine were more of a suggestion that mostly went away through counseling.

Was it financial pressures? Dissonance between church standards, broader American culture and private life? Unresolved family conflict? Vitamin D deficiency from living in Pennsylvania? A nutritional or genetic difference? Part of me thinks I should respect our families and stay quiet, not ask questions.

The other part of me knows they care about mental health too and want others to talk about it and receive support. So I am writing to honor that purpose.

It might not be work that we do together by geography anymore, but somehow time and memory might preserve our attempts.

Revisiting Masculinity

Andrew Reiner's article Teaching Men to Be Emotionally Honest. explores the masks American men are pressured to wear (anger, disrespect toward women, not trying too hard in school?) while focusing mainly on college experiences. The goal of the research is to encourage men toward a "healthy, sustainable identity," one that "embrace[s] the full range of their humanity."

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Dear Mr. You

This! Yes! A book you can pick up and put down, read a little here and there...intimate but protecting others' secrets, personal while offering relatable stories... This is the kind of book I have been wanting to write (Mary-Louise Parker, Dear Mr. You).