Friday, February 12, 2016

Playing With Words, Love And Rob Bell

It feels like a catch-22, writing about being consistent with core values, only to question what those values are and how we arrive at them in the first place. Maybe that is a subconscious goal of my writing, to produce a more logical commitment? Maybe I can weed out my desire to be new and interesting so it doesn't overcome what is true and what will be most helpful to readers.

The trouble (and maybe the excitement) of blogging is that I really don't know who is going to read any particular post. I am throwing myself to the wind- is it careless? A kind of mental prostitution, without even any ad revenue? So I can keep quoting others without much crisis of conscience.

Quote Investigator reports a quote from Einstein that stirred my thought this week, after a friend posted a lovely photo of a child under a type of tree fort with the words, "play is the highest form of research." (I thought, yay! I'm not wasting my degrees and research training! Being a musician, gardening and "playing store" as one of my customers likes to tell me on his way out: "have fun playing store!" and of course, the verbal and written exchange of ideas.) 

Alas, Einstein's quote: "The desire to arrive finally at logically connected concepts is the emotional basis of a vague play with basic ideas. This combinatory or associative play seems to be the essential feature in productive thought.”

Productive thought, a worthy goal. Like writing a book? Something that can be shared for another's well-being.

A coworker lent me one of his favorite books this week: Love Wins. I was delighted because we had talked about it some during a training day last year (Though I am hesitant to initiate discussions of faith at work, I always welcome the opportunity if someone expresses the desire, and almost inevitably it happens during training week. It's wonderful, really: like the time we invent the beginning of a joke: "A Jew, a Catholic and a Protestant walk into Whole Foods," and there the three of us are, pondering the meaning of Ezekiel bread? I don't know if you will find this funny, but that frozen bread case was where we laughed, realizing our differences and sameness.) and I'm delighted because this coworker initiated a decisive switch that required me to remember his locker number, and then I almost tricked him into thinking at first I didn't take it, leaving another book in its place. 

Anyway Rob Bell had already piqued my curiosity because the world loves him but the church hates him? OK not really, but he has said some provocative things that have some theologians crying "heretic" faster than butter melts on toast, or than temple leaders began shouting "crucify!" ...Sounds like Jesus (maybe you know Aslan?) is on the move.

And this part from chapter one has me in tears, not just the misty kind that sort of well up in your eyes for a second but then you smile and are OK, but dripping down my face and nose and doggonit-now-I-have-to-stop-reading-for-a-minute-and-walk-across-the-room-for-a-tissue kind of tears.

He is writing about Heaven, "a reality in which individual identities aren't lost or repressed, but embraced and celebrated. An expansive unity that goes beyond and yet fully embraces staggering levels of diversity."

Bell continues, "A racist would be miserable in the world to come."

"Second, one of the most striking aspects of the pictures the prophets use to describe this reality is how earthy it is. Wine and crops and grain and people and feasts and buildings and homes. It's here they were talking about, this world, the one we know- but rescued, transformed, and renewed.

(I think this is the part, here...)

"When Isaiah predicted that spears would become pruning hooks, that's a reference to cultivating. Pruning and trimming and growing and paying close attention to the plants and whether they're getting enough water and if their roots are deep enough. Soil under the fingernails, grapes being trampled under bare feet, fingers sticky from handling fresh fruit."

"....'Here it is, 
A big, beautiful, fascinating world,'
God says.
'Do something with it!'"

Maybe it is from my time spent gardening, or my family's history with that and farming, or the fact that it is the middle of winter and I have not felt warm soil on my hands for months- something about this earthy description of heaven strikes a deep chord.

So now I reflect and sigh and wonder, what am I doing with my bit of earth? What is my time going to be spent doing?

Is it trolling the internet waiting to pounce on some unforeseen error? 

Being careless with my speech and friendships?

Engaging in destructive habits that waste my time and others'? 

What am I working toward?

Maybe the better question is: what are we playing toward, if not each other?

Desire: An Aftermath

The "undisciplined pursuit of more" is one stage of decline that Jim Collins describes in How The Mighty Fall, a wonderful analysis of companies' self-destruction. The book is meant for business leaders; I think its strategy applies to people too.

Wanting growth is not the problem, according to Collins: it is confusing the priority of growth with the company's long-term value, or with excellence. There are several ways companies become undisciplined:

  • Discontinuous leaps into arenas for which you have no burning passion
  • Taking action inconsistent with your core values
  • Investing heavily in new arenas where you cannot attain distinctive capability, better than your competitors
  • Launching headlong into activities that do not fit with your economic or resource engine
  • Addiction to scale
  • Neglecting your core business while you leap after new adventures
  • Using the organization primarily as a vehicle to increase your own personal success- more wealth, more fame, more power- at the expense of its long-term success
  • Compromising your values or losing sight of your core purpose in pursuit of growth and expansion


Think of the times you have forgotten what you most care about because you are so enamoured with a new idea. For those of us who have worked in scientific research, this will not be hard. For those of us who have witnessed a father's indiscretion destroy a family or a church, this will be practice in withholding judgment. When was the last time you neglected your duties? Or overspent on a vacation, so now you can't do something that feels more important long-term?

What we need is alignment. Get those tires rotated so they last longer and so the car moves in the right direction. (Or just in a consistent one? Or are we worshipping some American ideal of efficiency?) The underlying assumption is that the company or individual possesses clearly-defined values.

A few words from ancient scriptures. I enjoy the repetition of phrases. This is basically a call for self-awareness, and it traces back to the concept of desire, for food, sex, or pleasure of any kind (even music?):

Sensuality should be known. The cause by which sensuality comes into play should be known. The diversity in sensuality should be known. The result of sensuality should be known. The cessation of sensuality should be known. The path of practice for the cessation of sensuality should be known.

Feeling should be known. The cause by which feeling comes into play should be known. The diversity in feeling should be known. The result of feeling should be known. The cessation of feeling should be known. The path of practice for the cessation of feeling should be known.

At this point I need to say that this blog is and has been a giant experiment with thought. I make no promise that what I say will be consistent with what you expect me to say, or even with what I meant to say in the first place. That is the beauty of the mind and of the world: it evolves, even while some truths stay the same. Which takes me back to quoting scriptures.

The above teaching is from a section in the Anguttara Nikaya entitled Nibbedhika Sutta: Penetrative. I think it contains some wisdom. How about this one? From the same text:

The passion for his resolves is a man's sensuality, not the beautiful sensual pleasures found in the world. The passion for his resolves is a man's sensuality. The beauties remain as they are in the world, while the wise, in this regard, subdue their desire.

Subdue your desire. Basically, be disciplined. Focus. Recognize that not everything that glitters is gold?

Compare and contrast the above thought with this scripture (from Colossians 2, New Testament):

Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.

If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.


There is some tension here between the "sensuous mind" and the one who is submitted to Christ. (Asceticism is extreme self-denial and is to be avoided, according to this teaching). Is Paul saying that the world's rules are useless in suppressing desire and the inevitable "indulgence of the flesh?" What does Christ offer that is different from this kind of futile self-discipline? (For that we will have to read the next chapter on new life.)

Now we also have an alignment of goals between modern businessmen, practicing Buddhists and disciples of Jesus: don't overindulge. 

I write as I indulge in writing way past my bedtime. It's OK though, because writing is one of my core values. ;-) 

The title of this post came from thoughts that linger from my Hedonism series, which came from thoughts of a man doing yoga in basketball shorts, which came from neither the chicken nor the egg... There is also a song called Aftermath by Hillsong. I thought it was on David Crowder's album, A Collision or (3+4=7) but that is another beauty altogether.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Desperate: (Don't) Notice Me

The bare trees and cloud-thickened sky inspired a memory during my morning workout.

I had started with a jog and a few drills. (At this point my right knee was hurting, but I jogged a little more and soon forgot about it.) Stretched then enjoyed some uphill sprints.

Resting in between repetitions, I looked at the cold winter landscape: "desolate" comes to mind. Followed by "desperate."

Then the lyrics to an old favorite song, slightly haunting but hopeful: Come My Way - Skillet

Desperate, I push through the crowd...

I love how the piano starts, the rawness in the singer's voice, and the electric guitar echoing eerily toward the end.

I imagine this song is about the woman who has a chronic condition, something that causes bleeding and has shamed her in a ritualistic society that requires constant purification. She reaches for Jesus as he passes by...

Just to ease my pain
Just to know Your name...

Jesus doesn't see her but feels the touch and knows that power has gone out from him. He stops. She has tried to remain hidden.

He seeks her out, wants to know who she is.

She is trembling but tells him her story. And Jesus is more than kind in his response. He heals her not only with his power but with his words, acknowledging before everyone that she has worth, using an intimate title:

Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering. (Mark 5:34)

Once an outcast, now a daughter?

Another scripture comes to mind as I finish my workout:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

And I know this: your desperate prayer will not go unnoticed.


Sunday, February 7, 2016

Science Meets Happiness

If I could get another degree, it might be in a field that would have me working with people like Dr. Amit Sood.

In his TEDx Talk Happy Brain: How to Overcome Our Neural Predispositions to Suffering, Dr. Sood explains five ancient principles for living well.

His closing statement expresses something I have felt for some time (a little more humorously if you listen to the above link), that science and faith are wonderfully connected.

"When science has met spirituality, it creates a mileu for transformation. This is timeless wisdom that sages have told us, that scientists are finding. Science is nothing but systematic study of spirituality...Science doesn't know it. Science will know it at some point. I believe this is what the children of our world need. They want us adults to be grateful, to be compassionate, to be accepting, to live our life with meaning, and to have forgiveness."

The talk is only 18 minutes, and he gives several practical ways to cultivate a healthy mindset, which leads to healthy relationships. I also enjoyed his brief description of hedonic adaptation and how it may affect marriage and family relationships. Beautiful teaching that now has me sending silent thoughts of gratitude to Dr. Sood, TEDx and YouTube, and to the friend who posted it this week.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Satisfy Us

Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, 
     that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days...

An ancient longing, translated across time and space, revealing itself in my memory years after I first encountered it in the pages of Psalms. From the pen of Moses (was he writing from a desert tent?) to the comfort of my room, this thought continues to give me confidence. It is hope that tomorrow will bring more than today, or at least something new.

I have loved you with an everlasting love...

The prophet Jeremiah reminds Israel and now me, as I walk to work and ask for a good thought, because my mind is in a heavy place. A quiet voice whispers as the sun streams across the rooftops, and I am warmed in its Light.

"Your total is sixty-three even." I muse as we wait for the receipt, but the customer doesn't seem to know what I'm talking about, "my favorite Psalm." The woman behind him does. Only I can't remember how it starts... She lists four of her favorites and is going home to look it up.

I do too. Verse 5 hits me anew, because good food has been my career and latest obsession:

My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods; 
     with singing lips my mouth will praise you.

I remember the first eight verses of Psalm 63 becoming my nightly meditation, taped above my bunk the second summer I worked as a camp counselor. Emotions ran high during the days, especially junior high and high school weeks: sometimes I felt at a loss for words. But these words strengthened me, gave my mind and body peace.

My soul clings to you;
     Your right hand upholds me.

Ancient words, still offering hope and encouragement, steadfastness.

I remember when my friend Chelsea and I used to sit in church, the Haitian Creole sermon going over our heads, a Bible open across our skinny knees. "Let's read Psalm 103 - it's my dad's favorite," she says. We start to memorize it.

Praise the Lord, O my soul;
     all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, O my soul, 
     and forget not all his benefits-
who forgives all your sins
     and heals all your diseases...

Our dads are both doctors, maybe this is why hers likes this Psalm?

...who redeems your life from the pit
     and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
     so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.

Ah, that must be it. It's because he is old. (At age ten, anything over thirty was ancient!) That's as far as we memorized, and I think of these friends now whenever I read Psalm 103... Praise, something a soul of any age can do.

I told a boy this week who excitedly told me that he was turning five that I remembered being five. It wasn't too long ago... He asks how old I am.

When I tell him his eyes get really big and he looks away, laughing.

I had already decided that I liked him, because he waved hello to a stranger walking toward him, who has different color skin.

He doesn't know about the wars, about society's expectations and prejudices, about pride and justice and barriers. For a second watching him, I don't either.

Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, 
     for as many years as we have seen trouble.
Psalm 90:15

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Forgetting Me

I sat down to blog tonight and suddenly wanted to read something from Annie Downs. I haven't yet read her books Perfectly Unique, Speak Love, or Let's All Be Brave, but her voice lights up the internet.

Last month she posted a moving tribute to retiring soccer player Abby Wambach. Maybe it was more of a reflection. Either way, the theme of legacy inspired me to consider how I am investing in the future.

My husband's grandpa died this month. At the funeral today we heard friends and family members speak about how he impacted them. My father-in-law's memories were poignant: he shared things his dad had done for him early in life to grow his heart, mind, and soul. When he was a teenager, showing him how to repair a car part with his own hands: doesn't that feel good? Dad is always fixing things. When he was even younger, showing him Saturn through a telescope, which led to Dad's study of astronomy and career in mathematics. Soul: buying his son a guitar after a few lessons. Now music is Dad's passion. Memories to last a lifetime, nothing Alzheimer's can steal.

Looking at my husband, I can see how these inspirations have passed on to him. One reason I spent time with him in college was his love for astronomy. He could talk about it nonstop. Find someone who is in awe of the night sky and we will become fast friends! Music is another passion we share and love sharing with others through our church and any chance to play an iPod (mostly in the car).

Today I was delighted to hear songwriting advice from Dad's cousin: find time to be quiet and listen. Sometimes a song will come to you in one sitting, sometimes it will take more than a year to piece it together. It is different for everyone, but be patient and open to inspiration. He is in awe of the process, "it's not me." The Holy Spirit will speak. He is going to give me a CD he recorded.

Tonight I am running in the park because my own father taught me to enjoy running. I stop to stretch and am just remembering an article I read about women being afraid to go out at night because of men harassing them. I am imagining yelling at someone who disrespects me when suddenly a man strolls over and strikes up a conversation. His speech is slurred but he is harmless, talking about his mom who is receiving a transplant. All the women in his life don't play fair and he suspects I don't either? I smile and say he can ask my husband. How long have we been married? Any kids? He's been married a year... Something about God working in mysterious ways. Right before his phone rings he offers his name and a handshake, "peace and prosperity to you." I offer him mine and tell him that I will say a prayer for his mom.

It is reasonable for me to be afraid, given stories you read in the news and my own history with crime in the city. This week marks the 8th year since I was robbed in the dark by a black man not five blocks away from where I stood tonight. This is the first year I have been able to run alone at night. And tonight I smiled and shook hands with a black man who was probably just looking for comfort, or some way to pass the time while his mom suffered and rested on the top floor of the hospital. For a second I forgot myself and entered into his story.

As my band practiced at church this morning I looked around at the joy on the musicians' faces and felt a unique satisfaction in playing... These are friends I have recruited and trained and led, and here we are, enjoying the music, even as we stumble through different parts... Everyone has their own motivation and skills, but we have a good foundation of time together. I am sitting on the cajon at the back of the stage while a new song leader takes my place on guitar.

Isn't that my role as a leader, to make my job obsolete? To pass it on to the next generation so they can be strong and lead others... Like Annie Downs, my husband's family and the man in the park all reminded me tonight: Forget me.






Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Accidental Vegetarianism?

I was getting a drink of water before going to bed last night, and it suddenly hit me: I had eaten all vegetarian meals all day, not because I was trying to, but because I was hungry for it! I knew the food tasted good and would make me feel good. I wanted to celebrate this shift in mindset, so resolved to at least write a blog post about it.

Breakfast:

  • 1 Raw brownie (made with dates, walnuts, and cocoa powder; the wonderfully simple recipe is from Janet at Sanaview)
  • A chunk of Seeduction Bread (made by Whole Foods Market, where I work and heard people raving about it!)


Lunch:

  • Romaine salad with red and yellow peppers, broccoli and hardboiled egg
  • Cheesy pasta salad

(Both from the Whole Foods salad bar)

Dinner:

  • Eggplant parmesan with pasta and basil pesto (the remaining half of my Cheesecake Factory leftovers, but it would be awesome if I could learn how to make this.)


Evening Snack:

  • Chocolate protein shake (pea protein powder, chocolate coconut milk, banana)

Now you see why I devoted Part 6 of my hedonism series to food, and maybe more specifically why chocolate and cheese receive honorable mention.

Plant-based meals are too good not to share.

Which is maybe why I felt kissed by Heaven today when two customers shared new recipes with me.

After I offered a sort-of routine comment on the joy of citrus season, one man spontaneously volunteered that grapefruit goes well with avocado. I'd never seen that before...like a salad? And avocados are on sale this week! (Guess what I had for dinner tonight?)

Another customer, who has engaged me over French food in the past, was happy to tell me what she was making for dinner when I asked... Ratatouille! Her eyes lit up when I spoke it back to her with familiar pronunciation, after she listed so many good vegetable ingredients... I also need to learn how to make this.