Thursday, October 28, 2010

JK Rowling Speech

I stumbled across this stirring 2008 Harvard Commencement Speech by Ms. Rowling (here Part 1 of 3 on YouTube) after being recommended to view Steve Jobs' speech at Harvard, also a good one. Though like the rest of the world I was well aware of her slightly famous wizardry books, having read a few of them, I should have figured she'd have a certain way with words. But I was still taken aback by her sheer brilliance at articulating both the painful and profound with such vividness and power, speaking so vulnerably and humbly from her own life about failure and imagination. Before this, I hadn't known much at all about her story, only that she'd enjoyed success only after struggling as a single mother in poverty. All the more I was struck by her frankness and sensitivity, her scope of compassion and courage, to call those privileged graduates (and the rest of us educated, too) to consider our responsibility in the world. With her charming, self-deprecating humor, it was refreshing to hear someone so astronomically successful appear so genuinely grounded and grateful and magical.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Abiding #2

It's been almost a month into the project and to be honest I don't feel like there has been any significant change internally for me. Things are a bit more normal schedule-wise since Dorene is back to working part time, so I do feel like there is more "space' in my life, which is equivalent to some breathing room. I feel less suffocated, frazzled, and plain irritable. But I want my abiding to exist and work whatever the state of my life.

However, there have been a few minor adjustments.

First, I noticed that at the very least, I'm thinking about abiding more. Having this project keeps my accountable in a good way, keeps me honest, never too far away from the subject, always pulling me back kind of like a holy centrifugal force.

Secondly, every morning it has been my habit/discipline to pray using the Lord's Prayer as a framework, to commit the day to the God, to cover my family, to submit to him the things that lay before me. I've now added to that time a prayer of abiding. Basically a "Lord, teach me how to abide." I pray this, I suppose, even as I am actually abiding through prayer.

But I want more. More relationship. More fruit in my life.

But it's a start.

From the Mouth of Sherlan

On Sunday at Epic, we interviewed a panel of nine artists from our church community who shared their thoughts about art and the creative process. They also shared their thoughts about Epic as a home to artists. It was part of a series about "what got us here" as Epic celebrates 10 years together. It was an amazingly diverse group: made up of musicians, painters, graphic designers, an interior designer, a writer, songwriters, a dancer, and photographers - each providing such rich and thoughtful answers to questions about their craft and faith and church (and how the three intersect). One of those artists, illustrator and photographer Sherlan Abesamis, [that's his photo] shared something with me afterward that I thought was simple, but profound. The panel had succeeded in being wonderfully inclusive during the interview time, more than once making the point that though not everyone may be artistic, everyone is certainly creative. To that Sherlan added, after not being able to share this with the congregation because of time: "God has given everyone a voice. [Art] is a matter of finding that voice and letting it be spoken." Well said.

Currently Reading

Like Erik Larson's "The Devil in the White City," this is history telling at its finest: Gripping, almost unimaginable, and absolutely haunting.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Abiding #1

As I get started, just some preliminary observations:

In my bible, I can tell from what I've previously highlighted, that I was more interested in "fruit bearing" than I was "remaining." Whatever my state when I made those markings, looks like I was drawn more to output than input, effect than affect - to make some interpretive assumptions about my world at the time.

Is the passage more about fruit bearing or abiding? Was Jesus emphasizing one more than the other? One before the other? Like so much of the spiritual life, it is probably a false dichotomy; both/and versus either/or. But the question is worth asking.

I notice that the first two paragraphs begin and end speaking of fruit, in other words, have topic and summary sentences emphasizing fruit bearing. The third paragraph begins and ends with abiding. Though it has to be said that paragraphs in the English translation are translator decisions, not part of the ancient manuscripts. By the numbers (in my TNIV translation), there are 6 sentences that mention fruit bearing, 9 mentioning abiding, of which 2 refer to both in the same sentence. The actual word "fruit" or derivative of such occurs 9 times; abiding 11 times. What I really need to do is go to the Greek manuscript to see how these numbers differ, if at all.

On a purely devotional level, I wonder if Jesus knows that what the disciples desire is to "bear fruit" - that being associated with the visible signs of the kingdom of God/following Him - is what occupies their ambitions, their concerns; that they are intent on what great works will be credited to them, invested on what effects will stick with them as perceived by others. Or is that merely my concern? Whether that is a legitimate motivation or not, concern or not, Jesus makes no hint that it is not. I think the opposite is true - he validates the desire for fruit. But is the goal abiding or is it fruit-bearing? Or as I've said above, is that a false distinction? What seems to be clear is that there is no fruit bearing apart from remaining in him. One seems to be the necessity of the other. You can't put the cart before the horse no matter how much you might want to.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Intro: The Year of Abiding

God is speaking to me. He has pressed upon my mind, more than a few times now, the word abide. As in, "If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing" (John 15:5). I know the word is for me.

I know because I am tired. Someone asked me the other day how I was doing, and I told her, "I'm fried." That kind of burned out feeling, the result of going too hard for too long, which no amount of days off can cure.

About nine months ago, my wife was invited to be one of only four therapists in the country to work on a special project for the U.S. government involving a new prosthetic. It was a prestigious opportunity, and after some discussion, we decided it was something Dorene should participate in. But it required her working full-time instead of the 2 days/week she normally puts in. The short of it is that she has loved it, and I am happy that it has been a source of growth, esteem, and meaning for her. She discovered a real enjoyment for research, and that is probably worth its weight in gold.

On a practical level, however, it has not been nearly as good for me. I still kept my full-time job as pastor while also taking on full-time dad duties, too. We have two wonderful children, a 12- and a 10- year old, the older also a special needs child. On my more generous days, I am glad for the extra time I have had with the kids. But most days, if I'm honest, I am acutely aware of the havoc the extra responsibilities have wrecked on any sense of normal in my already abnormal clergy/non-profit kind of work rhythm.

But it wasn't just Dorene's work hours that was making things tough, it was also the perfect storm already brewing from commitments that just demanded more of me. All good stuff, but all at the same time. At Epic things got more wonderful, and more complicated, as we grappled with growth issues and bringing on new staff. With Oasis USA, I somehow became chair of the board which required a big investment of time with an influx of new board members and a new executive director search to manage, all the while trying to keep the organization financially afloat. JOYA was going really well and heading into our second year, with a doubling of our students and mentors in the program, but I remained the primary driver for fundraising. Without realizing it, I became event planner, concert promoter, and grant writer to go along with co-founder. I made good on a promise to stay on the board of Solidarity for another year. And places like Fuller Seminary began calling asking if I could participate in various discussions and conferences.

Like I said, all great stuff, and stuff that I enjoy, but it resulted in no margin in my life. Every week rolled into the next with no end in sight. My health took a beating, as well as my sleep, and our wonderful three-week vacation to Hawaii in August seemed like a distant memory as soon as I got back. I was glad Dorene so enjoyed her work, but frankly, most days I couldn't wait for her project to end. For the first time ever, I resigned I could live without ever preaching again. I was bored with my own voice. I had nothing fresh or interesting to say. When is that sabbatical coming?

Into this malaise and blur, God spoke to me. Repeatedly. "Abide."

I am a pastor, I know what abiding means, at least intellectually. But I hate to admit it. In reality, maybe I don't know anything about what it means. Like how to do it. Like knowing what it's like to experience that kind of relationship from the inside. Like living it.

So it occurred to me it would be a good idea just sit on this passage (John 15:1-17) for a full year. From 10/10/10 to 11/11/11. To mediate upon it. Reflect upon it. Study it. Sift it for its truth, for its life. Attempt to live it. Try to see what it's all about from the inside. To get into Jesus and to ask if Jesus could get into me. Then to see after a year - and along the way - if there is any discernable change. What will I learn? How might I live differently? Feel differently? Know Jesus differently? Will I become a different kind of person?

I've called it a blog project because I'll post my progress (or is it process?) here as a sort of diary of reflections. A place of some accountability. A place where some of my thoughts and findings and feelings can abide.

What Truth Sounds Like

Last Sunday, I spoke about "Church As Therapeutic Community" and the symbiotic nature of grace and truth, which of course, describes Jesus (John 1:14). Grace is unbroken, unearned acceptance. Truth is describing things as they really are. They work together. Grace without truth becomes permissive; truth without grace results in judgment. But together, grace and truth invite us out of isolation, out of going solo, and into relationship. Grace combined with truth invites the real us, uncensored, into relationship where we are understood and embraced. In the story of the Samaritan woman at the well, the truth of her life comes out, but for the first time it doesn't condemn her, because Jesus does not condemn her. The truth isn't used to further hurt her, but to heal. The truth is revealed about her life, but grace frees her to live truthfully: "He told me everything I've ever done." Jesus is truth and grace to her, and she leads the whole community to him.

Over the years, I have found other "voices" who have taught me what truth sounds like, and through their writing, also what grace feels like too. When we grow up grace and truth deprived, it is an oasis to the soul to drink from the well of others who have told the truth and found a kind of grace because of it. I had planned to share some of these voices last Sunday, but because of time didn't get a chance. Here are some of the truthful voices that have made an impact on my life.

Frederick Buechner
Telling Secrets; Also The Sacred Journey; Now and Then
Probably my favorite author. This trilogy of memoirs covers his father's suicide and his daughter's bout with anorexia. No one writes truth more beautifully or poetically.

Henri Nouwen
Life of the Beloved; Also The Return of the Prodigal Son
The quintessential work on self-identity by listening truthfully to the voice of God instead of the world.

Anne Lamott
Grace (Eventually); Also Traveling Mercies; Plan B
Where the aforementioned authors take the serious route, Lamott is all irreverance, self-deprecation, and side-splitting humor...precisely because she tells it like it is. She writes about faith, parenting, death, and eating like no one else. You feel better just by reading her.

Caroline Knapp
Drinking: A Love Story
This brutally honest story of alcoholism had a profound effect on me and my understanding of addiction. Knapp mines deeply, and her ultimate search for the love her father never gave her speaks to both emptiness and hope.

Donald Miller
Searching For God Knows What; also Blue Like Jazz; A Million Miles In A Thousand Years
Sometimes described as the male Anne Lamott, even endorsed by her; not as intense as the other writers on this list, but some real nice gems of insight, and always an enjoyable read. I heard him speak in person, and the dude's refreshingly humble and honest.

Ray Anderson
The Gospel According to Judas
I had to get Dr. Anderson onto the list. He's had more impact on my understanding of truth than anyone. This is really his only accessible book. But it is still, in my opinion, the most profound telling of the depths of God grace.