Balancing Precision and Fluidity

You never know what you’re going to learn by reading a book. Such was the case while reading chapter three in The Shallows by Nicholas Carr.

Chapter Three, “Tools of the Mind,” shares the history and impact of maps, clocks, and language on intellectual development. Carr includes these three in the same technology category, the intellectual technologies. He wrote that maps expanded man’s spatial technology. What maps did for space, clocks did for time.

To describe life before the creation of clocks, Carr quotes French medievalist Jacques Le Goff who said life was “dominated by agrarian rhythms, free of haste, careless of exactitude, unconcerned by productivity.” Hard to imagine such a life. Thinking about it presents a mixture of envy and gratitude.

Carr then shared this bit of history relaying how and why clocks came to be:

Life began to change in the latter half of the Middle Ages. The first people to demand a more precise measurement of time were Christian monks, whose lives revolved around a rigorous schedule of prayer. In the sixth century, Saint Benedict had ordered his followers to hold seven prayer services at specified times during the day. Six hundred years later, the Cistercians gave new emphasis to punctuality, dividing the day into a regimented sequence of activities and viewing any tardiness or other waste of time to be an affront to God. Spurred by the need for temporal exactitude, monks took the lead in pushing forward the technologies of timekeeping. It was in the monastery that the first mechanical clocks were assembled, their movements governed by the swinging of weights, and it was the bells in the church tower that first sounded the hours by which people would come to parcel out their lives.

Like Carr, I don’t share this to make a slam, but to make an observation. Balance is a tricky thing. Some would even say it’s an impossible thing. But like holiness, it’s worth pursuing.

When it comes to time, we can get imbalanced by rigidity and carelessness. We can get lost in the black and white as well as the disregard for parceling and regimentation.

As those seeking to walk in the Spirit, may we follow his lead in the moments when precision is best and when fluidity is lifegiving.

Photo by Aron Visuals on Unsplash

Reading to Understand the War in Ukraine

Last month The Atlantic published an article Nine Books to Read to Understand the War in Ukraine. It moved me to expand my knowledge, to educate myself, and to better respond to other’s opinions on the current crisis.

Any of the recommended books sounded interesting to me. I decided to take a trip to the library and see what I could find. I had my favorites selected, but the reality was I was at the library’s mercy. Unfortunately, they didn’t have copies of most of the books. The book that most interested me that they did have I decided was too long of a read. So I browsed other books with related topics and checked out this one by a professor and former foreign policy analyst, Constantine Pleshakov. Turned out to scratch the itch.

One could certainly read this book faster than I did, but I wanted to sit in it more than just do a quick read. Truthfully, I would probably need to read it several times to fully grasp all the history and political nuances addressed. Yet, I’ve gained so much from this read that otherwise I wouldn’t possess.

My one trip to that area of Europe was ten years ago. I went to Belarus as one of several ESL teachers for a week-long schooling. That glimpse was a blink, but an excellent thumbnail into the mindset of those who face the dilemma between holding on to their past or ferociously determining their future. An individual making that life choice can be stuck for much of their life. Imagine the nth degree reached when it’s an entire nation or region.

For anyone facing that dilemma but more importantly for the leaders and citizens of Ukraine, I share this blessing from Numbers 6:

The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.

The vast majority of us base our thoughts about this war on what we read online or hear on the news. I encourage you to do yourself and the Ukrainians a favor-take the time to do your own digging. You’ll benefit more from conducting your own dig that looking in someone else’s hole.

Photo by Marjan Blan | @marjanblan on Unsplash

Branch Living

Tonight I was reminded of sharing a message based on John 15:1-17. I told my friends I’d look up my notes. Unfortunately, I only have a hard copy of them, so I’m going to take care of that now.

Introductory Truth Statements:

  • God the Father is the gardener (His chief job is pruning).
  • Jesus, the Father’s Son, is the vine (The vine relies on the Gardener. He’s our example for reliance. Chief job=provide life, strength, and connection to the Father).
  • All who place their faith in the Son are the branches/shoots (Chief job=produce fruit).
  • Non-fruit-bearing branches are cut off (They have no worth or glory).
  • Fruit-bearing branches are pruned (Vines require pruning. The Gardener watches over every branch, yet he gives you the choice to remain).
  • To bear fruit, a branch must remain.
  • Apart from the vine, a branch cannot bear fruit.
  • The Gardener works to increase the fruit of the branch.

Job #1 = Remain in the Vine

  • Remain = don’t wander, stay, invest, pay attention, give up control, continue, cling, linger, abide, dwell, live, stand, stay connected
  • Test your remaining by your fruit
  • Test your remaining by your love

Job #2 = Value Pruning

Pruning is not the removal of weeds or thorns or anything from outside that may hinder the growth. No, it’s cutting off the long shoots of the previous year, removing something that comes from within that has been produced by the life of the vine itself, a proof of the vigor of its life. The more vigorous the growth has been, the greater the need for the pruning. It is the honest, healthy wood of the vine that has to be cut away.

Abide in Me by Andrew Murray and Bo Stephens
  • Test your valuing by your attitude toward the Gardener
  • Test your valuing by your reaction to circumstances
  • Test your valuing by your response to the Gardener’s Word

The great things God will do through you are going to grow in the soil of persistence, prayer, obedience, and sacrifice. That means there will be plenty of plowing and pruning. That’s the way living things grow…God has to work in us before he can work through us…when we want what God wants for the reasons he wants it, you’re unstoppable….When you ask God to do the impossible, he usually instructs you to do something uncomfortable. And inconvenient. (For church attenders, re-read this quote and replace the bold words with “a church.”

Sun Stand Still by Stephen Furtick

Closing Prayer: “By your grace, Gardener, no matter what it costs me, I’m going to remain. I’m going to take you at your word. Even if it seems like you don’t know what you’re doing, I will trust that your pruning knife will cut away what’s not good in my life. I will trust that you work all things in my life together for my good and your glory. Cleanse me through your word. Cut away any roots that will hinder the Vine from finding me wholly free to receive life. I desire to love and to bear fruit in my life for you alone.”

Photo by Zbynek Burival on Unsplash

Even in the Silence

Recently I was introduced to artist Makoto Fujimura. In exploring his works, I discovered his love for another artist, novelist Shusaku Endo. This admiration led to Fujimura becoming an advisor for the movie production based on Endo’s book Silence, a movie directed by Martin Scorsese. With all this overlapping of creativity, I decided I would read the book and then watch the movie. Today I finished the book and managed to find the movie on demand to watch this afternoon.

First, let me say what a joy it is to receive the creative gifts by these three artists-a contemporary artist, a novelist, and a filmmaker. Not only are they masters at their craft, but they engage all of who they are into their work, including their faith and beliefs. Unafraid of transparency, they allow you into their wrestling and therefore make it acceptable for you to acknowledge yours.

Endo’s Silence is set in seventeenth-century Japan. The tale challenges your commitment to your faith as you follow two Portuguese Jesuit priests encounter the forced renouncing of beliefs by their Japanese Christian brothers and dialogue with a silent God. You are forced to acknowledge persecution has always been a part of Christian history and will always be, something we prefer to forget Jesus told his disciples to expect.

Such stories produce various responses. Responses usually focus on what ifs and reminders to not forget those currently experiencing persecution. My biggest response today is this: I am the sole guardian of my faith. It’s not up to the church, a pastor or priest, or anyone close to me to secure my faith. In decisive moments where I have to live out my faith, it’s entirely up to me. When my mind tells me I’m alone and God has abandoned me, my faith reminds me that he said “I am with you always,” even in the silence.

Mimickry

I’ve been at it for over two years. It’s a slow burn.

When I transitioned to a new job and anticipated working more from home and not having an office, I knew something had to be done. All my books weren’t going to fit on one bookcase at home. So it began. The personal library deconstruction. As the walls enclose, the books are finding new homes.

I’m guessing all book lovers have similar problems. Not only do we buy more than we need nor have room for, we tend to not get around to reading all of them either. I’d guess someone has labeled this a disorder. I mean, chocolate lovers don’t buy boxes of chocolate just to put them on display never to be opened and eventually discarded. At least I don’t. I enjoy what’s inside. The chocolate box, just to be clear.

To address this problem, I’ve continued the deconstruction in two ways. One, if I’ve never read the book and don’t see that I will in the near future, “off with its head (given away in some fashion).” Two, rather than buying new books (Kindle doesn’t count), I’m reading the books I haven’t read and then deciding if it deserves to stay or go.

Occasionally, I encounter deja vu. Happened yesterday. I finished a book, which deserved to stay on the shelf. So I picked out another one I was pretty sure I hadn’t read. Not even sure where I got it, honestly. It’s signed by the author, which most likely explains why it’s still on the shelf. As I’m reading the first few chapters, it reads like a new book-nothing familiar at all. And then, with the light on the page just right, I see faint yellow highlighting. Are you kidding me? I’ve read this book before, even highlighted it, and I don’t remember. Another book lover problem. Actually, there’s several problems in that realization, but let’s move on.

One joy in re-reading a book is your eye, your mind being captured with more. Something you didn’t engage the first time speaks to you the second time. Like re-watching a movie. Here’s the line in this book that captured me:

We mimic the god we serve.

God’s Resting Place: Finding Your Identity In His Peace, by Ron Marquardt

Marquardt explained that our belief of God’s character plays out in how we live. “If I believe God is angry and hard to please, I find myself behaving the same way. If I find Him happy one moment and angry the next, I will soon follow suit.” (p.19) Mind captured.

So I chose to meditate on that in a journal entry. Rather than analyze my mimicry, I decided to make a list of truths I believe about God. This list, certainly not exhaustive, can then serve as a checklist of how I’m mimicking Him:

  • God loves us as we are
  • God sent his son not to condemn
  • God receives us from our wandering
  • God seeks the lost sheep
  • God rests
  • God listens to his children
  • God blesses those who bless him
  • God humbled himself for his creation
  • God keeps his promises
  • God forgives
  • God is faithful
  • God has eternity in mind
  • God gives generously
  • God has compassion
  • God remembers we are dust

Deconstruction leading to deja vu leading to mimickry. Here’s to the slow burn!

Photo: Izabela Zagaja-Florek

The Doubting Disease (book review)

“If you make listening and observation your occupation, you will gain much more than you can by talk.”­ – Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the scouting movement

I’m still working at this occupation at age 53. Certainly hope I’m better than at 23.

A while back during staff meeting, a colleague mentioned a book on a subject I’d never heard of-scrupulosity. I downloaded the Kindle sample. After reading that, I couldn’t help but buy it and see what I could gain.

Ciarrocchi defines scrupulosity as seeing sin where there is none, a “phobia concerning sin.” The title of his book comes from a label the French give to the emotional condition which is sometimes part of scrupulosity.

Having been in church life since I was born in a pastor’s home and then serving over 20 years on church staffs, I have witnessed this phobia. But reading the connection Ciarrocchi makes to OCD was eye-opening to exactly how doubters struggle. With this knowledge, one can see a variety of ways to navigate life while struggling with deep emotional and spiritual challenges.

He quotes Dr. Judith Rapoport of the National Institute of Mental Health as describing OCD as losing the ability “to know if you know something.” This description paints a picture of OCD as being as much about doubt as it is about anxiety. Quite a different view of what an OCD patient is enduring. Dealing with their compulsions and obsessions can lead to depression therefore challenging everything they believe and think they know. To show the severity of it, he shares historical examples in chapter three through the lives of John Bunyan and St. Ignatius Loyola. Both considered suicide. Ignatius prayed, “Show me, Lord, where I can obtain help: and if I have to follow a little dog to obtain the cure I need, I am ready to do just that.”

The hope Ciarrocchi provides begins in chapter 4 and continues through the rest of the book. This hope is directed to both professional and pastoral counselors. Unfortunately, those living like Bunyan and Ignatius often feel like they’ve tried everything and have failed, nothing is available to help. He provides worksheets (chapters 5-7) and techniques for counselors to use to send this message to their clients: “Past failure does not mean you are weak-willed or hopeless. You have simply lacked some essential ingredients for effective change. You can learn skills with patience and proper direction.” Chapter 8 is where he provides those ingredients. One of the most helpful directions by Ciarrocchi is his listing and explanations of three types of scrupulous behavior in chapter 9:

  • Developmental, prominent during adolescence and following a religious conversion in adulthood
  • Milieu-influenced, as taught by family and religious educators
  • Clinical, the version associated with OCD symptoms

He ends the book encouraging those in religion and psychology that they can learn from one another.

Clinical work also requires validation of counseling methods that make explicit use of clients’ religious perspective. This research is long overdue, and some preliminary work indicates the utility of this approach. Researchers studied treating depressed patients who had a religious orientation. They found that incorporating the clients’ religious beliefs through either cognitive-behavior counseling strategies or standard pastoral counseling methods led to more rapid recovery than standard counseling methods without using the clients’ religious beliefs. What is even more intriguing is that using the clients’ religious beliefs was effective even if the counselors were agnostic themselves.

I’m thankful I was listening in that staff meeting and have read this book. Had I read this during my church ministry days, I know of at least one lady I would have ministered to better. My encouragement to all those remotely touched by this review, get your copy and gain.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

First 2022 Reads

If my first two reads of 2022 are any indication, I’m in for an education.

Book #1

Before reading this book, I knew nothing about the start of Wycliffe Bible Translators and Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL). It’s quite a story. In this memoir, you learn just how passionate founder Cameron Townsend was and how that passion laid the foundation for one of the largest mission organizations. His vision and commitment led many world leaders to join forces to transform communities. He used what he had and relied on God for what he didn’t have.

Book #2

If James Cone only wrote this book for me, it would have been worth his time. I’m thankful for the direction I received to read it. I had no idea what I was going to learn and experience. I learned many things. Much of what I learned gave voice to my mind’s whys I didn’t know I needed to voice and answered my soul’s questions I didn’t know I needed to know. As a white, 53-year-old son of a Baptist preacher, my heart ached and my eyes teared through much of this book. So many what if’s and why not’s simultaneously producing shame and empathy, anger and compassion. My view of American history has changed. My appreciation for suffering has deepened. My belief in Jesus’ sacrifice has solidified.

These two books exemplify why it’s important to read. What are you reading? What education will you give yourself in 2022?

2021 Library

For a fourth year I have followed a self-developed reading strategy with the objective to read broader. The goal: read books falling under nine headings. This strategy is still working for me.

For the curious, here is the library of 21 books (Look at that! 21 in ’21! Totally coincidental…or was it?) listed alphabetically and avenue of reading:

  • The Greatest Motivational Tool by Rod Olson (hard copy)
  • Simplifying Coaching by Claire Pedrick (kindle)…best book on coaching I’ve read in a while
  • The Color of Compromise by Jemar Tisby (hard copy)…most challenging book in this library
  • Presence by Amy Cuddy (hard copy)…book with best takeaway, “Fake It ‘Til You Become It.”
  • Hope Rising by Casey Gwinn & Chan Hellman (kindle)…favorite book in this library
  • Opening Up by Writing It Down by James Pennebaker & Joshua Smyth (kindle)
  • Now Hope by Paul De Jong (kindle)
  • Into the Silent Land by Martin Laird (kindle)…most surprising book in this library
  • Baca by Valerie Hyer (hard copy)
  • Unfinished Business by Lee Kravitz (audio)
  • When Mama Can’t Kiss It Better by Lori Getz (kindle)
  • The Journey by Lee Ann Martin (hard copy)
  • The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane (hard copy)
  • Love Like You’ve Never Been Hurt by Jentezen Franklin (kindle)
  • Prepare by J. Paul Nyquist (hard copy)
  • Sound Doctrine by Bobby Jamieson (hard copy)
  • Awe by Paul David Tripp (kindle)…I read this annually
  • Don’t Give the Enemy a Seat at Your Table by Louie Gigilio (kindle)…favorite Christian living book in this library
  • How the Light Gets In by Pat Schneider (kindle)…second favorite book in this library
  • Heartbreak to Hope by Samuel Wright (hard copy)
  • Another Gospel by Alisa Childers (kindle)

We See What We Look For

Recently a friend gave me a copy of Michael Hyatt’s Full Focus journal. So I’ve taken the challenge to complete it’s 90-day design.

The journal page for today had a portion of this quote by author John Lubbock:

What we do see depends mainly on what we look for… In the same field the farmer will notice the crop, the geologists the fossils, botanists the flowers, artists the colouring, sportmen the cover for the game. Though we may all look at the same things, it does not all follow that we should see them.”

― John Lubbock, The Beauties of Nature and the Wonders of the World We Live in

I instantly narrowed that down to this thought: We see what we look for.

How we view what we see is very dependent on what we are looking for. For example, when we read current events or listen to the news, we have biases that filter what we read and hear. How often do we evaluate those filters? How often do we assess if those filters really are ours or are they residual from other influences? Do we ever alter what we are looking for?

As a suggestion, here is a list that I started in my journal to illustrate what I mean. As you read it, consider how such a list in your journal would read.

  • We see God when we look for him
  • We see enemies when we look for them
  • We see offense when we look for it
  • We see opportunity when we look for it
  • We see solutions when we look for them
  • We see danger when we look for it
  • We see rejection when we look for it
  • We see grace when we look for it
  • We see humility when we look for it
  • We see strength when we look for it
  • We see courage when we look for it
  • We see unity when we look for it
  • We see love when we look for it

What are you looking for today? This week? This holiday season?

Let’s Seek a Better Understanding

Last week I was given a book to read. Each page has grabbed me, but none like the start of chapter five, “Defending Slavery at the Onset of the Civil War.”

Let me share a few lines.

As historian Mark Noll has written, no single individual characterized the conflict better than Abraham Lincoln. When Lincoln was inaugurated for his second and very brief term as president in 1865, a Union victory was on the horizon. Robert E. Lee would formally surrender at Appomattox, Virginia, just a month later. Rather than gloat about his military success, Lincoln’s address struck a somber and reflective tone: “Both {Union and Confederacy] read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other…The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully”…Throughout the conflict, Christians of both the Union and the Confederate forces believed that God was on their side.

This startled me. Change a few elements of the storyline, and I feel like he’s describing today’s America.

We should be startled. We should not be divided.

We should be humbled. We should not be puffed up.

We should be listening. We should not be yelling.

In his review of Tisby’s call to repentance, Daniel Williams ended with these words:

Racial reconciliation, Tisby argues, won’t occur without confession of sin and repentance from white Christians—a repentance that some Reformed churches have already started to model, but which hasn’t yet occurred en masse. With God’s grace, it can occur. For those seeking a better understanding of what this confession and repentance might entail, Tisby’s book offers a helpful guide.

History does not have to be repeated. Let’s seek a better understanding.