Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Instead of New Year's Resolutions...

There have been years where I made resolutions meant to begin on January 1st. The root of a personal goal should be to transform part of one's self into something more positive. Sometimes the intent is to bring good change into the world or another's life. Sometimes a personal goal may only involve yourself, which can entail changing a habit, forming a habit, etc. Everyone who makes New Year's resolutions has the intent of following through. But how many of us mere mortals are able to stick with ALL our goals and stay on track the entire year? The more dedicated may doggedly cling to them for a few months, or with a feat of super-human strength, pursue one particular objective until finished. 

I am not one of those people.

The best way for me to accomplish a goal is to have it be long-term, not very specific, and have many different strategies of achieving it. I've had the goal of studying children's education for over four years, which led to taking college classes on related subjects, teaching children as my job, investing in young people's lives and listening to their thoughts, visiting schools, and writing in the blog "Life Is the Teacher". There is no exact end to this goal. It seems like educational methods will be a never-ending study for me, especially since my own child will be born next year, Lord willing. And that's the joy of it: I don't HAVE to have an end to this quest. It can go on for as long as I am interested, willing to learn, and wish to bring information to others. 

In that light, I won't be making any New Year's resolutions. My history has proved me too lazy, too forgetful, too hasty, and/or too impatient for them. It's a bit disappointing, really. There's something so invigorating about establishing new dreams, committing to new aspirations. 

What I will be doing instead is choosing a word for 2012.

Within the past few weeks, a theme has begun to emerge. In my conversations, the books I read, the thoughts I ponder, the motif of TRUST has shyly crept forth. It's become obvious to me that I am sadly lacking in this area. This is partially due to past events that made it difficult for me to trust others easily (which is fear), but it is also because pride stands in the way of putting my trust in anything except myself. This has been a big hindrance in my relationship with God. And there are other places in my life where I can see that lack of trust has had a negative impact. That is the ugly side; the opposite of trust is doubt. With doubt comes skepticism, disbelief, confusion, chaos.

The bright future is this: I want to bring TRUST into my life in whatever ways will positively change me. This is my long-term goal for 2012, which is perfect since there are endless ways that the message of trust can effect me. I will be searching for it...

... as I meditate on Bible passages. I talk with friends and family. I write in my blogs or journal. I walk through the world. I create art. I approach new experiences. I listen. I deal with old pain. I learn how to walk with God. I read books. I admire beauty. I let hindrances go. 

This theme of TRUST may speak loudly sometimes. Other times it may whisper. There is already some art forming in my mind that I'd like to bring into physical being, so that it can be a reminder around my home of the search for trust this year. I want to live with this word, hugging it so closely to myself that it becomes imprinted on my heart. 

Care to join? Is there a word that you want to explore?

Let me know!

If you want more ideas of what this is about, visit these articles:

Friday, December 2, 2011


Sometimes the upstairs neighbors sound like elephants, stomping around with trumpeting sounds of laughter and noise until three thirty in the morning, completely ruining any chance of sleeping for more than five minutes.

Sometimes you wake up hungry at four a.m. because pregnancy cravings for something to eat RIGHT NOW were too powerful for sleep.

Sometimes your partner has to wake up at five to be at work by six, even though you were both up with runny noses for most of the night.

Sometimes the mind runs at such a breakneck speed that it is impossible to turn off, like a t.v. endlessly running through channels with a broken remote, so you lie awake until dawn light begins seeping through the windows.

But then your shyest student breaks out of his shell to play an amazing new guitar composition he's been working on all week.

And then you come home after a long evening of teaching to the love of your life preparing a delicious cooked chicken and mashed potatoes for a cozy dinner.

And then you catch a much-needed nap with your love on a peaceful afternoon.

And then you get the Christmas tree, the tiny evergreen small enough to fit into an apartment, and it reminds you that the best part about December is Christ's coming.

Then you're not so tired.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Philosophy of the Dandelion, the God of the Future, the Treasures Hidden Inside

"When first it was even hinted that the universe may not be a great design, but only a blind and indifferent growth, it ought to have been perceived instantly that this must for ever forbid any poet to retire to the green fields as to his home, or to look at the blue sky for his inspiration. There would be no more of any such traditional truth associated with green grass than with green rot or green rust; no more to be recalled by blue skies than by blue noses amputated in a freezing world of death. Poets, even Pagans, can only directly believe in Nature if they indirectly believe in God; if the second idea should really fade, the first is bound to follow sooner or later; and, merely out of a sad respect for human logic, I wish it had been sooner. Of course a man might have an almost animal appreciation of certain accidents of form or colour in a rock or a pool, as in a rag-bag or a dustbin; but that is not what the great poets or the great pagans meant by mysteries of Nature or the inspiration of the elemental powers. 

When there is no longer even a vague idea of purposes or presences, then the many-coloured forest really is a rag-bag and all the pageant of the dust only a dustbin. We can see this realisation creeping like a slow paralysis over all those of the newest poets who have not reacted towards religion. Their philosophy of the dandelion is not that all weeds are flowers; but rather that all flowers are weeds. Indeed it reaches to something like nightmare; as if Nature itself were unnatural. Perhaps that is why so many of them try desperately to write about machinery; touching which nobody has yet disputed the Argument from Design. No Darwin has yet maintained that motors began as scraps of metal, of which most happened to be scrapped; or that only those cars, which had grown a carburettor by accident, survived the struggle for life in Piccadilly. But whatever the reason, I have read modern poems obviously meant to make grass seem something merely scrubby and prickly and repugnant, like an unshaven chin." 
~ G.K. Chesterton

IF thou wouldst live unruffled by care,
Let not the past torment thee e'er;
As little as possible be thou annoy'd,
And let the present be ever enjoy'd;
Ne'er let thy breast with hate be supplied,
And to God the future confide.

~ Goethe

"As I sat there, I began thinking about the heart, the center of the person, the 'who' we are. I thought about how often I miss the heart of the person and instead focus on their behavior. How often have I looked at someone and made an immediate judgment? I have seen the cut of their hair, the clothes they wore, the language they used, tatoos or not and I made judgments. I have seen those who are overweight, the 'wrong' color, living in the wrong part of town and I have made judgments. I have looked at my own children and family focusing on behavior and never really reaching their heart. It is easy to judge. It is hard to lean in, to listen, to look past the behavior and seek understanding. To seek the heart.

I was reminded of the following:
- The heart is desparately wicked
- I will give you a new heart
- Out of the heart the mouth speaks
- If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart...
- The purposes of a person's heart are deep waters

And I considered how God seeks our hearts. He is after us. He desires intimacy and the knowing of our true self. He, like the Prodigal's Father, looks past behavior and longingly looks down the road for his lost son. His heart breaks as he searches for the hearts he loves.

I am asking God to help me see the hearts of my wife, my children, my friends, my co-workers. I want to discover the richness and treasures hidden inside."

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Other Side of the Season's Change

More and more I find that connections are everywhere. All things are linked. All people are just a thought away from each other. How marvelous to be able to step into someone else's mind, to peer into the corners and examine the cupboards. It leads to understanding, or compassion, or further confusion, or revulsion. But what is so different about them from our own selves? The same reactions arise when we peruse the halls of our own minds. 

On this rainy day with autumn leaves falling, there is the reminder that we are all traveling on the same River. Although everyone has their own stops to make as the current carries them along, we all have the same final destination at the Sea. Life is too short to row with an oar marred by bitterness. 

There is so much joy in reconciliation. After a week, a year, or five years, standing face to face with mutual forgiveness, receiving a letter of kindness, hearing the words "let's try again", knowing that your past wrongs are not held against you: how much healing can take place when two people are willing to hold grace higher than themselves. Love triumphs over our own fallen natures when we look through Another's eyes.

Seeing the connections brings meaning. It might take a long time, maybe not even occur in my own life, but the meaning will eventually be known. We are all meaning-makers. We are all a created work. We are all in the process of creating. 

Yes, there is hardship, and times when we just don't understand why or what. I've often compared myself to a miniscule ant in the vast universe trying to lift a heavy crumb. But sometimes in the midst of my efforts a fresh breath of hope sweeps in to bring new life. This ant is going to keep pushing at crumbs.


Blue eyes are beautiful, as are brown; however,
your eyes reflect more deeply the colors of a storm at sea
in winter, which contains mud, kelp, swimming things, 
swirled wind of December.
Blue eyes are beautiful, as are brown; however,
your slate-grey glance is veiled; the weather
of emotions are only let loose purposefully.
Blue eyes are beautiful, as are brown; however,
your eyes reflect more deeply the colors of a storm at sea.

The Changing of the Seasons

There is time.

For everything there is a season.

My time was born. When will my time come to an end?

There is a time to plant seeds, and a time to admire the beautiful life that grew from them.

There are times of pain, and times of healing.

There is a time to bring an ending, and a time to begin afresh once more.

There is a time to weep for what was lost, and a time to sing in thankfulness for many blessings.

There is a time to sit in sorrow when the night is dark, and a time to dance again with the coming of the morning light.

There is a time to scatter the foundations, and a time to build the foundations back up.

There is a time to gather the ones you love close to you, and a time to sit alone.

There is a time to search with all your heart, and a time to realize that your seeking was in vain.

There is a time to keep what is dear close, and a time to relinquish that closeness.

There is a time to rip apart, and a time to repair.

There is a time to keep one's thoughts secret, and a time to finally step forward and speak boldly.

There is a time for loving, for love to overflow, and a time to cut off love.

There is a time for facing a battle bravely, and a time for peaceful reconciliation.

In the best intentions, there is selfishness. In the most upright of humankind, there is hidden sin. One may hold out mercy and kindness with their right hand while concealing injustice in their left. No good can come of expecting perfection in anything, whether fallen being or fallen world. Once more the golden calf comes crashing down.

I know that God has made everything according to his plan, which I cannot even begin to fathom, but I am still a frustrated tiny ant who does not understand why the crumb I want to carry will not budge.

There is a time for everything.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Numbering Our Days, Finding Our Wisdom: Part I

Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. ~ Psalm 90:12

Old Orchard Church ©

Christ Jesus came into the world to save not the righteous, but sinners. He opposes himself to the proud, but gives grace to the humble. ~ Message of Mark 2
But we have turned away. Our race has become corrupt, and we have turned away from the glory of God.

What does the Lord require of his people?

Pure hearts... cravings to see righteousness- in ourselves, in the believing community, and in the world.

Compassion and real deeds of mercy toward the poor and the desperate.

Minds willing to go to their limits in thinking out the truth.

Love when it is hard and unrewarding.

Patience in the face of my weaknesses, my sins, and my limitations.

Patience in the face of the weakness of others.

Trust, gentleness, and self-sacrifice in our marriages and friendships.

The Lord asks of us that we give ourselves to him, in every single area of our life; that we trust him to change us, and not be overwhelmed by how far we have to go; that we live day by day in the joy of the Lord, and not in complaining...

The Lord requires of us that we believe what is true, and speak for it...

But we have failed much and often in these things.

Let God humiliate us then, by the power and purity of his righteousness, so that we might fly to Christ for safety; for his righteousness has become our own, through his suffering.

Mercy triumphs over judgement. ~ Mark 2:13b

Christ Jesus came into the world to save not the righteous, but sinners.

~ Excerpts from anonymous litany

Monday, August 1, 2011

On My Birthday...

What an amazing month July was. The highlights were spending the 4th of July with amazing friends, teaching at guitar camp, and hosting my friends Eliot and Tyler and my sister Emily for almost a week. The celebration of my and Emily's birthdays this weekend with my family and friends was a lovely way to wrap up July. 

Over the past few weeks I've seen more and more how wonderfully (and strangely) surprising human nature can be. New revelations and old truths relearned have been collecting in my mind. Here are the ones that I've written down in order to remember better:

People do not have to be related by blood in order to be considered family.

Sometimes there is no apparent rhyme or reason for one person to become attached to another, but it happens anyway.

Just because a person can ignore their conscience doesn't mean that they should. 

The heart will bloom in a parched desert of affection, even without the nourishment of mutual love, for much longer than we think possible. 

Confidence can take you a long, long way.

Arrogance is confidence which has grown too big for its britches. 

If you can't speak honestly, keep your mouth shut. Try to speak kindly as much as possible also.

Just because you don't like something doesn't mean it's not true.

Sometimes people just need a compassionate friend to listen.

There's nothing more reassuring than a friend at your side who believes in you to give the extra boost of confidence needed to accomplish something difficult. 

Nature and music are two of the most powerful forces that can unite people together.

There is absolutely no need to be rude to anybody.

Even when people live far away from each other, they can still be close in heart.

Speak the truth, with love, as often as you can.

Everybody just wants to be spoken to in the Language of the Moon.

Anyway.... there we go. Life is full of interesting happenings. 

As August arrives, I begin planning for the upcoming autumn and winter months, with teaching lessons, ensemble, Bible study, music performances, and travel expeditions in the works. There are some exciting events in store for this year... but I'll write more about those as they come up.

There were so many happy moments this month. Most of them are too private to share, but one that I am joyful to announce is that I obtained a mandolin for my birthday! I was so elated that I ended up writing a story-poem about it. Here it is.

At guitar camp in the hundred degree heat
Paul carried his family's mandolin
to composition class along with his guitar.
I picked it up on a whim of the moment. 
It felt like magic.
The strings were the lower four of the guitar
upside down, so it meant thinking backwards,
like seeing star constellations from a universe 
the mirror opposite of our own.
I quickly learned
that you have to use a pick if you don't
want to destroy your nails.
For a brief half hour my mind 
was struck dumb by the way
the smooth notes flowed out of the beautiful instrument.

"I must get a mandolin someday."

Standing in the shop,
teenagers excitedly discussing swords and movies
around me, the world slowed to a standstill
as the mandolin for sale was placed on the counter.
Taking it into my hands
brought back the feel of magic.
But this one was different... it was strung
for a left-handed musician. The strings were
switched, pick-guard on the wrong side.
No wonder it was priced so low.
It has hung on the wall
for a long time, we were told.
Poor mandolin, nobody wanted you.
Still.... too much for me to pay.
With aching musician's heart
I gave it back.

"How can I possibly get a mandolin?"

Chris takes me back to the shop.
"It's my gift to you, dear.
Happy birthday."
Suddenly the mandolin is back in my arms.
It comes with a case too.
Walking in a dream, I choose three picks from a bin:
green, purple, and white.
The salesman jokingly says, "Don't forget us
when you're famous and all that."
I smile. No fame, please.
All I want is beautiful music.

"This is my mandolin now!"

During the drive to the music store
my fingers can't leave the instrument alone.
The body is shiny. The frets are small.
Its voice is shy, as if aware 
that nobody wanted it 
for so long. 
The repairman tells me that it will take
several days 
to make minor changes. Then 
it will be right-handed again.
Just a waiting game now...
playing with the picks, learning the notes
in my head, envisioning 
melody lines and chord voicings
across the fretboard.
Not long until the music
is back in my hands.

"Just waiting for my mandolin..."

Today is my birthday. I want one of the themes for my new year to be "living and loving, while waiting and hoping". Too often people spend their time wishing for things to be different instead of enjoying who and where they currently are in their lives. Or they only focus on living in the moment, neglecting future thoughts, and hindering their possible options later on down the road. It is possible to live my life joyfully, loving those I am with and loving everything I do, while at the same time waiting patiently for difficult or trying circumstances to change and hoping to become a better person every day. 

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Tiny Spark and the Weak Tree

My energy is slowly coming back. With its return is the renewed realization of the passions that make me who I am. I do not do well with half-heartedness. I want to be a beacon of truth, of kindness, of compassion. A help to those who are sorrowful or searching. How I want to be a fire.

But it seems that most of the time I am closer to being a tiny little flame almost ready to go out.

Sometimes it feels like I have gone out. Wrong behaviors are the winds that threaten to extinguish the flame. When my past is laid bare, I don't know how anyone, especially God, could possibly consider me a light of truth. I am, at best, a flickering spark.

When I think about the kind of fruit I'd like to show from my life's work, I feel ashamed, because only the opposite sort of fruit, the kind that might taste good at first but later prove to be deadly, seems to show in my life. Selfishness, fear, worry, bitterness, disdain for others, hypocrisy, self-righteousness, insecurity, lack of self-control... these Poison Fruit bring despair, and ultimately, death of self, in a physical, spiritual, and mental way. 

Yet when I stop trying on my own to fix everyone and everything, then I begin to understand where true strength comes from. A tree that bears good fruit is planted in a safe place, near the water of wisdom, away from things that will corrupt its fruit. Fortunately I know a Gardener who watches over his plants very carefully, not letting them be destroyed in spite of their own shortcomings. He provides supports for my frail limbs. The fruit I am able to bear is only due to his gentle tending.

So for now I am the Weak Tree and the Tiny Spark. Yet I am NOT content to stay this way.... I am always seeking to grow more branches, to add more fuel to the fire. Maybe my little flame will help ignite others to become light as well. Perhaps someone will taste a fruit from my work which will benefit them. Thanks be to God that I am not alone in these endeavors!

When Seasons Change


Allergies. They are often the first sign that winter is melting into spring. But as much as possible, I try to ignore the pollen stuffing my head full of itchiness so that I can run outside to welcome the green. Tiny buds, little violet flowers poking up through the dry winter grass. And rain... lots of rain. Then the flip-flop of cold weather-hot weather-cold-weather-hot weather. The temperature changes more than a kid's mind in a candy shop.

Through the blooming of nature's green comes the renewal of my own inner self. More energy! More excitement! More hours of light! Time to dig out the tulip bulbs of projects left since the ending of the warm months of autumn last year. The outdoors calls. The sap of spring runs warm through my veins and the trees around me.

Time to plant herbs. Time to open the windows. Time to cook with fresh vegetables. Time to eat the gorgeous new berries available from the farmer's market.  Time to listen to the birds singing their hearts out. Time for Easter, with its beautiful reminder of the ultimate renewal of spirit and creation.


This post is part of Five Minute Friday.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Turning Mourning into Dancing

I fully admit to being impatient. I will agree with anyone who says that I am too quick to speak without thinking. Everyone has faults, and it seems that mine show themselves often enough that they must be fairly obvious to me and everyone else!

But when I was confronted with the possibility that I might be suffering from ungratefulness, my first thought was, "Surely not! I always remember to say thank you to people!"

Then I was called to look deeper than outward expressions of thanks. What was the state of my heart?

I was not content with my circumstances. I was frustrated with my sickness (Lyme disease, fortunately being treated) and lack of energy. I was complaining a lot.

When confusion dims my sight
Let your joy come in the morning
Drive the darkness from the night
Turn my mourning into dancing

Yet I have a wonderful husband who has been diligently running the household, doing dishes, laundry, cooking, taking care of me, etc. My ongoing healing process is aided by my doctor, antibiotics, healthy food, lots of sleep, a comfortable bed, clean environment, safe water to drink, supportive family and friends, and many other good things.

How could I have all those benefits and still be ungrateful for what I'd been given?

So for the past few days, I've been trying to cultivate gratefulness in my heart in place of dissatisfaction.

Encircle me, O Trinity
Let your joy come in the morning
Lord your joy my strength will be
Turn my mourning into dancing

Focusing on my blessings.

Meditating on the Psalms.

Deliberately choosing to smile instead of frown.

Being content with where I am and the body that I have.

Loving those around me even when I'm tired.

Not complaining.

Finding hope.

When anger to the wind is cast
Let your joy come in the morning
Weave your peace around me fast
Turn my mourning into dancing

I want to dance!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Can I Have Peace?

Today I've been pondering the meaning of the word "peace".

So many of my dear friends, and a few close family members, are experiencing extreme hardships right now, mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Pain is being felt in many homes tonight. My heart aches for them, even as my own body aches from the infection I'm currently fighting. Trouble on the outside... sorrow on the inside.

There have been a few verses floating around in my head as I try to process everything.

"The Lord is my light and my salvation. Whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?" ~ Psalm 27:1

"God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea." ~ Psalm 46:1-2

And especially this one...

"Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." ~ John 14:27

It seems that if we are able to have peace, then it means we are able to weather any storm of life without being knocked off our feet, because our strength is found in something so strong that nothing can shake it. Does this mean that our emotions are unworthy? No. Grief, anger, hurt are important expressions of our hearts; we are not machines. If we have peace, though, then we do not need to have despair. Should we become disinterested or fatalistic about our futures? Not one bit. We possess value in and of ourselves as individual, unique humans who can have a positive impact on the world and people around us, if we care to develop our potential gifts.

Peace comes from knowing that no matter what, we will be "okay". Even deeper than that, peace comes from knowing that no matter what happens in our outward lives, to our physical bodies or physical environment, our inner self will be safe. The flesh may be chained yet the heart still flies free. As another way of putting it, earthly possessions return to dust, but the soul has a haven impervious to destruction.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Through Hard Times

Families are broken. Friends walk away from the light to pursue darkness. Health fails. Lives change. The world aches. Yet through all things I wish for the strength and conviction to speak these words along with David:

Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart.
But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped.
For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

And they say, "How can God know? Is there knowledge in the Most High?"
Behold, these are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches.
All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence.
For all the day long I have been stricken and rebuked every morning.

But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task,
until I went into the sanctuary of God;
then I discerned their end.

Truly you set them in slippery places; you make them fall to ruin.
Like a dream when one awakes, O Lord, when you rouse yourself,
you despise them as phantoms.

When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart,
I was brutish and arrogant;
I was like a beast toward you.

Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
you hold my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will receive me to glory.

Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

For behold, those who are far from you shall perish;
you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you.
But for me it is good to be near God...

~ Psalm 73, excerpts

Friday, May 13, 2011

Deliberately Creative

When I look at the world around me, I am inspired. There is so much beauty everywhere. The patterns and shapes and symmetry of the universe are astounding! Especially in the springtime, as nature renews its colors, the amazingness of being alive continuously surprises me. Yes, I just wrote "amazingness". As the world shows evidence of being created, so I feel encouraged to create, whether I sit at my desk or go outside.

Creating also feels like a kind of nurturing. When someone else acknowledges our creations, it brings attention to ourselves, even to our inner thoughts. The creator nurtures its creation... the creation brings nurture to its creator through its flourishing and through the recognition of others. 

Take some time to create today. Look around you. Only your eyes need to see what you make. Or you can bless others by sharing your creation. Be grateful for the opportunity to become an apprentice to the Master Creator.

This post is part of Five-Minute Fridays.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Thoughts on Ayn Rand, rational theism, and Christianity

Lately I've been thinking a lot about what it means to use both reason and faith in my beliefs as a Christian. So with all the news about the new movie featuring Ayn Rand's theories, my curiosity was piqued. Several of my friends consider themselves objectivists or rational theists. After some research into both philosophies I must say that in my opinion they take the color out of life while turning the universe into a purely mathematical, unwelcoming place.  

Rational theism appears to accept many of Christianity's tenets, yet it goes about explaining them in such a way that turns the organic, creative, ever-changing human being into something barely more than a machine. Mankind is a thinking AND feeling form of life; how can it be right to completely dismiss the emotional/relational side of ourselves? Rational theism may be a way of thought that appeals to those who are extremely logical or scientifically minded; however, I don't find any place for a personal, spiritual relationship with an ever-living God in its theories. Belief in reason is given precedence over belief in God. Yes, God has given us a mind, which we are meant to use wisely, but the mind is not what ultimately saves us. 

When I visited the Ayn Rand Institute's website to explore the values of Objectivism, I found several things that contradicted basic Christian beliefs. Under Metaphysics was the sentence "objectivism rejects any belief in the supernatural". Another phrase under Epistemology states that "objectivism rejects mysticism (any acceptance of faith or feeling as a means of knowledge)"; also, under Ethics: "objectivism rejects any form of altruism- the claim that morality consists in living for others or for society". These statements contradict the Biblical teachings about the validity of a spiritual realm, the importance of faith, and the core message of Christianity. Man should not be worshiped; the creature is not greater than the Creator.

Logic on its own comes to a conclusion that self-interest is, at its foundation, the best choice for mankind. However, when faith is the only advisor, the issues of narrow-mindedness, or "blind faith", and a disregard for rational thought emerge. At its root any religious belief must be taken on faith, but I think that there is cause for a healthy balance of reason that should go along with it. As Christians we are encouraged to think clearly without merely accepting the words of any teacher. Trust in God needs to be matched with wisdom and the search for knowledge.

As a final note, here is a quote I read on Sunday (apologies for not knowing who the author is). It is a reminder that despite the pain of this reality, there is a deeper meaning to our existence:

"As [psychologist] William James pointed out, if we are indeed part and parcel of a meaningless universe, the kind in which Jesus could be murdered on a cross with no resurrection, then being depressed only makes good sense. Under these conditions the sensitive and sensible person will be depressed. I have discovered only one event in history that redeemed all this evil for me and gave me hope: the resurrection of Jesus. Allowing the resurrected One to be constantly present, I can deal with all the evil suffered by Jesus, by my friends and by me. I can face all the rape, pillage, war and hatred that I hear about daily, and still have hope. The resurrection reveals the ultimate nature of the universe, and the risen Christ continues to victory over the power of evil."   

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Celebrating an Anniversary

When arriving at something as important as a thirty year anniversary of a church, you'd think that a good theme to commemorate the event would be something uplifting, a positive phrase that would rejoice at the past time and look forward to a strong future.

So you can imagine my surprise when I heard that the theme of my church's anniversary was going to be taken from Psalm 90.   Not exactly what I'd call uplifting! The Psalm starts out with a comforting reminder of God's might and care for His people, but it quickly heads into what might appear to be a depressing account of man's frailty. The brevity of our human lives is contrasted with the eternal timelessness of God; "the years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty, yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away".

Yet this is a fitting thing to ponder even on the happy anniversary of our church's founding. Why? Because life is about time.

In the sermon on Sunday, our pastor outlined three things that Psalm 90 teaches. First, life is short compared to God's eternal glory. We come from dust and to dust we return. That fact alone is sobering enough. Nobody can argue with it. Secondly, our lives are marked by pain and sorrow. Think of the turmoil and poverty in other countries, or the natural disasters that have been devastating cities all over the world. There are troubles for all people, even those who have a relatively easy existence as middle class residents of the United States. Third, these troubles are due to a fallen world full of sin. Nature is imperfect. Our minds are corrupted. As a culture and an individual, we have defied God by following our own warped morals, meaning that we can never meet up to His holy, pure standard.

Does all this sadness mean that we should just live however we please and then die, because there is no hope? No! Foremost in this life we have the hope of being able to trust in the holiness of God. His character never changes. While He is the epitome of justice, He is also the heart of mercy. I don't understand fully how God can be both the righteous Judge and the Lover of my soul, but I am able to trust in God's divine plan.

The contemplation of death can clarify what is truly important for us. Knowing that God is in control is one step towards hope in life. Verse 12 of Psalm 90 gives us the next reason for living mindfully: "So teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom". If our time is limited, then we must use the minutes, hours, days, and years carefully. You've often heard people say "don't waste your time".  This is a wake-up call to prioritize your existence!

So what does it mean to gain a heart of wisdom? Why would the Bible say that this is the most important thing a person can do in their short lifetime? Proverbs 9:10 holds the basic answer: "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom". This is not the kind of fear that translates into terror, but the type of fear that inspires awe of the utter holiness of the living God. Awe is meant to lead us to wonder, which leads into searching out knowledge of God's character, that we might know Him better. We can be free in the wisdom of God to be who we are really meant to be, to serve our communities with our gifts, to change the cycle of selfishness, and to glorify God by enjoying Him forever.

God is our true refuge in a world full of sorrow. The greatest mystery is that God somehow came down from His great height to provide us with a way off this merry-go-round of birth-pain-death. I am thankful for the time I have been given.

"Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days."

"Let the favor of our Lord God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!"

Saturday, April 23, 2011

A Look into Journaling

Do you journal?

Whether online as a blog, on a computer, in a little black book that you carry everywhere, in a secret notebook hidden from everyone, many people seem to partake in some way in the art of journaling. From what I've read, journaling is not exactly the same as keeping a diary. Writing in a diary seems to be completely about the day-to-day events of ME, only me, like a personal newspaper; it sounds dry and unappetizing. Journaling encompasses not only one's own tiny world but also expands to become ideas, questions, exclamations, meditations, expressions, scenes, and images of the greater universe all around us. 

Artists and writers alike can benefit from journaling. Or, if you're a particularly absent-minded person like me, it's almost necessary to carry a notebook wherever you go, so that everything and anything can be written down at a moment's notice without being lost in transient memory! Here are some reasons in favor of journaling listed by a woman who has been doing so for over thirty years:
  • A [journal is a] record of stories for all kinds or experiences. - It is very healthy to “get it out” and put in a book.
  • For taking notes.
  • Journals are a great referral system. 
  • In the front or back of a book, Deborah reserves a few pages for quotes or even recipes.
  • You can press a flower in the journal.
  • Notes when traveling (she uses a small book as a travel journal).
  • Write down a poem that impressed her or a poem she wrote.
  • To write down things that she was grateful for. Gratitude lists.
  • Notes from a book she is reading.
  • She is a writer. She will use her journals to write stories and to use in talks.
  • We all go through different phases and changes in our lives. “A new phase in my life is a new journal.”
  • Your journals will be a treasure for your family when you are gone. 
  • The journal will be a great help for you now as you record the things that are important in your life.

Frida Kahlo, a famous artist, kept a journal. It's fascinating to look through the pages she wrote and sketched to see who she was. The real her was colorful, deeply fascinating, and strange. What would people think of you if they saw what your journal looked like, many years after you were gone?

Some people use mixed media in their journals, a conglomeration of a craft project, freestyle writing, variations of art mediums, or pictures taken from other sources.

It can be as plain or as elegant as you want. And who says the writing has to be legible to anyone except you? As long as you can read it, that's all that matters.

Maybe you just have random thoughts to jot down. Lots of people doodle on the back of receipts, calenders, or any spare paper lying about. A journal allows you to keep these seemingly random "doodles" in one spot. Maybe looking back at what you wrote/drew later will bring some insight or a new thought!

It doesn't always have to be cheerful or uplifting. Here is another page from Frida Kahlo's journal. I don't know the translation of her words, but from the look of the accompanying art they don't appear to be positive. A journal may be the one place you don't feel like you have to lie. Hopefully you have friends who provide listening ears no matter what your mood, but a journal is another quiet friend whose pages wait to hear and see through your eyes.

You don't have to be an amazing artist or a talented writer, either. If it makes you happy, if it accomplishes the purpose you intend, then nobody can call your journaling method "wrong". Any age, any level of ability can start a journal.

I would encourage you to use both art and words in keeping a journal. This is far more possible if your journal is a physical book that you can take everywhere; computers are very handy in this age, but they are still very limiting. For more reasons as to why visual art is just as important as writing (even for those people who say that they are not artists, myself included!), check out this article about visual journals.

While I was researching journaling, I came across two websites that had fun ideas for journal art. Zentangle and The Doodle Game are creative ways to explore sketching for those who feel hesitant about leaping into the artistic circles or for people who like their hands moving while they think!

So what do you think? Interested in beginning a journal?

Edit: If you are wondering how to start a journal, check out this Journaling 101 article, which was recommended to me by a friend!