Saturday, January 29, 2011

Why Don't I...? Why Don't You...?

I came to a realization today. There are several things that make me happy/healthy/relaxed/joyful/refreshed/, but I don't do them nearly as often as I could or should. They consist of physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional activities.

- Praying. What is better than time spent talking with God?

- Sleeping longer than six hours. 

- Reading my Bible. No matter how many times I read it, there is always more to learn from its wisdom.

- Keeping my mouth shut so I can listen more. 

- Going on walks in nature. 

- Listening to classical music.

- Hanging out with my family because they are awesome.

- Meditation. Relaxation techniques are helpful before performances, during stressful times, or to enhance focus.

- Drinking a lot of water. I think I'm dehydrated most of the time, because when I drink around six glasses a day, I feel better all over.

- Singing. Except not in front of people. Too shy.

- Composing music. 

These are all great ways to recharge my life battery. They are refreshing. So why don't I do them more often if they have such positive benefits? Well, I'm lazy, for one. Busy-ness takes its toll also. One of the main things, though, is that I waste my time on things that don't matter or are even negative influences in my life. 

What is a waste of time? 

- Surfing around Facebook.

- Watching t.v. while staring blankly at the screen (I don't mind being in the room with the t.v. on if other people are watching something they like, as long as I can be doing something else like practicing guitar, knitting, cooking, etc.)

- Sitting indoors on a perfectly beautiful sunny day.

- Worrying about anything.

- Telling myself that my life is full of troubles. 

- Listening to crappy music on the radio in the car.

- Reading books that I don't like simply because someone told me I should read them.


So what gives you a feeling of renewed life? 

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

I Hope You Have a Friend Like This

While continuing to read the writings of John Taylor Gatto, an article called "The Art of True Conversation: A Letter to My Daughter" especially caught my attention. It talked about the different types of conversation people engage in with one another. 

The majority of the words exchanged everday is "social talk". There are two values "to be gained from social talk: to endow yourself with significance or to endow others. You do the latter by listening intelligently, asking intelligent questions, making intelligent and compassionate suggestions." Gatto goes on to describe five "flavors" of social talk. There is:

- Self-Expression: "...a way grownups say, 'Me, me, me, me, me, and me!'" 

- Recreating Information: Such as "the weather, prices, bits of gossip, rules, headlines, reproducing editorial opinion that originated elsewhere, etc."

- Competition: " establish who can dominate, who's second, who's last...seldom is the triumphant party's case to be relied upon as 'truth'."

- Expressions of Curiosity: "Whether verbal or nonverbal, it's the main way we confer the vital gift of importance on the people we talk to."

- Entertainment: "...the power to see the world with humor and wit."

Gatto asserts that while it is very important to be able to utilize all five of these conversation forms, if these are the only types of dialogue a person has with others, then they will "slowly petrify". He postulates that no lasting satisfaction can be obtained from shallow levels of talk. The truly fulfilling types of conversation, which are "infinitely renewable, always fresh, always appropriate, always valuable", are called Spirit Talk. I guess he calls it that because it refreshes the human soul, maybe. There are three "streams" of Spirit Talk:

- Emotionally Generous: "...constantly encouraging all those around you to reach for their best, and supporting them when they fall short without recrimination or shows best when the going is which you support others who behave horribly, without concern that your efforts are scorned or betrayed, or in which this this miraculous kind of affection is not returned to you..."

- Solve a Problem: "All lasting human connections- marriages, friendships, partnerships, living communities- are only possible to those who constantly solve and re-solve the problem of entropy, the drift toward boredom, the mistaken belief that there is nothing left to discover in one another... the search-for-solutions mode of thought is inexhaustible...if you're searching for solutions with an emotionally generous partner, it's pretty near impossible not to begin to feel excitement in the undertaking."

- Exploration of the Mystery, or Search for Meaning: "...the relentless, unending pursuit of mysteries." Exploring the reasons behind everything, the eternal "why" and "how".

Gatto writes that "constant awareness of just how very strange everything is sharpens your conversational sensibilities wonderfully, sends you poking into nooks and crannies of subjects for clues overlooked, and makes you wary of prefabricated arguments". 

I have been very blessed with several friends, including my family, whom I can engage in Spirit Talk. Everywhere I live, I try to find those sorts of people. Right now these wonderful friends of mine are dispersed all over the country. Keeping in touch by phone, letter, email, instant messaging, and texting is a joy. I am so grateful for these friends. Now, discovering the kind of people you connect with deeply is not easy, but if you look in the right places and are yourself willing to speak honestly and openly, then the emotionally generous, problem solving, curiosity-filled individuals emerge. If you do not have anyone in your life right now who fills that important role as a meaningful friend, I encourage you to find someone!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Where Do You Find Honor?

One of the stories I loved when I was young was the tiny book of Ruth. As a child, Ruth was an intriguing character because she was so devoted to her mother in law. Dedication to family was understandable to a kid, but as I got older I began to see that Ruth's commitment was deeper than that; it was also a commitment to what she saw as being Right in the eyes of God and her conscience. This indicates a very important quality: honor. 

The sermon on Sunday was about honor. The main focus was actually on Boaz, with the title "Becoming Men of Honor in Self-Indulgent Cultures", but our pastor applied the same principles to Ruth also. Honor is one of the qualities that God wants to call forth in all people. A person's honor, which is their adherence to what is right, their high respect for virtue, and their reputation, is never perfect. Our honor is already disfigured, due to the brokenness in our hearts and inability to follow absolutely the laws of God, but honor is still present deep inside us because we are made in the image of God. 

A man or woman of honor is the opposite of a self-indulgent person. Boaz is a pre-figure of Christ who was the ultimate example of self-sacrifice. The concept of honor is commonly thought of as a manly characteristic partially because of the ancient development of military honor, with its special distinctions for valiant behavior. However, women also have honor that is equally favorable. The Hebrew word used to describe the noble integrity of Boaz in Ruth 2:1 is the same word used for Ruth in 3:11 (although the way integrity is shown in their lives is different, which is evident in the story).

Honorable men (and women) love God. They place God at the center of their hearts. There is no distinction between the sacred and the secular. They behave the same way on Sunday morning in church as they do with their family or friends on Wednesday night at home. Why should we love God? Because God is the ultimate good. Honorable people also treat those they work with respectfully. Boaz makes it a point to treat his workers, servants, and even strangers with grace and care. He goes over and beyond the sense of duty to treat people fairly in all his business transactions. 

Honorable men also protect and care for women. The customs of Israel were quite different for male/female interactions than they are for our present culture, but the quality of consideration for women should still stand, I believe. Boaz shows kindness to Ruth in many ways as the story progresses. Ruth holds true to what she knows is virtuous in her dealings with Boaz. Together, they form a relationship that is focused on honoring each other. 

Self-indulgence characterized this time period in Israel. The book of Judges describes it as everyone doing "what was right in their own eyes". Sound like what is happening today? Yep. It is encouraging to read of two people who refused to compromise on their honor despite the failings of society around them. Again, there is honor unique to women and to men, because I do believe that God created them differently... not lesser or greater than each other, but different and mutually beneficial to one another in the roles they were designed to fulfill. 

The sermon ended with this statement: Your honor is what you choose to do willingly for others, often at personal cost, partially because God asks you to do it, but also because by doing it you find your place in the world. 

Some people want to have power. Some want to have attention. Or money, another form of power. Some may want revenge. Others may simply be lazy or inert in their life progress. But I would say that to desire honor is the one of the greatest aspirations known to mankind. 

Where do you find honor?

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Twelve Days of Christmas: Day 12, Gift of the Magi

Well, today is Three Kings Day. I've been reading up on the customs different cultures use to celebrate the occasion, and there are so many that I'll just tell you to look them up for yourself! 

Tonight Chris and I will take down our tiny Christmas tree and put away the ornaments until next year. That is pretty much the extent of the traditions we have for today. I'd like to read the story "Gift of the Magi" by O. Henry, which is one of my absolute favorite Christmas stories ever.

My hope is that I will be able to celebrate the spirit of Christmas all year long, just like Scrooge said in yesterday's post. Peace, faith, hope, and love. And truth, of course. But with that also comes humility, patience, understanding, and kindness. 

There are many exciting things in the works for 2011. I will be starting a new blog soon, although I will continue to post here as well. Details coming!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Twelve Days of Christmas: Day 11, The Gospel All Year

Scrooge crept toward it, trembling as he went; and following the finger, read upon the stone of the neglected grace his own name, Ebenezer Scrooge. "Am I that man who lay upon the bed," he cried, upon his knees.
The finger pointed from the grave to him, and back again.
"No, Spirit! Oh, no, no!"
The finger was still there.
"Spirit!" he cried, tight clutching at its robe, "hear me! I am not the man I was. I will not be the man I must have been but for this intercourse. Why show me this, if I am past all hope?"
For the the first time the hand appeared to shake.
"Good Spirit," he pursued, as down upon the ground he fell before it, "your nature intercedes for me, and pities me. Assure me that I yet may change these shadows you have shown me, by an altered life!"
The kind hand trembled.
"I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach. Oh, tell me I may sponge away the writing on this stone!"

- From "A Christmas Carol", by Charles Dickens

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Twelve Days of Christmas: Day 10, A Girl's Song

For a young, uneducated, Israelite girl, she must have thought a good long time to come up with something this beautiful. Makes sense when you read the verses I wrote about on Sunday, how she "treasured up all these things and pondered them". She seems to know God's character very well; that must have brought her much trust and hope in the years to come, as she watched her baby grow into the God-Man who would defeat death. 

My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations 
will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent empty away.
He has helped his servant Israel
in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.

- Mary's song, the Magnificat, from Luke 1:46b-55

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Twelve Days of Christmas: Day Nine, We as His True Love

There is beautiful imagery in this English carol, some that I understand and some that still puzzles me. The lyrics are ancient, possibly from before the 1800's. The words have been set to many different tunes. There are other verses pertaining to the life of Jesus, but these are ones relating to Christmas.

Tomorrow shall be my dancing day
I would my true love did so chance
To see the legend of my play
To call my true love to my dance
Sing, O my love, O my love, my love, my love
This have I done for my true love

Then was I born of a virgin pure
Of her I took fleshly substance
Thus was I knit to man's nature
To call my true love to my dance

Sing, O my love, O my love, my love, my love
This have I done for my true love

In a manger laid and wrapped I was
So very poor, this was my chance
Betwixt an ox and a silly poor ass
To call my true love to my dance

Sing, O my love, O my love, my love, my love
This have I done for my true love

Then afterwards baptized I was
The Holy Ghost on me did glance
My Father's voice heard from above
To call my true love to my dance

Sing, O my love, O my love, my love, my love
This have I done for my true love

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Twelve Days of Christmas: Day Eight, To Bring the Word Down and Out

Today in church I saw the title of the sermon as Chris and I were sitting down. It was, "The Gospel of Christmas: Always Down and Out". There are so many connotations of the words "down" and "out". I was curious to find out the meaning behind them in the message, which is a good thing I suppose, because that is what a cryptic title is supposed to do. So here is a summary of the message, with some of my own notes added.

The passage of Scripture was from Luke 2:16-20:

When the angels went away from them into heaven, 
the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go over to Bethlehem 
and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us." 
And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, 
and the baby lying in a manger. 
And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning the child. 
And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 
But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 
And the shepherds returned, 
glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, 
as it had been told them. 
And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, 
he was called Jesus, 
the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. 

Plenty of incredible things happened to Mary during her lifetime. She was visited by an angel who told her she would become pregnant without a man, and what's more, the child she would bear would be the savior of the world, God's own son. That is amazing enough! After hearing this, Mary goes to spend some time with her cousin Elizabeth, after hearing of Elizabeth's own miraculous pregnancy in old age; Mary may even have been present at John the Baptist's birth, hearing Zechariah's prophecy about Jesus' coming "to give light to those who sit in darkness". Stars, angels, ancient prophecies, royalty, priests, and common people are caught up in the wonder of this baby's coming, as described throughout Scripture. Yet the one whose birth was so long expected and hoped for is born in a dirty cave, to poor parents, with lowly shepherds as his first audience. What a strange way for a king to arrive. 

"What do these things mean?"

This surely must have been the question running through Mary's mind. We are told that Mary "treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart". Throughout her life, the story of what her son, the Son of God, meant for her, meant for the world, was stored deeply in her heart. That knowledge went down into her soul, changing her outlook on life. 

The birth of Jesus changed the shepherds, too. After they met him lying in the manger, the shepherds went back to their work in the fields not quietly, but "glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen". This signifies that the Good News of Christ's coming is spread out into the whole earth, and out towards others. What did Jesus come to do, that it is so important to spread the news? In Zechariah's words, Christ came "to guide our feet into the way of peace".

Both of these things, Mary pondering God's plans down in her heart and the shepherds praising God out loud for all to hear, belong in the life of someone who calls themselves a follower of Christ. So here are some questions that the sermon ended with:

What does the Gospel mean for us personally, and for us as a society?

What do we treasure up in our hearts?

Do we ponder the things of God?

Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Twelve Days of Christmas: Day Seven, The New Year!

Every year I write more. It's not because I think I know more, really, but because I realize that I can explore subjects, figure out what I'm thinking/feeling, and understand life much better when I type or write. Probably half of what I write nobody sees but me (and sometimes Chris). I write poetry, much of which is private; my on-and-off journal entries are glimpses for myself into my past thoughts; I keep a dream-book by my bed handy to scrawl down what has just happened in my sleeping-awake subconscious; there are a few people I still correspond with as long distance friends, some by email, one or two by snail mail. Writing is addicting, and, I would say, good for my well being, just as music and books are. So one of my New Year's resolutions is to write more; not necessarily more in quantity, but more in quality, to look at life more deeply so that writing will bring the deepest stuff of life into my awareness.

I want to go barefoot more. It's been only within the past year or two that I've realized how much I don't enjoy wearing shoes. In the wintertime, of course, it's pretty much necessary, and I really hate my feet feeling frozen (cold feet I'm used to, but icy toes are no fun). I don't mind wearing socks indoors. There's just something about feeling the ground when you walk. It makes me feel more stable and more connected with.... everything. So I want to go barefoot more in 2011. 

Then, I want to explore what it means to be a musician. There have been many ways that I've used music this past year that I would never have thought to be doing ten years ago: leading the worship in a women's Bible study, teaching Sunday school children Bible songs, listening to crazy bands, leading an ensemble of young guitarists, and other ventures. I'm excited to see how 2011 will bring more musical growth and exploration into my life.

There we are. Three resolutions, I guess. Or maybe they're more like hopes. Or dreams. 

I launch my bark on the unknown waters of this year,
with thee, O Father, as my harbor,
thee, O Son, at my helm,
thee, O Holy Spirit, filling my sails.
Guide me to heaven with my loins girt,
my lamp burning,
my ear open to thy calls,
my heart full of love,
my soul free.
Give me thy grace to sanctify me,
thy comforts to cheer,
thy wisdom to teach,
thy right hand to guide,
thy counsel to instruct,
thy law to judge,
thy presence to stabilize.
My thy fear be my awe,
thy triumphs my joy.

- New Year, from "Valley of Vision"

And suddenly 
there was with the angel 
a multitude of the heavenly host
praising God and saying,
"Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth, peace,
good will among men!"

- Luke 2:13-14