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Saturday, June 30, 2012


In the last year I have picked up the habit of using the One Year Bible Online to have regular devotions. I don't know about you, but I need a system to keep me moving forward.

If you and I were having lunch right now I'd share how each of today's readings kicked my butt. 2Kings 17 reminded me of how shallow we are and forgetful of the clarity of God's commands for our lives. Acts 20 was like a mental slide show... I had the privilege in 2005 of traveling through those towns mentioned: Troas, Assos, Ephesus, parts of Greece and ancient Macedonia. More importantly, I was reminded of how I memorized Acts 20:24 my first year out of college, wanting it to be my mission statement:
But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God.
Then I got to Psalm 148, and heard myself humming the worship song I learned years ago which was based on this psalm.

And then I started doing what I believe all the psalms encourage us to do... I kept going. Ben Patterson, Campus Pastor of Westmont College, taught a group of us years ago to use the psalms as templates for prayer. Read them, listen, read them again, then pray them. And then build on them, adding to what they say. As I learned from how liturgy is supposed to work, rather than use my circumstances to shape my worship, the reverse should be the case. The words I say, the prayers I pray, the songs I sing, shape my understanding of life and my circumstances.

It says in 2Corinthians 1:20,
For all of God’s promises have been fulfilled in Christ with a resounding “Yes!” And through Christ, our “Amen” (which means “Yes”) ascends to God for his glory.
So I encourage you to say yes to God and yes to your life through Psalm 148 today. Pray it, and build on it, praising Him in countless ways. He is good.

Psalm 148

1 Praise the Lord!

Praise the Lord from the heavens!
    Praise him from the skies!
2 Praise him, all his angels!
    Praise him, all the armies of heaven!
3 Praise him, sun and moon!
    Praise him, all you twinkling stars!
4 Praise him, skies above!
    Praise him, vapors high above the clouds!
5 Let every created thing give praise to the Lord,
    for he issued his command, and they came into being.
6 He set them in place forever and ever.
    His decree will never be revoked.

7 Praise the Lord from the earth,
    you creatures of the ocean depths,
8 fire and hail, snow and clouds,
    wind and weather that obey him,
9 mountains and all hills,
    fruit trees and all cedars,
10 wild animals and all livestock,
    small scurrying animals and birds,
11 kings of the earth and all people,
    rulers and judges of the earth,
12 young men and young women,
    old men and children.

13 Let them all praise the name of the Lord.
    For his name is very great;
    his glory towers over the earth and heaven!
14 He has made his people strong,
    honoring his faithful ones—
    the people of Israel who are close to him.

Praise the Lord!

Praise the Lord for the lovely friends in my life, and my church family.
Praise the Lord for the meaning and beauty and joy I experience nearly every day in the work I get to do.
Praise him for the capacity to exercise and enjoy his creation, the mind to read and learn, the good food on my table, my warm and comfortable bed, the roof over my head, the birds singing outside my window each morning.
His name is stupendously great, and I praise him for making himself known to me and to us. YES!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012


So much for my vacation goal of getting back to writing on my blog... but I will not beat myself up. I will simply write a post!

I just came across this quote, and it clanged like a loud bell through my whole being:

Humiliation is the beginning of sanctification; and as without this, without holiness, no man shall see God, though he pore whole nights upon his Bible; so without that, without humility, no man shall hear God speak to his soul, though he hear three two-hours' sermons every day.   ... John Donne (1573-1631)
First it should be said that I love John Donne as the eternal English major that I am. I have distinct memories of encountering Donne's poetry in my first English lit survey course as a college freshman. Finally my tastes had matured beyond the Footprints poems, and I understood the beauty of works like these from his Holy Sonnet XIV:

Batter my heart, three-person'd God ; for you
As yet but knock ; breathe, shine, and seek to mend ;
That I may rise, and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend
Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp'd town, to another due,
Labour to admit you, but O, to no end.
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
But am betroth'd unto your enemy ;
Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me. 

Donne, as described in Wikipedia, was a "poet, satirist, lawyer and Protestant priest." How could you not love such an eclectic man?! But his verse is what captured my attention... I loved how his poems covered so many different topics, ranging from worship to lust to grief to love. He seemed more real to me in that way. (If you still are bored at the mere mention of poetry, just quickly read through perhaps his most famous poem, that one titled No Man is an Island. The last lines still take my breath away.)

But I digress. The first words I mentioned here, those related to humiliation, taught me so much this morning in so few words. 

We misunderstand, in 2012, what it truly means to be "humiliated." In our media-saturated culture full of "gotcha" photos and headlines, the word "humiliation" probably makes us immediately think of Watergate, Monica Lewinsky, Michael Jackson's child abuse charges, Lindsay Lohan's multiple arrests,  too many embarrassing moments on reality TV, and televangelists caught in duplicitous situations. Humiliation is all about getting caught (proverbially or literally) with your pants down, degraded and revealed in all your weakness. And we somehow enjoy seeing that happen to someone else... perhaps because it takes the attention off of our own weaknesses and foibles?

In reality, to be humiliated is to not worry more about your reputation than the state of your soul. In other words, humiliation is a choice. It says, "I don't care what you think of me. Instead, I seek to be someone of true character and integrity. I want my actions and convictions to line up. I will hold to my ethics and values, regardless of the personal cost."

With that in mind, Jesus is the ultimate example of humiliation, right? In dying on the cross, the ultimate sign of humiliation and degradation in the Roman Empire, he was willing to suffer the vulgar hatred and misunderstanding and lies that rained down on him because he knew that his atonement best expressed and enacted the profound love and forgiveness of God.

So what does that mean for me? How can I "humiliate" myself? If you surf around the net for "humility" and "humiliation," you might land on this site. It says there that to be humble and be humiliated is to:
  • love
  • put others first
  • be willing to take last place
  • forgive
  • be willing to forgo personal rights
  • be willing to be mocked
Ah, now it gets personal. My daily interactions with friends, co-workers, clients, family, the people I meet at Trader Joe's, the drivers that cut me off when I'm riding my bike... Ouch. This is impossible on my own. Only thru the Spirit's work and presence in me am I able to do this, even occasionally.

When I took Biblical Greek in seminary, I learned that the classic verse about humility, 1Peter 5:6-7, is written in the passive tense. What that means is that "Humble yourselves under the mighty power of God" is better translated as "Be humbled under the mighty power of God." Such a difference, eh? 

Practically speaking, perhaps Henri Nouwen puts it best:
Courage is connected with taking risks.  Jumping the Grand Canyon on a motorbike, coming over Niagara Falls in a barrel, or crossing the ocean in a rowboat are called courageous acts because people risk their lives by doing these things.  But none of these daredevil acts comes from the centre of our being.  They all come from the desire to test our physical limits and to become famous and popular.   Spiritual courage is something completely different.  It is following the deepest desires of our hearts at the risk of losing fame and popularity.  It asks of us the willingness to lose our temporal lives in order to gain eternal life.
The summer blockbuster movie for kids this summer is Brave. I haven't seen it, but if the popularity of movies like Hunger Games is any indication, I believe that our world hungers for true bravery... and maybe even humiliation?

Friday, June 15, 2012

Grand Teton reading #4

Though I risk mockery from those near and dear to me, I will admit to one more thing I'm reading during this vacation... my newest "addiction" = Harvard Business Review. My good friend and colleague Glen introduced this magazine to me last year. I was skeptical, but not after reading only one issue (which took me at least two months and required more than one google search to figure out what certain terms meant).

Perhaps that sounds horribly dull and oh-so-not-beach-reading material for a vacation, but the articles (most of them, anyway) send my mind in a million directions, all creative and stimulating. Sure, most of them make think about work... but let's not forget, I have the deep privilege of loving what I do! (And I thank the Lord every day for that.)

Believe it or not, articles in "HBR" often give me 1-2 page resources for the college interns I'm training this summer, or material for a church with whom I'm consulting, or seeds for an article idea. And yes, once in awhile there is an article that flies completely over my head with its multiple business-school acronyms or corporate concepts. Perhaps I should mention that other than a part-time job as a bank teller in high school and my first job out of school as a technical writer, my entire employment career has been in non-profits.

No doubt that is part of HBR's appeal for me. It stretches my mind in ways that all of my beloved theological and literary books do not. It constantly reminds me that there is a huge world out there that needs the truth of the kingdom. And it shows me, more than you would expect, that there are many in the for-profit sector who still look to make a true difference in the world (I submit this article from today's website posts as evidence.)

I'm three issues behind in my reading, because I refuse to rush through them. So I have been reading the April 2012 issue, and given where I am, among 10,000' peaks, I was more than interested in this article in particular: Wilderness Leadership -- On the Job (here's the nubbin of the article at least... you have to subscribe to the get full one!). It describes some hoity-toity leadership development course put on by NOLS (the National Outdoor Leadership School), that sounds one part amazing and one part pee-in-your-pants challenging!

This article addressed the subject most dear to my heart these days, that of leadership development. And it concluded with this especially poignant section:
Many scholars argue that the fast-paced, high-tech world of work wreaks havoc on leaders' ability to engage in the careful strategic thinking required of them. We agree; executives in particular (HELLO -- anyone!!) need to occasionally abandon their modern-day trappings and recharge. This means disconnecting not just from laptops and smartphones but also from devices that purportedly promote relaxation, such as iPads and TVs. We believe that getting out into nature achieves what the environmental psychologists Rachel and Stephen Kaplan call "attention restoration." Being in the outdoors effectively resets our brains, allowing us to analyze problems, map strategies, and dream big.
Today was a perfect example of that for me. Unlike the other days, my friend and I decided to hike separately. She opted for a much more strenuous hike of nearly 13 miles with a vertical climb of 2,500', while I chose to take the rolling hike around Jenny Lake, which is about 8 miles long. We had opted to turn off the data on our smartphones for the trip (and enjoyed the email break immensely) but today I also decided to not listen to anything. I just hiked briskly for a bit over two hours and had an amazing time. I saw marmots, ducks, geese, an elk, a fox, and a bear cub. I heard endless birdsong. I paused and gloried in the beauty of this park (seriously, if you have not been, YOU. MUST. GO.) as I stood overlooking Jenny Lake with rapids feeding into it on one side, Hidden Falls rushing down another side, and the Teton Range thrusting upward around it. (I cannot claim credit for this photo, but it captures an average view from my day perfectly.)

And during the entire "lap" around the lake I never tired of talking with God. I talked with him (yep, out loud) about various things on my mind, I lifted up many dear ones in prayer, I pondered certain situations, I revealed some fears. To say it was a time of attention restoration is a massive understatement. It was heaven itself.

I pray you may have some attention restoration this summer. Read some good, hard, challenging books. And Lord willing, may you get to go to a "thin place" and revel in the Creator. He is so very, very good.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Grand Teton reading #3

I won't be able to blog much about this one. The things it touches on are too much to share. But I cannot recommend it enough. It is a simple-looking book ~ big print, wide margins, short chapters. But it cuts to the heart in profoundly convicting ways.

Nouwen addresses our deep needs for solitude, silence, and prayer. Here are the reasons:
Our society is not a community radiant with the love of Christ, but a dangerous network of domination and manipulation in which we can easily get entangled and lose our soul. The basic question is whether we ministers of Jesus Christ have not already been so deeply molded by the seductive powers of our dark world that we have become blind to our own and other people's fatal state and have lost the power and motivation to swim for our lives.
He then calls out our great sin: our compulsive need to maintain a false self. In other words, "what matters in how I am perceived by my world." He then goes on to show how Jesus faced these things in his 40 days in the desert, where he was confronted with three sins of the false self:

  1. To be relevant (turn stones into bread)
  2. To be spectacular (throw yourself down from a great height)
  3. To be powerful (I will give you all these kingdoms)
Obviously, the irony of writing about all of this on a blog, for the world to see, is not lost on me. Again, I won't be airing my laundry here. I am simply reminded that the goal of solitude is not privacy, but transformation. As Nouwen says, in solitude we struggle "to die to the false self" by having our scaffolding (friends, calls to make, meetings to attend, emails to answer, etc) removed. Rather, we bring ourselves (vulnerable, sinful, weak) to the feet of Christ.
The wisdom of the desert is that the confrontation with our own frightening nothingness forces us to surrender ourselves totally and unconditionally to the Lord Jesus Christ.
It is here then that Spirit-filled compassion takes hold, and from which ministry can then emerge (see Matthew 4 for how it unfolds in the life of Jesus.)

I'll end with Nouwen's words:
It is in this solitude that we become compassionate people, deeply aware of our solidarity in brokenness with all of humanity and ready to reach out to anyone in need.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Grand Teton reading #2

I am hopelessly in love with our national parks. As Wallace Stegner has written,
National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.
In 2000 I decided, with my best friend, to vacation at a national park every year. Since then we have been to Sequoia, Yosemite, Glacier, Grand Teton, Yellowstone, Rocky Mountain, Olympic, Mt. Rainier, Denali, Acadia, and Banff in Canada. (I should add that we decided we would do this until at least one of us got married. Well... we're glad there are a lot of national parks!)

Though there are countless other parks, we are addicted to mountain peaks, so we're on lap two of the ones we've already visited. Back at Grand Teton, I am somehow enjoying it even more this time. The Teton Range, from any angle in the park, takes my breath away. Today we head out to the hike in Cascade Canyon, which starts with a boat ride across Jenny Lake, followed by short jaunts to Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point. Just writing those words makes me smile.

Given that Theodore Roosevelt was integral to the founding of the national parks, it seems appropriate to start reading the third and last biography of Roosevelt by Edmund Morris here at Grand Teton. As I started it in bed last night, I stayed up later than I wanted to because I couldn't put it down. Roosevelt was larger than life and an absolutely extraordinary character.

In my mind a good biography admires its subject deeply but is also willing to explore the shortcomings and weaknesses. Others I have enjoyed have been about Steinbeck, Fitzgerald, Lewis and Clark, Sir Ernest Shackleton, Martin Luther, St. Francis, John Wesley, Mother Teresa, several about C.S. Lewis, and the two previous editions on Roosevelt, to name a few. (My friends who prefer reading fiction are probably rolling their eyes at me at this point...)

I won't bore you with trivia from this one on Roosevelt, but will end this post with the epigraph that starts it off, only because I think it serves marvelously in describing the reason I like all biographies:
It has been observed in all ages that the advantages of nature or of fortune have contributed very little to the promotion of happiness; and that those whom the splendour of their rank or the extent of their capacity have placed upon the summits of human life, have not often given any just occasion to envy in those who look up to them from a lower station: whether it be that apparent superiority incites great designs, and great designs are naturally liable to fatal miscarriages; or that the general lot of mankind is misery, and the misfortunes of those whose eminence drew upon them an universal attention have been more carefully recorded, because they were more generally observed, and have in reality been only more conspicuous than those of others, not more frequent, or more severe. (Samuel Johnson, The Lives of the Poets)

Monday, June 11, 2012

Grand Teton reading #1

by Joyce Carol Oates

What advice can an older writer presume to offer to a younger? Only what he or she might wish to have been told years ago. Don't be discouraged! Don't cast sidelong glances, and compare yourself to others among your peers! (Writing is not a race. No one really "wins." The satisfaction is in the effort, and rarely in the consequent rewards, if there are any.) And again, write your heart out. (p. 24)

Life is lived head-on, like a roller coaster ride: "art" is coolly selective, and can be created only in retrospect. But don't live life in order to write about it since the "life" so lived will be artificial and pointless. Better to invent wholly an alternative life. Far better! (p. 25)

I've never thought of writing as the mere arrangement of words on the page but the attempted embodiment of a vision; a complex of emotions; raw experience. (p. 35)

But what are the origins of the impulse Wallace Stevens calls the "motive for metaphor"? -- the motive to record, transcribe, invent, speculate? The late William Stafford says in a poem,

So, the world happens twice --- 
once we see it as is;
second, it legends itself deep,
the way it is. (pp. 38-39)

When I'm asked, as sometimes I am, when did I know I "wanted to be a writer," my reply is that I never "knew" I wanted to be a writer, or anything else; I'm not sure, in fact, that I "want" to be a writer, in such simplistic, abstract terms. A person who writes is not, in a sense, a "writer" but a person who writes; he (or she) can't be defined except in specific terms of texts. (p. 41)

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Summer Reads

  1. Finished Westmont Mayterm course -- check.
  2. Attended high school graduation for many former youth groupies -- check.
  3. Participated in Providence Hall graduation one last time (and enjoyed myself greatly) -- check.
  4. Met individually yesterday and today with each of my nine Free Methodist summer interns (via Skype) -- check.
  5. Replied to a bazillion overdue emails -- check.
Ahhhh. All those checked-off items means... it's time for vacation!! Yesssssss. (Fist pump).

It's 9:45pm, the bags are packed, and I can already feel myself starting to relax. And thanks to a lovely college student home for the summer, I can rest easily knowing the kitties are in good hands.

Heading to Grand Teton National Park (chock full of gluten-free granola bars, naturally), I look forward to blissful days of ZERO email, eating when I'm hungry, sleeping till I wake up, lots of hiking, and reading reading reading.

What's on my reading list, you might ask? I will be the first to admit that I get very ambitious when I pack my bags, so this list may extend into summer. Which is fine by me!
  • Istanbul: Memories and the City by Orhan Pamuk. I had some beloved youth groupies go on a semester-long trip to Turkey (and parts of the Middle East) with my friends Heather and Jim (professors at Westmont), and their photos made me jealous. I had an amazing trip through Turkey in May 2005, and it's on my bucket list to return. This book will probably make me want to go even more. I like Pamuk's writing a lot. He does a good job describing his inner life.
  • Colonel Roosevelt by Edmund Morris. I first listed this book on this post, but got delayed by... life. So I'm ready to feast on the third part of this biography, having read the first two during past visits to other national parks.
  • Walking the Bible: A Journey by Land Through the Five Books of Moses by Bruce Feiler. I've heard a bit about this book on NPR, but it was mostly an impulse purchase as I ran through Borders when it was closing. How do you pass up 70% discounts?! And let's be honest -- this title had me at hello!
  • The Faith of a Writer: Life, Craft, Art by Joyce Carol Oates. I have a bunch of beautiful "how-to-write" books hoarded on my bedside table, making myself think I'll become a great writer someday simply by owning them. I have read one or two of them, but it's time to wade in and just ENJOY.
  • The Way of the Heart: Desert Spirituality and Contemporary Ministry by Henri Nouwen. Yep, this is a re-read. This is an oldie but a goodie (my edition is from 1981!), and as I was packing in my room it caught my eye. I just sensed it was time to read it again. How can that not be good?
My last month has been full, teaching for Mayterm, launching summer interns, conferences and consulting out of town. I have high hopes of returning to more regular posting again here upon my return because I have missed it. Thanks for reading -- please post what YOU are reading these days.