Monday, June 28, 2010
"Want" is much stronger than "should." I think that desire might be the most powerful motivating force on the earth. It will win over money. It will wear down "should." It will keep us going long after we have run out of energy. It won't stop in the face of pain, discomfort, or threats. Ask any addict about that. Desire is made to drive us powerfully, but sometimes our desires are not for the right things. The goal of spiritual growth (and maturity of any kind, really) is to turn "shoulds" into "wants."  It is no longer that we know we "should" be generous and kind and faithful, but we now "want" to do those things, to be that kind of person. But how does one do that?
I don't like cleaning my house. It is an onerous and unpleasant task, in my books, and I will find the silliest excuses to put off dusting and sweeping the floors. This past week, I had house guests for 4 days. It is one of our greatest pleasures to be able to open our home to people, and we have had a rush of them this past month. The morning that this particular set of guests left, I wasted no time in laundering all the bedding and towels, tidying up the room, and making the bed. I don't know why, but I always like to have the guest room ready and clean it immediately after it has been used.
That evening we had supper with some out-of-town friends, and it became apparent that they were a little crowded staying with their son. Dean immediately suggested that they spend the night at our house. I echoed Dean's invitation, reassuring our friends that I was totally prepared for more guests. And I was. So what makes cleaning the guest room different from general cleaning? Why do I drag me feet over a bit of vacuuming but can't wait to tidy up the guest room? It is because I love the people that God brings through our house. To clean my house is a chore, but to prepare a guest room is an act of love.
Perhaps "should" and "want" can be compared to "fear" and "love." "Should" is a realisation that things will go better for me if I do this certain thing. It focuses more on, "If I don't do this, then x and y will happen." And I don't want x and y to happen. Fear-based motivation. "Want" is pure desire, running in the direction of something, or more correctly, someone. It is not really concerned with trying to avoid certain uncomfortable consequences. If I love God, nothing seems too great a sacrifice to make in order to be with him, to follow him, and to do the things that he does. If I pray or commit myself to a church group or give money or read my Bible because I should, these habits will probably be relatively fruitless and short-lived. But if I do them because I love connecting with God, my whole life will be lived in his communicative presence.
Love makes the difference. It makes me do the right things because I just can't help myself. I want to. I really, really want to.
This is a picture of a cantalope that I want to eat right now!
 This idea taken from "The Me I Want To Be" by Jon Ortberg. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010.
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
The nagging sense of failure clung to me for a few days, even after I apologised to people, and then I received a note from a friend far away. She was recalling some random comment I made to her years ago; it was a fond and funny memory and she wanted me to know the positive impact I have had in her life. Really? I didn't even remember making that silly comment, but her note brought a smile to my face and some peace to my worry. Maybe I wasn't quite the murderer with words that I thought I was.
Another thing happened this morning that reminded me not to take myself so seriously. I had house guests last night, and after they left, I discovered that one of them had left a shirt in the bathroom. I quickly pulled out my cell phone and sent a text message. This is how the text conversation went:
Me: Tim, you left your brown t-shirt in my bathroom. Oops!
Tim: Who is this!
Me (thinking Tim is being silly): Matte
Not Tim: Don't know you. Guess you have wrong #.
I checked the number and realised that I had indeed transposed the last two numbers when I entered them. What a message to send to a total stranger! Good thing I included the name, Tim, which alerted the receiver that something was not quite right! Imagine some man mentally going over the bathrooms he had frequented in the last 24 hours, wondering what he didn't remember. Or imagine some wife getting that message and thinking, yes, my husband was wearing a brown shirt yesterday! It could have led to a crazy misunderstanding, all because I got a few numbers wrong. Thankfully, the person on the other end of the text message quickly figured it out, and the conversation was reduced to a funny text accident.
I have been thinking about words and how much power I ascribe to them. Yes, words are powerful, but I forget that God's love is more powerful. Assuming that my words have the authority to make or break someone's life, even by a few slips of the tongue (or thumb), is arrogance. Yes, our words have creative power because God's words carry the ultimate creative power, and we are his image-bearers. However, there is always the R factor: the presence of redemption can turn a shitty, stinking mess of a situation into a flowering bed of daisies, roses, or whatever your favourite plant is.
I think that perhaps words do not have power in and of themselves. There is a radical difference between a parrot and a person saying the same sentence. Words mostly reflect what is going on in our hearts: whether we are loving and generous people or self-involved and greedy people. Words are meant to lead to life and beauty, and I believe they always can. Even when I wield them badly. If I submit to God's loving purposes, he can take my unskillful and mangled words, weave them into his large and merciful goodness, and somehow come up with a beautiful tapestry that reflects his glorious magnificence.
I don't know how God does it, but when I say something mean and hurtful in a moment of frustration, the simple act of surrender can turn the mistake into a doorway to life. Through my mistake, I can learn to practise humility, learn to love better, learn how to deepen a friendship by working through a rough bit, and learn to participate in the mystery and hard work of reconciliation. I can also learn to look for the prevailing heart motivations of people instead of making snap judgments based on individual and uncontextualised words.
Yes, I say silly things sometimes. Yes, I say unloving things sometimes, but I'll be darned if an occasional fumble or setback will make me run off the playing field. Conversations are only short plays in a long game. I will pick up the words again. I will pass them along better. I will keep moving to the goal. I will leave mistakes behind while learning from them, both for myself and others, and not give up hope. There is life to be had from words, if I am only patient and gracious enough to first let God grow it inside of me.
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. - Psalm 19:14 (New Living Translation)
This is a picture of a page under "M" in my dictionary. I inherited it from my father's library.
Sunday, June 20, 2010
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
Greatness is not a function of circumstance. Greatness, it turns out, is largely a matter of conscious choice. (p. 11)
When you have disciplined people, you don't need hierarchy. When you have disciplined thought, you don't need bureaucracy. When you have disciplined action, you don't need excessive controls. (p. 13)
No matter how dramatic the end result, the good-to-great transformation never happened in one fell swoop...Rather, the process resembled relentlessly pushing a giant heavy flywheel in one direction, turn upon turn, building momentum until a point of breakthrough, and beyond. (p. 14)
(regarding what he calls Level 5 executives who embody a paradoxical mix of personal humility and unwavering resolve) They are ambitious, to be sure, but ambitious first and foremost for the company, not themselves. (p. 39.)
Level 5 leaders look out the window to attribute success to factors other than themselves. When things go poorly, however, they look in the mirror and blame themselves, taking full responsibility. The comparison CEOs often did just the opposite - they looked in the mirror to take credit for success, but out the window to assign blame for disappointing results. (p. 39)
On two companies facing the challenge of cheap imported steel which could affect their domestic sales: Bethlehem Steel's CEO summed up the company's problems in 1983 by blaming imports: "Our first, second, and third problems are imports." Ken Iverson and his crew at Nucor considered the same challenge from imports a blessing, a stroke of good fortune ("Aren't we lucky; steel is heavy, and they have to ship it all the way across the ocean, giving us a huge advantage!"). (p. 34.)
Nucor built its entire system on the idea that you can teach farmers how to make steel, but you can't teach a farmer work ethic to people who don't have it in the first place. So, instead of setting up mills in traditional steel towns like Pittsburgh and Gary, it located its plants in places like Crawfordsville, Indiana; Norfolk, Nebraska; and Plymouth, Utah - places full of real farmers who go to bed early, rise at dawn, and get right to work without fanfare. (p. 50.)
For no matter what we achieve, if we don't spend the vast majority of our time with people we love and respect, we cannot possibly have a great life. (p. 62.)
And I've only read the first 3 chapters! Most of all I have been struck by the solid evidence that desire for recognition (celebrity) and ego-driven agendas are death blows to greatness. Ordinary people can do extra-ordinary things if they don't care who gets the credit. As Alan Wurtzel, of the highly successful Circuit City, said when asked what the difference was between his competing CEO and himself: "The show horse and the plow horse - he was more of a show horse, whereas I was more of a plow horse." (p. 33.)
Monday, June 14, 2010
I said something yesterday that I regret. It was posed as a question, and on some level I guess I was asking for information, asking to understand, but the question was pretty loaded. It was skewed to carry the following message: "What's your problem? Why don't you get it together? I've figured this out, why can't you?" I didn't even realise how arrogant my attitude was until it was pointed out to me (those are real friends for you). It turns out that there are other ways to see a situation, to accomplish a task, than my way. There are people with completely different sets of skills from what I have, and I can be somewhat blind to their existence and effectiveness.
I acknowledged this in my head, but I found it hard to let go of my biased opinion for some reason, even though it was obviously not useful. It could even prove to be harmful if left unchecked, but something inside me said that there must be some grain of truth in what I was thinking. Something could be salvaged, something would be found right so that I wouldn't have to toss my whole train of thought (and my pride) aside. That would be such a waste. I was convinced that if I thought about it long enough and played a bit of Rubik's cube with the words, if I just rephrased the question, it would still be a valid query. I was wrong.
I had to pry the thing out of the tightly clenched fingers of my heart. I had to remind myself that I value humility. I value love. I value the well-being of others over my own self-fulfillment. I am not perfect and I see things wrongly sometimes. I may be a leader in a church, but that doesn't mean I have the correct perspective all the time. I have days when I just get it wrong, when my attitude is stinky, and the quicker I let it go the better for everyone involved. C'mon, Matte, just toss it in the garbage and get on with a fresh start.
Humility loves fresh starts. Pride resists them. God resists the proud. He embraces the humble. I like to be embraced. Decision made. *toss*
This is a picture of my expired crap. It is now in the garbage.
Thursday, June 10, 2010
Some of the jobs I have done since high school: actress in touring theatre company, maintenance crew at mental institute, video producer for motorhome manufacturer, office assistant for City of Hampstead, assistant to psychoanalyst, switchboard operator, communications assistant at Stratford Shakespearean Festival, front desk clerk at art gallery, data entry at a newspaper, Youth and Children's Co-ordinator at Anglican church, delivery driver for music store, data entry for Diners Club credit card, extra for several movies, data entry for Gynecology conference, and communications for Vineyard Montreal church.
Some of the places I have travelled: New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Cuba, Dominican Republic, England, Germany, Hawaii, Florida, South Africa, Vancouver, Halifax, Calgary, Toronto, Winnipeg, Washington DC, Chicago, Philadelphia, Niagara Falls, and Morden.This is my cat, Jazz, joining me in watching some lectures for an online worship course I did in 2009. She refused to do the homework, though.
This is the street I live on. See the plane in the sky? We are only 15 minutes from the airport (hint, hint).
Favourite things about my life: Friends from all over the world. There is something new to learn every day. Dean. Chai green tea. Living in one of the most diverse and lively cities in the world. I am beloved by God.
This is me and some friends enjoying the sunset from the pier in Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue (edge of Montreal) and trying to be Charlie's Angels.
Wednesday, June 09, 2010
Despite what plastic surgeons and cosmetic manufacturers would have us believe, it is impossible to get off the "Old Person Body Parts" mailing list once you are on it. Packages show up at random and unexpected times. One day you are putting on your clothes and Surprise! Here are your new larger and longer buttocks! Or you may be just sitting there reading a book and Voila! Your hands have been upgraded to the new super-wrinkle skin and hey, here's some bonus brown accent spots! I can honestly say that some days it is hard not to get discouraged by all the free and unsolicited upgrades.
Last night I finished reading another book about Evelyn Underhill, an early twentieth century author who popularised the study of mysticism in England and who is the topic of my master's thesis. After reading much of her first book on mysticism, an early work of her fiction, and one biography, I wasn't sure why I had thought the woman would be an interesting subject. She was scattered, opinionated without being totally informed, had a tendency to overwrite, was pretty dated in her concepts, and seemed to lack passion (which for me, is a must in a mystic). Then I read the last two chapters of a biography by Christopher Armstrong, and saw something different. After years of struggling with doubt, jealousy, and self-judgment, she let go of her self-occupation. She moved from introspection of herself to adoration of the Absolute. She no longer sought after mystical experiences; she simply and humbly offered herself to Him. Everything else became incidental.
"...the individual must lose his life to find it: the longing for personal expression, personal experience, safety, joy, must more and more be swallowed up in Charity. For the goal of Christian sanctification and Christian worship is the ceaseless self-offering of the Church, in and with Christ her head, to the increase of the glory of God." (from Worship by Evelyn Underhill, p. 82)
Evelyn Underhill's journey finally took off when she was in her mid-forties and began to practice self-forgetfulness. She deliberately took her eyes off herself and her petty imperfections and set them on Christ. She wrote of a new awareness, deep and clear, of the all-penetrating presence and love of God. She became a person who friends said carried an aura of peace and radiance with her.
As I continue on this journey of life, things will inevitably change. Some periods of life are more challenging than others in that regard. As I grow older, may my self-preoccupation decrease and my God-awareness increase. May I look at my life and my body with eyes of love as I live more and more in the presence of the supreme Lover. May I be giddy with thankfulness at every day that is given to me and not miss the multitude of blessings that lie hidden within it. May I not hide life's changes in shame, but wear them with grace and dignity. May I bring a sense of beauty and peace wherever I go because I am always with the Beautiful Prince of Peace.
This is one of my new hands. I think I'll keep it.
Monday, June 07, 2010
At the very least, I still want to be their friend, but some of them find even that difficult since I serve as a leader in a local faith community. Understandable. I also want to be a good listener. This means that when people tell me their stories, I realise that it is an honour, a privilege, and a gift to be trusted with their pain. I cannot discount their experience, explain it away, or trivialise it. I can attempt to put it into context and try to understand the larger picture, but I can never dismiss its impact.
Today, while I was doing some stretches after my workout, I watched Extreme Makeover on TLC. It featured a family living in North Dakota who have a 14-year-old son named Aaron with cerebral palsy. The mother serves as the primary caregiver. She looks after his physical needs, bathes him, dresses him, and sleeps with him every night just in case he has a seizure (which can be life-threatening). In fact, she has not slept in the same bed as her husband for 14 years. To add to the strain, her husband suffered a heart attack recently and is now unable to assist her with any lifting, and Aaron has to be carried anywhere that his chair cannot go.
The house the family lived in was not built with cerebral palsy in mind and made many tasks difficult. The Extreme Makeover crew showed up, along with several hundred volunteers, and moved the old house off the lot and gave it to another family. Then they built a new house with large, open spaces, wide hallways and doorways, and a custom room for Aaron which included a shower with a lift and a sensor which will alert anyone if he is having a seizure. The father was rendered speechless when their new house was unveiled, and the mother laughed through her tears, the relief obvious.
The mother has always desired as normal a life as possible for her son, so several years ago she signed him up for baseball along with his younger brother. Due to safety concerns, the league was not willing to have him play with the rest of the kids. She then decided to begin a baseball league especially for kids with disabilities, a place where everyone could participate regardless of their physical limitations. It is called Dream Catchers. Every child has a buddy to help them play the game, and the rules have been adjusted so that everyone gets to bat, hit the ball, run the bases, and be in the field. After a week of hard work, the EM design team served as buddies while the kids played a game. It was not surprising to see the men on the crew tear up when they talked about the experience.
Despite the incredible strain on this family, none of them could be called complainers. They have willingly adjusted their lives to incorporate the weakest member of the family. They do what needs to be done and find joy in the delighted screeches that come from Aaron's mouth. The host of the show remarked that this family had something special that had seen them through a lot of hard times, and that is unconditional love.
The show ended and I was wiping away my own tears of emotion when the intro for the next program came on. It was another design show and featured a woman of impeccable taste selecting fabrics and ohhing and ahhhing over the exquisite patterns. The shallowness of the premise struck me hard. Not that I want to pass judgment on anyone with fine taste, but it seemed self-indulgent. I love beauty, but it is not found in the expensive things. It is alive in a field of upturned sunflowers. It is inexplicably present in the smile of a child and the wag of a dog's tail. It is ever-present in the loving dedication and painstaking attention to detail that an artist brings to his craft. And it runs at full speed in a mother's love.
And what does all this have to do with the the sad state of the church? I believe we have forgotten how to live lovingly and sacrificially with the weakest among us. We have become self-indulgent in many ways, shopping for fine spiritual atmospheres, and developing expensive and discriminating religious tastes that are not easily satisfied. This applies both to the leaders who harness the power of the church for their own ends and to those who would rather walk away from the whole mess. I am not talking about staying in a toxic environment, but about learning to love and have patience with those in our family who are not on the same page as we are. We as Church have a responsibility to be buddies to those who are unable to help themselves, those who have been disabled by the challenges of life, and those who have fallen victim to the bad choices they and those around them have made. The world is an unforgiving place; the church should not be. I am not excusing the horrible behaviour of church leaders, but are we any less horrible when we curse them and disown them? It is easy to walk away. It is really, really hard to have the courage to stay and fight for the beauty of unconditional love. Everybody needs a buddy.
Check out the website: Dream Catchers
This is Dean and my nephew hitting some balls a few summers ago. One of them is a good baseball player, the other...not so much.