Thursday, December 29, 2011

studying inside


Yesterday I was tidying up the mounds of paper from my last semester and came across a forgotten note I had scribbled over a month ago.  It was a reminder to check out an article by C.S. Lewis that one of my professors had  mentioned.  I googled the key phrase and Lewis' name, and came across a lucid piece of writing that addressed the issue I run into all the time when studying theology:  is it better to study something from the inside (which makes one prone to bias and narrow thinking) or to look at it critically from the outside (which is more objective but lacks immediacy)? 

This is an especially pertinent question for me right now because I will be teaching a course this term on Christian Spirituality.  I want to invite students to investigate the people we are studying and to become invested in their lives to some extent.  Yet I need them to engage in critical analysis and good research practices.  Lewis, in his signature accessible and analogical manner, insists that we weave both approaches together, forging a learning method that acknowledges both the inside and outside aspects, or as he calls them, "looking along" and "looking at." 

Here are a few quotes from the article:

It has been assumed without discussion that if you want the true account of religion you must go, not to religious people, but to anthropologists; that if you want the true account of sexual love you must go, not to lovers, but to psychologists; that if you want to understand some “ideology” (such as medieval chivalry or the nineteenth-century idea of a “gentleman”), you must listen not to those who lived inside it, but to sociologists.

A physiologist, for example, can study pain and find out that it “is” (whatever is means)
such and such neural events. But the word pain would have no meaning for him unless he had “been inside” by actually suffering. If he had never looked along pain he simply wouldn't know what he was looking at. The very subject for his inquiries from outside exists for him only because he has, at least once, been inside.

But it is perfectly easy to go on all your life giving explanations of religion, love, morality, honour, and the like, without having been inside any of them. And if you do that, you are simply playing with counters. You go on explaining a thing without knowing what it is. That is why a great deal of contemporary thought is, strictly speaking, thought about nothing - all the apparatus of thought busily working in a vacuum.

Lewis also addressed the fallacy that one can actually be totally subjective:  ...you can step outside one experience only by stepping inside another. Therefore, if all inside experiences are misleading, we are always misled. The cerebral physiologist may say, if he chooses, that the mathematician's thought is “only” tiny physical movements of the grey matter. But then what about the cerebral physiologist's own thought at that very moment? A second physiologist, looking at it, could pronounce it also to be only tiny physical movements in the first physiologist's skull. Where is the rot to end? The answer is that we must never allow the rot to begin. We must, on pain of idiocy, deny from the very outset the idea that looking at is, by its own nature, intrinsically truer or better than looking along. One must look both along and at everything.

Lewis' example of studying suffering is beautiful and very appropriate.  How can one really speak knowledgeably about pain unless one has been inside it?  How can we purport to be experts on any subject that we have kept our distance from?  I have always believed that I can only truly learn from or about a subject if I love it.  If there is no love, I will put up barriers between us, and that will impede my learning.  Yes, much can be learned by taking an objective look at something from an outside perspective.  But this knowledge will always be incomplete without venturing inside, even if just for a moment.  The word "incarnation" comes to mind. 

Here is the C.S. Lewis article in its entirety:  Meditation in a Toolshed     

the photo:  taken from a speeding car while driving through Manitoba one morning in December.  Colorization effect added (because it reminded me of van Gogh).

Saturday, December 24, 2011

'twas the night before...


It is the night before Christmas.
I have the jitters.
Mid-torso butterflies,
spurts of adrenaline that make my heart beat faster.
I hold my breath without meaning to.  1......2.....3......4 (exhale)

I am 10.
I have hand-picked a small brown doll with eyes that shut when she sleeps
and wrapped it carefully in newspaper for my sister.
My fingertips are still inky from the exercise -
hiding the gift in smudged paper
in order to more splendidly reveal my timid, thoughtful attempt at generosity.
Will she love it as much as I want her to?
Will I have brought her joy
not only for a few moments
but for days and weeks to come?
I wait for her to pull open the grimy paper and get a peek inside.  1......2......3......4 (exhale)

Anticipation.
The knowledge that something is about to happen.
Something exciting
and definitely good
but unpredictable and maybe a teensy bit messy
because somehow it will change my world
in ways I can't quite imagine.
To become better than it was before, yes always better
but more complicated, too.
I am waiting for something to appear. 1......2......3......4 (exhale)

I was 10.
I remember knowing more about wholehearted giving than I do now:
more about anticipating without fear
more about receiving with joy and wonder
I remember unwavering belief that givers were good and dependable.
I remember caring for my gifts with tenderness:
eating with them
carrying them in my pockets
sleeping with them
dressing them in makeshift clothes
kissing them
because they belonged to me.
They were mine.
And I loved them.
I think even before I opened a single box or unwrapped a single present
I already loved them.
I was just waiting for them to appear.  1......2.......3......4 (exhale)

Jesus.
Humble Jesus.
In inky, smudgy, wrapping paper.
Waiting to appear.
Waiting to be recognised.
Will I love him as much as he wants me to?

the photo:  a box of my favourite tea wrapped in newspaper.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

things I want to learn...


In the past few weeks, a few situations have arisen that have caused me to feel frustrated, to be annoyed, to be torn about which way to go.  What this signals to me is that I have something to learn in these areas and the lessons are starting NOW!  The wonderful part of all these hard lessons is that in the middle of them, some understanding, some teaching, and some helpful insights always come along.  Kind of serendipitous how that always seems to happen when you need it.  In case you are taking the same life lessons that I am in the middle of, let me share some of them with you.

1.  WHEN TO SPEAK OR WRITE:  I thought I knew how to write a paper, but I found myself in a bit of a rush with the last paper I had due this past term and made one big error:  I started to write having only finished half of my research.  The result was a messy conglomeration of 10 pages that wandered here and there, saying a bit of this and a bit of that, but not really saying anything coherently.  Ugh.  I realised that I needed to stop writing and took a day to go over all the sources I had not yet looked at, a day that I thought I really could not afford to take. But I did, and after that I was able to write much  more quickly.  I had a clear idea of what I wanted to say, and was able to cut, paste, and edit the mess into a good introduction and first point.  The Lesson:  always take time to listen, read, be informed, get the whole story before speaking or writing.  There is never NOT enough time to be thorough.

2.  IN TIME:  I get annoyed at people who are late.  Not that I am never late myself, but I try to always be where I said I would be at the time I said I would be there.  Walking in late, to me, is disrespectful and an indication that I believe my agenda is more important than anyone else's.  Being late is asking other people to be inconvenienced so that I need not be.  Faithfulness is a really big deal to me, and that's a good thing, but this annoyance is ungracious when it surfaces, and is an indication that there is something I need to learn here.  In general, I believe there is something that we as followers of Jesus don't get regarding time.  For the most part, we simply adopt the values and attitudes of the culture around us and never think what it means to view time according to God.  While I was thinking about how we can go about aligning our times to God's times, one of my profs sent me the info for a new book coming out:  Crafting a Rule of Life: An Invitation to Well-Ordered Way by Stephen Macchia.

Here is a paragraph describing the book:  "All of us have an unwritten personal rule of life. We wake at certain times, get ready for our days in particular ways, use our free time for assorted purposes and practice rhythms of work, hobbies, and worship. There is already a rule in place that you are following. Isn’t it time to give up your unwritten rule and prayerfully write one that more closely matches the heartbeat of God?"  Yes, please.  I will be ordering this book.  The Lesson:  there IS a way to line our times up with the times and seasons of God.  Teach me, O Lord.

3.  HEY MATTE, CAN YOU????  I get frequent requests to help others out in various ways: it could be listening to someone tell me their problems, connecting with friends new and old, hosting house-guests, providing food or gifts or skills, or participating in a project.  For the most part, I am happy to assist.  But lately, the requests have come thicker and my time and energy is thinner.  Just when I was beginning to feel conflicted about not spending enough time with the people who come across my path, or being a good hostess, I came across this post by a fellow introvert.  It helped me put things in perspective and realise that the small, hidden, private, pondering, silent things I do have a lot of value and should not necessarily be shuffled aside for the larger, more public demands.  Here is the link to: 10 Myths About Introverts.   The one quote I really like is this:  "A world without Introverts would be a world with few scientists, musicians, artists, poets, filmmakers, doctors, mathematicians, writers, and philosophers."  The Lesson:  nourish my gifts/skills and take the time to develop them.  Invite people into my life as God directs me, and do not neglect the gift which God has placed in me.  Through it, I can love and serve him and others best!

the photo:  my new office where most of my research, pondering, and writing happens.  Thanks to Dean for helping me set it up. I love it!
     

Thursday, December 15, 2011

done!


I finished writing the last of my essays for the term this afternoon at 1:30 pm.  Somehow, it all got done.  Yes, there were quite a few 12+ hour days of writing and research in the last week, days when my eyes were so tired that they stung.  Perhaps I was forgetting to blink.  Whatever the case, I am "off" for a few weeks.  "Off" means that I read fiction instead of theology (except for 2 books I need to get a head start on for my next reading course), annoy Dean by hanging out with him ALL the time instead of hardly at all, go to some movies (I don't remember the last one we saw??), and stare out the window just because I can.

In case you are interested (but mostly because they are still really fresh in my mind), the two papers I just finished were called:  "The Task of Theology after Modernity: John D. Caputo on Reclaiming the Madness" and "A Perspective on Narrative Theology: Its Purpose, Particularity, and Centrality."  I know!  Very exciting!  Here are some quotes.  Unless cited, the words are my own.

The Madness Essay:

Regarding the madness of excess as found in the gospel of JesusWhat is mad about this type of excess is its sheer disregard for sustainability.  Excess as a diversion is something that we are all familiar with, but as a way of life we identify it with foolishness and irresponsibility, bound to end in disaster.  Worldly-wise people know the pitfalls associated with excessive behaviour.  The assumption of sustainability is that we are working with limited resources, but when it comes to the kingdom of God, concepts such as limited resources and probable outcomes must be put aside to accommodate occasions of lavish generosity and possible impossibilities.  If we look at excess as a way of interrupting the closed economics of a self-sufficient world, it becomes a descriptor of redemption and an invitation to hope and anticipation.

On deconstruction in theology:  One of the prime purposes of deconstruction, according to Caputo, is to prepare the way for constructive rebuilding.  This process, he proposes, begins with honesty: “If we could admit how bad things are, that would be the beginning of something good, of a kind of radical honesty with ourselves. … To confess the wounded, fractured condition of our lives – that is who we are!  And that would be the beginning of wisdom in deconstruction, of something good.” (John D. Caputo, After the Death of God, 128)  It is interesting to note that Caputo is very taken with this notion of “good.”  According to him, the declaration of the creator God in Genesis that “it is good” carries a promise, issues a verdict, and contains a contract (John D. Caputo, The Weakness of God, see specifically chapter 3, “The Beautiful Risk of Creation.”) Goodness is what this world is called to.  This goodness, this pursuit of wholeness, is what the madness of Christianity must never forget.  And perhaps the first step in responding to God’s call to be “good” is to humbly and honestly admit that things are not good.

The conclusion:  Lowe puts his finger on the issue when he identifies the madness as not only a distinguishing mark, but a wound.  A brand, if you will.  Something that cannot be removed.  A constant, perhaps even painful reminder that theology is not its own.  If Christianity, and by association, theology, is not marked by this madness that is characteristic of the kingdom, then I would suggest that we have to some extent lost our way.  As Lowe states, theology then “ceases to be a calling, becoming mere adornment.” (Walter Lowe, "Modern Theology," 618)

The Narrative Essay:

On whether narratives are universal or particular (is there one overarching story or many smaller stories?):  In the matter of universality versus particularity, I would position the universal story firmly in the mind of God.  By doing so, I am also placing it outside the realm of human understanding.  My reasoning is that from our standpoint as temporal and limited human beings, we are not capable of comprehending a universal story.  Nevertheless, I concede (as an act of faith) that one does exist.  I also acknowledge that we as human beings continue to search for coherence in our existence, which is in essence grasping for a metanarrative. However, I believe that longing for a metanarrative should not be confused with fabricating one.  We can only know in part.  The task of narrative theology, then, is to tell the particular stories that are part of the big story, and to do so with careful attention and compassion.

Regarding the complexity of Scripture:  "One virtue of Scripture in all its complexity is its ability to convey both confidence in the meaning of the history into which we find ourselves thrown, and a humility that does not cut short the search for knowledge or lead to passive resignation in the face of the challenges we face, but nourishes both exigencies to know and to act more fully and authentically, despite all that we cannot know as long as we see through a mirror dimly."  (Ashley, "Reading the Universe Story," 901)

On the openness of narrative: "Poetic metaphor and narrative rejoices in ambiguity and the opening up of multiple meaning; doctrine will always seek to reduce to concepts the images and stories upon which it draws including those within its own Scripture.  Literature emphasizes the playful freedom of imagination, while doctrine aims to create a consistent and coherent system of thought, putting into concepts the wholeness of reality that imagination is feeling after."  (Paul Fiddes, "Concept, Image and Story in Systematic Theology," 8-9)

The conclusion:  Part of the beauty of narrative is its ability to absorb all types of characters into a deeper meaning.  Though I firmly believe that the grand story can be fully appreciated and identified only by the divine author, the authenticity of distinct narratives can be verified through common human experience and critical methods of interpretation.  In this way, our particular, fragmented stories become part of a larger whole, carrying hope and wholeness even while they are broken and incomplete in many ways.  Narrative and metaphorical language are at the heart of how we interpret our human experience.  Stories are how we first learn to understand ourselves and our world as children.  However, story does not stand alone in the realm of meaning.  It engages in active and vibrant dialogue with other forms of knowledge and interpretation, always open and unfinished.  Narrative theology done well will not capture the story of God, but it should serve to draw us into God.

I love the largeness of thinking about God!  Maybe I should teach a course on imaginative theology!  Or just take a break for a few days.  Enjoy!

the photo:  taken on a trip back to Manitoba in 2006, played with the saturation of the blues today.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

the little


It is nearing the end of the term and I have finally finished all my classes and completed all my teaching assistant obligations.  Phew!  However, I still have two major papers to hand in and due to early vacation dates this year, I only have 9 days left to complete them.  At this point, one of them is about half done and the other one is still in the embryo stage.  These are 20-page research papers that need to reflect a doctoral level of knowledge of and engagement with the topics I have chosen.  I am not a fast writer in the first place (it usually takes me at least an hour to write one of these blogs because the initial ideas are rough and require thoughtful editing and expansion), but the extra care with which I am writing these essays means that an already slow process is even slower.  And around this time there are a lot of activities going on (parties), meetings that I have to plan and attend, not to mention Christmas preparations, and - oh yes - random house guests that contact me at the last minute and want to spend a few nights! 

If I do the calculations, based on my current writing speed, it seems obvious that I will run out of days before I get all the words on paper.  What do I do?  Skip all the Christmas parties?  Neglect friends and family and Christmas preparations?  Work late into the night every night?  Start drinking Red Bull?  Panic? 

This morning I was understandably feeling a bit overwhelmed about the amount of work to be completed in the next week and a half.  The reading today was from 2 Kings 4.  It is the story of a widow in debt.  In such a great debt that they are threatening to come and take her children from her to sell them as slaves.  She called Elisha the prophet of God to help her.  He asks her, "What do you have?"  She replies, "Nothing.  I have nothing."  Small pause.  "Well, I have a little oil."  So Elisha tells her to gather all the jars she can from friends and neighbours and start pouring.  She does what he tells her to do and the oil just keeps coming until every last jar is full and then it stops.  The money from selling all the oil was enough to pay her debts and support her family for the foreseeable future.

So the question is, "What do I have?"  Well, I have a little bit of time.  I have a little idea of what I want to say.  I have a little research done.  I have a little bit written.  Lots of "littles."  But that seems to be enough in God's economy. I will take what little I have and starting pouring it into my essays and not stop until the last page is done. 

the photo: a little bit of olive oil I have in my cupboard.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

book review: The Silent Years


The Silent Years: Jesus from Birth to Beatitude by Alan Green.  154 pages.  ebook version.

This book is advertised as a "progressive Christmas novel" and heralded by some learned readers (academics) as an "imaginative reconstruction" of the first thirty years of the life of Jesus of Nazareth.  The author has concocted a tale told by Yeshua's uncle, Benaiah, by incorporating knowledge of the historical Mediterranean world (Green has a Ph.D. in History) and fusing this with loose interpretations of biblical passages.

I wanted to like the book.  I really did.  Having read Anne Rice's inspiring, fictionalized accounts of the early life of Jesus (Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt and Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana), I was expecting more of the same:  meticulous research, historical authenticity, believable narratives, insightful portrayal of biblical characters, and an invitation to lose oneself in a cohesive world imaginatively created by the author.  It was not to be. 

Just as a well-made garment does not draw attention to its seams, so a well-written book does not let its mechanics (whether they are brilliant or awkward) upstage the tale. While reading, I noticed a few typos, several grammatical errors, some inconsistent spelling of names (Maryam at times becomes Miryam), and some lack of consistency in the storyline.  One example of this inconsistency is in regard to Yeshua's Nazirite vow which does not allow him to come in contact with the dead.  Yeshua helps bury some unfortunate crucified protestors without much comment from the author.  However, Green writes in a huge outcry from the family when Yeshua wants to help prepare his recently deceased father for burial.  Did I miss something?  When I see small errors such as these, it alerts me that all might not be well. 

While some might appreciate the "progressive" nature of recasting Jesus as a revolutionary, underground quasi-political leader who organized the first fishermen's collective in order to better distribute food and wealth, it fell flat for me.  So much of the biblical narrative has been reworked that, in my opinion, it comes off as somewhat of a messy patchwork with no clear purpose.  Timelines are adjusted, entire scenarios omitted, characters reinvented, events rewritten, and a lot of stories mashed together to form a reinterpreted motivation for Yeshua's life.  I have no problem with Green doing all of this, but for what purpose?

Perhaps the most significant omission is the presence of divinity in the character of Yeshua.  He is human like everyone else, has faults like his followers, and admits to thinking murderous thoughts.  He undergoes a mystical experience with a mysterious Light which becomes his own point of  transformation and serves as a model for others to imitate. In fact, he becomes the model human for others to emulate.

The question I kept asking myself as I read was this: "Why is Green writing this story?"  My best guess is that he is trying to tell a first century story that will appeal to a 21st century audience.  In contrast to Rice's books which immerse the reader in a carefully crafted world of another time and place, Green's book seems to snap back and forth between his version of the New Testament world and modern sensibilities.  Mary Magdalene undergoes what appears to be a modern psychotherapy session of self-discovery.  Yeshua institutes a centre which fights for women's rights and in one scene, he serves as a mediator in a counseling session between two disciples who don't get along. The language leans toward 21st century spirituality with the Light, the Music, and the inner voice becoming driving forces for his ministry.   

Troublesome also are the extended monologues by Yeshua (41 pages) and Mary (21 pages) which prove to be cumbersome writing tools no doubt meant to deliver a lot of information to the reader in a short amount of time.  They pretty much defeat the first person voice the book began with.  Yeshua poses a question to his uncle in the middle of one of these lengthy speeches: "I've been going on for such a long time!  Are you tired?" (92).  I found myself replying Yes. Yes, I am.

Well, this review has turned out more negative than I meant it to be, so let me close with this.  Some of the historical settings and backgrounds are interesting and informative.  Thanks for those, Alan Green. 

the photo:  paper clips in my office, only a few feet away from where I read the book on my computer.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

it's a mad mad mad world (of theology)


The mad dash for the end of term has begun.  I have finished all my required readings and have jumped into research reading.  One of my papers is on the madness of theology (the correlation seems more obvious to some of us than to others).  Truly inspiring stuff, I am finding.  Let me share a few quotes here:

There is a certain madness in Christianity – in a desert God who is jealous and passionate, in a saviour who speaks in apocalyptic terms, in a life of sacrificial love, in the scandal of particularity.  In principle, a confessional theology should bear the mark of this madness, but the mark or wound must constantly be renewed. - Walter Lowe, "Postmodern Theology" in The Oxford Handbook of Systematic Theology, 2007.

 “In the Scriptures the odd phenomena constituting the ‘Kingdom of God’ are the offspring of the shock that is delivered by the name of God to what is there called the ‘world,’ resulting in what I call a ‘sacred anarchy.’  Consider but a sampling of its more salient features.  In the Kingdom, the last are first and first are last, a strategically perverted system of privileging, so that the advantage is given not to beautiful Athenian bodies that house a love of wisdom, but to lepers, deaf mutes, the blind, epileptics, and the paralyzed.  The favor of the Kingdom falls not on men of practical wisdom, of arête, of experts in phronesis, but on tax collectors and prostitutes, who enjoy preferential treatment over the upright and well behaved.  In addition, in the Kingdom the way to be arrayed with all the glory of God is to neither sow nor reap but to behave like the lilies of the field.”  - John D. Caputo, After the Death of God, 2007. 

Perhaps to no one's surprise, I am utterly captivated by these notions of embracing sacred anarchy,  hospitality in excess, and a certain chaos when dealing with the things of God. It just seems obvious to me that God should never make total sense or perhaps in more precise terms, be subject to human reason.  I am most blessed if thinking about God and calling out to God and reaching out tenuously for a divine/human encounter always put me just a bit off-balance and leave me more mystified than before.  It is a grand, wondrous place to be!

the photo:  having fun with an orange.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

shameless celebration


Yesterday, I received my Master of Arts degree at the fall convocation of Concordia University.  It was a fun day and a nice break from my ongoing doctoral studies and work.  I love a good ceremony, especially one with a lot of colour, action, and some bagpipes!  Plus, I got to wear a costume!  Today it was back to work.  I spent most of the day grading, took an hour or two to cram in some reading for tonight's class, spent a few hours discussing postliberalism and postmodernity with a prof and some grad students in my evening class, then came home to finish this week's grading.  The tasks for the day are now done and it is 10:21 pm.  

I know how to work.  I can get things done.  As a graduate student, the list of things that one must and should and could do are never-ending.  It can easily overwhelm me if I am not careful.  Working seems very responsible (that would be my Anabaptist roots talking).  Celebration sometimes not so much.  However, the God of the Hebrews insisted on celebration as part of the rhythm of life.  And sometimes, it would go on longer than expected, as in the case of the week-long party after the temple was built that stretched on for another week because it was just sooo good and no one wanted to go home! (see I Kings 8)

I am happy to say that I am getting better at celebrating without shame.  Without feeling a twinge of guilt about the work still undone.  Without feeling slightly uncomfortable about extravagances given and received.  Without diminishing the beauty and joy of a moment that is special to me and to others.  Without shame or self-consciousness about being the centre of attention for a few seconds.  Without feeling fat or old or tired or not as statuesque as the next person.  Without entertaining worrying thoughts about the future.  Without apology or justification.

Just celebration.  Pure and simple.  It's important to God.  And it is becoming more important to me, too.

the photo:  my personal photographer for the day, Awa, who understands celebration better than most, I dare say.  Photo credit to Dean, who generously took the day off to be with me.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

with


I am nearing the end of the my first term as a PhD student.  So far, so good.  The reading load is a bit hectic (as it is supposed to be because doctoral students are expected to have cast iron brains that can digest large quantities of any sort of printed matter).  My job as a teaching assistant in the theatre department is demanding (3 hours in-class assistance and 8 hours of grading per week), but a nice break from the heavy thinking of theology.  Plus, the theatre classroom is a friendly and invigorating environment (except on Halloween when Death sat in the 4th row and kinda freaked me out a bit). 

Thus far, I have written 2 official reading reports, composed about 30 pages of notes on various readings, presented 6 summaries of readings, and taught a masters' class.  I still have another reading report and 2 major papers to write (slightly panicking) on 1) the task of theology after modernism and 2) something about narrative theology.  These last assignments need to happen in the next few weeks which means even more reading and then sitting at my computer trying to sort all the random bits of information into coherent, brilliant, never-been-written-before thoughts. 

In the midst of all this, my connection with God has started to feel a bit thready.  Like a pulse that is there, but not quite the consistent boom ba-boom that one wants to hear.  I think part of the reason for this is that I have neglected the primacy of "with."  Having a lot of demands put on you intellectually means that you start to develop some competency and reach a certain comfort level with the various challenges and tasks tossed your way.  That's good.  As a result, I am not turning my thoughts to God as often to say "Help!" or "I need you!"  That's okay, too.  But I never want to forget that all of these projects and writing assignments take on a whole other dimension and depth when I invite God to do them "with" me.  Or perhaps more accurately, he is the one inviting me to do them "with" him. 

I often think of something one of my professors said in the first class I took when I started my graduate studies.  She noted that the story of Genesis is different from all the other creation stories that were circulating in the pagan world at the time because it speaks of a God who wants to do projects "with" his creation, not just rule over them.  And this is where I want to be more often:  in the "withness," working together "with" Someone who always enlarges my experience and my work.  He not only adds insight, but makes the journey less lonely, less overwhelming, more enjoyable, and always worthwhile.  And on numerous occasions, he also inserts the opportunity for transformation if I will stop for a bit and let it in.

Every day, let my prayer be:  God, can we do this day together?

the photo:  some of the white fluffy seedlings behind my condo that will no doubt yield something next spring.  

Saturday, November 12, 2011

lesson from the microwave


I was over at a friend's house yesterday and he was heating some apple cider in the microwave.  I noticed that he did not use a cup, but a large plastic container with a thin layer of cider at the bottom.  He commented that he had heard this method provided better heat distribution and therefore, heated the food faster.  I cannot verify or deny this theory for microwaves, but I know it is true of cooking in general. Thin slabs of cookie dough will cook faster than thick mounds.  Thick steaks take longer on the barbeque than thin ones. The more surface area one presents to the heat and the less dense the food is, the more efficient the change from raw to cooked, from cold to hot.

This concept started me thinking and strangely enough, the picture that came into my mind was that of someone lying prostrate on the floor in prayer, making themselves thin and spread out, not all bunched up and rigid.  The more areas of my life I present to God and make available to him, the more I will be changed.  The less dense and rigid I am, the quicker I can respond to the Spirit.  The more of my life I get on the surface, the more his hot love can transform it.

Let me get down low, flat, humble.  Let me present a large surface area for God to interact with me.  Let me say yes to his blazing fire of tranforming love. 

the photo:  a latte at a local cafe.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

choice

I have some friends who are facing difficult seasons in their lives.  One of them has a husband with cancer.  Another has a wife with cancer.  Two of my friends recently lost their jobs.  These are all scenarios we would rather not find ourselves in.  We would never choose them.  And yet, there are people who do choose the hard way.  A book I am currently reading about a nun who has mystical experiences tells about women in a convent who desire to share in Christ's sufferings.  If you read the writings of faithful and godly people like St. John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, and Julian of Norwich you will find this theme as well.  They request pain and affliction in order to be closer to Jesus.  We really have no concept of that in our comfort-driven, pain-avoiding culture.  We do not consider it an honour to suffer.  

I had a dream a few days ago in which I conversed with some of my friends who are in seasons of discomfort.  We talked about the things that God chooses for us versus the things we choose for ourselves, and how the two are not always the same.  I remember saying something similar to these words in the dream:  "Whatever God chooses for you, embrace it.  Let his choices for our lives become our choices in life.  Then we are making space for something really significant to happen." 

I don't want to fight against what God has chosen to bring into my life.  He promised suffering.  Why do I resist it?  He promised challenges.  Why do I cower in the face of them?  He promised to always be with me.  Why do I turn away from his nearness?

Today, let me choose what Jesus chooses.

the photo:  several planes of images at St. Joseph's Oratory:  reflected stained glass, ironwork, a glass door, and my hands.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

free (for me)


Who doesn't love free stuff?  I love getting free samples of hair products, free tastings at a frozen yogurt bar, free admission to an art gallery, free rides, a free meal, free parks, a free t-shirt, free movies, free wifi, free rent for a month, and free healthcare.  But is it really free?  Free (for me) just means that someone else is picking up the tab.  It always costs someone something.

Those free tastings at the yogurt place are paid for by the store (and must be made up in the price of their product).  Free admission to the art gallery and well-kept parks are paid for by taxes from the hard-working folks in the city and province (who incidentally get no say in how high their taxes are or exactly where the monies go).  Free wifi is paid for by the subscriber who is generous enough to share their access.  Free rent just means that someone else is paying the mortgage.  A free ride means that the driver (or his company) is the one paying for the gas and vehicle maintenance. Free healthcare just means that our taxes are much higher, the companies we work for have to contribute their share, and everyone's pay cheques are a bit lower.  Free (for me) really means that I have escaped having to pay for something that has a real cost; I have made someone else responsible for it.  And if I am always looking for free stuff and never willing to be the one paying for it...well, that's a problem. No healthy community or city or world can operate that way.

I am not trying to take the fun out of getting free stuff.  Yes, gifts are meant to be given and received with joy, but it is naive and ignorant of me not to recognise that what is free for me is costing someone else something.  I find that I appreciate "free stuff" more when I am aware of the cost involved for others.  I become more grateful and less likely to overindulge or engage in a "free feeding frenzy."  

Other things freely offered to us have significant cost, too.  When someone invites me into their home, they are trusting me with their largest investment (and usually taking responsibility for refreshments and cleaning).  When someone forgives a debt or a wrong, they have taken on the cost of my mistake.  When someone loves me, they give me their time, they share their resources, they show me themselves. 

I enjoy a lot of "free stuff" in my life.  May I never take the cost for granted. 

We can understand someone dying for a person worth dying for, and we can understand how someone good and noble could inspire us to selfless sacrifice. But God put his love on the line for us by offering his Son in sacrificial death while we were of no use whatever to him. (Romans 5, The Message)

You have received freely, so freely give. (Matthew 10:8)

The photo:  piano in a bistro in old Montreal.  There was a basket for donations on the windowsill.

Friday, October 28, 2011

subsume


We saw the band Mumford & Sons last night.  A real treat!  Those boys play hard, put everything they have into their music, graciously deal with each other, the audience, and their fellow musicians, and write some of the most insightful and profound songs I have heard in a long time.

I was one in a crowd of about 10,000 and we chose to buy general admission tickets on the floor instead of reserved seats further away.  The great thing about general admission is that you can decide your location.  The bad thing is that you have to get there early and stand for a few hours before the band plays.  Also, as the floor fills up, you have to deal with all the people who start to infringe on the space you thought you had claimed for yourself.  I am also not one of the tall people, so standing, general admission gigs are not ideal for me. 

I positioned myself as best I could with Dean right behind me, but at the last minute a tall guy and his girlfriend parked themselves right in front of me.  Despite their promise that they were just passing through on their way to a friend somewhere else in the crowd, they never moved from the spot.  As things got more crowded, I had to deal with frizzy hair in my face, garbage on the floor, loud yelling on the left, more tall people squishing in on the right, a few unstable people falling/leaning over, and the smell of things being smoked.  Sigh.  It is all part of the concert experience.

 But an interesting thing happened when the band finally took the stage.  None of these minor irritations seemed to matter.  I completely forgot about my tired feet.  I have no idea what became of the frizzy hair that had disturbed my calm earlier.  People leaned into me, shouted close to my ears, and raised their hands in my face, but none of it really registered.  These things were all subsumed in the greater experience of enjoying the band as they lived in their music and invited us to live there for a few hours as well.  Words wafted from the singer over us all and landed on my heart.  I closed my eyes and listened to the call for hope coming from the sound system.  For a short period of time last night, I was one with everyone in the room.  I jumped and felt them jump with me.  I applauded loudly at the end of each song.  I joined in the singing when a familiar song was played.  All eyes were not on each other nor our irritating situations - they were on the light, the movement, the passions, and the joy in front of us.

Let the minor irritations of my life always be subsumed into the greater song of life and beauty, truth and hope, love as it was meant to be.

The photo:  Mumford & Sons playing in Montreal last night.  Taken by thrusting my hand as high as it could go.

Here is one of the songs they played last night:  Awake My Soul.  Filmed in Reading, 2010.

Monday, October 24, 2011

tour guide


We had some good friends from Tennessee visit us this past week.  They were only here for a short time, so that meant some tough decisions had to be made.   What did I want them to see in Montreal, remember about Montreal, know about Montreal, experience in Montreal?  It was tempting to make a list of every significant sight to see and experience to be had and try to get through as many as possible, but I resisted.  Instead, I wanted my friends to experience what I knew to be the richness of life in Montreal.  This meant that we leisurely enjoyed the day, took time to eat desserts and drink yummy drinks, sauntered into small shops and wandered along the water, talked to strangers and took silly pictures, drove slowly along narrow streets, stood and marveled at beautiful structures and artwork, spent some time in contemplation at a religious site, enjoyed pleasant and meaningful conversation over dinner as savoury, Greek dishes appeared in succession at our table, and stood in the dark silence as we looked over the twinkling city from a vantage point on Mont Royal. 


When introducing people to something I love, it is never a good idea to force my ideas and agenda on them or try to cover every important angle or even expect that their experience will be my experience.  "Introducing" means that I help them connect.  After that, they are free to explore and enjoy at their own pace and in their own way.  In all my sauntering tours around Montreal with visitors over the years, I have always discover something new. 

When introducing people to the God I love, it is never a good idea to force my ideas and agenda on them or try to cover every doctrine or even expect that their experience will be my experience.  "Introducing" means that I help them connect.  After that, they are free to explore and enjoy at their own pace and in their own way.  In all my meandering discussions about God with friends and strangers over the years, I have always discovered something new.

 Photos: 
Top:  Part of the mosaic at the front of the sanctuary in Saint Joseph's Oratory. 
Middle:  Cakes at La Crème de la Crème Café in Old Montreal. 
Bottom:  The lights of Montreal from the lookout in Westmount.

Monday, October 17, 2011

I don't want to be taller


I don't own a pair of high heels.  I did try to wear them for a bit back when I was doing my first degree, but after a few months of tottering about, I pulled them off my feet one frosty spring morning and walked barefoot back to my dorm room, never to embrace the style again.  Whenever I see women in heels (especially those spiky, skinny ones that are sure to get caught in a grate or sidewalk crack or street sewer cover), I wonder how they do it.  I know that some women claim that they can be comfortable, and fashion sense insists that heels make the female leg look great, but I am not convinced.  I think my legs look great just as they are.  I don't need to be taller, either.  I do need to be able to walk safely (and occasionally break into a run) without fear or fatigue.  Silly me - I believe I can look good without 3-6 inches of scaffolding strapped to my foot.

Heels are not evil, don't get me wrong, but they speak to me of the not-so-subtle pressure out there to look or dress a certain way in order to be attractive. What it says most loudly to me is that we are not happy with who we are.  We want to be taller, sexier, more shapely, have longer legs, blonder hair, flawless faces, longer lashes, redder lips, and bouncier hair.  Where can I find a woman that is happy with who she is?  And the age she is?  Why do so many of us have 'downplaying our alleged figure faults' as the primary motivation when getting dressed?  How many of us wear something because we feel fantastic in our bodies?  I love looking good, but who decides what this "good" is?  I would not give that authority to the fashion industry - they are trying to sell us their goods and in order for them to do this, we have to feel we lack something.

In my opinion, a healthy and content person is beautiful.  They carry themselves with an air of confidence that needs no heels to bolster it.  Love also makes people glow.  When my husband and my good friends tell me I am beautiful, I need to believe them.  They know the real me.  Yes, I usually wear make-up, colour my hair, and try to wear matching clothes, but there are times when I don't, and that's okay.  Some days the natural look is a refreshing change, and Dean would certainly agree with this.

I don't need to be taller - I need to stand taller, confident that God made something beautiful in me.
I don't need to be younger - I need to embrace the fullness of life I have now.
I don't need longer lashes - I need to see clearly the beauty all around me.
I don't need a flawless face - I need to smile at more people.
I don't need redder lips - I need words of kindness to grace my lips often.
I don't need longer legs - I need a willingness to walk in grace and goodness and humility.

In case you have not heard it yet today, "You look good!"

the photo:  Dean and me at a wedding this past summer.  No heels, but we both looked fine!  

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

gleaning


Dean has been talking about generous living lately.  He is much better at it than I am.  For one thing, he understands the concept of 'gleaning.'  This is related to a farming practice in which the farmer deliberately leaves a bit of the harvest out on the field for folks down on their luck to 'glean' or pick up in order to feed their families.  You find it figuring prominently in the biblical story of Ruth.  The basic principle is that we do not try to wring the last bit of value out of our resources, livelihoods, or transactions, but make sure we leave something behind for someone else.  Dean compares it to the contemporary practice of tipping in a restaurant. Leave something behind - something good and substantial - not just leftovers that are hardly worth scraping off the ground. 

Another place that I find myself thinking in terms of 'gleaning' is when I am selling or buying something that involves negotiation.  I always try to leave the other person with a sense of dignity, a sense of being treated fairly and generously.  My goal is not to score a great deal at the expense of another.  Instead, I aim for a situation where both parties feel they came away with a fair deal: win/win.  I know that I have often paid more than I really had to, but I think of the seller coming home to his family and saying, "Hey kids, today a lady paid me more money than usual for a pair of sunglasses, so ice cream for everyone!"  That possible scenario is worth more than a few dollars in my wallet.

Time is another area in which I try to leave room for 'gleaning.'  This means that when I have a certain place to be at a certain time, I leave my home a few minutes early - enough time to spare so that I don't have to rush past a stranger asking for directions, or I can allow for a conversation with a friend I haven't seen in ages, or I can talk unhurriedly with the person behind the counter at the coffee shop.  Time is not mine to use to the last second; I need to leave some spaces in my day so that I can give time to others along the way.

Sharing is sometimes a challenge for me.  I tend to buy only enough food for myself and don't always think to share my snacks or drinks.  I don't always like to give up  my hard-won seat on the subway or let others go first in line, either, but I am learning.  When I do think to share, the gratitude on the faces of the recipients reminds me how much giving a little bit of what I have can mean to someone else.  Extra change, extra food, extra clothes, extra seats, extra tickets, extra time, extra space in my home, etc.  It doesn't take much to leave some of my 'extra' for others. 

I have certainly been the recipient of 'gleaning.'  Let me be a happy and conscientious 'gleanee" as well.

The photo:  a squirrel on my balcony this past weekend enjoying a green tomato left in the pot after I cleaned up my plants.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

the stages of a cold


I have been living with a stupid, nasty cold for 10 days now.  I suppose the fact that it is still partying in my body means that it is perhaps not so stupid and in fact pretty smart.  But I still maintain that is it nasty!  Whatever the case, over the course of the last week and a half I have observed a few different stages that I have gone through with this cold.

1. Denial.  It is just a wee scratchy throat.  It will probably be gone by morning. I'll just ignore it.
2. More Denial.  It's been a few days and I am starting to cough, so I think that's a sign that it is almost over.  I am sure I will feel much better tomorrow.  And besides, I can pretty much function as normal.
3. Impatience.  Why is this taking so long?  It's been a week and I should be feeling better!  It is interfering with my life.  (At this point I started asking for helpful suggestions to get rid of the thing).
4. Anger.  Okay, that's it!  I have had enough.  This sucker is done! (I bought cough syrup and cold medicine and started stuffing it down my throat).
5. Disappointment.  I can't sleep!  I don't feel any better!  Why isn't this medicine working?  Everything is useless.
6. Make a plan. So the cold medicine is keeping me awake at night and not really helping.  I'll forgo all the medicine and change my diet.  No dairy products (which feed the phlegm) and no sugar (which feeds the bacterias and viruses).  Just clear liquids, fruit, and vegetables.  And I'll go to bed earlier.
7. Small improvements.  I got good night's sleep!  I am not coughing as much!  I have a bit more stamina!  Yes, things are getting better!
8. Gratitude.  This morning, I noticed myself rejoicing over small things that I take for granted much of the time.  Things like being able to sleep through the night, having energy to do my work, a clear head and mind, being able to walk without pain, a loving husband who forgives me for coughing on him at night, a shower in the morning, a beautiful home, a sunny day, fresh tomatoes, a glass of orange juice, clothes to wear... (and the list goes on and on).

I have done my share of praying during this cold.  I asked God to heal me, to help me sleep, to take away the cough, to clear my head.  I whined, I complained, and I pleaded.  When nothing much seemed to change, I was disappointed that my requests went pretty much unanswered.  Why would God let me suffer this long without loving intervention?  It seemed cruel.  This morning, I realised that my goal of 'feeling good' is perhaps not the same goal that the Lover of my soul has in mind.  He always seems more concerned with things like character, maturity, patience, gratitude, and other things that, if they are truly real and present, should not be affected by any amount of suffering or inconvenience.  In our weak moments, we see where our strength really lies.  I hope that my strength does not depend on everything going well in my life.  That would be a pretty shallow and temporary strength.

One of my strengths is a grateful and trusting heart. Today, I am trying to grow and nourish it.  That means that I am even thankful for this cold which has shown me how ungrateful I can be.


Photos:  Top - cold paraphernalia.  Bottom - flower blooming this morning on my back porch... so pretty!

Monday, October 03, 2011

day off

Something I read awhile back has made me rethink my idea of what constitutes a 'day off.'  Here is the quote from Douglas Steere:  "A day off...is a bastard Sabbath." [1]  What he means is that a day off is not a legitimate sabbath.  'Not working' does not constitute what God had in mind when he initiated a day of rest.  So what does it mean to keep a sabbath, and to keep it holy?  Steere suggests that it is much more than a day of 'not doing.'  It is a day of getting ourselves out of the way.  Embracing silence, embracing prayer. 

This quote of Steere's is taken from Eugene Peterson's book, The Pastor.  Peterson goes on to describe how his interaction with Steere initiated a change in how he and his family took a day off during the week.  "We deliberately separated ourselves from the workweek .. .and gave ourselves to being present to what God has done and is doing, this creation in which we have been set down and this salvation in which we have been invited to be participants in a God-revealed life of resurrection." [2].  For him and his wife, this meant a weekly ritual of sending the kids off to school, packing a simple lunch, and heading to a trailhead.  They read a psalm and prayed, then walked in silence for the morning.  Over lunch, they talked about anything and everything, but they especially paid attention to the week they had just lived through, the holy bits and the ordinary bits.  He states that it always turned out that they had missed a lot.  "Each Sabbath became a day of remembering, becoming aware of where we were, who we were - the gifts of God for the people of God." [3].

Thinking about this concept of a 'day off' reminded me of something Bernard of Clairvaux talked about - the four loves.  The first stage is where we love self for self's sake.  This comes pretty easy and natural to most of us.  We love and take care of ourselves first.  The second degree is loving God for self's sake.  Here we love God for what he can do for us, how he can improve our lives.  The third stage is loving God for God's sake, and this is where true worship happens.  The final degree is love of self for God's sake.  This is a very difficult one, but it is where we truly see ourselves as God sees us, and we unite our wills with his.

As I was thinking about this, I realised that a typical 'day off' which consists of rest and play and perhaps some celebration is very much on the first level of self-indulgence.  And much of my so-called 'holy activity' falls in the second category where I am looking for God to give me something or rejuvenate me.  So much of the time we are only concerned with our own amusement and well-being.  It is not a sabbath if it is centred solely around my own interests.  What Peterson and Steere are talking about is a day where I forget about my desires and my work and set some time apart to pay attention to what God is doing in order to reorient my life according.  That is a true sabbath.  Time set aside for God's pleasure.  I get to participate in that.  What a privilege and wonder!  Why don't I do it more often?

[1] Douglas Steere as quoted by Eugene Peterson in The Pastor.  (New York: HarperOne, 2011), 220.
[2] Peterson, 220.
[3] Peterson, 221.

The photo:  Me at the lake in St. Donat on a weekend away last year.  Photo credit to Dean.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

why soggy cereal reminds me of the cross


Station 7 - Jesus falls a second time
I am one of those people that lets their breakfast cereal sit for awhile before I eat it.  I like it soggy.  I like the milk to infiltrate the squares, circles, flakes, clusters, and sticks and change their texture.  I figure if I want it crunchy, I might as well eat it out of the box and drink a glass of milk as a chaser.  I like to know that the milk has truly met the cereal and there is no turning back from the encounter.

Station 11 - Jesus is nailed to the cross
Station 10 - Jesus is stripped of his garments
We spent Sunday morning walking through the Way of the Cross garden at St. Joseph's Oratory with our faith community.  I have done this walk many times before, but never at such a slow, meditative pace.  It was a lot different than just hiking along the path, sightseeing.  We took our time.  We stood and looked.  We were silent.  We gazed.  We let the scenes affect us.  We soaked up whatever each statue showed about Jesus' life.  We let it sink in.  It was not a quick dip in the way of the cross that left us unchanged.  The two substances (the journey of Jesus and our hearts) were given a chance to intermix, to take on each other's qualities, to become soggy oneness.

Sogginess, from which there is no turning back, takes time.  I have to sit with Jesus' life, words, and presence in order to give them time to infiltrate my tightly closed boxes, my circular thinking, my flaky selfishness, my tendency to never stray from the safe cluster, and my defensive stick-weapons. 

Jesus is not a milk chaser to add to my life, hoping that he fills in the gaps but leaves everything else pretty much untouched and still crunchy.  Jesus will change my very substance.  I will take on his substance.  But only if I give him time.  Time to sink in. 
        
Station 12 - Jesus dies on the cross

The photos: A few scenes from the Way of the Cross at St. Joseph's Oratory in Montreal that I took on Sunday.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

schedules


Things have been a bit hectic this last month as I dove head-first into doctoral studies.  The first few weeks were filled with so many meetings and events and orientations and administrative 'stuff'  that had to be completed that it left me feeling a bit tossed about and slightly nauseous.  In the midst of all that hurricane activity on the sea of learning, I was given 4 days to complete a huuuuuuge funding application.  I managed it, but I am not sure how brilliant and put-together it was.  Now I am in the middle of two more very large applications and have a flurry of parties to attend on the weekend.  This whirlwind of activity has brought me to face to face with the issue of schedules. 

With Dean's help (and the Holy Spirit), I have now put one in place that should better manage all the classes, teaching responsibilities, reading, writing, and surprise tasks that are part of my workload, as well as leave space for living life as a normal human being who is an engaged member of a marriage, friendships, and a faith community.  Now I just have to be faithful to keep putting it into action!

The other schedule that was giving me a bit of trouble was my bus.  I missed it a few times and it was annoying.  The bus that runs through my neighbourhood is notorious for being a bit on the early side, but on one occasion when I missed it, I saw it roll past my window a full 6 minutes before it was due.  How do you make that work for you?  Sigh!  Since my bus only comes every 30 minutes (except during peak times), missing it can make me quite late to wherever I am going.  I got in the habit of being at the bus stop 10 minutes early, just to make sure I would catch it, but honestly, I was getting a bit frustrated at how unpredictable it was - it was starting to damage my calm (as Jayne from Serenity would say).

About a week ago I had the brilliant idea of checking out the public transit website and looking at the bus schedule.  To my dismay and utter delight, I found a new, updated bus schedule with new times listed, which were (yes, you guessed it) adjusted 5 or 6 minutes here and there.  Aha!  So it wasn't the evil bus demon out to get me!  I just had out-of-date information!  Sometimes current and accurate information can be your best friend!  This made me think about other places in my life that seem randomly filled with havoc and bad luck, and I wonder if I just haven't taken the time to get the information I need to make sense of it and to respond appropriately.

Last night in class we were discussing the concept of 'naive realism' (see Lonergan`s Method in Theology for an fuller explanation, p. 238-240).  This is basically when one supposes that seeing is knowing.  A person bases judgments and decisions on knowledge gleaned from associations that have never been evaluated.  One example is: because my father always did it this way, it is the right way.  Or, because I saw it on television or read it in a book, it is true.  Or, because this has been the bus schedule like, forever, it is valid today.  This is shortcut living - a method that children use to learn in their early years, and certainly useful for basic everyday tasks.  But if extrapolated to the meaningful and larger issues of life, eventually it can breed a close-minded, one-track way of thinking that fails to see creative and innovative solutions and rejects valuable relationships or associations because they are outside of the norm. 

Yes, it is difficult to make the effort to step outside of one's presuppositions and snap assumptions and take a long, hard look at familiar thoughts and contexts to see if they are indeed as airtight as I suppose.  It takes courage, but I am living proof that more accurate, well-rounded information, processed in a thoughtful way, will be helpful to one's life in the long run.  And, you won't miss the bus as often!

The photo: St. Andrews, NB.  This place always makes me forget about schedules of any kind. 

Friday, September 16, 2011

the unbusy (fill in the blank)

The only really not-so-good thing that happened on my vacation at the end of August was that I left the book I was reading, Eugene Peterson's The Pastor, on the plane when we landed in Winnipeg.  I put in a claim with Air Canada as soon as I discovered my error, but when there was no word from them after a week, I realised that I might never see that particular book again.  So I hoped that whoever found the volume might enjoy it, and I ordered it again.  On Thursday, it appeared at  my door. 

Yesterday I finished the chapter I had just begun to read when I misplaced the book - chapter 35.  If I was the legislating kind, I would insist that all pastors read this chapter.  However, what Eugene says here about his own experience goes far beyond the pastor vocation.  I think it speaks to all of us who find ourselves running non-stop in this demanding, busy, over-scheduled lifestyle, always feeling like we are a bit behind while never quite getting where we want to go.

Below is an adapted version of Eugene's mini-manifesto.  Finding himself overworked and frustrated as a pastor, he offered his resignation.  Instead of accepting his decision, the elders (leadership team) asked him what he wanted to do differently.  This is how he responded.  I have taken out his word, "pastor," so that you can insert your own descriptor/vocation. 

I want to be a ______ who prays.  I want to be reflective and responsive and relaxed in the presence of God so that I can be reflective and responsive and relaxed in your presence.  I can't do that on the run.  It takes a lot of time....

I want to be a ______ who reads and studies.  This culture in which we live squeezes all the God sense out of us.  I want to be observant and informed enough to help [you] understand what we are up against, the temptations of the devil to get us thinking we can all be our own gods.  This is subtle stuff.  It demands some detachment and perspective.  I can't do this just by trying harder.

I want to be a ______ who has the time to be with you in leisurely, unhurried conversations so that I can understand and be a companion with you as you grow in Christ - your doubts and your difficulties, your desires and your delights.  I can't do that when I am running scared.

I want to be a ______ who leads you in worship, a ______ who brings you before God in receptive obedience, a ______ who [makes] scripture accessible and present and alive, a ______ who is able to give you a language and imagination that restores in you a sense of dignity as a Christian in your homes and workplaces....

I want to have the time to read a story to [my daughter].
I want to be an unbusy ______.   (p. 278).

In order to pursue these desires, Eugene chose to give up the "running" of the church.  Instead of a resignation, he opted for a re-organization.  He entrusted administrative tasks to people who were perhaps less qualified than he was, but who were willing to learn.  He had to learn to trust them, and he also had to learn to live with the decisions they made, even when they were not the same ones he would have made.  But he realised that he couldn't have it both ways.  He says: "If they let me be the pastor I wanted to be, I would have to let them be the elders they wanted to be." (p. 280).

Yes, it is a trade off.  We can't have it all and be unbusy.  We have to decide what we really want and let the rest of it go.  Yes, I want to be an unbusy student, an unbusy wife and friend, an unbusy teacher and writer.  I want to be reflective and responsive, not running from one task to the next, hoping to strike a few things off my to-do list before more gets piled onto it.  I want to understand and discern and observe so that I can be part of informing and tranforming myself and others.  I want to have leisurely, unhurried conversations that honour and respect the incredible worth of the people I am talking to.  What do I need to let go of, to give away, in order to be an unbusy Matte?

Quotes are taken from Eugene Peterson, The Pastor: A Memoir.  New York: HarperCollins, 2011.

The photo:  Eugene's book amidst some of the reading I have to digest this term.