21 April 2012

Luck, Success and the Cowardly Lion (me)

It was awards day of my senior year, the final day of my final year in school. I had worked towards this time for years. I was called back to the stage repeatedly to return to pick up awards many times (classmates nicely ribbing me).

Some of the awards were pedestrian, but some were for academic achievement (the salutatorian, barely missing valedictorian by a decimal point).

A friend (a very intelligent one) finally burst out: “You are SO LUCKY!” Inside I chuckled, how wrong she was: if ever a case of “making luck” this was one.

For years, I was up till 2 AM every weeknight finishing homework after an afternoon of working clubs and sports. I knew she spent her evenings on the phone till before setting out her outfit for the morning, and turning in about the time I finished my first assignment of the night. It my first lesson in “luck” and “success.”

For me, “success” (despite the provocative signs announcing the opposite) is to overcome a lot of my natural inclinations. Success may be in the journey or it might be at the destination, but it almost always contains a mountain of perseverance—and often--getting up after failure. To achieve success demands a lot of humility.

You need humility to learn from failure, and to ask for help from the best, and to study and apply best practices.

It seems I never achieve success without working against two things: the first thing I work against is inertia. I always have to do things I don’t want to have to do.
For example: getting up early (!) and especially when sizable/difficult tasks face me that day. I work against inertia when I apologize for being wrong when I know I am still in the right. (Humility again)

The other thing I often have to work at - or against - is handling my emotions, and fear, in particular. It's demanding, and I often have to work through it to act like the person I don't feel I am, and to do things I am afraid to do, or things that are potentially humiliating if I fail.

All of this demands that I push myself to think about things differently, and some times to not going along with the crowd if it occurs to me the crowd is headed where I do not want to go. You may ask why do I bother?—why do I push back against the inertia? or take on the fears?

I do it because I don’t have any other choice: my opinions, if instituted, will prevent growth.

For me, the question is not, “What do I want?” (that’s easy enough), but “What next?”

Yeah, I hate to ask that question—it opens the door to the possibility of too much discomfort. But then, I’m not guaranteed comfort if I get what I want, either.

“Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live taking the form of a readiness to die.” – Orthodoxy

“There is not really any courage at all in attacking hoary or antiquated things, any more than in offering to fight one’s grandmother. The really courageous man is he who defies tyrannies young as the morning and superstitions fresh as the first flowers. The only true free-thinker is he whose intellect is as much free from the future as from the past.” GK Chesterton

16 April 2012

The Truth About Weddings

What would you think  if you heard a wedding vow like this:
“To have and to hold—
only for better,
   but not for worse;
only for richer,
  but not when we’re broke;
when you’re healthy and fit,
   but not when you’re old, sick, or lose your looks;
to love and to cherish,
   but as long as my feelings exist for you” ?
Why do the traditional wedding vows bring up such desperately unappealing, miserable topics as bad times, poverty, illness, old age, bad change—in body and in attitude? Such depressing things to mention at such a happy moment! Likewise, why are the scriptures, including the gospels, are saturated with such topics? How in the world do we derive hope from this?
It’s because reality has little resemblance to Disney-esque picturescapes of life: we know deep in our heart of hearts that much of life, most of life, is out of our control. Life has  pain, poverty, injustice, ugliness, inequities, sickness, and should life last long enough, old age. Even the most wonderful moment of our life (the wedding) we voice that acknowledgement. Why? because it creates hope that tempers the reality of life. To have the comfort of hope, the accepting arms of a loved one in the midst of our want, we are less crushed—indeed, we are sustained and nourished at heart. In a marriage, the spouse cannot remove or fix the ills in our life, however he/she can be there for us: an act that puts heart into us (which is the root of the word “encourage”).
This is the root of love: a promise to be there for the other. It is an act of the will, and derived neither out of mere obligation nor mere inclination, but, bedded in a love and respect for you and carried out by the spouse's one-time, and yet repeated, decision to fulfill the words of my will spoken in that vow.
God knows we require persistence in persecution, persistence in boredom, bearing up in flat times, hard times, dark times, a loss of feeling of happiness. It is in the darkest of nights that we find the deepest of comforts. In the health and glow of a wealthy and healthy glorious morning of our soul, we require neither comfort nor strength.
John 15 wraps up the truth about love and supplies several promises or vows. In this chapter, Christ sandwiches this unglorious and unwelcomed truth of being persecuted between two blankets of love. He begins with the promise of love and friendship from Christ himself—and love and comfort from fellowship as well as a command to love one another (verses 1 through 17).
Following the promise of persecution from haters Christ promises to send the paraklete (verses 26-27):
“But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with Me from the beginning.”
παράκλητος or, in Roman script: paráklētos, is interpreted one who consoles or comforts, who encourages or uplifts; refreshes, who intercedes on my behalf as an advocate. English translates it in many ways: the Helper, the Comforter, the Advocate.
I think of the Holy Spirit having two types of overlapping roles. First, as a kind of a “patrón” —he who can graciously confer a worthy subservient person (me) with the authority I do not have. The patrón seeks my betterment and, as important, He has the means to see it come to pass.
Because of His high status He can and will advocate for me: I haven’t the leverage nor influence He has to persuade powers on my own behalf. In this respect advocacy surpasses, and is superior to, mere legal terminology (hence my preference for patrón).
Second, the Holy Spirit is family: the best analogy is that I am the adult who discovered I am not an orphan but I have a parent who has been trying to reach me for decades. Once we meet, I can for the first time-and for the rest of my life-enjoy the comfort of being able to “go home.” To go home to a place where I am accepted not challenged, not compromised, not burdened, where I can let my hair down, put on slippers, get in sweat pants, and sit down to specially prepared home-cooking. The paraklete gives me support, comfort and compassion: or, help, love, comfort, and warmth within.
All this love (like the wedding vows) hinge on asking, receiving, and deciding to be persistently intimate.

A Lasting Fire
Not the quick flare
of Duraflame's pine
chips and chemicals

roaring up the flue
until the sham fire
smothers and dies,

but the yellow whisper
of a single match
small as a pen nib,

palm-cupped and
yielding its secret
to splinters. Then heat

will follow a cedar
curl's rim to catch
a split stick, wishbone

oak and skinned
poplar. Who keeps
a careful vigil,

lending skill
and breath, will see
the pile of twigs

ignite, the heart's
every fiber shedding
the steady light

of splendid method
and calm conviction
slowly going wild.

by R. T. Smith

15 April 2012

An Apology, An Explanation and A Poem

At the moment I am severely jet-lagged (in Indonesia) and so apologize for only offering up a favorite poem by George Herbert on prayer.

Prayer 1 (by George Herbert)

Prayer--the church's banquet, angel's age,
  God's breath in man returning to his birth,
  The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage,
The Christian plummet sounding heav'n and earth
Engine against th' Almighty, sinner's tow'r,
  Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear,
  The six-days world transposing in an hour,
A kind of tune, which all things hear and fear;
Softness, and peace, and joy, and love, and bliss,
  Exalted manna, gladness of the best,
  Heaven in ordinary, man well drest,
The milky way, the bird of Paradise,
  Church-bells beyond the stars heard, the soul's blood,
  The land of spices; something understood.

08 April 2012

Christ, the Second Adam, Conquers Sin and Death!

Happy Easter! We have a future hope--and a present vibrant life in Christ!"
Enter vibrant life (exit: colorless, dull, pale lifelessness).  Synonyms for vibrant: alive, colorful, active, animated, dynamic, electrifying, energetic, lively, peppy, responsive, sensitive, sound, sparkling, spirited, vigorous, virile, vital, vivacious, vivid, zesty, zippy. I may hate dressing up--but I'll take all the vibrant life available!
"The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption.
It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory.
It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power.
It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.
There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body.
And so it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being.”
The last Adam became a life-giving spirit.
However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural, and afterward the spiritual. The first man was of the earth, made of dust; the second Man is the Lord from heaven.
As was the man of dust, so also are those who are made of dust; and as is the heavenly Man, so also are those who are heavenly.
And as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man.
Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption.
Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed— in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?” The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law.
But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."
(I Corinthians 15)

06 April 2012

What the World Got Then Was Love, Love, Love...

When the wise Jewish teacher, Nicodemus, sought out Jesus one night, he had many questions for Christ. One of his questions evoked this (famous) response from Jesus:
“For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. 17 God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him." (John 3:16ff)
Later, the night Jesus was betrayed and delivered for crucifixion, he was praying to his Father and part of his prayer is recorded  in John 17: [he]"...said, "Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son so he can give glory back to you. 2 For you have given him authority over everyone. He gives eternal life to each one you have given him. 3 And this is the way to have eternal life—to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, the one you sent to earth. 4 I brought glory to you here on earth by completing the work you gave me to do. 5 Now, Father, bring me into the glory we shared before the world began. .....[and]...“I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me... I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you... I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me. Father, I want these whom you have given me to be with me where I am. Then they can see all the glory you gave me because you loved me even before the world began!"
  Love, unity, sacrificial loving familial relationships, and glory are all tied together in his prayer–why? because the foundation, the roots, the soil, the tree and the branches of Christianity are founded in God’s relational love. The parent-child relationship is inherently sacrificial and selfless, finding the lines between parent and child is hard to outline yet but easily recognizable. There is a natural, organic unity that grows out of that love. We cry for world peace, and never achieve it. Yet Christ offers us unity in Him: what is the cost to us? It’s a great cost: for we have to abandon our natural inclination to be calling the shots, to be in charge. Yet, we receive love from God, not out of fulfilling obligations, and vows, callings, sacrifices, gifts, grace, or determination. We receive it only when we can abandon our self-centeredness. This special love is from the Holy Spirit, as Christ promises, who gives it to everyone. Love is the great identifier of those who are Christ-followers, no matter what global location, and no matter what period in history.
   The time of the year preceding Easter which we call Lent should be a time of soul-searching. Upon winding up Lent I (ironically) feel less worthy of the Father's love, yet, as ironically, I am so more sensitized to receiving it for I am in the right frame of mind--after this prolonged period of self-imposed silence and prayer. Yet...it is at this point that I find I am close to being tripped up! I am either tempted to becoming overblown by my sense of spiritual greatness (lol!), or I am susceptible to thoughts going in contrary to that: I would pull back out of inferiority to Christ, but then make my life somehow smaller, more easily define (as I wish not to " blow it.") Indeed some people cover up this kind of timidity with the veil called "living in His will" a kind of superficial super-spiritually sounding "easy button" which shields them from having to be honest and take the risk of living in love and opening up to God.
   Of course, both types of errors close down the avenue of His grace. Overblown pride and false modesty both do us --and our world-- a terrible wrong. John reminds us in the first epistle:
   "Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.
God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.
Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us. And God has given us his Spirit as proof that we live in him and he in us. " (I John 4 NLT)
May you enter into the Father's embrace!