Monthly Archives: January 2010

>Free Safety

>I think that I am finally starting to understand, in a small way, just what it means for God to work in all things for the good those who love Him (Romans 8:28). Lately, I’ve had so much to do all the time that I haven’t been very consistent in my devotional motions, and yet God has made Himself profoundly and undeniably present, from speaking to me through my adolescent psych reading, to dropping the perfect plan my action research project into my lap at 9:26pm last night, to the inexplicable dreams I’ve had during the past two weeks. Casual mention of those dreams led to a conversation with an old friend I haven’t talked to in months, and I found out she’s been having dreams about a similar situation. We prayed for each other and while I still didn’t sleep terribly well last night, I am so grateful for the chance to reconnect. I had felt some bit of angst over these dreams, wondering whether they were indicative of anything deeper, but if their only purpose was to help me reach my friend and sister, then it was worth the lost sleep.

Our discussion at church on Sunday could not have been better timed either, with its reminder to trust. I wonder if God isn’t smoothing the way for me throughout this quarter, in His own way and time, because He knows that one false step might send me reeling so far and fast I can’t pull myself up. (At least that is how I feel a lot of the time!) Of course, God knows better than I exactly how much I can and can’t handle, but I have to trust Him that He will give me no more than I can endure. I also think that for the first time in my life, perhaps, I am moving out of the safe zone where I have complete control over my present and immediate future, onto that edge where risk meets true reward. Even though it is not safe, it is a place of freedom from anxiety and doubt, or at least it can be. One of the articles I read for my multicultural ed class talked about the distinction between creating a “safe place” for students and a “free space” for students. Safety is not the same as freedom, at least from our perspective, and I’m coming to see that the latter is indeed more valuable.
But of course, with God, it’s possible to have both.
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>Justice and Care

>from Friday’s reading:

Isaiah 14:24-27

The LORD Almighty has sworn, “Surely, as I have planned, so it will be, and as I have purposed, so it will stand….I will trample him down. His yoke will be taken from my people, and his burden removed from their shoulders. This is the plan determined for the whole world; this is the hand stretched out over all nations. For the LORD Almighty has purposed, and who can thwart him? His hand is stretched out, and who can turn it back?”

Besides being a direct answer to the questions our pastor posed Thursday night about God’s plans (isn’t it great when God does that?!), it was a good preface for what I learned on Saturday. Even though I skipped my Bible reading that morning, it ended up making a lot more sense in light of what I read during the day for my adolescent development class. In the chapter on moral development, my text presented two perspectives on morality: justice and care. The justice perspective is concerned more with individual rights and decisions about what is right and wrong, while the care perspective (proposed by Carol Gilligan) is all about relationships, attachment, and concern for others. I stewed on that all day, wondering which is a more advanced perception of morality, to which one I adhere more, etc.

Later that night, as I read the Beatitudes in Matthew 5, I realized that God is, as always, busting up dichotomies and is concerned with both views. Observe:

Matthew 5:6-9
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called sons of God.

Furthermore:
Matthew 5:13-16
“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.
And finally:Matthew 5:19
Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

Brilliant, non? And I realized today that if we live out a care perspective, concerning ourselves with minimizing hurt and building attachments with everyone, the right and wrong of the justice perspective will take care of itself–we don’t have to worry about having the right answers for everything. And if we truly understand what it means to do good things, there is no way we can escape taking care of others. The most immediate application, of course, is the disaster in Haiti, but you don’t have to look across the ocean for hurting people either. They’re our friends, our enemies, neighbors and strangers, at the office, on the street, in our classrooms

>Rest in Peace

>On Wednesday my daily reading passage was Psalms 3-5, and I fittingly read this right before bed.

Psalm 3:5 – I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the LORD sustains me.
Psalm 4:4 – In your anger do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent.
Psalm 5:3 – In the morning, O LORD, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation.
Twice in two weeks my sleep has been perturbed by dreams about my ex. After all this time, these dreams are less hurtful than baffling, because I thought I had resolved everything on my end, and as far as I know, our interpersonal relationship is as reconciled as it needs to be right now. But it still bothered me a little, and it bothered me that it bothered me. Oswald Chambers wrote in Tuesday’s devotion in My Utmost For His Highest, “[God] will reveal inordinate affection,” so at the advice of a wise friend I simply prayed for God to reveal any lingering attitudes, thoughts, or emotions that weren’t supposed to be there. I’ve concluded that even though I no longer want him, that doesn’t mean I can’t, or shouldn’t, care. Ironically, that was something I could never quite grasp while we were together, so indeed, as Chambers wrote, God had to take me through disappointment of heart to impart that lesson to me. In any case, I am learning to see and pray for him as if he were a runaway brother, and now all I want is for my Father to find him and bring him home. And that is my request, which I present in the mornings, and upon which I wait in expectation.

>Buyers, Sellers, and Givers

>I was studying Romans 3-4 this morning and was struck by the theme of transaction. We are conditioned (and perhaps naturally inclined) to use a transactional paradigm in life: trading, buying, selling, earning. But God upends the entire system…our lack of faith leads to His gain in righteousness, even though He is not unrighteous…therefore, He must be infinitely righteous (Romans 3:3-4). We are finite, though, so to some extent we have to stay within the confines of transaction. We cannot generate evil (which I like to think of as insufficiency) in order to achieve good (Romans 3:8). I sometimes fall into the psychologically comforting habit of justifying a bad situation by saying God will redeem it. He may do so, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t avoid sin in the first place. (In the words of Mufasa, “Being brave doesn’t mean you go looking for trouble!”)

We do this a lot as Christians, I think. In church this morning, we discussed how the American economy is based on manufactured need, and don’t we often try to convince others they “need” God by making them feel bad about themselves? Then they might be more willing to buy what we are selling. But I wonder if we do that because we feel insecure about whether we ourselves have something worth buying, worth all that we have invested in earning it…maybe the time and energy we spend evangelizing?
In Romans, though, Paul reminds us that righteousness is credited to us not as a wage but as a gift (4:4). There is God, again throwing out the entire system of transaction in favor of sheer, reckless, and unrivaled generosity. If we could treat life less like eBay (which is not to say that eBay is bad!) and more like your best friend’s birthday party, maybe the world would be a better place.

>Needs and Shoulds

>I have a persistent habit of turning my needs into shoulds, which has caused me no small amount of unnecessary angst. This week it felt like I had to go from 0 to 724 instantly, which resulted in some major whiplash. God reminded me about the need to distinguish between my…

need for balanced food and meals vs. rules for what and how much to eat
need to stay connected with God vs. rituals and obligations of spiritual discipline
need to work hard in school and do my best for my students vs. unrealistic expectations for my performance and the urge to compete or strive
need to maintain an orderly physical environment vs. obsession with tidying up at the expense of rest
need for social and spiritual community vs. half-hearted, half-minded interactions
Then in church today we discussed the idea of creation without a cause, in which God is concerned with creating and enjoying, not using or manipulating. As much as I want to learn from the process of making mistakes and trying new things, maybe the process itself has intrinsic value apart from any lessons learned. It’s like taking a walk through the forest to enjoy the trees and the animals and the fresh air, rather than to get somewhere, exercise the body, whatever. There’s a fine line between them, to be sure. It’s not wrong to have a destination or to derive benefits from the journey, but maybe it doesn’t always have to be about what I can get out of it. That sounds like true worship to me.

>Resolutions

>Most of my goals/resolutions for this quarter are carryovers from fall because, except for finishing a yearlong crochet project, I pretty much failed at all of them. I did add some new ones, though.

  1. Smile more, even if I have to fake it sometimes, and gradually get to the point of actually meaning it most of the time. I realized a few days ago that I don’t smile nearly as often or as genuinely as I used to, and that made me sad.
  2. Spend 10-15 minutes every other day tidying my apartment. That way, I won’t have to spend two hours every two weeks digging myself out from my various piles of detritus.
  3. Since my spiritual discipline goals were too nebulous to be met last quarter, here is the plan from here on out. I like the structure and meditative intent of lectio divina, but I also want to just go through the Bible again in a year, and I know I don’t have time to meditatively read all of it at once. So I have a Bible reading plan that will take me all the way through in one year, and I’ll read the daily selection when I wake up in the morning, followed by some brief prayer time if I can manage it. (It’s really hard to focus on much more at 5:15 in the morning, no matter how hard I try.) Then, either when I get back from teaching around lunchtime, or before I go to bed, I’ll meditate on a short passage from the day’s selection and do the entire read-react-respond-prayer cycle for that passage.
  4. Give my best time and energy to being God’s best, not my own personal obsessions. Concretely, this means working out in the evening rather than the afternoon and skipping the gym if other priorities come up. This gives me the chance to eat a proper lunch and dinner, nap if I’m lucky, and get my school work done before I am exhausted at the end of the day. This will probably also make me less cranky in my late afternoon classes, which will help in my pursuit of goal #1. Also: Bedtime by 10:30 except in extreme circumstances.
  5. Plan and cook complete, balanced meals. My friend gave me Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian and that has been very inspiring. I’ve already got about a week’s worth of meals on ice in the freezer, but I’ll probably cook and store some more this week while I have more free time. At this point, I’m still using the calorie tracker to make sure I get the right amount and types of nutrients, but it’d be nice to get away from it once in awhile and eventually off it completely. I do have a weight loss goal in mind, but I need to pray about it some more and possibly tweak it according to my body’s responses.
  6. Pray specifically for a friend every other day. In order to do this, of course, I have to spend time with people, sharing in their lives, whether through phone conversations, letters, or meet-ups.
  7. Pray for my mission every other day: the approval process; support-raising; lesson planning; my students, colleagues, and supporters; and the country of Niger.
  8. Take my vitamins and floss every day.
  9. Keep chipping away at the never-ending To Read list.
  10. Write out some form of The Story.

Ambitious, I know. But, “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp – or what’s a heaven for?”