Saturday, December 14, 2013

SPUR - James 1:1-8

Some friends and I have started gathering once a week for a Bible study...which we have decided to call "SPUR" to reflect the general purpose of our group: "to spur one another on toward love and good deeds." (Hebrews 10:24).  And because I process things best, place things most deeply into my heart when I write about them, I'll post ever two or three meetings about what we discuss, in the hopes that some reader might grow in God from our shared discussion as well.

*James 1:1-8

James is a letter written to the early persecuted Church (some scholars believe it to be written while King Herod was oppressing the Church in Acts 12), and so is often referred to as a sort of handbook on how to persevere through persecution.  The book is also understood as a guide on how to act like a Christian, how to authentically live out your faith in everyday life, and not just to know how to be a Christian.

(verses. 1-4)
This first section focuses on the topic of trials and on how to persevere through them.  When discussing what persecution looks like today, we examined how it takes a very different form in our own lives (living in a community that widely accepts Christianity) than it did in the time of James in which Christianity was uncommon or socially unacceptable.  We realized that persecution takes a different form for us, it materializes more discreetly in the form of fear.  While being a Christian is accepted in our culture, even non-Christians tolerate it without much opposition, as Christians we still often fear to label ourselves as a Follower of Christ because we A) don't want people to lose respect for us in a professional or social setting once we admit we are one of Faith,  B) want so badly to be part of a crowd (if you will) or generally be just like everyone else in our group of peers, and C) fear that by speaking for and about God in the lives of others we might alienate a friend/family member/coworker such that they will become closed to having a relationship with us...or to a relationship with God.  So, this fear is a sort of self-persecution that comes from a lack of trust in God's ability to equip us and God's ability to overcome culture...and really, what do we have to lose in speaking boldly for Christ in the lives of others?  What is the worst that could happen? Lose face? Wound our pride? Get flushed or embarrassed when we don't speak as eloquently as we had hoped?

In the discussion of personal examples of trials, we settled into an analogy about working out a muscle.  When you are training for a long race, hike, or some sort of athletic competition you have to train your muscles.  Training them makes them sore, makes them feel worn down and weak, to the point in which you feel they may never function properly again...may just dissolve on the spot.  In order to build a muscle up so that it can function at the proper potential at the task it will soon face (i.e. the hike, race, competition) you have to sort of break it down first, wear it down to make it stronger than it was before.  The same occurs with our faith.  That is why James says "consider it pure joy" when we "face many trials" because the trials are the working out of our faith muscle such that we can build up and become equipped for the tasks God calls us to.  It hurts and it is hard. We feel weak and almost homeless at times.  Giving up sound much better than continuing under the weight of our burdens.  But it is at during such times that we should call these verses in James to mind.

This led me to recall the metaphor C.S. Lewis gives about us being a work of art...I'll let his words speak for themselves:


“We are, not metaphorically but in very truth, a Divine work of art, something that God is making, and therefore something with which He will not be satisfied until it has a certain character. Here again we come up against what I have called the “intolerable compliment.” Over a sketch made idly to amuse a child, an artist may not take much trouble: he may be content to let it go even though it is not exactly as he meant it to be. But over the great picture of his life—the work which he loves, though in a different fashion, as intensely as a man loves a woman or a mother a child—he will take endless trouble—and would doubtless, thereby give endless trouble to the picture if it were sentient. One can imagine a sentient picture, after being rubbed and scraped and re-commenced for the tenth time, wishing that it were only a thumb-nail sketch whose making was over in a minute. In the same way, it is natural for us to wish that God had designed for us a less glorious and less arduous destiny; but then we are wishing not for more love but for less.” 
-C.S. Lewis 
(verse 5)
We started the discussion on the difference between wisdom and knowledge: whether they are different and (if so) how do we distinguish between the two.  To be honest, we found it hard to explain the difference to ourselves although we agree that in the Biblical sense, there is a difference.  In general, we described knowledge as facts, as information you can learn and memorize from study.  In contrast, wisdom is something that must be gained by experience, through the application of knowledge in our lives.


Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
-T.S. Eliot

We next touched upon where we seek wisdom which boiled down to: 1) the Bible (all wisdom is always consistent with God's Word), 2) prayer (conversation with God to petition for wisdom and discernment in our lives), 3) other Brothers and Sister (to check our interpretation of scripture and to learn mutually through each others' areas of wisdom).

(verses 6-8)
This section proved both confusing and (at first) a bit distressing to read.  To the notion of being "double-minded" (being between belief and unbelief) we each admitted that we rarely (if ever) felt that we completely believed in anything the Bible said, or were in complete faith that God would answer a given prayer, without some doubts or questions being part of the mix.  When I read into some commentary on this section, I was directed to Mark 9: 14-29.  In this passage a man asks Jesus to heal his son "if" Christ could...which implies disbelief that Jesus would be able.  When Jesus questions the man about it the man cries out "I do believe, help me overcome my unbelief."  In this example, the man is not double-minded...he wants to believe, he wants his faith to grow, so in the eyes of God this is not being "double-minded."  In fact, struggling through unbelief, wanting to be rid of doubts and being honest with God that we have them, is part of the working our of our faith, as discussed above.

We concluded with some discussion on where we are personally in our walk of Faith with God, what God seems to be calling us to our challenging us on in order to develop perseverance within us.  In closing we read a little bit of C.S. Lewis' discussion of faith from his book Mere Christianity...this excerpt specfically:


Now Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods. For moods will change, whatever view your reason takes. I know that by experience. Now that I am a Christian I do have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable: but when I was an atheist I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable. This rebellion of your moods against your real self is going to come anyway. That is why Faith is such a necessary virtue: unless you teach your moods “where they get off,” you can never be either a sound Christian or even a sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and fro, with its beliefs really dependent on the weather and the state of its digestion. Consequently one must train the habit of Faith.

And that was our take away from the meeting, our prayer for the week: to look at trails as a means of strengthening our Faith in perseverance for tasks we are called to, and to meditate on Faith as a habit that must be trained...and how we each personally can do so in our day-to-day life.
 

References: http://www.findingauthenticchristianity.com/the-context-of-james/  

Thursday, November 28, 2013

thanks

i give thanks:
that some days are harder than others
- it makes the less hard days a gift
that our path is often impossibly narrow
- it keeps me from going adrift
that choices are rarely easy
- it makes decisions an intentional shift

i give thanks:
for fear, self-doubt, anxiety
- so they can be things to face
for confusion, blindness, uncertainty
- so they can enforce a proper pace
for sorrow, mourning, loss
- so they may provide the experience of Grace

i give thanks:
that it is darkest just before dawn
-to keep me looking for the light
that we can get wounded and bruised
- to know healing is worth the long night
that finding our way is often a struggle
- to know that getting lost is part of sight

i give thanks:
for paralyzing acts of kindness
-to remind me that some gifts only be forward paid
for nonsensical forgiveness
-to convict me to give without looking to be repaid
for naked honesty
-to encourage me to be, likewise, unafraid



Wednesday, November 13, 2013

unheard


buried beneath layers of fabric,
camouflaging cloth,
it has been spoken
it’s just safely unheard.

in my terror
i wrap myself in the dust
taken from the growing collection
of my shelved denials,
but those ghosts were shaken off
closed behind an oaken door.
what was all the confirmation for?
it was Your voice...i could have swore…

but, i’m fine
i’m fine, i’m fine, i’m fine, i’m fine
and i don’t care to rewind
or reconsider, or change.

can i not just remain?
is this comfort a lie?
is it safety mal-applied?
am i really standing on quicksand?
i am Yours to command,
but i was hoping
that i was finally certain of something
that this could be one thing i knew for sure.

but the wind is astir,
raised at regular intervals
in increasing frequency
and it’s unsettled my resolve.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

google


google is a rather impressive invention (thank you captain obvious...i know).  but i also find it to be something that is metaphoric and a disheartening illustration of the internal processing of modern man.


in our interfacing with google, we become frustrated if the answer, the correct answer, is not provided within a split second.  our concept of time has been completely altered by this blessing-and-curse master work, and to wait a breath has now become an eternity.  we become further frustrated if the answer doesn’t pop up as one of the top search responses or (gasp!) if we cannot find the answer at all.  our expectations are high on the instant satisfaction of our curiosity and (temporary) ignorance on a subject.


when we go to google to uncover an answer (or rather when we go to be given an answer on a silver platter), we often don’t even phrase our inquiry as a question.  we simply type a series of words related to our inquiry into the google search box and google tells us what our question is.  


now this could just be due to laziness, due to our confidence that we need not waste time typing a full question out, because google will sort it out without that formality.  and google does.  


but i also think that, quite often, this is because we don’t actually know what our question is. we are curious about something, or frustrated by not knowing snippet of know-how, but we aren’t entirely certain how to ask about it, we can’t articulate what exactly is making us contemplative or agitated.  but never fear!  google even tells us what our question might be, and provides several alternative options as we type our confused collection of words in the search box.    


how identic i find this to be with my cognitive processing of myself and my life purpose.  i yearn for a direct and instantaneous answer to my many questions and frustrations about myself and my life circumstances.  how i wish God would give me direct and instantaneous answers to whatever question or struggle i might be carrying.  i feel frustrated and abandoned when He does not provide quick answers, reflexively thinking that since i didn’t get an answer right away, there must not be one at all.  how foolish.  


i often find myself wishing that God had a God-gle search box i could type confused words into and then He would sort out my question.  He could just tell me what is making me antsy, preoccupied, and pensive.  it would be so much easier.


but my contemplation of google made me realized that we’ve become a society fixated on answers, and addicted to instantaneous responses.  we work ourselves to the bone in the senseless drive for answer and, in the process, we lose sight of what is gained in the struggle and waiting for answers.  we have become blind and deaf to the blessing of things unknown, the gift that enduring uncertainty can be. there is something delicate and precious...and priceless, about wondering.  but we seem to have lost sight of that entirely.

don’t misunderstand, i’m thankful for the convenience of google, for the instant and endless amount of knowledge it provides us access too, i use it just as much as everyone else.  but sometime i just wonder what is lost in the struggle of discovery, the waiting for answers, and the fragile acceptance of simply not knowing at all.


Thursday, October 31, 2013

haunted


yesterday’s coffee grown cold
a rusted key to an unknown door
yellowed newspaper clippings
a discarded apple core

sundrained book covers
empty flower vases
a shattered boudoir mirror
photographs of anonymous faces

a wilted bouquet
pile of postcards never sent
table-top radio on static
a lampshade with a dent

posted letters missing pages
spider-webbed window sills
moth-eaten cotton drapes
abandoned dollar bills

piano, decades out-of-tune
chair with a caved-in seat
dinner plates set, unused
cold bed with a wrinkled sheet

a wind-bowed umbrella
wall paper peeling in strips
pocket watch no longer ticking
a sweater with unexplained rips

all hum in mockery,
with shadows of regret,
of something you’re unsure of
of the past held in silhouette


*inspire by an article shared with me by a friend

Thursday, October 24, 2013

horizon

--> for much of my life i've been counseled to look towards the horizon.  this came literally from my cross-country coaches, instructing me to keep my head up when running to keep proper form.  this came symbolically from my parents and other role models who were encouraging me to look towards the future, be ambitious, to remain hopeful of things to come.
however, as i've grown older, i feel like, quite often, it is actually unwise to do just this. i don’t mean to definitively state that this is advice poorly given, but rather to suggest that it is advice that is not always applicable.

perhaps it is because i just finished training for a long running race and have recently returned from an annual backpacking trip...and both things always make me wax-metaphorical.  

when training for a long race, you slowly build up your mileage by running one long workout a week.  you start small with 3 miles and keep tacking on a mile or two with each week until your race day.  at a certain point in a 13 mile+ training run, your mind begins to tell you that you can’t go on.   you have been running for over two hours, you are bored, and your muscles are beginning to scream.  if you look out at the horizon line, to where your ‘end’ point is, it seems an impossible distance.  you’ll never make it.  so you should quit now.  it is in these moments that i feel i have to focus on smaller goals…which mostly means i begin to look at the ground just a step in front of me. that is a knowable distance. that is an achievable goal.  and after an hour or so of doing this, with periodic glances at the horizon line, i realize that impossible distance to the end is actually becoming more achievable.  and then, there is a moment i tender a glance to the horizon, and i am there. i have done the impossible.  i have come to the end and can stop running.

when hiking in the backcountry, time and distance come to have different definitions.  when you are carrying a pack on your back at altitude, time is slower and distances seem further.  at some point on a trail you’ll catch a glimpse of where the pass is and you find yourself at a foot of a ‘grunt'.  most often, this means you find yourself greeted by switchbacks.  the terrible thing is, if you look at the horizon, you can see your goal in sight. it almost feels like you can reach it and grasp it in your hands.  you want to make a direct line for that horizon, to get to the pass as quickly as possible, so you can take the cursed pack off your back for a bit of a reprieve.  but you can’t.  the straight ascent to that horizon line is too dangerous, too strenuous, and unwise.  so you begin the switchbacks, and you want to keep looking at the horizon, to will the pass to come to you sooner.  but you can’t do that either.   the trail is narrow, and you are gaining altitude, and there are rocks and roots to battle with. so, to stare at the horizon is not only deceptive (because the distance via switchbacking is longer than you think, and hence disheartening) but it is also dangerous (because you are more likely to fall if you aren’t paying attention to where you are placing your feet).  it is at these moments that i stare at the ground, focusing on the dust swirling around my shoes, marveling that i can take another step at all in the cacophony of my internal whining at how unpleasant this hike has suddenly become.  you begin to celebrate the little victories to keep your spirits up: “almost to that tree!” or “made another turn to a new switchback stretch!” these are false enthusiasms you feed yourself, childish even, but they are necessary and effective none-the-less.  just when you think you can’t go on, you do go on, and then you are there. and the view from that pass, from the horizon that you told yourself not to focus on, is stunning to a degree it could not have been if you had been able (as you wished) to take an escalator strait to the pass in mere seconds.

anyways, i find both these metaphors apt illustrations of the season of life i’m in at the moment. i am not entirely sure where i am going. i am not certain of what i want to do or who exactly God is calling me to be.  and sometimes i stare so hard at the horizon that the sun blinds me into a sense of vertigo.  or the horizon is so foggy and ill-defined and i end up feeling lost for which direction is forward, or begin to ask myself i have been going backwards all along.

so, i believe God has fed me these metaphors to remind me to focus on the present.  to ask Him about the next step, not to plead with Him to deliver me to an unknown horizon line.  as they say, life is about the journey, and as clichéd as that may sound, i am trying to convince myself of the greater and more beautiful truth of that cliché.  there are so many blessings to receive and lessons to be learned from the ‘next step’ and if i focus too intensely on the horizon i am likely to miss those things along the way.  i might wound myself by anxious planning that concludes in a fall from a path-to-progress i narrowly self-construct. i might become disheartened by a sense of no-progress-made as the time taken to get to the unknown "where i am going" seems never ending.  but if i just look at the step i am in, with eyes out for the next one to come, the tangible distance achieved becomes an encouragement and the horizon line less important.

so here’s to baby steps.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

stretching



it was several lifetimes ago
it was just yesterday
perspective causes vertigo.
and we can’t find a path back,
because we can’t see the path forward.

roots sinking into the present
where roots belong
but we’ve forgotten
a constructed amnesia
a willful feverish blurring.

we’re all afraid to drink that last drop
to quaff all life has to offer
with a dash of reckless abandon.
our faith is a weak muscle
in need of stretching

there is nothing to do but start
if we hover at the edge too long
cautiously testing the temperature
we’ll not embrace the cold that won’t kill us
the cold that will save us from lukewarm.

we can’t see beyond the shadows
that we have sewn into our seams
we insist on shouldering burdens
that we are called to leave aside
we’ve too often compromised

steps forward and steps back
we’ve mastered the journey’s dance
and are growing to find grace in that.
it was several lifetimes ago.
it was just yesterday.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

airtight


put it in a box with a lid: airtight
leave no room for sunlight
so it will fall into deep sleep.
its flames melting to ashes
to be blown by a predictable wind.

i’d prefer to stay on familiar ground
on the precipice of lost and found
in the rhythm always known:
a lullaby tune
that nearly goes unheard.

age it to a winter wilt
bruised by the ancient silt
of rooted resolution
drained of all color
preserved in an amber drop.


Wednesday, October 9, 2013

nimble


there’s a growing sense of dread
a burial of time gone by
but that was someone else’s dream
someone i used to know.
it’s just hard to give it wings to go.

feverish bleeding from frantic
it is a steady sort of rhyme
a familiar, comforting tune
but the frost comes just the same.
i have long know it’s name.

dwarfed by a sense of smallness
a humbling, needed reminder
that i am just a wanderer
a sojourner to be swept away.
it was nothing that would stay.

i cannot welcome its arrival
but i will not block its easy path
because we are called to be nimble
designed for a malleable state.
it is merciful sort of fate.

so there is not time enough
to say all that goes unsaid
so what’s to lose in being brave?
knowing chances are far too few
and may not come twice for you?

Thursday, September 19, 2013

out

we wait for time to run out
robotic and methodical
propelled by the swing in our step.
when did we forget?

and how do we unlearn
how to fear regret?
to set free
the evaporated imagining?

finding comfort in
the tempo of faucet drips
and in tracing designs in dust
with our fragile finger tips
we contemplate
the shape we have in mind
for the marking
that we will inevitably leave behind.

yet words unsaid
hang behind tight lips.
and bravery ages into
all we've come to miss.

and held breaths
with careful steps
become a dance around the edge
of what has to be let go of.

suddenly
there's no ahead
and no behind
there's just where we are
and the distance,
once unguessably far
is now so intimate,
it seems to be holding our hand.

there's strength to stand
as the falsified defense
grows paper thin
dissolves is our closed hand.

it is then we become
trespassers into the wardrobe
of our disappointed hopes
while we wait for time to run out.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

wisp


non-necessary.
melt into its lightness, 
embrace its unbearable weight.
do not hesitate,
or over-contemplate,
or reevaluate.

the roots run wild.
transformation to a wisp.
marginality
a greater reality
ungraspable
and anonymous.

let it consume
leaving no wiggle room:
it’s self-preservation.
let death meet any reservation
of the bittersweet revelation
of amber desert dunes.

no going past the calling.
stop the grasping,
stop the stalling.
dusk settles in,
a veiling blindness,
until sight is chosen.

lock away the treasures,
they are fine to keep,
are allowed to stay,
but there is no revival,
no reanimation,
no option to replay.

unremembered
understand the dreadful grace
a blessed, painful space.
a gentle phasing,
with seamless weaving:
a hymn for greater praising.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

nothingness


let it become nothingness
this carnival of echoes
dance of dying embers
a fire decayed to smoke.
the distance back to that place
is now but a guess
the path non-traceable
with the crumb trail scattered.

but i still look on for it.
even though i buried it,
was present for it’s final breath.
yet gazing at the horizon,
unspeaking in an applauding silence
i wonder.

we’re raised to believe
that there are right
and wrong choices
but it seems more likely
that there is no wrong
just directional differences.

my feet shift uncertainly
wanting to stay,
wanting to run
restlessness, fearing movement
i think too much.
and thinking is paralysis.

despite my efforts
i remain a capsule
fossilizing forgotten things
undocumented items
anonymous moments:
wind dancing across shoulder blades.
the sound of falling leaves.
words unspoken.

can you over-treasure the discarded?
i hoard up the orphaned memories
that go homeless
and they seep down
intertwine with the marrow of my bones.

i think i hear You
i think i listen
but maybe i need to ask less questions.
maybe the questions are too loud.
maybe i need to drink in uncertainty.
maybe i need to become dauntless.

somehow i see better in the dark
see where You’ve called me
see well where i fell apart
it’s there that things learned in Light
root deep down
becoming petrified wood.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

wooded

the woods must have been Your first sanctuary
for the forest contains the melody
of time forgotten, time dissolved, time lost.
and the harmonic dissonance of necessity stripped down
to bare simplicity, is here valued as a worthwhile cost.

the subtle scent of sap and pine
form the perfume of perspective regained.
and in the woods the sound of silence survives
as a tangible yet utterly indescribable thing.
perhaps this is the only place left it still thrives.

altitude becomes a salve,
strained breathing the antidote to ceaseless activity
as the switchbacks demand forced slowness.
suddenly aware of the life lost when preoccupied with living
we realize doing less requires a certain boldness.

and Your breath comes as the wind
causing conversation among the evergreen branches
wiping away the audial veil, the deafness drape
and we hear You in startling clarity
and see You in every detail of the unburdened landscape.

the distant peak across the valley
it’s grandeur an illustration of our smallness
at once both threatening and fragile
since contradiction finds balance in Your artistry
and this is only learned through many-a-laborious mile.

the woods must have been Your first sanctuary
for the forest contains the solitude of thoughts
a forgetfulness of progress at-all-costs
and the rhythm of existence alters to the tune of:
“not all those that wander are lost.”