Monthly Archives: June 2008

Vermont and Dipthongs…

Well, I’m in Vermont, trying to absorb all the learning and inspiration I can until next Friday morning. Thus far, the process is going quite well. I have had the opportunity to remember, however, that high humidity in summer is roughly akin to taking a steam bath in jeans and a sweater. Additionally, one of our civilizations greatest achievements is the iPod with video capability, thus making it possible for me to watch episodes of The Office almost anywhere. I love technology.

I’ll try to post more over the next couple of days (no promises) about things I’m actually learning, especially as regards the writing process. For now, I’d like to note that I’ve been in a roughly 3-hour-on-and-off-again conversation about how many syllables different words are. Fire, buoy, boy, and oil have been prime examples. Along with some internet research, we’ve concluded that “boy” and “oil” are dipthongs, and “buoy” is a tripthong — groups of two or three vowels that make one sound. One sound, of course, constituting one syllable (even, technically, in the case of buoy.) My favorite caveat from the internet (and we tried to use reputable, authoritarian sources while determining this syllable problem) is this: ‘standard’ English has no real bearing, since there is no American academy that rules on standard language…thus, a word is one syllable if you pronounce it with one syllable and two if you pronounce it with two. Great, so a word has as many syllables as I give it. Essentially, in America, we are the arbiters of language, and what we say goes.

What a great country.

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Thoughts on Freedom

I’ve been thinking about freedom lately, and what it means to be free. Brooke and I have talked about this some and we’ve discussed what society means when it uses the word “freedom.” For example, we were watching the movie Definitely, Maybe last night and there was a quick line about freedom. Being a romantic comedy, of course, this line was about marriage taking your freedom: when you get married you give up your freedom.

In one sense this is true. Being married means that I can’t (or don’t) make brash decisions. I don’t decide at the last minute to leave for the weekend on a hiking trip; I don’t blast music when Brooke is trying to sleep; I spend money a little differently — more goes to a house and to clothes than it did when I was single.

But honestly, these are pretty shallow freedoms. Basically, being married means that I don’t always act on my first impulse all the time — like if I want to go camping I ask Brooke what works for her, rather than packing the car. Either way, I still get to go camping. If I think we should spend our money differently, we talk about it. But, for anyone who knows me, you know that I already have more access to money being married to Brooke than I ever did on my own, and it’s good to take care of the house and wear clothes that don’t make you look like you’re homeless. I still get time alone, I still get time with friends, I’m going back to school with the help of my wife (another thing much harder to do on my own) — I have trouble thinking of any real freedom that I have given up by marrying Brooke.

On the other hand, I’ve gained freedom. Sure, I may wait another weekend to go camping, but I have gained unconditional love and relationship. Brooke and I were talking last night about how simply being in a relationship of unconditional love, it has freed us from insecurities and fears. I’m not as self-conscious as I used to be: I’m now loved unconditionally. I can completely be at ease and myself with this person. Even more, in some way I am more of myself than I was when I was single: I have someone to laugh with, to challenge me, to encourage and support me, to simply be with me. All of those things help me become more of who I really am. Brooke doing this to me, and me being able to laugh with, challenge, encourage and support her are incredibly freeing actions.

Just some thoughts on freedom today — and what freedom really means. Not everyone needs marriage to find this freedom, but I do believe everyone needs to find unconditional love to find greater freedom. Everyone needs to be in a relationship of unconditional love. Because more than simply listening to the latest impulse, unconditional love loosens the chains of self-doubt and self-consciousness to allow me to be who I really am. And that is freedom at its deepest.

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It’s All Ritual…

So I had this thought today as I was pulling away from the bank: it’s all ritual.

Let me put it into context.  I just finished The Shack, a book that explores grief, loss, relationship, and God (mostly God).  It is a book that I both really liked and made me a little sad.  I really liked it because it explores topics such as suffering, free will, heaven, intimacy with God, guilt, among many others, and it articulates some of these frustrating theological concepts.  More than anything, it reminds me that God is a God of love and relationship, a God who is always with us and desires more than anything to be intimate with us.  For all this, I really liked it.  Additionally, it tackled some tough theological concepts (free will, anyone?) and, while certainly not offering a concrete conclusion, it does offer some insight.  It made me sad, however, for the small reason that the writing itself doesn’t have much going for it.  The ideas are great; the writing is average at best.  This makes me sad not because it won’t reach a good number of people in our culture today (it will), but because it won’t have staying power: a book that is read fifty or a hundred years later needs both ideas and writing.  I think some of the ideas have enough going for them to last fifty or a hundred years, I don’t think the writing does.

But I digress.  A line in The Shack, when God is talking to the main character, has God saying “nothing is about ritual.  It’s about relationship.”  I found myself nodding as I read this line.  Until I pulled out of the bank today.

Think about it.  What do you do before you go to bed?  Brush your teeth, put on your pajamas, etc.  How about when you get up?  Do you shower or eat breakfast first?  Do you read the paper or check news on the internet?  (I’m a breakfast-shower-internet person, myself.)  We do these things consistently because we have developed morning or evening rituals.

Brooke, during the school year, would call me everyday around 4pm.  If she didn’t call, I’d call her.  We’d ask about each other’s days and talk about what we wanted to do that night — generally not too much.  We didn’t plan it, but it became ritual over time: Brooke’s school day ended at 3:30 but she never left then and it was a good time to call and connect.  It became a ritual.

I think that we hear this word — ritual — and get scared of it.  I know I do.  I hear it and think of church services where you stand up and sit down and recite verses without thinking.  I think of being told to read my bible or pray a certain number of minutes everyday.  And, in these cases, the ritual can rob the relationship.  It can cause obligation or unthinking and unfeeling action.  But, that doesn’t mean we get rid of ritual.

Other rituals, even spiritual rituals, hold deep significance whenever I get to do them.  Communion or witnessing a baptism are reminders of who God is and who I am, of my relationship with the Creator and Redeemer God.  These rituals are central to followers of Jesus, they are symbols and reminders.  

The answer, I think, is to embrace ritual without being bound by the ritual.  Embrace ritual for the deeper meaning behind it.  I brush my teeth before bed so I don’t get cavities; I shower in the morning so I don’t smell; I call Brooke because I love her.  I need rituals in my life — and they are quite present in my life when I take a look — but don’t want them to define me.  It’s about the ritual when the meaning gets lost, when the ritual itself becomes the object.  When I read my bible because that’s what you do I am voiding a brilliant activity from the relationship that makes it brilliant.  When I read my bible every morning to connect with God, because I need connection with Him, I embrace ritual without it defining me.  Maybe I miss a morning: no big deal.  Maybe I find other ways to connect.  Good.  

I want to be someone who forms rituals and habits that make me a fuller person, more connected and alive, while never acting simply for acting’s sake.

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Golf and a Link

So, it’s been a pretty normal Thursday: a morning of writing and an afternoon of work for The Gathering.  Right now, Brooke is out on some errands and I’m winding down for the day.  It looks like it could be a movie night, with the possibility of a round of golf tomorrow morning (par 3, of course).  We’ll see what happens.  All I know is that with Tiger out for the summer, I definitely see an opening.

In other news, I know I’ve talked about language and the Bible, and I thought this article was appropriate.  Sometimes, working at The Gathering and trying to redefine Christianity, I really feel like the pastor … er … dude this article is about.  And, it offers some levity when I get overly worked up about semantics.

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A Walk’s Thoughts…

Brooke and I walked to the store this evening.  She needed olive oil and we were out; now she’s downstairs making dinner and I’m salivating.  We try to walk when we can, especially since we live within walking distance of 2 grocery stores, Target, Blockbuster, our bank, Chipotle, a nice sushi place, a good and cheap Thai restaurant, Subway, Quiznos, and Coldstone.  And, when I say walking distance I don’t mean an hour; I mean ten minutes max one way.  I mean half-an-hour round trips to these places.  

Tonight when we got home I turned the NBA Finals on.  The game was at a commercial.  At the end of the commercial was a 5-second spot about the weather: the meteorologist came on and announced what the temperature was right now.  That was all.  I’ve seen television stations do this sometimes, and the meteorologist comes on and says, essentially, “It’s a nice evening out there,” or “It’s rainy and cold … see more tonight at 10.”  I suppose a lot of this is to bring people back at 10, but doesn’t it communicate something more?  

This stood out starkly as I had just come inside: I knew what the weather was.  I’d just been outside for the last 20 minutes.  Yet, it seemed a perfectly normal occurrence for the meteorologist to come on and announce what the weather was outside.  

Are we this far removed from our environment?

It makes me sad to think of the lack of connection with the created world — the natural world — that we experience in America today.  This is because spending time in creation, away from conveniences and cars and clocks, helps us re-orient ourselves.  Or, it re-orients us.  The ancient Hebrews understood this, and the command to take a Sabbath was rooted in their creation account: they were commanded to stop to worship their Creator.  And, while watching a movie can be a stop-activity, even more is taking a walk or a hike or a bike ride or a run or a … I’ll stop.  This is because television and internet entertain and divert us; spending time in creation either alone or with a spouse (which I highly recommend) or friends, this spending of time focuses us.  It gives clarity, it connects us to ourselves and the world around us.  A movie — the most powerful medium that humanity has so far come up with — cannot offer the same connective experience.  It is, at its core, vicarious: it may give clarity through the stories of others; it does not give clarity and connection to ourselves, others, and our Creator.  

There is a reason why spending time in leisure, often outside, without the worries and deadlines of the day, is called re-creation.  It is time to create ourselves again, to be created again, to be renewed.  I believe that we as a culture need more of this time.  I believe that we need time to connect with the natural and created world, not time of diversion but of conversion: a turning around, a recreation.  I believe that even a 20 minute walk can, in small ways, offer an experience of conversion and recreation.  I want to be a person who takes a lot of 20 minute walks.  And a person who stops and connects with the created world, alone and with others, a person who doesn’t need an update to know that the evening is warm and calm.

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Two Brothers…

The Kin is made up of Thorry and Isaac Koren who grew up singing harmonies in the backseat of the car on family trips.  In 2003, they wrote a song together as a wedding present for their father.  It was at that moment that the brothers realized they should write music together all the time.

Each coming to America, Thorry and Isaac got an old VW bus and drove across the country.  Along the way they wanted to live the human experience: they made friends and wrote songs and fell in love with America.  According to their bio, “they were struck by the beauty and the struggle that permeates human life.”  

Without going into the full album, I want to highlight the song “Abraham.”  Captivating for both melody and lyrics, the song wrestles with the world’s major monotheistic religions as it pulls out the differences and similarities.  It strikes to the core of human life: the basic beliefs that over half the world holds, sprung from two brothers who were fathered by Abraham.  It lets you experience the struggle and beauty in life.  It breaks down walls.

Here’s the song.  It’s an opening between faiths, it’s a story of two brothers.  Enjoy…

And the lyrics:

Abraham 

There’s a tale
Told by soldiers
Of two sons and their father
As they sailed to old Palestine

True were these brothers
They sailed to bury their father
They would fight for Jerusalem

You will be meek when I am able
You’ll be the salt upon the table
When all is said and done could you
Somehow be sons of Abraham

I was told by a stranger
Of a young blood thrown to the desert
He united a people with his hands

In the wane to the crescent
He fed the lion to the pheasant
He would stride to the spring of Zam Zam

There’s a tale told by soldiers
A young boy taken to slaughter
He was saved by his father’s hand

He was prized and protected
And prince he was elected
He was to save the wolves with a lamb

There’s a tomb out by Jordan
Where two sides stop to adore him
As they fight for Jerusalem 

For more on Christian-Muslim dialogue, click here.

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The Slavery of Chocolate…

I brought my lunch with me to work today: spaghetti and meatballs.  I had cooked it right before I left, so it was still warm when I got to the church (those of you who know me realize that I usually don’t waste the time to re-heat food) and I sucked it down while trying to finish this Sunday’s gathering.  Afterward, I printed something off in the main church office.  While in the main office I realized that there were a couple cookies left over from a funeral reception earlier this week.  Since I was at the funeral I figured, hey, I can have one of those cookies.  I picked up a big chocolate chip cookie and it was the consummate end to an already satisfying lunch.

I listened to a podcast today by a guy named Steve Chalke.  He’s from London and thus he sounds extremely bright with that British accent.  I found myself silently agreeing with him from time to time, enjoying his accent and message.  He helped found Oasis Trust and Stop the Traffik and was informative and funny.  Steve’s message was on Genesis 1, on man and woman being made in the image of God — all men and all women — and that we have a responsibility to live that out today: to treat others as image-bearers, to give dignity and respect to everyone, to stop human trafficking.  

Steve gave statistics on trafficking: human trafficking made more business that Microsoft last year, there are over 17,000 people trafficking every year in the United States primarily for the sex industry (which is probably a gross understatement, since no one puts “sex slave” on their census forms), 50% of worldwide trafficking is in children.  It was enough to move me, but almost too much information to get me to act.

Then, Steve gave an action point.  Which is nice.  Or convicting.  

He said that at least 12,000 kids have been trafficked into the Ivory Coast from Mali and are working as slaves.  A little research of my own shows that 284,000 kids are working in the Ivory Coast and other African farms in hazardous conditions.  The trafficked kids, the other children in hazardous conditions all work on cocoa farms, where we get our chocolate.  About 43% of the world’s chocolate comes from the Ivory Coast.  

I think about my chocolate chip cookie today.  Maybe the cocoa was picked by enslaved children.  Maybe it was picked by children period.  Maybe not — but I’m sure that some of my chocolate has been.  

What to do?  Only eat fair trade chocolate.  As consumers, we vote with our wallets.  When William Wilberforce fought to stop the slave trade in England, he encouraged everyone to stop eating sugar and show the plantation owners that they cannot hold slaves.  Today, we must do the same: stop eating chocolate that we cannot account for and eat only chocolate with the logo on this page.  

I want to make a difference with the way I spend my money.  I want to communicate that everyone is made in the image of God.  I want to live this way all the time, even when I’m eating a serendipitous chocolate chip cookie in the middle of a Friday.

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