image by sarah mccoy photo

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Renaissance Me

One day, I mentioned to a discussion group how I’m dying to go back and really learn physics and trigonometry and all the things I skimmed through in school, and then tackle the things I skipped altogether, like calculus and quantum mechanics and molecular biology.  It excites me to think how much of God and his world is knowable if you do the work to learn about it.  And it irritates me to think how we were all led to believe we were in either the Math/Science or the Language/Arts camp and should stay where we belonged.

One of my friends noted that this approach was the opposite of that put forth by a strength-finders class she’d taken, which apparently suggests that we focus on our strengths so as not to waste time dabbling.  (I should note that this may well be a terrific class.  I haven’t taken it and can’t judge.)

As usual, I had no retort, this probably the result of not reading enough.

But then I got to thinking how a Renaissance man could research astronomy one day and theology the next, and how he might produce paintings and sculpture that were the direct results of his mathematical and scientific research, and how he might write eloquently about all of it.  And all of this without stopping to wonder if it was allowed, if he were legitimately, you know, a “math person.”

The difference is detaching from the quantifiable-results equation.  When we focus our energies on what is profitable, on those of our skills that are most salable, we become single-function production robots.

Developing a human being, on the other hand, is highly impractical. 

I think of John and Abigail Adams and how between farming without machinery, raising and educating children, helping to birth a nation and developing its nascent philosophies, they made time to read everything available enough times over that they could quote with facility.  Abigail wasn’t even formally educated, but she never doubted her ability to read, understand, grow, and pass on her knowledge, nor the value of doing so.

In fact, I think that reading and learning widely, inside and way, way outside our prescribed realms, is the primary way that we preserve humanity and culture.

Ok.  I have to go read now.


Monday, November 5, 2012

Grammar Gripes: Numero Dos

What ever shall we do with me?  This one is the doozy of our age, not because the others aren’t just as rampant, but because I think it poses the greatest danger to the integrity of English.  And the fact is, it’s not all that difficult.

Here’s what happens.  We don’t drill grammar in U.S. schools, so we emerge unsure about the basic roles of, say, I and me.  But since, as kids, we were all chastised for misusing me, we err on the side of the smarter-sounding I.  This is the psychology behind the problem.  But if we use I incorrectly, we don’t really sound any smarter, so the gamble doesn’t pay off.

Instead, it can just be really annoying.  Examples:

Annoying: Want to come to the store with Jim and I?
Correct: Want to come with Jim and me?

Annoying:  The kids don’t listen to Mike and I.
Correct:  The kids don’t listen to Mike and me.

Annoying: This is an article by Ms. Sommers and I.
Correct: This is an article by me. (Ms. Sommers won’t collaborate with grammar dunces.)

Also annoying, I’ve watched three different shows and movies in the last few weeks in which characters (educated ones, like lawyers) use I as an object pronoun.  This galls me, because it implies that among all the people on a big Disney movie set, not one picked up on this really basic error.  It should have been writers and editors, but really?  Nobody?

But let’s not panic.  We can fix it!  My first plan was just to point it out publicly, but I hear that’s rude, so instead, here’s the grade-school trick that still works, every time.

Subject/Object error usually arises when there are multiple objects.  So take out the other person.

For instance: The dog relies on Jack and _________.

Now take out Jack and see what sounds better.

The dog relies on I?  Sounds silly.  The dog relies on me, of course.  And, therefore, when Jack helps out, the dog relies on Jack and me.

Simple, yes?  Even if you are stuck in an I-overuse rut, you actually do know your objects from subjects, so long as you take out the confusing third party.  Subjects, like I, do the action.  Objects, like me, receive the action or follow prepositions like with and to.

Now go on.  Kick Jack out of the equation.  You can do it.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Sleeping Dogs

One of the little grammar hang ups that had me, well, hung up for years was the whole "lay, lie" situation.  Which didn't bother me, even when writing for newspapers, because there was always a handy reference guide and an editor to make the save.

Then I had kids.  And heard myself yelling, night after night, "LAY DOWN!" 

Which is incorrect.

Now, I've noticed that my kids say things like "yeah" and "like" a lot.  They say what I say, and it's less than ideal and we're working on it.  But a lot worse [read: harder to root out] than yeah and like are clear grammar errors that will plague them forever and make them look dumb to people who know. 

Since this is a common one (when we studied both verbs in CC last year, a lot of moms were confused) I'm going to lay it out for you, as the first of a few grammar blogs.  I hope someone takes it to heart because fixing things in ourselves (not just grammar, but attitudes and behaviors too!) is the best way to instill good habits in our kids.

Ok. The reason I was wrong when I yelled "lay down" is because to lay means to put.  It was like yelling "drop it!" when I meant to yell just, "DROP!"

To lay is to put.  To lie, on the other hand, means to recline.  Put differently, you lay other things; you yourself lie.

All the drama comes from the past tense, because, in a cruel twist, the past tense of to lie is....lay.

So, today I will lie on the couch just as yesterday, I lay on the couch.

But I will lay my plate of cheesecake beside me, just where I laid it yesterday.

And at the end of the day, as I lie by the cheesecake that I've laid on the couch, I probably will have to yell, "LIE DOWN!"

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Praying Down a Bunny Trail

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances…” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18  

I’m reminded again of Paul Miller’s suggestion that prayer gives us front row seats to the redemptive action on the floor.  I’m in need of reminding because I regularly revert back to this movie-culture mindset.  I’ll try to articulate the heresy of my semi-conscious for you.

So I’ll start praying for some specific situation.  But I’ll try to pray in such a way that I’m not fixating on one result.  I’ll say all the “not my will but Thine” things that a prayer might require to be taken seriously.  I’ll try to foresee all the things that a resounding “No” could eventually bring about, like running out of gas and missing kickoff but then running into an old friend at the gas station, thus justifying God’s choice to me.  I’ll get frustrated with the Psalms because they are so life-and-death and they feel a little dramatic for my purposes, or maybe they just trivialize my interests.

And after all this, I’ll have a transcendent moment where I feel like I’ve really embraced God’s sovereignty over said situation.  And here’s the movie-culture part.  As soon as I feel this, there’s an unconscious intake of breath and a pause. 

Because in a movie, all the angst is just about learning the lesson.  So at the moment of lesson-learning, the problems are miraculously resolved.  So I pause.  Unconsciously, I think I said.

As if my feeling really open to anything should mean that an answer is imminent.

And then I catch hold of my rambling thoughts and feel stupid.  But the good part is that, in feeling consciously idiotic, I can again rejoice in the truth that the whole prayer process is what makes a relationship.  So the longer I’m kept hanging on one question, the more we’ll have to chat.  And when we chat more, all kinds of things much bigger than that question might happen.

“We have to pray with our eyes on God, not on the difficulties.” ~ Oswald Chambers 

Monday, August 20, 2012

Life Skills

Here's a lite bite for Monday.  I have continual trouble with the graceful phone exit.  I just can't disengage decisively.  It goes something like this:

The Summation of Accord:
Me: "Ok, then." Them: "Ok."

The Initiation of Closure:
Me: "Take it easy!"  Them: "Great. Talk to you soon."

The Awkward Pause.

The Simultaneous Reaction in Falsely Bright Tones:

"Ok! Bye!"


Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Vast Triviality

One of the best feelings is the one you get when you grapple with an idea and distill it to a complete, concise argument.  One of the worst is when you present the argument to a smart friend and the friend replies in a way that misses the point entirely.  The kind of reply that implies, “I didn’t quite follow that, but here’s how I feel.”  

I’m not trying to be an insufferable snob, and I don’t claim any unusual smarts myself, but I can’t help noticing how many educated and successful people today don’t use or follow logical processes.
This is frustrating when you are trying to discuss a novel or a philosophical point, or at any time in an election year. 

A professor reported in a webcast interview (which I’d look up and cite if Gale Force weren’t crying on the swings outside and forcing me to hurry) that in his research of English-subject teaching methods in U.S. classrooms he found not only a classroom that uses group consensus to determine vocabulary definitions, but also that an overwhelming percentage of college freshman cannot give an accurate summary of the first sentence of the Constitution.  Not to mention identify its source.

Which is a topic of its own, but today it is just one more reminder of this question that bugs me.  If you can’t understand the constructions necessary to convey a complex thought, can you have complex thoughts?  When a person can’t verbalize a good argument for his position, is it a thoughtful position at all or just an emotional one?

The thing is, we harbor impressions, but we think in words.  I just watched that movie scene where Helen Keller suddenly grasps language, and I can’t help but find it analogous; you can only untangle or understand your impressions to the degree that you can express them in words.  So if you find scholarly language uselessly snooty and can’t put your own ideas into specific terms, are you really thinking or just emoting?
I don’t know the answer.  I’m just asking.

I like this analogy by Neil Postman almost 20 years ago (I took the title from him too):

“While I do not know exactly what content was once carried in the smoke signals of American Indians, I can safely guess that it did not include philosophical argument. Puffs of smoke are insufficiently complex to express ideas on the nature of existence, and even if they were not, a Cherokee philosopher would run short of either wood or blankets long before he reached his second axiom. You cannot use smoke to do philosophy. Its form excludes the content.”

To be more culturally relevant, if we think and express ourselves in tweets, we leave ourselves little of depth to discuss.  And maybe, left to atrophy, our brains can only operate on a superficial level.

Tracy Lee Simmons quotes an ancient Greek maxim that states, “Letters are the beginning of wisdom,” and explains “letters” to mean “the ability to convey the complexity and subtlety of thought and sense with words.”  He continues, “To live as an educated being in any higher culture is to act both as a builder of the house and as a weeder of the garden.”

So, one conclusion you could draw is simply that our culture is not so high.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Deathknell for Dewey

Here are some signs of the apocalypse.  Today this means the ultimate end of the modern educational paradigm a la John Dewey.  (Like Humpty Dumpty, I reserve the right to use this at a later date to mean something totally different).

The Dewey paradigm is a pinball machine model into which students are dumped conveyor-belt style.  They are then ricocheted from subject to subject, level to level, points at each of which bits of substance residue may or may not stick to the students until they are hurled back onto the conveyor belt and mechanically stamped with a smiley face denoting participation.

Signs of the Apocalypse:

  1. Tests where you can bring in a 3x5 card full of your tiniest writing since you didn’t learn the material.
  2. The removal of analogies from the SATs because kids can’t do them anymore [Marge is to Bart as Mary is to _______].
  3. Calculators before high school.
  4. This receipt from last night’s dinner:

No joke.  A spot for diners to round up because they can’t do that and then multiply by .2 in their heads.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Astroturf Gardening

Cookie and I were on a fabulous adventure the other night, eating 50/50 burgers, of which half the meat is ground bacon, in a restaurant with the kids at 9pm.  While we were enjoying their happy-tired delirium and our garlic aioli, the lady at the next table expressed to her partner her surprise that anyone at all would want to have children.

This was odd because our kids were actually being pretty good, but more so because she was seated about 20 inches away from Cookie.

Have you ever heard this sort of enlightened condescension about either married or family life?  I know we in the married-with-children camp do our share of inexcusable condescending too, but I’m thinking now only of a particular brand of “I’ve transcended tradition and built a blithe world of Me.”  When I am confronted with this strain of modernity, I am struck less by offense than something between amusement and pity, and much harder to describe. 

Like how no argument could convince that girl that missing easy evenings out without the hassle of babysitters or making permanent, sacrificial adjustments to accommodate a spouse are to me what $200 dollars for Jimmy Choos might be to her, except that I will still find my purchase fashionable come fall.  But I think I’ve thought of a way to illustrate, at least to myself, our mutual lack of understanding.

It’s like a gardener who, spying around him neighbors covered in dirt and sweat and laboring endlessly, thought, “I won’t be such a fool!” and set about covering his plot of earth with Astroturf.  He filled pots and beds with silk flowers and gazed about in satisfaction, then leaned back in a hammock with a pina colada, and applauded his ingenuity, imagining the envy of his neighbors.

The other gardeners looked up, each in turn as they paused from their work, and noticed the spray of color and their neighbor in repose.  Then, each in his turn went back to his work of tilling and planting, watering and pruning.  The gardener in his hammock was mildly surprised that the others failed to follow in his pursuit of solitary pleasure.  And his neighbors were mildly surprised that he would content himself with pigmented silk when the fruits of their labors were sweet and living.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Climbing Parnassus: The Meaning of Education

There's so much to say about Climbing Parnassus by Tracy Lee Simmons that instead of reviewing, I'm going to write several spinoff posts.  Be advised, I have three planned so far and I'm only halfway through the book.  The quotability starts right in the introduction.

Now, once upon a time I puzzled upon learning that the Italian verb educare is a false cognate for the English to educate.  In America one is educated if he's been to college.  In Italian, a person is educato if he's well-behaved.  If he goes to school, he's istruito: instructed.  Being egocentric and not having researched the matter, I thought they'd just wandered in their usage.

But no, that was us.
Simmons writes of education for the ancients, "...among those gifts most sought was the civilizing, cultivating boon of eloquence, of right and beautiful expression."  In other words, learning served the higher purpose of refining, civilizing, the individual.  Classical learning seeks to develop character, integrity, the inner person first.

In contrast, we tend now to treat these aims as secondary at best.  We hope they'll come on their own, but we have to devote our time and resources to the kind of instruction that correlates directly with making money.  We shape careers more than people.

Simmons writes, "Many people today, without admitting it, prefer training to education, and they must have their heart's desire."

"Ah!" thought I.  False cognate, indeed!  Our word reflects our diminished view of education.  Italy, whatever its schooling system or philosophy, clings to a linguistic vestige of a deeper, less pragmatic vision.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Happily Ever After: By Hook or By Crook

Know what I think?  One of the most insidious lies a person can believe is that a soul mate, a one true match, exists.

I know this is a romantic notion on which the hopes of many are pinned, and I’m busting it up.  But only because I think there’s something much, much better.  And you have to give up the romantic notion to get the goods.

The problems with believing in soul mates are many.

1. Believing in soul mates means you could make the wrong choice the first time around.

If you think your significant other is your magical, cosmic match, but then you meet someone who sets your heart aflutter even MORE, you now have a real problem.  Did you marry the wrong guy?  If so, are you perfectly justified in pursuing this new love, due to its even more magical, cosmic nature?  How can you ever be sure—and how long should you hold out?

Conversely, I can be content, like big-time, in marriage not because I think there aren’t any guys out there in the universe equally or better suited to me, but because I know there probably are.  And it’s totally irrelevant to my marital bliss.  If I don’t believe in soul mates, I don't set myself up for the shock of an exciting new someone’s appearance.  Which leaves me free to be happy forever right where I am.

2. Believing in soul mates means you leave the work to chemistry, forgetting that chemistry IS the work.

I think your odds of happiness with a spouse are almost (almost!) unconnected to the particular qualities of that person.  This is super unromantic, yes?  Of course it’s great to choose a person with whom you have something in common and all.  It’s likely that’s what first attracted you anyway.  But it’s not essential to your ultimate happiness.

What is essential is that both of you work to secure not your own interests, but those of your spouse.  Even if you love extreme dirt bike racing and he prefers a quiet read on the patio, you can each prioritize finding ways to make the other feel understood and appreciated.  Loving overtures yield loving feelings over the long term, and not the other way around.  Good looks, common interests and sparkling charisma may win you over initially, but only this love-legwork creates a future. 

(Don’t panic. The work is often fun and usually pays well.)

3. Believing in soul mates means you put too much stock in butterflies.

Butterflies are not the best part.  Butterflies are NOT the best part.  So don’t read so much into them.  Enjoy them, but expect even more. 

Ever walk by a newly landscaped lawn?  It’s grabs your attention; the lines are sharp and the colors vibrant.  But the plants are spaced out to accommodate future growth, so its potential is yet to be realized.  If it’s left to grow unattended, no brilliance of design or quality of materials will keep it from becoming a wilderness.  But if it’s cared for, fed, watered, pruned, in a few years even a garden full of discount nursery castoffs will be spectacular. 

I like butterflies and romance as much as the next girl.  But I’m most dazzled by assurances: that the right formula of work and commitment (and prayer) can weather what comes.  Maybe soul mates do exist.  But they’re made, not found.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Judge Me: We Can Still Be Coffee Buddies

To follow up on the previous post, four simple ways to make sure you engage other viewpoints honestly and respectfully.

  1. Do it.  There’s no point believing something that can’t stand up to a challenge.  Engaging opposing viewpoints will either convince me for the other side (I could actually be wrong!), deepen my own beliefs by causing me to think critically about them, or at least educate me on what other people really think.  Win-Win-Win.
  2. Do it faithfully.  Represent your beliefs honestly.  Being gracious doesn’t necessitate rewriting parts that could offend.  Christians struggle with this when it comes to tough questions like “do you think I’m going to hell?”  Don’t be confrontational, but don’t try to protect God from who he is and what he’s said.  You’ll be introducing people to a watered down version of the real thing, and who needs that?
  3. Do it with integrity.  No strawmanning.  I made that up, but you know what a straw man is: you represent the other side as a weak caricature that you can beat down.  Politicians do this a lot; they describe the opposing viewpoint in such a way that only a moron could subscribe to it, and their crowd goes wild.  But smart and erudite people fall on all points along the spectrum, so always assume that your opponent is not an idiot  Represent his position in the best possible light and you’ll avoid alienating your audience.
  4. Learn to live with tension.  There are some times when we’ll just disagree, and on important subjects.  If we want to keep up meaningful dialogue without losing the core of who we are and what we think, there will be tension.  I was once part of a long, friendly email debate between Catholic and Protestant Christians.  We all learned a lot about what was similar and what differed, but in the end there were a few points on which we would never quite see eye to eye.  Which is why we have different sects and parties and faiths at all.  Sensing where the line is, where learning becomes bullying, and pulling back before you reach it, is critical.  If harmony is where all is blithely ignorant and clash is where the fists fly, seek dissonance.  Slightly off but in a way that adds interest.  
  5. When in real danger, retreat to common ground.  Coffee, beer, baseball, knitting.  Now go forth and have a diverse circle of friends!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Judge Me

I went to a multi-faith forum recently to hear a Muslim Imam, a Buddhist, and a Christian pastor (full disclosure: from my church) speak on the substance of their belief systems and field audience questions.  I spoke with the Imam afterwards about the difficulties of maintaining the tensions of disagreement with civility, and it got me thinking.

So today I’ll be ruminating on the meanings of the words respect, judgment and tolerance, and tomorrow I’ll comment on what I see as keys to representing ourselves and our views publicly.

So how do we respect a person with whom we disagree fundamentally on important issues?  First, we don’t confuse respect with obsequiousness.  Finding common ground is important, but faking it doesn’t help anyone. 

Acknowledging a disagreement where one exists is not a failure to respect the other party.  If I say, “I don’t believe Joseph Smith received true divine communiqués,” this is a crucial statement of fact.  We have to agree to disagree on the portions of our beliefs that are inherently incompatible.  Otherwise we’re just lying, which demeans our own faith and that of others.

Vegetarians often have to rub elbows with the burger-eating crowd, and sometimes there’s discomfort on all sides.  Should I avoid the Big Mac even lacking any conviction about meat, all in the name of sensitivity?  Maybe, but if I’m a carnivore, the one thing I can’t do is say things like, “I wish I could do that; it’s so admirable.”  Pretending to cede moral high ground isn’t respectful: it’s dishonest.  I can even continue to order my salad with chicken as long as I don’t rub it in anyone’s face.  Here’s where tolerance comes in. 

We can put up with each other with equanimity if we keep reminding ourselves that people who disagree with us aren’t [always] stupid.  Even if it turns out I’m right about something, recalling that an opposing position can still be reasoned, and reasonable, allows me to be clear on my point without derogating another. 

I’ll wrap up with a word on judgment.  Biblically, judgment has various meanings and it’s important to know them and differentiate.  First, there’s the punishment kind, like with fire at the end of the world.  Unless we’re actually on the bench somewhere, we don’t do this, the sentencing kind of judgment.

But often the other kinds are confused, and then lumped into a big No pile.  Condemning someone for their missteps or even their liberties, when done from a position of pride or self-righteousness, is hypocrisy.  This is the point of Matthew 7:1 (Judge not, lest ye be judged), which is often thrown back in the faces of Christians to trap them in supposed intolerance. 

But Matthew continues in that passage, and after describing hypocrisy, he goes on to clarify proper judgment.  (Really! It exists!)  The truth is, everyone is making judgments all the time, which is why relativism as a philosophy is so logically untenable.  Basically, if you can stand in front of a roller coaster and check whether you meet the height requirement to ride, you can see how judgment that is an assessment (Bible says don’t do xyz; I did xyz. Fail.) is an intellectual exercise that we can and must engage in.  Tuck it neatly into the envelopes of respect and tolerance and this kind of judgment can serve you well.

I'll post some simple rules of engagement tomorrow.  For now, these webpages have more in-depth treatments of the Biblical uses of the word judgment.  Look here and here. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Church-y Hope

Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Some words lead double lives.  Their meanings change depending on where or by whom they’re uttered.  Hope is one such tricky word.  Like people who clean up their language on Sundays, Hope has a church-y personality and a world-y one.  If you’re going to say it in a churchy way to a world-y person, it’s helpful to know the difference, and how your meaning may come across in consequence.

When I hear hope spoken of in non-Biblical contexts, it tends to involve vague optimism.  Like, “I sure hope Cookie brings home some doughnuts tonight.”  When I say it like this, it can mean several things.  Maybe I mentioned doughnuts specifically and want him to remember.  Maybe he knows I like doughnuts and brings them home often, making my hope reasonable.  Or it could be a completely random thought, a craving put into words, and with next to no chance of having occurred simultaneously to Cookie.

Hope in this sense can inspire or encourage, but ultimately succumbs to circumstance.  You can spur people to all kinds of heroic action with the right pep talk, but once the situation turns bleak, this hope peters out. 

Biblical hope is a different animal.  If world-y hope is wanting optimistically, church-y hope is waiting expectantly.  Where world-y hope holds out for the possibility of something better, church-y hope looks forward with assurance of it.

Of course, that doesn’t mean knowing the specifics of every ending.  Romans 8 explains, “Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” 

Hope in the New Testament is tied continually to eternal life.  This hope is living, because Jesus Christ lives (1 Pet 1:3).  This is not a small detail.  Because church-y hope awaits something better after this life, it does not succumb to despair in this life.  World-y hope dies when the situation gets inescapable.  Church-y hope transcends circumstance.

There are always suckers who leave a one-sided ballgame after the 7th inning stretch, you know, to beat traffic.  Church-y hope sits it out.  Church-y hope expects upsets.



Monday, February 6, 2012

I Already Gave You My Money

I recently did a favor for a girl scout.  I ordered Sports Illustrated magazine from the daughter of my dad’s coworker.  I thought I had done a kind thing.  Until I found this postcard enclosed in my order packet.
It turns out, SHE has done ME a favor.  Or so I’m to inform her by means of this postcard.  I can even attach a sticker from an enclosed sheet, my choice of several with encouraging messages to further build her self-esteem. 

Soliciting is awkward.  You are often putting people out.  When I had to sell pizzas and hoagies door to door as a kid, my mother called it character-building.  But now it’s an opportunity for hollow self-esteem building, instead.

Even in the case of the single exception to the awkwardness rule, Girl Scout Cookies, the selling of which IS a favor to me, I’m not sure the girl needs a personal commendation for it.  Did she invent the cookie?  Bake it herself?

We’ve all heard the cogent arguments that self-esteem-building apart from real accomplishment ends badly.  But for Christians, there’s another element wherein self-esteem, good or bad, is at best irrelevant and at worst an obstacle to forming solid identity.  One of my favorite preachers said in a recent sermon that while self-loathing needs the cure of the gospel, so does self-love of the coolest-kid-in-school, cheerleading-captain, girl-scout-post-card-recipient variety. 

Confidence can be developed through real accomplishment.  Identities should be built on the foundation of Christ’s undeserved yet unshakeable love for us.  Neither can be earned through guilting people into magazine purchases.  Dang.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Book Review: A Praying Life

A lot of books on prayer convince me that I should pray.  They exalt in the author’s joyful prayer-cravings.  But if you don’t share those cravings already, they can leave you feeling that you just aren’t ever going to be as holy as that happy writer.

This is not one of those prayer books.  Paul E. Miller’s book is the kind that gently points out the problem: “If you are not praying, then you are quietly confident that time, money, and talent are all you need in life.”  The kind that nudges towards the solution: prayer is “audibly declaring your belief in a God who is alive.”  And that knocks down the little lies we skate by on: “Efficiency, multitasking, and busyness all kill intimacy. In short, you can’t get to know God on the fly.”

So we’re convinced we need prayer.  But then he shows how it works.  Miller guides us through an intimate history of prayer working in the life of his family to demonstrate how prayer is a center court ticket to what God is doing in the world.  He’s doing it anyway, but prayer gets us off the bench.  The more you do it, the more real it gets.

Ok, that’s great for you, Paul Miller.  But what about……. And here’s the best part of A Praying Life.  Miller knows how hard prayer is.  He addresses every excuse or obstacle that’s defeated you before.  And he even offers a final section on super-practical ways to get off the ground.  It won’t feel insurmountable.
I first read this book a couple of years ago, and it’s been vying hard for favorite-book-ever.  I recommend a read every year or so for, oh, the rest of your life.  You’ll take in a bit more each time and by the time you die, you too will be as awesome as Paul Miller and as amped up about the great stuff God is doing: stuff you’re a part of.

You can find this book on the scrolling booklist in the sidebar.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Talking About Faith

My pastor in San Diego gets quite animated about this topic, so I’ve been thinking about story-sharing more than usual.  I like lists, so enumerated below are my answers to the question: why should you talk more about your faith? 

1.       To define it.  A lot of people think of faith the way I once heard it defined in a movie, as believing when common sense tells us not to.  Sometimes faith does defy common sense; expecting miracles, for instance.  Miracles are earthly impossibilities, so they defy physical laws and yes, reason based on those.  Faith isn’t senseless, though.  Even to expect miracles is its own kind of reason if expectation is based on like experience, as I’ll get into in point two, or on knowledge of a power that transcends physical law.  Faith, the good kind at least, isn’t blind, either.  At the very least, it has a perfectly dependable guide dog.  The kind of faith that says, “I will be healed of cancer because I believe in God” sometimes strikes me as blind not because God can’t heal cancer, but because there’s no definitive promise of indiscriminate healing on which to base such assurance.  Saints die, too.  Faith, the kind you can offer that people might want, can’t just be sentimental and optimistic.  It has to be rational.  To this end, talking about your faith in terms of its reasonable basis is helpful. 

2.       To testify to its effectiveness.  You might try Oxy Clean if its commercials sound promising.  If your mother tells you it took out wine and chocolate from her white cashmere just last week, though, you’re going to go out and buy it.  Personal experience as a basis for believing something (Great Aunt Rose’s agita was relieved after eating watermelon, so watermelon must cure agita) is a bad system of reasoning.  But people crave it as corroborating evidence to what already makes sense on paper.  Sometimes they just want to know, seriously, did this work for you?  If you’d tell them about Oxy Clean, why not the way God brought you through unemployment or loss?

3.       To decompartmentalize it.  (Microsoft doesn’t recognize this word, but military families will.)  There’s a false dichotomy, even among Christians, of secular and sacred.  If there’s a Biblical God, there’s no realm of life into which he doesn’t enter.  That recurring tree model of truthàbeliefàemotionàaction?  Let’s bring it in again.  If your roots, your underlying truths and assumptions, are Biblical, there’s no branch of thought or actions that is separate.  Unless you have multiple personalities, you don’t get two root systems, churchy and worldly, among which to compartmentalize the stuff of life.  Talking about faith in the varied contexts of your life and happenings helps to bridge this artificial gap.

4.       To sort it out for yourself!  If this all sounds a little intense, and you don’t picture all your thoughts and opinions hung neatly from branches, talking about your faith can help you start to fit it into a bigger picture. 

Not talking about faith doesn’t make sense for a person who really has it.  Talking about it may just help you spot its workings and reinforce its effectiveness for you.  Faith is not a salve or a placebo.  Not in my experience.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Serious Comeback from a Leisurely Holiday

With promises to post something substantive tomorrow (all words used loosely), here's the kind of important stuff that has kept me from writing for an extended holiday.  Gale Force choked on sliced ham midway through this video and I hesitated before pausing it to help her.  It's that funny. 

Merry New Year from the Wife of Leisure