Category Archives: Journey

The Secret

Again, I am at the starting line. Writing has been for me that thing that is so elusive and yet the very thing I know I need to chase down with as much passion as the dog who chases the stray cat. I may never actually get what I want, but it’s hardly ever about the result but is instead about the pursuit. In fact, that may sum up a lot of life. Anyways, here is something that another writer wrote many years ago but has had a deep and abiding impact in my past, present and future. If you have never read Douglas Coupland’s Life After God, go and buy it right now. I’m not kidding. This is a quote that has served as a liturgy for myself that I keep repeating, and I wanted to share it with you:

 

“My secret is that I need God–that I am sick and can no longer make it alone. I need God to help me give, because I no longer seem to be capable of giving; to help me be kind, as I no longer seem capable of kindness; to help me love, as I seem beyond being able to love.”
Douglas Coupland, Life After God

God help me to give, help me to be kind, help me to love. Help me also to write, because that is so often how I am found by you. Peace

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Lent (Day 5): What will you add?

“What are you giving up?”

As some of you engage in Lent and have conversations with others about this season, this question will probably be a frequent one you hear, ask others, or have already heard too much. Most people associate this time with just getting rid of something for a time and then picking it back up once Easter arrives. It is not a bad thing really to be associated with, for in  a culture of excess the move of giving up seems provocative, it seems counter to what is familiar. Losing is not something we like to be accustomed to. And doesn’t it seem like we are in fact losing something in Lent? Sometimes it does feel like a subtraction problem.

Me – sweets= Lent, or

Me- soda= Lent, or

Me- Facebook= Lent.

This can go on and on. I was asked today what I thought the point of Lent was, and if I could sum it up in one phrase. I thought about it for a second and then said, “creating space.” Now that may still sound like a subtraction problem, but in my mind it is really not. By creating space we create an openness where something can now fill it. We can’t leave the space open and void, something enters into it no matter what. It is simply about  what we will allow to be there in the absence of other things So what if Lent is actually an addition to our lives, not a subtraction. Yes, we may lose for a time whatever it is we are giving up. But maybe through this process we will actually gain something much better. Maybe we’ll get back into writing more and engaging our faith through that medium? Perhaps we will spend more valuable time having meaningful conversations about what truly matters in life? There is the possibility that the presence of God that we have felt so keenly absent of will start to make itself more known again when we start to add things into our life that feed our spirituality instead of take from it.

But Lent isn’t magic, just because we create more space it does not mean that somehow God will now be summoned in a way he wasn’t before. Practicing the discipline simply puts us on a path where God’s grace can flow more clearly if we just stay attentive. God is speaking and moving no matter what, Lent just helps us clear our blurry eyes and lessen the noise that surrounds us constantly so that we may see and hear better. So maybe the question we  should be asking ourselves and others this season is:

What will you add?

Grace and Peace

Just a quick note before I get into today’s reflection: The next couple of days I will putting up some quotes from other authors/theologians/thinkers/etc. due to the fact that I will be extremely busy with some projects early this week. I will be back Wednesday with my own thoughts but I still wanted to be active about blogging every day through Lent. I hope people will still drop by, in fact I may have more visits since I will not be writing!

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Europe Journal Entry 4: Dublin

It is Wednesday, October 17th 2007. I slept in until noon today, and as I wake I can taste the previous night’s cigarettes in my mouth. It has been months since I smoked one let alone two, but the French girls Charley and I hung out with smoked frequently so we decided to indulge them a bit. Though I have slept late in the day, it has not been without interruption. At one point I awoke to one of the French girls whispering my name and asking me to stop snoring so loudly! “You’ve slept for three hours! Now let us sleep for three hours!” It was quite funny and embarrassing at the same time. They were kind about it. I gently turn on my side and hope that my snoring subsides. When I wake up at twelve the girls are gone, they drove to Galway that morning. Charley and I should have gone with them, they hinted at us going but we hesitated. But we finally make a day of it and join up with Chad for a walk through the city.

We walk through the Temple Bar discrict, Grafton Street, around Trinity College and to the south of Dublin. We stop to watch some football and get some beer and coffee at a pub. We tried to get into St. Patrick’s Cathedral but they had some special service going on, disappointing but then we sit in the park right next to it and hang out. The sun is setting in the West and the rays shine through the trees to create a contrast of light and dark on the grass and pavement that at once feels warm even though a cool breeze moves all around us. As we head back towards our hostel, we pass by Christ Church Cathedral, which is the oldest church in Dublin. It is 5:30 in the evening so we decide to step in for an evensong service. The choir begins to sing, and this ancient church reminds me that people have walked many miles in their lives and have hopefully encountered the divine in the same space where I now pause to raise my ear in hopes of at least hearing a whisper. I have more hope today that people can genuinely reflect the nature of God at times in life, and I see in the hostels that people just want to meet other people and to know that they are not crazy in their loneliness. I find myself wanting to hear someone else’s story, where they came from, how they view life, and where they want to go next. I want to tell my story too, to provide a small glimpse into my little world, my customs, my oddities.

Before we get to the hostel, we stop in at a market and buy some food supplies for our dinner meal. We decide on spaghetti. Cheap, quick, and it serves a lot. It is the best meal I have had in a long time. Miles of walking will create unrelenting hunger. And so we stuff ourselves, and yet we have some left over for our new friend Sako, a Japanese girl who was cooking food alongside us. She burned the rice she was making so it works out perfect. She sits at our table and talks with us awhile and tells us about how work at a local coffee shop was going. She loves Japan but wanted a new experience, and Ireland seemed intriguing to her. After dinner, we invite Sako out with us for a few drinks and to listen to some music. We travel to the outskirts of the Temple Bar area and encounter this small pub and overhear a musician inside playing some American pop music on his acoustic guitar. As we approach the door, a big Irishman with broad shoulders steps in my way. “There is a cover” he says shortly with a stern manner. I look back to the group in confusion and go to grab my wallet and as I turn back the man’s shoulders fall and he begins to laugh hysterically. “Just kiddin’ man, come on in!” I laugh nervously but it was a funny moment. The people here so far are just genuinely friendly, and in this short encounter I realize that Dublin feels comfortable, it fits me better than I had previously assumed. The Guiness begins to flow from the tap and falls into our glasses, which eventually fills our stomachs. And we sat back and enjoy a good show by the young singer in the corner covering Dave Matthews, David Gray, and U2 tunes.

Tomorrow we leave for Sevilla. I am a little nervous to be going to Spain. I wonder how the language barrier will be. But this trip is already about taking risks, about getting outside of the comfort zones we defend ourselves with. And as scary as it can get, I still find moments of comfort. And the way I make sense of it is that God is indeed full of grace.

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Personal Narratives

I recently read this article by essayist Alan Jacobs on the issue of personal narratives as a witness to God’s activity in history. Jacobs’ main argument is that as the church is moving towards more of a narrative theology and a hermeneutic that is “ecclesiocentric” in nature, there is a minimizing of the value of personal “testimonies” as a way of proclaiming the movement of God in individual lives. In other words, the stories of the individuals in a congregation only cohere and are given their fullest expression when woven into the fabric of the church as a whole. In many ways, this paradigm shift is a counter approach to the hyper-individualism that has taken place in Western civilization, and what we are seeing now are attempts at restoring communal aspects that have been lost in our culture. However, as much as there is a desire to reconnect people with finding meaning and purpose in their local church, there is a fear that their own personal journeys will be lost in relation to the community at large.

Jacobs mentions one form of personal storytelling that has remained constant in the Protestant church, the individual “testimony”. Many who have sat in a church service or a small group Bible study know that at times individuals are given opportunities to tell their own story and to articulate how God has moved in their lives. This is often used a method for leading people to conversion or at least witnessing to the fact that God does indeed engage in the lives of individuals. In many ways this has furthered the idea of self-discovery and has produced a flourishing business for books, tapes, videos and journals allowing others to find out the meaning in their own stories. The problems that can be created out of this are such things as narcissism, sentimentality, and the desire to find truth for oneself but have little advice for one’s neighbor. A key example is the use of “journaling” that is promoted by some.

There is hope for those wanting to make sense of their personal stories whilst not falling into strictly “ecclesiocentric” or personal narratives. Jacobs offers three key examples: the Puritans use of the personal diary or journal as a way of framing one’s life to see patterns in their faith journey; the idea promoted by Walter Benjamin, that our stories should provide counsel and wisdom for others; and Augustine’s thoughts in his Confessions that reflecting on our lives can lead to repentance in the present and hope for the future. In respect to the faculty of memory, Jacobs provides insight from Kierkegaard to warn us that as much as we reflect backwards, our present lives move forwards and so our memory is shaky and thus our interpretative process is also being newly transformed, thus we are called to revise and rethink our narratives constantly in the desire that we may ourselves more truthfully. And though we may encounter problems or obstacles as we long to describe our journeys, we as Christians should not abandon personal testimony. As long as it serves to help us “frame” our lives better, offers counsel and wisdom to its hearers, and helps us to repent and hope more often, Jacobs believes we should promote the existence and usefulness of the personal narrative, not as an abandonment of narrative theology in relation to the church, but as a key component in the overall proclamation of the gospel.

 I would be interested to hear what you all think about this?

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Journal Entry 3: Chicago and Dublin

— This next post comprises two entries that I made in Chicago the night we left and my first day in Dublin, Ireland. We took an overnight flight from Chicago and landed in Dublin in the early hours, as I can recall a little after 6 in the morning. It was a great flight actually, surprisingly comfortable and hassle free, but I didn’t get much sleep so I was exhausted once we hit Ireland. So here it is accompanied by some photos I took. Peace and enjoy…

” 10-15/16-07   Long day today,began in Chicago, where we spent a couple of hours at the Art Institute and for the first time saw with my own eyes the works of Van Gogh, Degas, Kandinsky, and Picasso. It literally brought tears to my eyes to see the vividness of the colors presented by Van Gogh. The self portraits, the broad strokes, the blues and yellows. It is almost as if they did not exist until I saw them with my own eyes, that they were just illusions in books and on television. Everything so far has gone rather smoothly, it is surprising and scary at the same time. I can’t get past the interconnectedness of this trip thus far, seeing an old friend (I had ran into my friend Justin in St. Louis), running into the Irish couple on the streets of downtown Chicago, meeting the filmmaker on the plane whose husband is from Norman. This world is incredibly huge and yet it is so small at the same time. I’m not sure if I’ve done anything thus far that has ever felt like God was so present and active in.

As we get into Dublin, I am groggy and walking as if I am a zombie. I stagger through customs and we find a bus that takes us to the Temple Bar area. That is where our hostel is, and that is where I lay my head down first. I fall asleep in the commons area and I sleep for hours, and finally I wake up to people all around me. Most of them smile at me and nod at Charley who is snoring loudly. I wake him up and Chad comes in, we are hungry and we want to walk around to see Dublin.

Chad booked his room earlier than Charley and I do so we are actually separated. Two French girls walk into the room and we introduce ourselves, I can’t even pronounce their names but they ask us if we want to smoke, and even though neither of us do, we oblige and decide to get a beer with them. The film Lost in Translation instantly comes to my mind, for though these girls speak English, it is very broken at times and so we all stumble over what to say and how to say it. We talk about stereotypes, ours of the French, and what theirs are for Americans. We buy a round of beers and they return the favor, it is a very fun time, sitting back and interacting with these girls, drinking a beer with my friend Charley, and being in a different country. We laugh and live, and again I feel a sense of peace.

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Some Photos From Eurotrip

Here are a few photos to bide some time until the next journal entry. Take a look…

 

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Journal Entry 2: Chicago

This is my second entry of my journal while I travelled. At this point I am still in Chicago where we spent a full day before departing on our flight to Dublin. So after this everthing will concern my time in Europe, but I wanted to add one more entry that expressed what was going on within me before we left. Sorry for the delay, but due to the ice storm in Oklahoma internet has been a privelage that was not always readily available. Enjoy…

—October 14, 2007. Today we left for Chicago, part of the way Charlie and I talked again about life in general, about how we are just so confused. There really is no sense of normality, and I am not sure if there ever was. I started to feel tired, and I could tell Chad was feeling a little isolated in the backseat, so after we had a lunch break I let him get up front, and I laid down and got my iPod out to listen to some Bob Dylan. Dylan is almost like a ghost to me at this point, I always hear people talking about him, paying their homages and tributes, and articulating how he influenced them. So before I left, I bought some of his music and decided I would give it a try. I start out with the familiar “Like A Rolling Stone”, then move to “My Back Pages”, “Lay, Lady, Lay”, “Gotta Serve Somebody”, and end up at “Make You Feel My Love”. His voice is not the most appealing, but the words hypnotize me, and slowly I find myself drawn into the story that he is weaving together through song.

I check my phone to see if friends have called, wishing me well and telling me their last goodbyes. But nothing is there and I start doubting the vailidity of all the people I’ve binded myself to. How often I gauge my relationships based on text messages and voicemails, missed calls and call times. Its ridiculous when you really think about it. After a small nap, I rise in a daze and start to see the skyline of Chicago from afar. Its amazing really, somehow I recall Dorothy when she saw Oz for the first time, the way it glistened compared to the sky around it. It is proud, upright, inviting. We drive past Navy Pier and then into downtown. We eat at Uno’s Pizzeria, walk the streets, and the time seems to pass so slow. The city is on display for us, and while it is huge it also is vulnerable, quietly showing us more of itself.

I don’t want to lie to myself or others, I want to be who I am and free of my fears. There are so many fears that need to be addressed. I want to be free to take them on, to deal with them and be changed by the fight. I think that this trip is part of the battle in three acts; actually planning it and committing to it is the first part, the second part is the actual lived experience of it, and the final act is the return home, to come back and see how I’ve grown from it all. It is with a prayer of hope that I write these words. We will see what happens…

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