Friday, December 2, 2016

Enjoying the Process

With less than twenty days until the end of the semester, there is much work still to be done, yet the work is enjoyable. One of my habits during these past few weeks was allowing myself to study in a coffee shop once during the week for a change in environment. This morning as I packed up my assignment (comparing Paul's view of marriage with a position put forward around the same time by the Cynic philosopher Epictetus) and prepared to return to campus, I noticed there was still a bit of coffee in my cup. Looking at the remaining coffee as a task to be completed, I didn't enjoy it nearly as much as I had initially when I viewed it just a few moments before as a special treat. It is such a unique opportunity to have the next few weeks to dedicate myself to studying God's word in-depth through Greek exegesis. It is a privilege to be able to read the works of figures in church history and attempt to grasp their method of spirituality. With my eye on the calendar counting the days till I go home, I fear that I may begin to view these tasks as something to be finished, when really there may be so much joy in the process. Hopefully, when I finish these assignments, I may be able to look back and say, 'that was a delightful cup of coffee.'

What factors change our view of the activity before us? Are there ways in which we can counteract negative view-changes?

Friday, November 25, 2016

Growing local while maintaining distance

As I sat in a coffee shop early this morning waiting for winter tires to be put on my car (a necessity when one grew up near Seattle with little experience driving in the snow), I listened in to the conversations of the other patrons. With people carrying in their personal thermoses, greeting the other early morning coffee drinkers by name, and the shop owner saying 'welcome home' to the kids back with their families for the holiday, there was a definite feel of localness. I suppose another way to phrase it is that among the people there was a sense of familiarity. It was more than the feeling I get when I walk into a Starbucks, which thanks to the chain atmosphere always feels known to me. This morning, amongst the patrons at this other local coffee shop, there was a sense of familiarity not just with the place, but also with the people. It was evidence of them knowing others and themselves being known.

I'm particularly thankful as the end of my first semester at seminary draws to a close for the sense of localness that has emerged. I love being able to go to church every Sunday and greet familiar faces. I am grateful for the developing friendships with other students on campus. I am also thankful for an emerging mental map and understanding of the local area along with patience in adjusting the relational driving style here on the East Coast. Some of these things, such as driving, may seem trivial, but it really does help me feel a sense of localness. I am beginning to know those around me and also beginning to be known.

Along with a growing sense of localness, I am thankful for remaining connected to dear friends and family from the other places that I have called home. Finding a balance between staying in contact with previous connections and investing myself into the community here has at times been a challenge. Thanksgiving night struck the balance though. I immensely enjoyed spending the evening at a professor's home getting to meet new people as we enjoyed the traditional (with the addition of goat soup) Thanksgiving meal together. When I returned to my room late in the evening, I FaceTimed home and found myself looking at a table surrounded by extended family on the West Coast. It was such a joy-filled evening to be local and yet also maintain long-distance connections.

What does it look like to balance being present to our local surroundings while also engaging with those who continue to hold significant, yet distant, roles in our lives?

Friday, November 18, 2016

Reflecting Rain

In this visually overwhelming photo, I pointed the camera outside the car window towards the side mirror. With so much to reflect on, it sometimes becomes difficult to see forward. As the rain continued to come down in sheets as I drove to my destination, all of my attention became focused on the road, particularly on the dashed highway line that let me know the limits of my lane.

Do we allow ourselves to become overwhelmed with reflection that we lose focus on the way forward?

What are the dashes in our lives that we seek and use as guides?

Friday, November 11, 2016

Active Hope

During Game 7 of the World Series, I was working on homework. As I crawled into bed that night, I checked the score again, expecting to see the Cubs maintaining a significant lead. I was shocked to find the game tied. Knowing, however, that there was not much I could do to assist the Cubs in clinching the title, I turned off my phone and went to bed so that I would be awake for my job the next morning.

Nearly a week later, I checked my phone again as I crawled into bed to read the news of the election results that were starting to come in. Again I saw what I was not expecting. Knowing there was nothing more I could do though having cast my vote and continuing to pray, I went to bed so that again I could get up and do my job the next morning.

Do we become so focused on what we can no longer control that we lose our energy to do what we still can?

I was immensely encouraged by reading the Facebook posts of several of my friends following the election. While many were disappointed in the result, their frustration at what the many had not stood against was met with a commitment to individually do what they could to stand against disregard for the dignity of other human beings. Compared to recognized offices of leadership and power around the globe, which in some cases protect and in other cases disregard the value of people, one's ability to protect and serve people may seem small. Even small contributions though can lead to great things. However, as our ability to contribute may lead to great things, our negligence or outright disregard for others can lead to terrible things. 

No matter who one voted for, may individual commitments to stand up for human rights, to care for neighbors, and for love to be proven through actions not be postponed. May people not be so enthralled and disheartened by the news that they become inactive in their own communities. Hope is an active thing.

As Christians, we cannot forget to that this calling to contribute as individuals applies to ministry too (of which loving others is a crucial part). See post entitled Active Anticipation from June 14 this year for more on how this may look within the context of ministry.

"And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Matthew 2:39

Friday, November 4, 2016

Silently Sinking: A Cry for Community

On the silent retreat a few weeks ago, I did eventually make it to reading the passage I had intended to, the story of Peter walking out on the water to Jesus in Matthew 14. What struck me as I read through is that Peter actively cries out for Jesus to save him as he begins to sink. Up to that point in the Gospel of Matthew, Peter has built up a relationship with Jesus. Even within this story itself, Peter calls out to Jesus asking to be invited to walk out to Him. It is within this established relationship then, that Peter cries out for help, instead of being content to sink silently along the venture towards Christ.

With this story in mind, I decided to try going back to a church that I had been to a few weeks previously. The church I had attended in the intermittent time had a great service, yet even when I stuck around for the coffee hour, there were not many signs of a vibrant community and I slipped out the door. As I drove out to this other church the week following the silent retreat, I was praying the whole time (with my eyes on the road), praising God for the beauty of the fall foliage which was in full swing and praying for God to make it clear if I was to attend that church in further weeks or keep searching. Before the service even started, several people came up to introduce themselves. The greetings continued after the service as I got to know the members of the church who now well into their adult life had been attending the church since childhood along with those who had recently started attending. Even as I walked back to my car in the parking lot, someone said hi and carried on a conversation for five minutes. It became clear that as I continue venturing into seminary, this would be a church that would not let me sink silently but actively reach out to me and call me to cling to the Gospel.

Being a month of thanksgiving, this week I am particularly thankful for all of the communities that I am surrounded by. I am thankful for the new community of friends at seminary, for continuing contact with friends and professors from undergraduate, family at home, and this church community. 

Who do we call out to when we feel like we're sinking? Who encourages us to call out to God?

Friday, October 28, 2016

Empty Beaches

With temperatures hovering just above freezing (not including wind chill) a friend from college and I had the beach almost entirely to ourselves. Despite the change in climate from the week before when hundreds of people congregated on the sand, the beach was still just as beautiful for those willing to adjust to the change.

As we celebrate when paths converge, how can we also celebrate when our paths with dear ones temporarily diverge?

Do we look ahead, thinking 'when I get to that point, I'll be able to see ... ' only to find that we will see what we have already been able to see?

Friday, October 21, 2016

Methods of Hiking

On a recent hike up Mt Monadnock in New Hampshire, one of my companions noted that for them, hiking was about getting to the top as quickly as possible to enjoy the view, and then dashing back down the hill to move on to the next thing. As a slow hiker, I've come to the opposite conclusion, that hiking is about savoring the journey. 

Are we so focused on the wonder that awaits that we miss the wonder of the journey or are we so caught up in the wonder of the journey that we stop pressing forward?

What if there was a balance between the two?