Take a trip to Ideas

A vacation for me is having time to travel, not to places but to ideas. I go there by means of books.

The books grabbing my attention now sit on the flat arms of my recliner in the study and on the top of my nearby desk.

This morning, I started with The Thickness of Glory by John Killinger; it’s in my lap.

The New American Standard New Testament rests to my right. It will be next.

On the left is T.S. Eliot’s For Lancelot Andrewes and Denise Shekerjian’s Uncommon Genius.

In the middle of my desk is Will Durant’s The Age of Faith. And on top of it is A Game of Thrones, which is how I ended Tuesday and probably will end today.

I’m not sure why I thought to share this; maybe because it is a way of enjoying a day that seems so foreign to this time. For many of us, the best traveling occurs in our minds.

Last night I started watching a movie that included an airport scene. I found myself getting stressed just watching it. Exit. This is vacation from stress time.

I do like seeing interesting places; I just hate the getting there if it involves airports and airplanes. I do like a good road trip because there is plenty of time to think. One of the best trips of my life was driving from Texas to Vancouver with Cameron. There and back again, to quote a hobbit. Thousands of beautiful miles and precious company.

With books and ideas I like both the trip and the arriving at the end.

My perfect vacation day continues.

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We push beyond self to the Other

There is a danger at work in the religious life. It is that we take every thought in our heads as words from God. Connecting with the Infinite, I suspect, is a bit more otherly.

This, I think, points to the allure and the limitations of reason. Thinking is an act of the mind (the self) even when we are thinking about something or someone else, such as the Divine. We may think we fall in love with God when we actually have fallen in love with our thoughts about God.

That is not to say we cannot fall in love with God, the object of our thinking, but there must be more than our thinking; there must be experience. And both our thinking and our experience are best comprehended in connection with other thinking and experiencing persons. Then the God we fall in love with is more likely to be the true Divine, not just my divine.

But, no, that is not true. People tend to think badly and to misunderstand experience, and we tend to hang out with others in the same predicament. Many people, some in very large groups, have fallen in love with notions of God that I highly suspect are untrue. Some already have passed off the historical scene; others will.

We do not despair. We are merely humbled, or should be, in our desire to connect with the true Divine. I suspect our connections will be weak because we think and experience in such confusion.

1 Corinthians 13:12-13:

“For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love” (NRSV).

Or in the venerable and beautiful King James Version:

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.”

Looking for a leader

People, especially those who would lead, are interesting. Check out these two descriptions:

1) man of medium stature… hair lay smooth as if it had been combed… beard shaggy and trained to a point… eyes were bright and full of fire, bespeaking the keenness of his mind… eyebrows fine… nose perfectly straight… mouth a bit large, with full lower lip… neck thick and bent… shoulders large and broad… from head to fingertips well proportioned, and therefore strong and a good runner.

2) not handsome nor youthful… long beard with lice, like a thicket for wild beasts… head disheveled… seldom cuts hair or nails… fingers nearly always black with ink.

Two interesting, very different descriptions. Same man. The most powerful man in the world at the time. In the first he is described by Ammianus, in the second by himself. In other words, he saw his flaws.

The man — Roman Emperor Julian, called the Apostate by some.

“This pagan lived and dressed like a monk. Apparently he knew no woman carnally after the death of his wife. He slept on a hard pallet in an unheated room; he kept all his chambers unheated throughout the winter “to accustom myself to bear the cold.” He had no taste for amusements. He shunned the theater with its libidinous pantomimes, and offended the populace by staying away from the Hippodrome; on solemn festivals he attended for a while, but finding one race like another, he soon withdrew. At first the people were impressed by his virtues, his asceticism, his devotion to the chores and crises of government; they compared him to Trajan as a general, to Antoninus Pius as a saint, to Marcus Aurelius as a philosopher-king. We are surprised to see how readily this young pagan was accepted by a city and an Empire that for a generation had known none but Christian emperors.”

There can be such a thing as a powerful, exemplary, service-oriented leader. He or she will not rise to power in the USA as Julian did in Rome. Here, the people need to be looking for such a person and then lift them above the crowd of egotistical and power hungry.

It is good to lift up people of competence, integrity, experience, intelligence, compassion, and humility. Maybe such characteristics can be summed in one word — wisdom.

We need wise women and men to lead. Any leader will make mistakes, and no leader can right every wrong. But a wise leader gives us our best hope.

On Memorial Day it is good to remember the responsibility we all have to choose our leaders well.

Quote and info from Will Durant, The Age of Faith: The Story of Civilization, Volume IV . Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

Learning the art of listening

It struck me today how fortunate I was to have been a journalist.
 
Real journalists ask questions, lots of questions, and most of their time is spent listening to the answers — getting the responses right but also thinking about the responses. Is it a real answer to the question? What new questions does the answer raise? Thought upon thought, all while listening and trying to understand.
 
Then, after all the asking and listening is done, you try to make sense of what you learned, fitting it in with what you’ve learned from others and also letting it stand on its on.
 
Usually by the time I got to a keyboard, I had shaped in my head what I thought was most important in what had been said and how I could convey it. A one-source story is simple, but it gets more complex as you layer in sources trying to get at broader truth, not just one person’s perspective on what is true.
There are good and bad journalists just as surely as their are good and bad ministers, politicians, cops, plumbers, housewives, etc.
A bad journalist doesn’t really listen. He or she is more interested in finding what he or she wants or expects to hear or even “making” a person say what the writer wants. It happens.
A good journalist listens and shapes the story to the emerging understanding of reality, wherever it might take the reporter. And a resulting story is never the last word; it is part of the word, often the first word, which one hopes will lead to more understanding.
My thoughts surfaced as I read the introduction to Denise Shekerjian’s book, Uncommon Genius: How Great Ideas Are Born. She wrote about the process of interviewing 40 recipients of the MacArthur Prize. Here’s some of her words about the process:
“In the end, the common themes linking these creative people separated and floated to the surface like cream. . . .
“But some of what I learned was a surprise. . . .
“With these conclusions in hand, the problem then was to devise an artful structure for telling the story. . . .
“Somehow, I had to allow for the untidiness and inconsistencies of it all. And, too, there were the subtleties of reducing an interview to the written page: people should sound the way they really talk. A casual statement, isolated from the whole, shouldn’t be made to stand for an entire formal dogma.”
She reminded me of what it’s like to listen, to really listen, to listen for understanding, to listen for honest sharing. That’s what good journalists do; that’s what all of us could benefit by doing.

Andrewes: ‘Besides our skin and flesh a soul we have. . . .’

I’m thinking this morning on a nasty word. It is an old one we don’t speak of much. The generator of my thoughts is a man long dead and little known today — Lancelot Andrewes.

The word, the almost lost word — sin — with a simple truth.

“Sin it is will destroy us all.” — Andrewes

If we forget sin, we forget our destroyer. All we need do is look around us to see the truth. But sin does not merely destroy life in the now; it has consequences that reverberate through both history and eternity.

Andrewes, sounding somewhat like Yoda: “Besides our skin and flesh a soul we have, and it is our better by far. . . .”

I read these words from Andrewes’ exposition on Luke 2:10-11, which tells of the birth of a savior who is Christ, the Lord.

Andrewses speaks of the joy that a savior of any kind brings. People may talk all they want, but there is “no joy so great, no news so welcome” as when “when ready to perish” hears of “one that will save him.”

To a person in danger of dying to sickness there is no greater joy than to hear of one will make the person well again.

To a person sentenced by law to die there is no greater joy than to be pardoned.

“Tell any of these, assure them but of a Saviour, it is the best news he ever heard in his life. There is joy in the name of a Saviour,” Andrewes said.

But most of us are not on the verge of death, in sickness, or living on death row. The thing Jesus came for is the “saving we need all; and none but He can help us to it. We have therefore all cause to be glad for the Birth of this Saviour.”

“. . . there is another life not to be forgotten, and greater the dangers, and the destruction more to be feared than of this here, and it would be well sometimes we were remembered of it.”

Our spiritual joy arises out of our true selves — our flawed selves, our sinful selves. It arises because we see ourselves and those around us, and thus we see the need of a savior. In seeing our sin it becomes possible to find our joy, it is in a savior from that sin — a savior to love and lift up, to heal and pardon, to walk and reside with us.

[The Andrewes quotes are from T.S. Eliot’s essay on Lancelot Andrewes.]

Holding hands is for more than romance

I remember the excitement of holding the hands of girlfriends in youth.

I remember the connection when holding the hand of the woman I came to love. Not like the others, she remained from day to day.

I remember the tenderness of holding the hands of our babies; small and soft, they grasped your finger.

I thought of hand-holding this morning when listening to a song by David Kauffman — “A Hand to Hold.”

It reminded me of another hand-holding song first heard when I was 8 in 1963 — “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” by The Beatles. The excitement of that song thrilled and laid the foundation for the excitement that would come a few years later when I held the hands of girlfriends.

But, excitement is only part of life. Kauffman’s “A Hand to Hold” points to something deeper.

“Someone asked me what I want, the question sent me spinning off in circles. I could not see. Seems like so much of my time is spent chasing what my mind invents, that my heart lost its way.

“It took stripping away every plan in me to understand the simple things I need, a hand to hold, a heart that knows, a soul that welcomes and makes a whole, a smile that warms what’s grown cold ’til I’ve become a hand to hold.”

To hold a hand is one of the great joys of life. Yes, it can be exciting, but more joyously it can become a true connection with genuine tenderness, and it’s not just about romance. To rephrase Kauffman’s words:

We all need hands to hold.

We all need hearts that know us.

We all need souls that welcome and make us whole.

We all need smiles that warm us when we’ve grown cold.

We need real love, the Jesus kind of love. The love that touches our hearts, warms our souls, makes us whole, and smiles upon our lives.

We can receive these spiritually, directly from our Creator and Sustainer, but we also need to receive these from the people God brings into our life path.

God may touch our spirits, but God knows that flesh is important and needs to be touched, as well. Jesus became flesh so he could actually touch people. What might it have been like to walk a path in Palestine holding the hand of the one who loved perfectly and would one day give that hand to be assaulted in crucifixion?

And, as Kauffman’s song says, when we have been touched and changed, we will “become a hand to hold.” We need others to hold our hands, and others need us — the power of touch.

(David Kauffman has been one of my favorite Christian songwriters for years. “A Hand to Hold” is on his album by that same name.)

 

Oh, the friends you will make

When first told I had cancer, my initial thoughts were these: This could kill me. This will cost me. This is going to disrupt the lives of my family and me. I did not think of how God would bless me through the process.

One of the blessings is that I have gotten to know a bunch of great people — competent and caring. They’ve brightened my life.

Today marked the 31st day of my 38-day radiation treatment. I get to see the folks at Urology Austin’s radiation center every morning at 7 a.m. to get zapped.

Dr. Garza is the ring leader, but there’s also Isabel, Kristianne, Angela, Erick, Katherine, Que, and others. They rotate. They’ve become my friends. In the brief moments before and after they leave the room we get to share tidbits of our lives.

They know their stuff, which is critical, but they also show they care, and that is just as important for me. I’m going to miss them when this is over.

I would have preferred to forego the cancer, but I am surely thankful for the people — the blessings — I have encountered through the journey.