Modest Accomplishment in the Eyes of the World

“Tolkien had readied himself…for very modest accomplishment in the eyes of the world.”imgres imgres-1

How do we measure success? Tolkien never even published his master piece that ostensibly he spent years working on alongside his regular work. That’s a different measure of success than we normally have socially.

This quote popped up on my twitter and I couldn’t help but engage with it.

It’s in the light of Christian teaching that I am slowly coming to realize that our goals in life can be destructive or helpful. I am a planner that hangs out with planners, we are people who look 10-15 years down the line to figure out the best way to accomplish our goals and are frustrated along the way when it happens. I did not start out like this and recognize the inherent futility, but there is a delight in planning to a shorter term and longer term reality that helps you process your day to day activity.

But that’s not necessarily the way to function in entirety. At some point we have to realize what Christ teaches: that each day has enough worries of its own. It’s in the day that we can make a reality of our priorities. Long term reflection can help us form habits that are healthy and holy, but it is in the moment that we truly experience the delight of a virtuous life.

Focus too far out and you miss the present.

But focus too close and you may not be encouraged to form yourself to your ideals.

Ideals are lived out over the course of the day. By this I mean what Mother Teresa said when she said that there are no great acts of love only small acts of great love. If we take Augustinian understanding of love, we move forward knowing that love is an orienting principle. Love is present in eating, sleeping, working, and playing – it’s an orienting reality.

Tolkien seems to have understood this, he satisfied himself with the daily work ahead of him and worked diligently at his passion on the side. He oriented himself towards the work that he wanted to complete. I am not a Tolkien expert, but I recognize the delight of working slowly and regularly towards your goals in intelligent and reflective daily living.

Swimming with Jane

One of my goals over the next year is to teach Jane, my oldest daughter, how to swim. Being a parent and a teacher is a different experience.

Over the years that I taught kids to swim, I have taught several kids under three how to swim, and Jane is currently just over two and a half years old. I’ve known a few other coaches that have managed it as well, and what we share in common is that we want the kids to have fun and be comfortable more than anything else. Games, gimmicks, and challenges is a great book for coaching swimming, but the title seems more purposefully aware of how people work. We like to have fun and challenge ourselves.

But parents always have difficulty teaching their kids. Not sure why this is. Perhaps it’s the pressure that we want our kids to do well. I know that I want Jane to swim so bad that I may push her into deeper water than she’s prepared for. This current attempt I am slowing way down and playing more the way she wants to play while still encouraging her to work on different skills.

Dusting off my old swimming books, I know that working on prone and supine floating are key, but at the moment I am focusing on bobbing, kicking, and monkey crawling. She’s getting more comfortable, but I know that the most important thing is time. It’s hard getting her to the pool every day when the pool is 30 minutes away. I should have made more of a commitment this summer.

What I would really like is a course on the infant self rescue instruction. I’m just starting to do research on it and as I find out more, I’ll write up some of the descriptions.

Quietism: Then and Now

John Wesley combated a group of Moravian like folks within one of his core societies in London. They were folks who asserted that we should wait for the fruits of the Holy Spirit before participating in the means of grace.

Not unsurprisingly, John retorted that the means of grace were the place to wait for the Spirit. By place I intend to say activity, the means of being vigilant and keeping the oil topped off like the wise bridesmaids waiting for the bridegroom to come. This sort of think crops up now and again and pops up centered over what practices constitute the means of grace and how we regulate who participates in them.

Eucharist for instance: Who is allowed to participate? Baptism? Confirmation?

Mostly people agree that prayer, bible study, fasting and so on – the Quietists were getting people to hold off on even these. Why? Not sure. They were regulating the community and participation in the community on the ability to sense and inward transformation. This isn’t entirely unlike the (few) pentecostal groups that put up barriers to membership around the gift of tongues. They want to see a movement of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers.

My current beef with quietism centers around one passage: “Pray without ceasing”. It’s an instruction from Paul, and we can be really bad at it.

People want to pray without acting, which is not quite the same thing as praying without ceasing. It’s cropped up several times in conversations about desires for change within the church and world. People claiming that we should pray and wait, and what particular activity should we take on while waiting? Praying… But without any real attention to this verse.

They want to stop everything and pray.

In general, that’s not a bad thing, but we pray without ceasing by taking on the task of praying with acts that follow the line that we are praying in. In other words, if we are praying to help the church we have to study and work towards that end. So, let’s pray on our knees and get up and pray while we are pursuing growth in the love of God and neighbor.

Scottish Independence, Why I’m Excited: The Romantic and the Pragmatic

Scotland voted to day to add to its illustrious history the possibility of becoming independent from the UK by vote. Who isn’t amazed and in wonder that this is happening? And the vote seems close too!

I cannot imagine what it is like to be Scottish at the moment. Regardless of the way you vote, what would it be like to be on the loosing side? Riots in the street? Muted Frustration? A mass exodus… Well not a “mass” exodus, Scotland only has a population of 5.3 million in close to 1/3 of the UK’s land area. So, it wouldn’t quite reach a “mass” exodus scale, we’d have to settle for an exodus. If that even happened.

But I’m not Scottish or British, and I’ve never been to either country. Despite following the popular trend to watch Doctor Who and an number of other BBC shows, I really do not have a dog in the fight beyond the potential and I certainly hope limited global impact of changing the financial system of Scotland.

So, why is this so fascinating to me? Why do I have an opinion?

Two answers to the first question: First, because this has some potential implications that I find amazing and exciting: Succession would become a viable option for states across the globe after centuries. Arguably, this is bad, but it also could lead to the potential for state resistance to overbearing federal governments. Tibet or North Carolina could leave the unions they are part of in protest to the whole. Second, I want to see the follow up regardless of the vote.

To the second question: I’m actually of two minds about the vote. Part of me very deeply wants them to vote yes, and part of me recognizes the futility of voting yes: The romantic and the pragmatic.

The romantic is motivated deeply by watching Braveheart one too many times. That and a deep desire to see succession back on the table for how interesting it would make domestic politics and international politics a little more nuanced. It’s a side of me that wants to see people with greater political liberty.

The pragmatist inside wonders what would happen that would truly change the lives of the 5.3 million people in Scotland. I recognize with the EU that it is possible to be politically independent and economically dependent in some screwy ways, and I really wonder how independent Scotland could truly be from such a close neighbor. Other than the show of being independent, truly how independent can countries be in this day and age?

The real question is how could the vote get so close to even? Looking forward to seeing the results tomorrow or not to long from now. On another rabbit trail: How is England reacting to all of this?

England wants to keep Scotland so bad, Doctor Who is now a Scot… Ok that’s a bit tongue-and-cheek, I really like Peter Capaldi as the Doctor…

Speculation: Adding to the Promises

When we have a promise, it’s easy to add little things here and there, but is it helpful?

Christianity so many times where an interpretation of a promise requires a certain amount of speculation. That’s a given, we are working from a text that cannot answer all the questions we have of it. Speculation or theorea allows us to probe, explore, and think through the thoughts and ideas present in the text. It’s part of our job to not only speculatively engage with the ideas in a text but to take it one step further to enter into the realm of practice.

But often, people either fail to recognize their own speculation or where they have taken substantial deviations from the text and use their own theorea as essential elements of the gospel. They are in good company, the writers of the creeds did the same thing, but these ideas that became part of the creeds were ironed out over centuries sometimes with humility sometimes with pride. The later causing strife the former bringing unity, but in the end the conflicts resolved.

With the coming of the american denominational or fractional church – it has now is common practice to divide over arcane and obscure speculation based on limited scripture and the practices that result. Cultural climate and the number of churches around the corner frees us from committing to one unifying vision and from having to converse with others on our speculation. This is not a positive freedom granted to us, but a sinful reality of the broken church in the States.

The rapture, the nature of heaven, details concerning the end times, predestination – they all are being used to draw up battle lines.

We need to kick back and be able to do what Aristotle describes as the mark of the educated man, “being able to entertain a thought without agreeing with it”. A few listening skill are always a good thing to add to any repertoire all for the sake of hearing new ideas or ideas other than our own. Add a grain of humility and start trusting in Christ over our ideas and the promises actually found in scripture over our additions and omissions, and we’ll be cooking.

Allergy Shots: Exhaustion

One side effect of the allergy shots for me is exhaustion and a lack of stamina. It seems to be most acute between 12-36 hours after the shots, but it really varies on my level of activity. This amounts to nearly perpetual exhaustion because by the time I’m no longer affected by the last round of shots, I’m taking another round.

Now this has not really deterred me from keeping up with the shots and seeing through the immunotherapy. It has however put a damper on my ability to push my self in my work and workouts. I do have a tendency to burn the candle at both ends and several parts of the middle, but I really think this particular lethargy comes from the two small doses of allergen every other day.

Right now, I’m trying to push through while making allowances for greater amounts of rest a night and in the mornings. Hopefully, in the next couple of months my body will start making the antibodies required and the exhaustion level will drop. Perhaps, I should consider taking up caffeine again until then.

Drifting vs Intention

Night air surrounding my house carries with an idleness. It gusts and plays with the leaves of the trees around us (all imported, this is the pan handle) but it just seems to loiter waiting for a big gust to carry it the rest of the way to where it was headed in the first place.

In my head that makes my house sound like a bus station for the wind, but that’s not quite what I mean. Bus stations and airports have a sense of urgency and impatience – everyone there is merely en route to somewhere else and usually in a hurry. That’s not the feeling that this has.

It’s not arrival either, it’s more a sense of peace and relaxation. Tonight’s air is cool and refreshing and even in a long sleeve shirt I’m comfortable listening to the cicadas.

It is not either drifting or intention, but it has made me think of both.

On a float trip down the Meramec River in Missouri, I managed to miss the point entirely of a float trip. You see the goal is to have a cooler and some drinks and some time. A float trip is a chance to drift down a river for the day with no more cares in the world than the shape of the geography carved by rivers into Missouri hillsides. I didn’t get this, I thought the goal was to get to the other side – a 7 hour trip taking 2 hours with a good rhythm driving the oar strokes.

I had put the intention into getting to the goal instead of experiencing the path. I could have intentionally drifted, but I didn’t. I wonder sometimes if a little intentional drifting would put me back in mind of the breeze tonight. A little puff here and there waiting and fussing around with a few leaves here and there until God put my mind back towards another destination.

No matter how intentional we are, our experience of God cannot be rushed or forced – we are like the night air – waiting for the next gust. Yet I cannot help but feel the intentionality when put in the right direction can aide or seek that gust to full advantage – perhaps even the impulse to seek is part of the wind (pneuma, spirit) moving within us.