Taking a Hiatus, A Break, a long overdue b


After 627 published posts (this one will be 628), literally a post a day (or more) since December of 2013, I am taking a break. Perhaps permanently in pursuit of other writing goals. Perhaps temporarily. This has been coming for the last few months, I’ve wrestled with it on and off.

Did I achieve my goals…. In short no.

I never really started editing my work which was one of my primary goals in writing all this time. Researching for my writing never really caught on either. There were times where both editing and research did come into play, but for the most part? No.

In another sense, I did have a little success.

I wrote for myself every day for over a year and a half. I’m not sure of how many pages it has become if it were ever to be put into a book, but just maybe there are more pages of my writing here than were hammered out for assignments over four years of seminary. The same seminary that imparted to me what seemed like an unmovable anxiety surrounding writing.

And conquering that anxiety, in part if not in full, is a success.

As I sit listening to the last few scenes of “Return of the King” (some one left the Annie Lenox song out of the TNT version) this feels more like a farewell than a see you later, but who knows how long I can hold out? Who knows how long it will be before I put fingers to keys to produce something for this little pokey blog that tries to link too many subjects with out any organization what soever? Who knows?

Maybe it’ll even been tomorrow… For now into the west I go.

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Time Out! Finding Space in Time to Read

imgresSpiritual reading takes space in time. Rushing through doesn’t really get at the pacing of the movement and rhythm of our spirit, but it is how most of us read.

In the psalms the writers speak of meditating – chewing on the cud – of the word of God. Regurgitating it and chewing it some more and really ruminating on the meaning and substance.

I might be alone in this, but I struggle to find the time necessary for such reading of anything. The ability to patiently look through text and pray through text is something that is allusive as well. Neither the time nor the skill to read in a patient and open way are readily accessible.

But when you can find a way to connect to God in a text, in a simple reading, or in time spent working through a challenging passage of scripture – the pay off is…. What I want to say here is “it’s great! Do it!”, but that gives the wrong impression. It can be a great emotional/spiritual rush that inspires. More often than not, it’s time spent well producing only the satisfaction of a task done well.

Either way I think it’s worth it. There’s a grounding and a rooting that nourishes our souls, our minds, our hearts, and our bodies within this type of meditative work.

Here are a few things that I have found that help:

1) Pick the text carefully – Know yourself. Sometimes what you need is a text that forces you beyond where you are at. Sometimes you need scripture – raw and daunting. Other times call for something comfortable and refreshing. It’s easy to say that either of these approaches is wrong for such and such reason, but that’s lies to our nature – we need both. In fact we could probably add multiple categories of places where we must strike a balance or incorporate perspectives that seem like dichotomies.

2) A Notepad – Ever get to the point when you are reading and the to do list simmering in the back of your brain starts going off like a mad man with an airhorn? Yeah, me too. Keep a notepad and pen to write down to do list items. Again we find a certain type of paradox that distractions can be the promptings of the Holy Spirit or the temptings of the devil. Writing down those to do list items will get you back to your reading and listening faster than trying to fight away the distractions more directly

3) Silence – When I read a novel, I love to put a song on repeat or a have a playlist in the back ground. To this day I cannot hear dulcimer music without thinking of “Kid Midas’ Eyes” even though it has been nearly 20 years since I’ve read the book. But this isn’t that time. Finding a silent or quiet place to listen while you read is both challenge and heart of this practice. The purpose of the practice is to listen with all parts of you. However, this is your practice, if you get more out of having a little Explosions in the Sky or Helen Jane Long in the back ground or something even more out there – Good! Go for it!

4) Preparation – Remove the things that you know will get in your way before hand. Schedule time, pick the text, get a notepad and pen, go buy some Bose noise canceling head phones. Know that you will face distractions. Go into that time of reading knowing what will happen or prepared to learn from the experience for next time. Prayerfully, think through and prepare what you are getting ready to read and listen to.

There are probably many other bits of advice – stretch or something before you begin, pray before you start, sing a german song before you pick up the book. It’s all up to the way you encounter the practice of reading scripture or other books. There’s a certain vagueness too this whole sort of idea because those who have encountered it cannot perfectly describe it but value it. That’s the important bit – it’s worthwhile, it’s worth the time and effort to seek this sort of reading out.

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No Guarantees: Sleep and Toddlers


My darling girls do not always believe in sleep.

Weirdly, I like reading on the spiritual disciplines, and recently, a reoccurring theme that I have noted is the importance of sleep. It’s essential as a base line from which to operate. Prayers, study, and meditation – not to mention worship and service – all benefit from a solid base of sleep. Noticing this now leads me to think that maybe a lack of something might make it stand out more…

The impracticality of this idea of sleep as foundation for parents of small children (maybe for large children as well) seems pretty obvious.

Last night, we were pretty down on sleep already this week and our littlest one needed us. Well mostly needed my wife – but I’m a firm believer in solidarity – or I just have a hard time sleeping anyhow.

It strikes me that the most important thing about spiritual disciplines is that they deepen your connection, knowledge, and love of God. Simultaneously, this should increase your love for neighbor and self. Jesus says these are the two greatest commandments, and if our spiritual disciplines do not increase or maintain this part of our hearts and mind, they are an utter wash.

While sleep is an important foundation for spiritual disciplines and is perhaps a spiritual discipline in it’s own right, the interruption of sleep for the sake of another is a spiritual discipline as well. Or rather it is the very font from which spiritual disciplines acquire their status as means of grace.

C.S. Lewis used his fictional demons Screwtape and Wormwood to tease out the idea that prayer and piety can be destroyers of faith. When they cease to be connected to our love of real people and the living God, it is not true prayer or true piety. It’s dangerous and destructive ego stroking and false love setting in.

I think for this very reason that both sleep and vigils are considered spiritual disciplines – to remind us that absence and presence of an aspect of life are both part of loving God and loving neighbor.

It’s amazing what little girls who wont sleep can teach you.

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Denver Downtown Aquarium – Addictive for Kids


J – my 3 year old – has a new favorite place: The Denver Aquarium.

We went here sometime back in early July, so this is a bit old, and it was on a cold and rainy day on a cold rainy week. We needed something to do inside, and this was our choice.

One look at this photo, and you can tell why she liked it. They had a choreographed mermaid show… That pretty much closes the deal. It’s every 30 minutes during the day. On a rainy day like the one we were there, it’s incredibly crowded. But we still had a good view.

This picture was actually snapped later on by the petting pool (rays and crabs and such).

This was a pretty good aquarium all around, I’d compare it favorably with all the other aquariums I’ve seen. It even beat the Shed Aquarium and a couple of the North Carolina Aquariums. Now sure, the Shed has dolphins and seals and such – but they charge you extra to see them. And the over all experience at the Denver Aquarium was so much better.

It was designed with kid in mind which made it that much better. Watching J and L smile all the way through – totally worth it.

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Side Interests: Alternatives to Improve


The bad news: incremental improvement is all there is.

It’s disappointing, but I think most of us recognize that it’s true. That said even despite the times where we have a number of simultaneous incremental improvements on several areas that seems to present a leap forward. Nope, from electronics to writing, from exercise to politics, incremental improvement is the way it is.

But since we are all looking for ‘aha!’ moments, it might behove us to figure out the ways we could take our desired area improvement could be benefited by a sideways approach. In other words, find ways to cross train or strengthen our core.

While fitness is the way I initially explored the practical and conceptual framework around complimentary improvement, I want to apply it to writing.

So, what compliments writing? Well nothing improves writing like doing it, but there are other areas that can really launch you off.

1) Reading – nothing improves writing like reading, and the quality of what you read truly effects the quality of your writing. I’m not a brilliant reader, but I am an obsessive reader, and I can tell how my writing changes after I have read C.S. Lewis compared to some less heady/less eloquent works. But read what you enjoy – anything will help!

Augustine says that it’s impossible to train eloquence and recommends instead to read eloquent writers. He’s only partly right as I’ll get to in a minute.

2) Living Boldly – This isn’t my story, but it’s an important one: A student in an Old Testament class (I think it was under the famed Brevard Childs) received a poor mark (grade) on one of his exegesis papers. The student asked, “What can I do to become a better exegete (writer)?” The Professor turned and said, “live a more profound life.”

When you have a dream do it. Find a way. Make it work. Then write about it. Do something amazing, explore the world, do it.

3) Analyze – This is my addition to reading eloquent writers. Augustine said to read eloquent writers, but one of the best writers I know is Stanley Hauerwas. He apparently started off as a not so great writer, but learned to write well. It’s my thought that if you really analyze the sentence structure and the overall structure of essays, sermons, novels, or anything else you can start to see all the underlying work that went into the construction of such works. After that, then you can start to really write well.

But more than anything:

Live Boldly and write well.

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Conditioning: Things to Avoid


Every task in life offers things we can do to compliment or build strength.

In other words, I am a swimmer, but there are plenty of ways to cross train and condition for improvement. Several club teams with limited water time have found ways to use their conditioning or what swimmers refer to as ‘dry-land’. The results have been astonishing, where most teams tend to consider time in the water as essential (not to mention traditional), these teams have had remarkable time improvements in their athletes.

Conditioning can offer incredible benefits, but there are some things to avoid. These limitations are in terms of stamina, specificity, and bad technique

1) Stamina – understand that your main exercise takes a toll on your body. Do not add extra in all at one time or even at all. Know your limits in terms of time. A long dry land followed by a long primary exercise takes it’s toll on your stamina. As you wear down your technique falls apart or your form for the dry land – both can lead to over use injuries.

2) Specificity – conditioning needs to target particular muscles or groups of muscles that are underused or easily bypassed in the water. The muscles in the abdomen and back are essential foundations for butterfly or freestyle (or if you aren’t a swimmer, for running or cycling). These do not necessarily grow with your speed in freestyle or any stroke. Conditioning then allows you to work muscles that are useful as a foundation in the water, while it allows continued effort in the water.

3) Specificity part 2 – Don’t forget that when you work on certain muscle groups that you weaken them for in the water use. Long runs on the days you do squats or long swims on the days you work your lats, rule those out early.

3) Bad Form – Look, I’ve been told how incredible and beneficial it is to do power cleans and deadlifts, and sure there probably is some benefit. But screw up one time, and you are out for a few months with an injury. Bad technique in the water, in runs, but most especially with weights. High intensity training requires good technique as well.

5) Weekly Fatigue – Consider the longterm effects of what you are doing before you jump in. Doing arm work outs three times a week can have benefits but caries risk as well. When I first started doing conditioning work I wanted to have the same work out three times a week, but that was a mistake. There would have been more benefit to doing different work outs with some similar elements but different emphases through out the week.

These are just basic philosophical guides to the practice of conditioning, but as most athletes will find. You have to figure out what works and doesn’t work for you. Keep good notes that include information about what you did and how your body recovered and any improvements that you saw.

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Education, Christianity, and the Growth in all Knowledge


For this reason, since the day we heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God. May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. – Colossians 1:9-14

As  School bells get ready to ring in the start of a new year in the Panhandle of Texas, I cannot help but to reflect on education and knowledge.

Jacob Spener started a movement within Lutheranism that was later paralleled in the Church of England and has direct ties to the Methodist heritage that I attempt to subscribe to. Writing in the mid 17th century, he emphasized the need for education of laity and clergy alike. The calvinists already had a spread and span of education because of the importance they placed on exploring God’s creation. This attitude carried through all of the protestants with equal vigor – it’s the precursor or the foundation upon which the enlightenment was built.

I find Christianity lacking in this drive for education and exploration now.

It’s almost like we took a back seat in the early 1900s and have left the exploration to the more secular.

What for?

Are we hiding back? It’s a great wide world to explore out there. We should get to it.

All that said, I want to take Spener’s points of education as they are: essential. Wesley and others in England are kindred spirits in this endeavor. And this little passage from Colossians will help me out in this cause.

Spener saw the need for laity and clergy alike to know the will of God and to live it out, but this is not the result of mere studying. Studying by rote, memorization alone, the allowing words to pace through our heads is not enough… Frankly, memorization of trivial facts for recitation is not enough. Education might contain times and find uses for such, but that’s not it’s purpose and goal.

God did not leave us a step by step guide for every day of our lives. Nor did he leave a framework for simply constructing a model by which we could predict ‘what Jesus would do’… Scripture instead offers a narrative of salvation and a picture of practices rooted in a community participating in that narrative of salvation.

Primary among that narrative is the idea that Christ is with us. He did not leave us anything for our day to day lives, he reunited us with God that we might walk humbly with God. Scripture invites us in and shows us the means by which we can test if our companion is God or a guide to destruction.

Education then is the process by which we teach people to think, to grasp, to understand, to express, to introspect, to work, to analyze towards one purpose. It is the purpose of living into salvation, living into obedience to God. It is the ability to seek and hear his voice.

It is inordinately complex and inherently simple and more than anything it is essential for both Laity and Clergy.

Teachers, students, parents, communities – remember this is your purpose in educating your kids: To teach them history so that they know the stories of where they came from and where they are; To teach math that they may be able to see the beauty of an ordered creation; To teach science that they may see the wonders of the works of God’s hand and grow humble in the scope and scale of creation; To teach language that they may learn to think, speak, write with clarity to God and in praise of God.

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