Sunday, April 13, 2014

40 Days of More: Go deep.

Superficiality is the curse of our age.  The doctrine of instant satisfaction is a primary spiritual problem.  The desperate need today is not for a greater number of intelligent people, or gifted people, but for deep people.

Celebration of Discipline, Richard J. Foster

h/t ballista74

Saturday, March 15, 2014

40 Days of More: Ssshhhhh.

 Black Billed Magpie   Audubon

You probably talk too much.

I sure do.  It's a habit I've noticed, particularly when I'm tired or distracted, it's like I'm trying to stay engaged by blabbering on and on about nothing in particular.  The thing is, it ends up cluttering my mind rather than helping me to focus.  There is far too much danger there, as an errant tongue can do serious damage.  Add to that a never-ending stream of potential internet "conversations" and OMG! - it really gets to the point where I have to tell myself to be quiet already. 

Adopting a set of guidelines with regard to speech and interpersonal conduct is always a good idea.  Following - eh - not always easy, but let's give it a whirl, shall we?  Short and sweet, a few easy ways to quiet your mouth (or keyboard), and consequently give rest to your racing mind:

  • Choose not to be offended.  Seriously, get over yourself.  While the Biblical instruction of "turn the other cheek" has been co-opted as a statement of non-violence, I see it as a bit of prophecy - Christ knew, better than anyone, how short life truly is.  Wasting time whining over perpetually injured feelings and petty grievances is only that - wasting time.  Offer a prayer for peace, for yourself and for the perceived offender, that you might both be more obedient to God, and move on.  There is real suffering in the world, probably within  arms reach.  Keep your complaints in perspective.

  • Seek understanding.  People are wrong, just WRONG I tell you, on the internet, and everywhere else for that matter, and they're probably going to stay wrong no matter what you say.  Still, read and listen with the intent to gain clarity, rather than a position from which to argue. You might not agree, in fact you might agree less after the fact, but you'll be informed enough to draw an accurate conclusion. 

  • Don't engage in gossip.  Don't start it, don't feed it, don't listen to it.  It does profound damage to all concerned.  While it is not declared a deadly sin by it's own right, there is no question it is without virtue.  Spare yourself and others the earthly and eternal consequences of rumour-mongering.  Even if you're not spreading information out of turn, or intending to do harm, speculating on the behavior and motivations of others is a colossal waste of intellectual energy.  Unless you are a mental health professional, what's the point?*

  • Count to ten, at least, before responding to anything that catches you off guard.  The best response may be none at all.  There are times when confrontation is necessary, but not nearly as often as we tend to think. 

  • Know when words are needed.  Silence is golden in the everyday, but in the high and low moments  of life, most people appreciate encouragement.  A sincere offer of condolence, a shared prayer, an acknowledgement of a job well done - these should not be withheld, and are best said aloud.

Use your words, but use them carefully.  A little quiet is divine.

 "In the multitude of words there shall not want sin: but he that refraineth his lips is most wise."

                                                                                               Proverbs 10:19


*in the interest of full disclosure, this is my thorn.  It is easier to avoid a bad habit than to break it - avoid this one like your life depends on it. Amen.

**in the interest of even more disclosure, this is a retread from my earlier series Respite in Routine


Friday, March 14, 2014

40 Days of More: 7 Lenten Madness Takes

Conversion Diary

Lent is really something.  It can inspire so much focus, but sometimes all that intensity winds my mind like a spring, and bounces it around as it occasionally pops off.  Thanks to Jennifer Fulwiler and Conversion Diary for hosting 7 Quick Takes and for the opportunity to spin out a little.

Here is a sampling of my disconnected thoughts, no need to thank me:

1)  I'm taking back the word enlightenment.

2)  I love horses. 

3)  I'm going to the Rodeo.  There will be gluttony.

4)  I'm going to the Bluebell Creamery.  There will be gluttony.

5)  Cork has gotten very expensive.

6)  Buying rocks to put in my yard is weird and counter-intuitive.

7)  If I were a rapper, my stage name would be #Brown.

See what I mean?  In there somewhere is profound spiritual insight, I'm sure, but you can't fix everything, only some things, in forty days time. 

 "Forsake childishness, and live, and walk by the ways of prudence."
                                       Proverbs 9:6


Thursday, March 13, 2014

40 Days of More: Mimic the contented

My Grandmother was a storybook grandmother.  Sweet and doting, smart and discerning, pretty and feminine, completely devoted to my Grandfather, and very morally upright - when I've done something wrong, something disobedient or unkind or unwise,  my cheeks burn with embarrassment when I think of her, and of what she would think of the woman I've become.  I fear disappointing her, though she's been dead for over 30 years.

To set myself right, I try to remember her influence, her positive outlook on things, and even the details of her daily behavior.  I try to be what she was by following her example.

Every morning, she would rise about 4:30 (no alarm except her internal agrarian clock calling), she would put on coffee for my grandfather, putter around the kitchen a bit (her hearth) and when my grandfather was clear of the bedroom, she would make their bed, perfectly and deliberately, and kneel beside it, and offer her prayers and petitions.

Every day.  Not some days, not twice a week, not if she "had time" - every. single. day.

When I was about 10 I asked her why she did it, how it figured into her life because it was clearly important to her.  She replied that starting the morning with a made bed and a prayer just made her whole day go better.  Another instance of the timeless wisdom of "well begun is half done", I suppose.  That early order begat order and peace for the balance of her day.

This is not an admonition on the virtue of making our beds (though prayer should be considered non-negotiable), only a nudge toward considering the differences between who is happy and who is not, and know that ultimately we are left with that choice to make for ourselves.

 " Now therefore, ye children, hear me: Blessed are they that keep my ways. "
                                                                                Proverbs 8:32


Monday, March 10, 2014

40 Days of More: Want to live simply? Stay one person.

                                        PHOTO CREDIT                                        

I'm not sure when it was decided that marriage partners were interchangeable.  Religious and moral considerations aside, divorce is really unfortunate, emotionally, and tends to cause long-term drama, lingering bitterness, financial strain, and general stress, particularly when there are children involved.

Everything but simple.

I watched - or read, I can't remember -  an interview with the actor Jeff Bridges that has stuck with me for some time.  He has been married to one woman for many years, and when asked about maintaining their relationship in a cultural environment that is openly hostile toward long term marriage and fidelity, his reply was as righteous and pure as any I've ever heard:

I think one of the things about staying married is just not getting a divorce.  To go through some of those difficult times and stay together, you've got to expand your concept of love.  If you've been married a long time, you're going to get tested.
(emphasis mine)

  And this excerpt from a piece he contributed to Good Housekeeping was also very insightful:

After two years of ambivalence, I finally got up the courage to ask Sue to marry me, with the secret assurance in mind that I could always get a divorce. Thank God I finally got with the program. It's true, you close one door, but the door you open is a long hallway lined with more incredible doors — like children, grandchildren, deeper intimacy with your wife, and so many other things that would not be available to you without marriage. Frightening as it was for me, there was also the sense of deeply opening my heart.

We so easily dismiss relationships, it seems.  It's another part of the cultural condition, that we should be perpetually offended by others and that we are somehow entitled to wield that offense, legitimate or not, against people we supposedly value, being utterly unaware of our own complicity in the destruction.   That's awfully complicated (not to mention narcissistic, selfish, and cruel).  

Choose wisely, think permanently.  It's much simpler.

“I think one of the things about staying married is just not getting a divorce. To go through some of those difficult times and stay together, you’ve got to expand your concept of love.
“If you’ve been married a long time, you’re going to get tested.”


“I think one of the things about staying married is just not getting a divorce. To go through some of those difficult times and stay together, you’ve got to expand your concept of love.
“If you’ve been married a long time, you’re going to get tested.”


“I think one of the things about staying married is just not getting a divorce. To go through some of those difficult times and stay together, you’ve got to expand your concept of love.
“If you’ve been married a long time, you’re going to get tested.”

"Let thy vein be blessed, and rejoice with the wife of thy youth"
                                                       Proverbs 5:18

n/b:  I am not suggesting Jeff Bridges should be your marriage guru, only that these particular statements are from a man with some credibility in the marriage department.  He's said some other things on the subject that I don't agree with, but I have heard him speak nothing but well of his wife, and am inclined to believe that his consideration of her runs in the vein of these quotes.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

40 Days of More: Prudence, or over-planning?


wise or judicious in practical affairs; sagacious; discreet or circumspect; sober.
careful in providing for the future; provident: a prudent decision.
I love the word prudent - being prudent is a different matter.  It eludes me, but I chase it anyway, because I believe it a worthy pursuit.   
I notice a lot of folks, including me, live a life of lists that will never be satisfied, because they are impossible by design, forming rigid frames around life instead of just simply experiencing the day to day.  The thing that practicing prudence provides (say that three times fast) is more like a malleable bubble to help us navigate through the everyday.  A bit of cushion, a clear view, and the opportunity to explore the world knowing mostly, if not exactly, where we stand and keeping the stresses of chaos and turmoil at bay.  It's not a tightly wound cocoon, or blind in which to hide.  We can step out of the bubble at will, retreating to it to address the necessary and regroup for our next voyage.  Otherwise known as LIVING LIFE.

Making a lot of lists in order to itemize the mundane is over-planning, a sort of resistance to living.  Making a simple list of must-do's (and then of course DOING them) is prudence. 

The beginning of wisdom, get wisdom, and with all thy possession purchase prudence.                 
                                           Proverbs 4:7


40 Days of More: Boundaries are loving, even if they're unpopular

 There is no better benefit of the bumpy and often tiresome American experience than living a mostly in peace, strong in a Church community.  Being in harmony with one's immediate neighbors is the icing on the cake of the picket fence life.  Sadly,  as our family has recently experienced, this isn't always possible. 

Rejecting inappropriate behavior by way of establishing boundaries isn't as easy as it sounds, and many people will bow up at the thought of being told "no" or "stop", even when their behavior is objectively unacceptable, against the law-law, and the unspoken good neighbor law.  And they will lie to themselves, and to others, in order to besmirch those who guard against their aggression and destructiveness.  Being strong in the face of slander isn't easy, but it is absolutely necessary.  It's the only way to live honestly.  People will not only not change their bad behavior if we capitulate to the demands on our own peace that it requires, but the behavior will grow and snarl like an invasive vine, dragging us along with it for our complicity.

I don't believe for a minute that God intends for our communities to be cookie-cutter.  Differences in peoples attitudes and behavior are just that - differences.  We're not to be perpetually offended by those differences, we're to love one another as God does.  Not unconditionally, but intrinsically, as part of his Creation.  We are to help one another.  That said, allowing our neighbors to continue down the path of destructiveness, at least to the extent it affects the peace of others, is decidedly unloving, and way out of bounds.

31Envy not the unjust man, and do not follow his ways: 32For every mocker is an abomination to the Lord, and his communication is with the simple.
                                                Proverbs 3:31-32