Thursday, October 11, 2018

Silence & Speech

I don't talk much.

There are plenty of reasons why.

SILENCE

First, the Bible has so many verses about watching your mouth that it's hard to ignore. Here are some choice examples:
  • "As you enter the house of God, keep your ears open and your mouth shut. It is evil to make mindless offerings to God." - Ecclesiastes 5:1
  • "If you claim to be religious but don't control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless." - James 1:26
  • "Watch your tongue and keep your mouth shut, and you will stay out of trouble." - Proverbs 21:23
  • "You must give an account on judgment day for every idle word you speak. The words you say will either acquit you or condemn you." - Matthew 12:36-37
  • "A truly wise person uses few words; a person with understanding is even-tempered. Even fools are thought wise when they keep silent; with their mouths shut, they seem intelligent." - Proverbs 17:27-28
Experience, unfortunately, was another teacher. I learned the hard way that talking too much means being cruel, thoughtless, or just failing to convey what I really mean. Have you ever edited or deleted a social media comment? Have you ever been frustrated after a conversation because you couldn't move the oomph of what you wanted to say from yourself to someone else? They couldn't grok what you meant? It's a frustrating feeling because you aren't fully known and can't fully know others.

The last reason I don't talk much is because of a college class. At ACU, I took a course called Spiritual Pilgrims. The class was about traditional religious ascetic practices that may have been more en vogue in ancient Egyptian deserts or medieval monasteries than in the 21st century. These practices include silence, solitude, meditation, fasting, and contemplative prayer. These practices are, at least in part, about cutting through the nonsense we surround ourselves with in order to get to the truth. By truth, I mean who we really are, who God really is, what our real purpose is. Real stuff.

One of the books we read in the Spiritual Pilgrims class was Henri Nouwen's The Way of the Heart. That book is a wonderful introduction to silence, solitude, and prayer. The book is less than 100 pages, but it's full of nourishment and wisdom. I learned from that book that silence and solitude aren't the absence of something, but instead are the fullness of something. Nouwen says "words are meant to disclose the mystery of the silence from which they came."

Another book that's recently come across my desk is Martin Laird's Into the Silent Land. Laird explains that silence, full silence, is crucial for us to begin to realize the depth and profundity of our connection with God. He says "[u]nion with God is not something that needs to be acquired but realized." When we are one, talking isn't necessary. We fully know the other, so nothing needs to be said. Doesn't that sound great? Someone fully knowing you, and fully being known to you? What peace and comfort.

I don't talk much because there are lots of reasons to be silent. One of the main ones is that you don't come off like a jackass, even if you are a jackass! Also, enjoying the fullness of silence is a good thing.

At the same time, I'm trying to talk more. Here's why:

SPEECH

Silence is good, and it's not the only good. As a disciple of Jesus, my two jobs here on Earth and to love God and love people. So, if I'm serious about my faith, service is also good. What I'm learning now is that while our silence is an end, it's also for something. We carry the silence, carry the fire, and engage with the outside world. Silence allows us to serve. If we don't speak up, we miss those opportunities.

Nouwen puts it this way: "A word that bears fruit is a word that emerges from the silence and returns to it. It is a word that reminds us of the silence from which it comes and leads us back to that silence."

The Bible says this about our words:
  • "Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone."- Colossians 4:6
  • "Don't use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them." - Ephesians 4:29
  • "Some people make cutting remarks, but the words of the wise bring healing." - Proverbs 12:18
  • "Gentle words are a tree of life; a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit." - Proverbs 15:1
  • "Kind words are like honey - sweet to the soul and healthy for the body." - Proverbs 16:23-24
How do you balance the wisdom of being quiet with the opportunity to serve? How do you know when to speak? Here's what I've come up with as times when it's necessary to speak:

  1. When it helps or affirms another.
  2. When you need help.
  3. When peace requires it.

Help for another: It's clear from the Scripture and theology above that we can be nourishing and heartening to others. We should do that. If we do, we're being good to one another and fulfilling our purpose. If we have the ability to and we choose not to, we're squandering our lives and also preventing others from flourishing. Affirming others when they've done or said something hard is a great way to offer help.

Help for self: Sometimes people need help but won't ask for help. Maybe this is pride, but I think a lot of times it's thinking that people think they're just not worth helping. That's just not accurate. God made you and loves you. You're worthy. You matter to God and to me, and probably lots of other people. Take care of yourself. Realize also that it's not just you that you're helping. In 12 Rules for Life, Jordan Peterson writes: "[Y]ou do not belong to yourself. You are not simply your own possession to torture and mistreat. This is partly because your Being is inexorably tied up with that of others, and your mistreatment of yourself can have catastrophic consequences for others." If you need help, ask for help. We're all better off for it!

For peace: We are a verbose culture. We're literally surrounded by audio and visual speech.  Magazines, books, podcasts, radio, Hulu, Netflix, yada yada. We carry the internet and scroll through it all day long. We bicker and snipe at one another on social media and we pick red team or blue team, yada yada. What we don't do all the time is think about the end goal. Are we helping one another by what we say? Why are we contributing to the noise that distracts from silence? A lot of times, the answer is that we aren't helping. Are we adding anything meaningful? A lot of times, the answer is no.

Sometimes, though, we do have to speak up.

If a situation or a relationship is broken and it's not being addressed, peace is broken. We're all worse off. We should speak up and try to help heal what's wounded. This can be uncomfortable and even dangerous. It's also good, so we should do it.


FINDING BALANCE

Silence is good. Speaking in service is good. How do you find the balance so that you can function in society? We don't want to be hermits or become detached. A couple of observations:

First, if you've mostly stopped saying awful stuff and are encouraging and helpful to others, I think people will probably like you and you'll feel good about yourself. That will help you not feel like a weirdo.

Second, on top of that, keep in mind the point isn't being disengaged, but appropriately engaged. We do not add to the noise; we do speak truth and peace into the world. We're doing our best to help.

Here's a quick test from the Spiritual Pilgrims class:

Before you say anything, ask whether it's good and necessary.

That should help you figure out whether to yell at the drive-through employee, make that comment on Facebook, or speak up when no one else will.

TL;DR

  • Shutting up is good.
  • Speaking up is also good. 
  • Help, get help, and heal.
  • "Is my speech nourishing and necessary?"



Monday, July 23, 2018

Life in Small Bites


Sam and I recently went to this local bakery called Paige’s Bakehouse. The thing they’re most known for is what I thought were called Petite Fours, but are actually petit fours (small oven). They’re basically mini, ornately decorated little cakes or sweets. Think about if you shrink rayed a full-size cake. It’s that.

That got me thinking about how we view life. I mentioned earlier that instead of seeing life as narrative, A to B to C to Z thing as I had been, I was now viewing it more experientially. More as sensations and still frames and feels than a chronological story.

The petit four dessert from Paige’s got me to this area of thinking about life in small bites, and how the small bite idea is so much healthier than where I’ve been for decades.

I’ve always been a big picture guy. I like questions. Why is all this happening? What’s the point? What’s my role?

By brooding on these big questions, I was trying to understand and see the whole giant cake. I was was also trying to eat the whole cake, both metaphorically and literally. 

There was this kind of desperation to do and taste and see and accomplish. Maybe part of it is fearing dying early and missing out. But most of it, for me, is fear of failing in my duties, whatever they were. The obligations were important, but I wanted to be seen as was worthy.

And so I was just planting my face in the middle of the cake like a one year old and a party and going to town. Bad way to live. Stress, sickness to due to stress, missing days because I was focused on weeks. Always on the next one. Never a chance to enjoy what I have.

But now I see that attacking life the way I was isn’t exactly what God has in mind for us as human beings. Here are some reasons why:

  • Nature. We have seasons and cycles in nature. 
  • Sabbath. God builds in to his creation story a day of rest, and he commands rest (Genesis, Exodus, Deuteronomy).
  • Existential Bible Talk. Ecclesiastes 3 and hippie 1960s songs both acknowledge that there's a season for everything.
  • Manna. In the Old Testament, God supplied daily food for his people. It only lasted the day - it couldn't be gathered for longer (Exodus)
  • Jesus. In the Lord's Prayer, Jesus instructs us to ask for "our daily bread", not "full knowledge of the success of our five-year plan." In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus makes very clear to focus on the day. Matthew 6 is about focusing on the present:
That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?

And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?

So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.

So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.
So now I'm trying small bites.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Experiential Living + Best Books of 2018 (So Far)

For pretty much all of my life, I’ve been looking at my life as getting from Point A to Point B to Point yada yada, with the idea that it all adds up to one day going to heaven. Point Z, I guess, or Point Upper Case A. Or Point Exclamation Point.


After reading books by Murakami, watching shows like Legion, or the movie Last Days, something shifted. I started seeing life more like impressions and moods and experiences instead of A to B to C. It’s been an interesting way to live, this...I don’t know, artistic way more than a narrative way. It’s kind of a weird feeling as a writer, at least for my kind of writing, to move towards mood instead of plot, but I like it. I don't know if it's better (or worse). I think it's just different and also equally valid. One big benefit I've noticed is that experiences with people are more meaningful because I'm not in a rush to do anything.

Have you ever thought about that? How do you think of your life? Is it more doing things on this narrative, storyline arc, or is it something else?

Here are my favorite books so far in 2018:
  1. Attachments by Rainbow Rowell
  2. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
  3. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
  4. Hard-Boiled Wonderland & the End of the World by Haruki Murakami
  5. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami
  6. Your Illustrated Guide to Becoming One with the Universe by Yumi Sakugawa
  7. A Climate for Change by Katharine Hayhoe
  8. Stiff by Mary Roach
  9. Always and Forever, Lara Jean by Jenny Han
  10. SuperSons comic by Peter J. Tomasi

Honorable Mention:

The Injustice comic series by Tom Taylor
The Highly Sensitive Person by Dr. Elaine Aron



Friday, June 8, 2018

Prayer of Examen

Given my recent bounty of leisure time, I've taken up praying more. I realize how sad it is that I "took it up". Shouldn't it be like breathing or eating? But, with help from the Echo app and this discipline of examen, my life prayer life (well, all my life) has improved. What is examen? As you can guess from the word itself, it's the practice of looking at your life. You don't just look yourself, and you don't just look at yourself. You look with the Holy Spirit at your day to figure out where God was (hint:everywhere), how you did, and how you can be better tomorrow. This six minute video can get you going:


I also recommend checking out this website for more resources.

The biggest thing that's changed for me is I'm more mindful of my behavior, before, during, and after it happens. I'm also more grateful for all of the good things that happen. Highly recommend!

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Be a Lake

On a whim, I recently picked up Yumi Sakugawa's gem of a graphic novel called Your Illustrated Guide to Becoming One with the Universe. In it, Sakugawa provides readers with nine meditative exercises. She's whimsically illustrated each idea and exercise in black and white.

My favorite little exercise asks readers to not only pay attention to the universe around us, but also the universe within us. We're complicated people, and marvelously made (Psalm 139). It's good for us to examine our inner world and figure out what we can learn. Sakugawa asks the readers to do it by acting as if our inner world is its own real planet on which we're traveling. What can you learn from snowy mountain tops, or from cavernous depths? What's that inner world saying?

I honestly didn't know how to approach this little exercise. I just tried my hardest to think on it, but I fell asleep. However, as I was going about the next day, I was hit with a complete mental image of a dark, calm lake surrounded by greenery and a little mountain. I was also hit with this realization:

A lake just exists. Just by being there, it provides fun, restoration, inspiration, livelihood, sustenance, and mystery. All it has to do is be what God made it, and all of that happens. Be a lake.

What an awesome thought! That reminded me of this:

Why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are.  And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith? 
So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.  (Matthew 6:28-33, NLT)

Monday, January 22, 2018

Phrase of 2018: Good for Good!

Historically, I have been awful at New Year's Resolutions. Before the spring season is over, I often forget that I even made a resolution. Resolutions are out as a tool for me. But, I still want to be a better person by the end of the year. How do I get to there from here?

This year I'm trying out a phrase instead of a resolution. The phrase de l'annĂ©e is Good for Good! It's kind of vague, yes, but that's because I had to fit a lot of idea into three words. The gist is this: Taking care of my self is important because it better enables me to serve and love others. Physically, I need to take care of my body through rest, nutrition, and exercise. Spiritually and mentally, I need to spend time God with through constant prayer, Scripture, and reflection. The end goal isn't self-actualization, though that's a bonus of being a Jesus-lovin-son-of-a-gun. The actual goal isn't me; the actual goal is to be more ready and fully capable of participating in God's plan. The Kingdom of God. The coolest thing.

This Good for Good phrase came to me in an embarrassing way. There have been multiple times in the last few months in which my kids wanted to play with me. But, I couldn't physically play because I wasn't taking care of myself. I couldn't get down on the ground or swing from the playground equipment because I physically felt too nauseated from my diet, or just too tired. I'm only my 30s. What a wakeup call. It got me thinking about other areas of my life in which I'm not giving my best because I can't. It's disappointing to realize a lot of people aren't getting the best version of me.

That's difference between Good for Good and resolutions I've always failed at, like wearing certain jeans or a certain jacket that used to fit in 2005. There is a more explicit purpose that I care deeply about. I'm trying to keep the phrase at the back of my mind when I make decisions. So far I've had mixed results, but I'm glad the thought it always there.

A few years ago our friend Jen gave Sam and I a copy of Marge Piercy's poem "To Be of Use" as a present. It was meaningful gift, and I've always kept it close. It says better than I could what I'm striving for. Here's a chunk:

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.
Help me figure out how to be of use! What tips do you have?

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

2017 in 37 Questions

1. What did you do in 2017 that you’d never done before?
I read more than sixty books, which is definitely a personal record!

2. Did you keep your New Year’s Resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
Not quite. I intended to post something every day on Instagram that I was thankful for, but I stopped before February. It felt showy or braggy. However, In my journal and apps I did try to think of what I was thankful for every day. So I did try and stick with it throughout the year, just not in a public way. I'll try to keep that up in my normal journal in 2018.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

Yes. Babies everywhere, all the time.

4. Did anyone close to you die?
My friends' dog, Shelby, died. She and I had been friends for more than ten years, and it was sad to see her go. It was comforting knowing she had basically the best dog life imaginable.

Chris Cornell, one of my top three all-time favorite songwriters and my favorite rock singer, died. While he killed himself, ultimately it didn't seem like an intentional suicide because of how his medications were off balance. Instead of trying to harm himself, he had been trying to keep his mood up and had been making plans with his family for vacation. He just lost his medical homeostasis. The whole situation was heartbreaking, and scary to me because Chris was a model of how be a person who successfully managed depression, suicidal thoughts, and made something good out of it. If your role model falls, what do it mean for you? I continue to pray to God for grace for Chris and for me and for everyone who struggles with depression.

Since we had kids, I think a lot about mortality and how we're in this circle of life and this long chain towards heaven, and it makes me feel too much. So, I try and just observe these depths from the edge and move on.

5. What countries did you visit?
Texas.

6. What would you like to have in 2018 that you didn’t have in 2017?

More times where I acted in love and lived for God's Kingdom instead of whatever silly whims of the day I had (junk food, being selfish, etc.).

7. What dates from 2017 will be etched upon your memory, and why?

May 29 - last day of a very big work project!
May 30 - the day of relaxation!
September 24 - the day Samantha broke her foot! In a weird way, this hardship was like a bizarro vacation that strengthened our marriage and deepened our love and appreciation for one another. It also gave me the chance to bond with our youngest boy, whom I didn't really get to see most of in the first half of the year!

8. What was your biggest achievement of this year?

I tried my hardest and was content with that.

9. What was your biggest failure?
Being selfish.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

Let's just say I can never look at John Wick and Oreos the same way again.

11. What was the best thing you bought?
I bought Sam a little French press and burr grinder for fancy coffee. She is a coffee drinker now due to the two young kids situation and we wanted something fancier than the K-cups. This way she can make fancy coffee every day, and I get to play with the manual burr grinder on a weekly basis. I sniff it every few seconds like a weirdo because that fresh ground coffee smells so good.

Personally, I bought myself an Xbox One right after one of the busiest seasons of my life. In the six months since, sitting down in the garage and playing games has been a great source of relaxation. Since you asked, the games I played were

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?

Sam, for being a gracious and amazing mom for two wild and crazy guys. My parents, for always being willing to help us out with the boys so we can go out for a quick bite to eat or a date. Eric and Jodi Posadas, who handled many difficult trials this year with faith and grace. All the awesome people who helped out Hurricane Harvey victims.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
I was pretty sad that we as a nation had to have conversations about whether or not we thought Nazis and rapists were doing bad stuff or not. Thankfully, we as a culture decided we were against racism and sexual assault.

The other behavior that depressed me was how many people decided they couldn't be friends with anyone who had differing political opinions. It reminded me of a quote from Edgar Mitchell, an American astronaut who had this to say about the view from space:
You develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it. From out there on the moon, international politics look so petty. You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, ‘Look at that, you son of a bitch.'
14. Where did most your money go?
Most of it went to mortgage and food, which means I am thankful that we had a house and food! Proverbs 30 says, "Give me neither poverty nor riches! Give me just enough to satisfy my needs." So, getting by is a good place to be.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?

Endless Shrimp at Red Lobster with Sam! It was our first night date in forever, right after a busy season at work, and we just got to enjoy one another's company.

16. What song will always remind you of 2017?
The theme song from Justified.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you: a) happier or sadder? b) thinner or fatter? c) richer or poorer?
Everything is the same!

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?
Spending time with friends and going on dates.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?
Eating mindlessly.

20. How did you spend Christmas?
The week leading up to Christmas, we'd pile the whole family in the SUV and go look at Christmas lights. We would come home and have a Christmas light turning on ceremony for the boys. They would run around in the yard for a few minutes and then it was bed time.

Sam's dad came down for Christmas eve and Christmas morning. Sam made us a great Christmas Eve meal, we all drove around to look at lights, and then we watched Christmas with the Kranks.

Christmas day was the usual family lunch at my aunt and uncle's.

21. Did you fall in love?
Always.

22. What was your favorite TV program?
Justified, Twin Peaks

23. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?
They hate us cos they ain't us!

24. What was the best book you read?
I happened to make a list!

25. What was your greatest musical discovery?
Motorhead and Nina Diaz.

26. What did you want and get?
Busy season at work to end, time with the family, an Xbox One, naps. Lots of stuff!

27. What did you want and not get?
I always think I'm going to win the lottery for some reason, even though I never play.

28. What was your favorite film of 2017?
Wonder Woman was up there. The Big Sick was fun because it was a small, non-serialized movie. To Have and Have Not was probably my favorite movie that was new to me this year. North by North West was very good. Get Out.

29. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
We didn't actually do anything on my birthday because Sam had just broken her foot. I might've actually been sick with a throat thing.

30. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
Nothing. That's not how contentment works!

31. How would you describe your personal fashion concept of 2017?
"Can I still button these pants?" and "Is this ironed already?"

32. What kept you sane?
God, sleep, exercise, loved ones.

33. What political issue stirred you the most?
The need for more civility in our discourse.

34. Who did you miss?
Uncle Ronnie

35. Who was the best new person you met?
Not really NEW people per se, but I did get to know my coworkers much better. I really like my coworkers.

36. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2017.
Life is little things all added up together, so be good in the little things.

37. A quote that sums up your year.
"Every day, once a day, give yourself a present. Don't plan it. Don't wait for it. Just let it happen. It could be a new shirt at the men's store, a catnap in your office chair, or two cups of good, hot black coffee." - Dale Cooper (Twin Peaks)