and hope does not disappoint us

For those of you who have NOT yet discovered The Thinklings...

Bill has posted the absolutely most coolest definition of "hope" that I have ever seen.

The whole blog's quality, and I would urge you to check it out. But definitely go read about hope, and let it sink into your soul. I am certainly trying to. By now, you've probably figured out that I pretty much need it. :)

HT: ASBO Jesus

Romans 5:1-5.... check out the Message version, especially. It's just cool...

anybody want to buy a hat?

There's this great book called "Caps For Sale!" by Esphyr Slobodkina, subtitled A Tale of a Peddler, Some Monkeys and Their Monkey Business. I would highly recommend it - I mean, for $10.00 you get a great story, and someone to read it to you...

It's the story of a peddler who can't sell any hats one day, so he decides to take a walk in the country, and falls asleep under a tree. While he is sleeping, a bunch of monkeys steal his hats. It takes him awhile to figure out how to get all the hats back from the monkeys, and it's a very entertaining story... but it occurred to me today that all the peddler's troubles could have been avoided if he simply had not been wearing quite so many hats.

Of course, the story wouldn't have been nearly so interesting...

Erin over at Decompressing Faith has been writing a bit lately about her experience with a stereotype she calls "The Better Christian Woman." Her first post can be found here - and she's linked to her other posts on the topic at the bottom of that post. I've been doing a lot of thinking and journalling on the subject myself, as I've read her story.

The Better Christian Woman, hereafter referred to as the BCW, is the stuff of legends. She's described for us in Proverbs 31:10-31 - a standard to which the average good Western Christian woman will often attempt to conform on her own (i.e. without God's help) - only to be met with abysmal failure. As a single woman, it can feel almost worse... I flunked the MRS program in college, and second chances are not forthcoming at the moment. That said, I'm not sure I want one - at least not today, anyway.

Erin likens her experience of attempting to become the BCW to being stuck in a pressure-cooker that one day simply exploded, splattering chili all over the kitchen. I have to say, I am resonating with that analogy quite a bit. I wrote a ridiculously long and unpublishable rant about it last night. And woke up this morning with two realizations: 1) I need more sleep; and 2) I am, quite simply, wearing too many hats. And it is something the BCW does.

Who am I?

Grad student. Worship director. Worship leader. Friend. Confidante. Rant-hearer. Letter-writer. Daughter. Blogger. Sister. Housekeeper. Launderer. Dreamer. Errand-runner. Schedule co-ordinator. Reader. Dishwasher. Musician. Intercessor. Advice-giver. Artist....

The list goes on.

I am living enough life for three people right now, and this morning I came face-to-face with one realization:

I can't.

That's it.

News-flash, Hap: you can't.

I don't know what to do with that. I exploded today, and there's chili all over the kitchen (I hope you don't mind that I borrowed your analogy, Erin), and I don't have time to clean it up because all the stuff still has to get done. There are still friends who need me (an uncommon number of them just now), a job to show up to and do well, and papers that need to get written for school. And somewhere in there, I need a vacation. Time to just go sit and be with God, and figure out who exactly it is that I'm supposed to be and how to get rid of all the stuff in the pot that shouldn't have been there.

If anybody wants to buy a hat, there's a whole bunch of them covered in chili that I'd be happy to sell to you, really cheap. As a matter of fact, you can just have them.

unition - is it possible?

So, Jake has an excellent heartfelt rant up over on his blog, about the church and one of the ways in which she's really "missing" the point... which is ironic, now that I think of it, because his rant was inspired by a sermon at our church on Jonah and one of the ways in which he really missed the point... huh. What I love best about what Jake had to say tho is that it isn't just a "wow, the church is messed up" sort of a rant - rather it comes from a place of broken-heartedness, and a true desire to see the church healed and whole and everything she was meant to be.

Which includes something Jake calls "unition" - a term he coined when our 20somethings ministry merged a year ago with the college ministry at our church - and it's just sort of stuck. It means uniting, really, but I think it sounds cooler - the unition of the church... I don't know - it just sounds less... violent, maybe, than the uniting of the church...

Anyway, Ephesians 2-3 has the vision - and is the passage from which I will be preaching my first official sermon (gulp... shudder... mini-panic attack... ok, breathing now) :) - and in so many ways I think the church still struggles to understand that vision. I'm not convinced that denominationalism isn't as potentially divisive as the Jew/Gentile split of the early church, tho it is a reality of church life in our day, and denominations do exist for very good reasons...

So the question of the day is: can the church be united in spite of or maybe even because of her denominational differences?

Oh, but it gets better... if the church is not an institution but is rather comprised of actual people, what about relational tension? what about the person that you love but just can't talk to? are you breaking the unity of the church by avoiding them? or is it possible to be okay about not being "in relationship" per se with a brother or a sister in Christ and still be united in spirit?

These are the nice simple questions I think about over dinner. And I've got some thoughts, but I'd be interested to hear yours, while I'm still pondering away the other simple questions about which I've promised Erin a post. :)

mourning and dancing

I'm back to Mudhouse Sabbath again, for about the zillionth time this year. I think this may be one of the most influential books I've ever read. Oh, wait! It's January. So this is only the first time I'll have gone on about it this year. Excellent. Well, then. Without further ado... :)

For those of you who aren't familiar with the book, briefly: it contrasts practices/concepts common to Judaism and Christianity, and is Lauren Winner's commentary on some of the ways in which Judaism might helpfully inform Christianity. Her chapter on hospitality is why I now own the kitchen table at which I am currently sitting. And her chapter on mourning has given words to something my heart has been trying to understand for awhile now.

It's been at the fringes of my consciousness for about 5 days. "Go read that chapter, Hap. Go read it." "I will. Later." "Go read the chapter, Hap." The book made it into my bag on Sunday as I left the house. Didn't read it. Brought it back home. Kicked it around my room for a couple of days. Couldn't fall asleep right away last night. Finally got around to opening the book up to chapter three: avelut: mourning. And something finally clicked.

What Winner says of churches is that what we "...often do less well is grieve. We lack a ritual for the long and tiring process that is sorrow and loss. . . . While you the mourner are still bawling your eyes out and slamming fists into the wall, everyone else, understandably, forgets and goes back to their normal lives and. . .you are left alone." And then (this is the best part), she says: "Mourning, maybe, is never easy, but it is better done inside a communal grammar of bereavement."*

"A communal grammar of bereavement." Grammar - the "how-to"s of language. Communal "how-to"s. Learning the "how-to"s of loss... in community. " me mourn."

There's a prayer called the Kaddish that Jewish mourners are required to say twice a day, every day, for a year after someone dies. Then, on the last day of that year's time, you light a candle and say Kaddish one final time, and then you do something to commemorate the person you were mourning - and then you "move on." And here's the thing. You aren't allowed to say it by yourself. You are required to have a minimum of ten people there with you. And you can't say it at home, nor are you allowed to crawl into a hole and stay there, no matter how badly you want to. No. You have to go to synagogue. With all those people. Twice a day. Every day. For a year. And say Kaddish.

This is Kaddish (the bit that your friends say with you is in italics):

May His great Name grow exalted and sanctified (Amen.)
in the world that He created as He willed.
May He give reign to His kingship in your lifetimes and in your days,
and in the lifetimes of the entire Family of Israel,
swiftly and soon. Now say:
(Amen. May His great Name be blessed forever and ever.)
Blessed, praised, glorified, exalted, extolled,
mighty, upraised, and lauded be the Name of the Holy One.
Blessed is He,
beyond any blessing and song,
praise and consolation that are uttered in the world. Now say:
May there be abundant peace from Heaven
and life upon us and upon all Israel. Now say:
He Who makes peace in His heights, may He make peace,
upon us and upon all Israel. Now say:

There isn't a thing about mourning in there at all, is there?

I love that. Because even while you feel all the pain of loss, God's Name is still worthy to be praised. And over time the truth of these words will soak into your soul and you will come to a place of praise again... a place where you remember who God is and who you are in Him. You start to remember again that you are not the center of the universe. That this is God's story, not yours. And that He can write your life any way He wants to.

There are many, many things in life that we, over time, will mourn. Mourning is not always about losing someone to death. Sometimes it is about the death of a friendship, or a dream. Sometimes it is about dashed hope, or disillusionment. Sometimes it's about relational tension that didn't need to be there, but you were both too stupid to see clearly enough past the end of your own noses/egos to really see the situation as it actually was and not as you merely thought it was. Sometimes it's about the past and things that happened - or didn't happen. There are so many things to be mourned... that we will mourn. But praise be to God, we will not always mourn:

Revelation 21:3-4 - And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." (NIV)

or Psalm 30:11-12 - "You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; You have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, to the end that my glory may sing praise to You and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give thanks to You forever." (NKJV)

I can't tell you what it is I'm mourning exactly. I'm not sure I even understand all of it. Innocence lost, maybe. A lot of things. Stuff. It's been a tough couple of weeks, emotionally. Lots of unbidden memories. Heartache - both over the memories, and a few things more current. And yet...

"You have turned for me, my mourning into dancing.... to the end that my glory may sing praise to You and not be silent...."

I love the way the New Century Version puts it, too: "You changed my sorrow into dancing. You took away my clothes of sadness, and clothed me in happiness. I will sing to you and not be silent. Lord, my God, I will praise you forever."

Or the Message: "You did it: you changed wild lament into whirling dance; You ripped off my black mourning band and decked me with wildflowers*. I'm about to burst with song; I can't keep quiet about you. God, my God, I can't thank you enough." *(wildflowers... maybe a whole field full of little white ones?)

So I will start talking. And I will keep praising. I will find ten friends with whom I will walk this valley - or rather, I will ask God to send me ten friends who want to walk it with me - and when it is done, I will light a candle, somewhere. And I will dance.

Oseh shalom bim'romav hu ya'aseh shalom aleinu v'al kol Yis'ra'eil v'im'ru. Amein.
(He Who makes peace in His heights, may He make peace upon us and upon all Israel. Now say: Amen.)

* Mudhouse Sabbath, by Lauren Winner. p. 27-28

be careful whom you call a bald-head

I found this in one of those 5 boxes of junk-mail (and a vast number of other things) as I was looking for something else (which I still haven't found, and can no longer even remember what it was, actually), and it made me laugh. I forget what the assignment was, but it was for a poetry class in college, and was inspired by both Leviticus 11 and an actual exchange of letters one summer (the pertinent contents of which form the last lines of the poem). One of the names has been changed. :) Since Rob's been missing it, I thought I'd post it.

I've always been intrigued by the ... odder? (not quite the right word) ... portions of Scripture. The things that grab your attention and make you go, "what again? what did that say?" I really want to meet Philip someday. And I think ... well. We'll be perfect in heaven, so I guess I won't have to worry too much about being polite to Elisha. :)

Ya'll should go read Rob's post on geckos - or better yet, the post that inspired it. Rob's has the Scripture passsage that inspired my poem; the other has a whole lot of really cool things about geckos, and it totally blew my mind to realize how carefully God designed them. :)

Be Careful Whom You Call A Bald-Head
Lest A Dead Gecko Fall On Your Laundry At Azotus
a poem of identity crisi
(for Christopher)
Leviticus 11 says that if
a dead gecko falls into
a clay pot
must destroy the pot.
if you touch the gecko
you will be made unclean,
and will remain so until
at which point
you have to do laundry
even though
it is not your fault
that a dead gecko fell
into your clay pot.

some kids from Bethel
once jeered Elisha
and called him a bald-head.
he cursed them
and two bears came
out of the woods
and mauled forty-two of them.
what if you moved
the gecko with a stick
because you didn't have
time to do laundry
and someone else
weeks later
touched the stick?

Philip and the eunuch went
down into the water and
Philip baptized him. when
they came up out of the water
God took Philip away
and the eunuch
did not see him again
went on his way
Philip however
at Azotus
and traveled about

what if you were on a raft in a river
doing laundry off this cool little thing
which was hooked on the side of your raft
and you had a small campfire on which
you were cooking in a clay pot
on your raft
in the river
and all of a sudden a dead gecko fell on you?


Dear Happy,
If two octopuses are octopi
and if two cellos are celli
then are two Saras Sarai?
If this is so,
then does that mean that
when Abram's wife's name was changed
one of her disappeared?
And if so,
did she join Philip at Azotus while
Abraham like the eunuch
went on his way rejoicing?
Perhaps he was rejoicing because
one Sara can only do half the
nagging of two Sarai...
Love, Christopher
Dear Christopher,

What if a dead gecko tessered to Azotus but missed and landed on your laundry while you were swimming naked in a lake?

love, Happy

dangerous territory

Sermons, Songs, Stories... I went looking for a bit of Silliness to wrap up the week, because it started with S, but I didn't find any... I did, however, stumble across an excellent cartoon on one of my favorite sites - The Ongoing Adventures of ASBO Jesus - that made me laugh - and then think... rather seriously, actually. So this isn't Silliness at all, but actually Great Seriousness; here it is, and HT: to Jon Birch at ASBO Jesus for both his talent and his ability to start and sustain a remarkable diversity of conversation on a number of topics, all with one cartoon. (I learned a few things about fishing today.) :)

If you get a chance, follow that link and read some of the discussion. You, too, can learn a few things about fishing - but it was comment 34 that really got me thinking. There's a very real sense in which becoming a Christian is about as dangerous to you as going after that bait is to a fish. I'm not sure Jesus' disciples could have been gardeners... the fishing thing seems a pretty intentional metaphor. But that is hindsight... we know that portion of the plan, because it already happened.

I remember telling a mentor once when I was in high school, about a year or so after I'd become a Christian, that if I'd known how hard this was going to be, I might have considered not signing up. But even then, the truth is, I wouldn't have chosen any other life. I couldn't - not and have life! This chasing Jesus thing - it's the only way, and if you're reading this and doubt that, let's talk - but what I am saying is that this road is not easy, and Jesus wasn't kidding in anything He said. Have you read the Book?! There's some tough stuff in there. Forgiveness is hard. Trust is hard. Selling everything you own and giving it to the poor? Do we even know anyone who's chased Jesus that radically? Walking the narrow way instead of the wide way is a choice, and sometimes making that choice is hard, particularly when the narrow way has a few rocks in it that will hurt your feet, leads past sheer drops, and requires a bit of uphill trudging, and the wide way looks so nice and grassy and comfy to wander leisurely along...

Someone, who shall remain nameless unless he chooses to pop by and say, "hey, that was my brilliant quote," described it this way: "It's like, I think, 'wow, life hurts. Better get a helmet.' and God responds by putting His hand on my shoulder, looking me in the eyes and saying, "No, no helmet. Trust me." And then hits me on the head with a bat."

I feel in many ways, like I've been hit upside the head this week, and I'm still seeing stars. How is it possible for one person to feel so many things and think about so many things in such a short space of time? I'm not sure, but I'm starting to suspect that it isn't possible, and that's why I'm on such major mental overload and writing tripe instead of digging deep. Regardless, tho, I am definitely in a season of such shifting that there's a very distinct possibility the whole landscape may change rather significantly... I don't know. Hard to tell. But I am completely off-balance.

It was always one of the best and worst things about going to the park, that merry-go-round... My sister and I would take turns standing in the middle of it and see how long we could stay upright before we got dizzy, lost our balance, and fell over, reaching for the nearest set of bars to wrap our arms and legs around for dear life until the world stopped spinning. There were a few times I missed the bars altogether and went flying off into the dirt. That was unpleasant. Might explain a few things, too. :P I am hopeful, however, that this will not be one of those times. I've got some pretty good friends to catch me if it is, tho.

a little bit of constructive rock throwing

There's an old adage - okay, I don't know if it's old, but I've heard it in several towns, and seen it on a t-shirt - that says "Boys are dumb; throw rocks at them." (Sorry, boys. I would like to state that I neither believe you are dumb, nor do I want to throw rocks at you. Sheep, maybe. Rocks, no. ) But I have to say, there have been times over the course of my life when I have resonated with the emotion behind the saying (which, by the way, I believe was intended to be funny) - there's this whole "You hurt me, so I want to hurt you" mentality behind it. Definitively un-Christ-like. So what do we do with this emotion when we feel it? Well, some of us, I am sorry to say, throw literal or figurative rocks. This is decidedly unhealthy. Others of us scribble.

A few of my scribbles turned into a song this weekend. Ah, for that day when I own a Mac with GarageBand and have the smarts to know how to attach an mp3 to a blogpost. :) But for now, all you get are the lyrics. I wasn't going to post them. But I feel somehow that I need to - maybe that's just self-serving pride in the fact that they're mine. (i hope not!) Or maybe someone out there really needs to hear this...

This song isn't really about anything in particular. It started because of a question someone asked me last week that sent me down a sad section of memory lane that I wasn't quite as over as I thought I was, but it's turned into something much bigger than that. It started as a piece of my story, but the voice in this song very quickly became the voices of a half a dozen women I know and the hardships they've been through. There are bits that really are authentic - but there are more pieces in here that I really know nothing about; they just sort of snuck in and said "hi" and invited themselves to stay. So girls, this is for you. And boys, it's kind of for you, too. It's a song about the things we wish we would have said, or the things we were trying to say but didn't have the right words for. It's an acknowledgment of the fact that we were just as responsible as you were for messing stuff up. And yes, this is mostly for those of us who aren't yet married. May God give those of us who still need it the grace we need to get through... well, everything we need to, really... better.

Coulda Gone Better*

"take me as i am" - that's what we said
love me or leave me but don't mess with this
in-between-ness breaking me down
or so it seems to be
how did we get here again?

i didn't want to be your part-time confidante
i didn't want to be the one you left behind
i didn't want to be your angel of mercy just for the night
i didn't want to be...
that coulda gone better

there hasn't been a thing to say
and the silence is deafening
bitterness long gone away
and all that's left is wondering
how did we get here again?

i didn't want to be your part-time confidante
i didn't want to be the one you left behind
i didn't want to be your angel of mercy just for the night
i didn't want to be...
that coulda gone better

but what would you do and what would i say
and where do we go from here
the sky is the limit; the dream within reach
but only if we learn to say no to fear

you didn't want to be my part-time confidence
you didn't want to be the one i never really saw
you didn't want to be my happy-ever-after ending
you didn't want to be...
i didn't want to be your part-time confidante
i didn't want to be the one you left behind
i didn't want to be your angel of mercy just for one night
i didn't want to be... well...
you didn't want to be... well...
i didn't want to be...
that coulda gone better

*(c) 2008 Happy Records

judging (not)

I heard an excellent lecture yesterday, and learned a few things. (Always good to be able to say that at the end of a lecture!) :) It was on Matthew 7 and the characteristics that ought to define the relationships that Christians are to have with a variety of different sorts of people.

The first section of the lecture was (oddly enough) on the first 5 verses:
"Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye." - Matthew 7:1-5 (NKJV)
Judgment. What is that? In English it carries the connotation of harsh criticism, a looking-down on the person being judged. Criticism doesn't have to be harsh - it can be an honest evaluation of skill, talent, acceptability, etc. (hence the term "constructive criticism" - which can still be hard to accept, because of all the negative connotations the word "criticism" carries). But in the Greek the word for "judge" used here means "to sift" or "to separate." So we are not to be "sifting" our brothers and sisters.

Have you ever sifted something? Flour for a cake mix, sand in the sandbox? The good stuff goes through, but the chunky bits get stuck in the sifter, and you have a couple of options - you can turn the sifter upside down and dump the stuff into the pile you've just sifted, or you can pitch the "refuse" left in the sifter and not use it at all. You can also mash it up and make it go through the sifter. (which works for clumps of flour and sand, but might be a bit painful for a person -"you will fit into this hole I've pegged you for, darn it!")

What Jesus isn't saying is that it's okay to be stupid about people. He doesn't expect us to "not notice" when someone is being a bit... off. It would be dishonest, hypocritical even, to watch someone walk into sin and not say anything. We're not to encourage our brothers and sisters to sin, either by supporting it or ignoring their behaviour. In the rest of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) Jesus encourages us to use our heads - to look "critically" at the people around us and to choose the different road. Again and again, His call is to be different - different from the world, different from hypocritical religionists. In order to know what being "different" is, we must be able to look at the behaviour of those we see and discern their behaviour as it compares to that which Jesus expects from us.

I would argue that discernment and judgment are maybe two different faces of the same thing, but discernment is wise observation whereas judgment puts us in a place where we can start to think we're morally superior. Discernment recognizes error and does something about it; judgment is harsh and sets us up as people who somehow have a "right" to judge. But we really don't... the Bible says that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23) - we're all in the same boat, and while our "stuff" may be different, we've all got it. So what Jesus is saying is not, "Don't pay attention to the fact that other people are sinning" but rather, "Recognize the fact that you're as messed up as the next guy, work on your stuff, and then go do what you can - in love - to help them too." We're to be as generous in our love to them - even in their weakness and complete messed-up-ness - as God has been to us. We have no ground on which to stand superior - we are all in the dock, and God alone has the right to judge:

So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God. Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men's hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God. - 1 Corinthians 4:1-5

(see also Romans 14)

I heard once in a sermon that there are two words in the Bible for "judgment." One is to judge with the expectation of finding fault. The other is to judge with the expectation of finding good. The preacher said that anytime the word judgment is used in the Bible in reference to God, it is always the word that carries the connotation of judging with the expectation of finding good. I don't know if it's really true - I haven't yet found 12 days to sit in a library with concordances and Greek and Hebrew dictionaries - but I do know how freeing it was to know that when God looked at me, He judged what He saw with the expectation of finding good. I have experienced so much of the other kind of judgment in my life, and until I heard that sermon, I had been living in a silent dread of God's judgment - because I knew it was just - I knew I deserved hell - and I didn't understand grace at all.

My real name isn't Happy. It's a nickname, and I love it - and I'd wanted a nickname for the longest time, but no one had ever come up with one that stuck - and I think now, in retrospect, the reason for that is that God wanted me to come to terms with my real name before He gave me a new name to go with the new identity I hadn't really started living into yet. My real name means "judged by God" or "God is my judge" - and it felt like a curse. It took me a long time to understand that it was actually a blessing. "God is my judge." He is the only One to whom I need to account. There is so much freedom in that. I'm still figuring out how to live that freedom, but I know it's there. And so I am "happy" - favored by the circumstances of God's love for me. And how could I want any less for anyone?

God grant us the grace to live lives that do not pretend to exalt ourselves to your level - how foolish that we ever thought we could! Help us to live generously, bearing with one another in love (Ephesians 4:2), being genuinely, consistently, and unswervingly grateful for the gift of grace given us in our Lord Jesus Christ, and humbly assisting each other to run more smoothly and more confidently this race You have given us to run. May we all attain the prize to which You have called us heavenward in Christ Jesus (1 Corinthians 9:24, Philippians 3:14). Amen.


...for spending so much time blogging.... LOL. :)

check this out

a deep sigh addressed to the universe at large

*SIGH* Sad, that didn't make me feel much better... but it made me sort of half-grin, so I suppose that's something.

It has already been "one of those days", and I pretty much just got up. Send a word up for me, would you?

It's nothing major, just little annoyances and inconveniences - you know, life (wry grin)- and too little sleep, not enough green veggies this week, and a night owl trying to be a morning person.

Coffee... must have coffee.
And chocolate...

spiritual disciplines, 2.0

My friend Rob over at The Spyglass has started a one-question meme: In what ways can you use blogging as a spiritual discipline?

It started as a result of my crack at Wayne's funny observance of the way in which Rob and I have alerted him to the importance of blogging as a spiritual discipline of the 21st century. Actually, I'm not even sure you could call it a crack; I merely observed that I thought it was notably funny, and that's about all the thought I gave to it. But Rob said, huh... (well, he said more than that, but that about sums it up). He gave it some thought, and posted this. And tagged me. So now I'm thinking about it too. Because I was told to. And because it's a welcome distraction from several other things I probably could or should be doing. Like homework. And mopping the kitchen floor, which was clean before snack, and is now covered in crumbs. And spaghetti from lunch.

Rob quotes more of it, but Dallas Willard in his book, The Spirit of the Disciplines defines a spiritual discipline as something in which "we meet and dwell with Jesus and his Father." I would add, just to be Trinitarian about it, that it's through the Holy Spirit's power that we are able to do it at all. :)

In a lot of ways, I think this comes back to what I was wondering about a few weeks ago - about how we live this life and we're to live it for God's glory and not focused on ourselves, yet we can only experience it through our own experience. (How's that for a clear explanation of something I'm really unclear on?) :) Kevin, my friend over at A Long Obedience, whom I met through some people in Germany that I've never actually met (!), is the person who introduced me to blogging in the first place, and a while back, he actually thought about giving it up because of the introspective self-focus to which blogging can lend itself. (His actual words were: "I'm wondering if blogging is rather the perfect device for pride, self-love, and narcissism.")

Good question. But I stand by what I said to Kevin - yes, it can be introspective, but in a lot of ways, blogging is a modern form of journaling, and journaling has been a generally accepted form of meditation for hundreds of years... Processing through what you're thinking, even if it does end up being about you for awhile, can help you get to where you need to be mentally before the Lord. Outward, upward focused again. And the added bonus to this blogging thing is that you get the perspective of people a lot wiser than yourself, and the privilege of being blown away at how amazing God's plan for His people is. He's got every detail covered, and I think more routinely than we know, arranges encounters between His people that will change them to His glory - and whether it's three women from three countries meeting in a coffee shop in Wetzlar, Germany, or a couple of people stumbling across each others' blogs and discovering life-long and life-changing friendship, each piece of this amazing tapestry of His glory that He's weaving is carefully arranged.

Being given food for thought, via memes or just the things that people are talking about, has been invaluable to me. So I would say that the reading dimension of blogging, and the conversations that sometimes ensue, are maybe just modern versions of lectio divina... and the writing? Well, yes, I do run into myself a lot, but I also run into Him, and so I think I shall keep at it. At least for awhile. :)

I don't know... did that answer the question?

Rob asked us to tag a person or three... I think I would like to offer anyone the opportunity to respond to this if you like, but I would most definitely like to hear what Barry thinks on the subject, since blogging has had such a profound impact on his walk with the Lord over the past year. What do you think - Blogging: A Spiritual Discipline? or not...?

six weird things you probably didn't need to know

Rachel over at Just Something I Was Thinking About has tagged me in a meme that is completely brainless and entertaining, which is precisely what I need after some of the conversations I've had today. :) It's entitled "6 Things About Me", and these are the rules:

Link to the person that tagged you. - check :)
Post the rules on your blog. - check :)
Share six non-important things/habits/quirks about yourself.
Tag six people and at the end of your post, link to their blogs.
Let each person know they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.

6 Non-Important Things/Habits/Quirks about Happy that will probably amuse you....

1) I find checking things off on a list to be oddly satisfying. (I also have a lot incompleted lists...oooh, like the one right up there....and they stress me out. maybe i need to work on setting more realistic goals.) here's one: i will do everything on that list up there by tomorrow.

2) I have a strange and irrational fear of telephones. (Answering is not nearly as bad as having to actually pick up the phone to call someone, but all the same, the advent of text messaging has been a life-saver.)

3) I tend to leave the doors to kitchen and bathroom cupboards open. It's kind of annoying, especially when I forget I've done it and walk head first into the corner of one.

4) I have - or had, before I vowed that they'd be gone by the end of January - 5 boxes/drawers full of junk mail (and a few more important things that got in there too) - some of which dates back to last October. (Yes, we're talking October of 2006.)

5) I get extremely light-headed when people talk about blood and needles... oooh, and apparently when I type about people talking about them...

6) I will wait until the end of a phrase or a chorus or even an entire song before turning off my car when I park it, rather than cut it off in the middle of a word.

And now you know. :)

I tag: Jake (you knew it was coming)

Happy quirk-finding. :)

somewhere between hell and Jesus

My friend Josh Schicker is an incredibly gifted songwriter. If you get a chance, check out his website or his myspace page sometime. (His latest album, Moonlighting, is also available on iTunes, and with that, I will cease and desist from this shameless plug.)

Years ago, before his solo career, Josh was part of a band that went through a series of names, and I'm sorry you will probably never get to hear any of their stuff, because it was and still is incredible music. One of my favorite songs off their last album was called "View From St. Peter's" - here are a few of the lyrics to that song:

the rain came down despite all of our pleas
we came inside soaking
and we had an important appointment to keep
with a young man who looked at me and said
"i'm somewhere between hell and Jesus"
looks like we found some common ground
what are we waiting here for
i'm going to miss this place*

somewhere between hell and Jesus. That really sort of sums it up some days. And some days I feel a heck of a lot closer to hell than I do to Jesus, although I know that in reality I'm really not... "Christ in you, the hope of glory." (Colossians 1:27) Makes me think of Louie Giglio's Tupperware Sermons. (which if you haven't heard, I hope you get to some day...)

Music is an incredibly powerful art form... words that would have been good poetry become great poetry with the right melody. Songs get stuck in your head, become part of your story. I heard a song just today that struck a chord somewhere deep in my soul, and it's resonating with this whole idea of being somewhere between hell and Jesus... I haven't quite figured out why this song is impacting me so deeply yet, but I've listened to it so many times tonight I've lost count... It's by Bebo Norman, called "I'm All Right." Lyrics are here.

(HT: Jake)

*lyrics by Josh Schicker, (c) 2000 fgcb music

just one of those days

Today's an Alexander day
a day that's full of wishes
and all that i can think of now
to rhyme is stupid: fishes?!

so let's abort the rhyming thing;
revert to random thinking...

it's the kind of day when your pants don't fit right
when the coffee you really wanted you spilled down your shirt
when the kids are exhausted but refuse to take naps
and screaming in frustration would be infinitely preferable to just saying thank you when someone, who really did mean well, tried to fix it. instead of just listening.

so God, i do pray in all humility that you would fix it - fix me...
that this too-tight feeling in the pit of my stomach would gently untense and be centered by peace
that the things that i thirst for would be things straight from You
that rest would replace this insane frantactivity
and that gratitude truly would be found in the core of my attitude.

okay, that was lousy poetry, but it's real, so up it goes. :P

on the upside, though, i have a friend i've been praying for over the past couple months, a brother so dear to me i can't even explain it. he's been running from God, and walking some tough roads, and since i first heard about it, i have thrown myself in the "gap" for him, looked hell in the face, and declared "you can't have him." i have cried and prayed and hoped and cried some more as i've interceded for this guy - and he's coming to church tonight. i can't wait... i love it when God's kids come home.

i love Christmas...

Happy Epiphany, by the way. :)

Tripping about the blogosphere over Christmas break, I came across two posts on one of my favorite blogs, by a gifted writer named Kathryn in the UK. Her blog is called Good In Parts, and I would highly recommend it to anyone. These posts in particular are brilliant, tho, and well worth your time:

Dark Nights - a prayer for the winter solstice - literally, but figuratively as well. We've all had them - dark nights when we forget what light looks like for a minute. But God is with us.

Such a Long Journey
- reflections on the journeys taken in the Christmas story as told in the gospel of St. Luke. This is truly beautiful.

I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

it matters

At some point I should really dig in and argue this from the Word, but for today I am simply going to state to an indifferent world that will probably never read this: "It matters!!!"

I had a really major decision to make at the end of last year (doesn't that make it sound so far away? yah, it was like a month ago...) :) So I did what you do when you have a major decision to make. I prayed. I fasted. I waited on the Lord. I sought wise counsel. (I may have gone overboard with that bit, but I appreciated the international response.) :) And it all lined up, and I learned a lot about who God is and who He's called me to be and what He's called me to do with my life - and came away from the whole process with a lot of really good questions to think over, a little more wisdom, and a solid direction in which to head off. All in all it was a terrific, though emotional experience. It was a major decision - we're talking life-altering, changing the trajectory of the object in motion (which means it's going to hit a different target) - and it was a decision that affected a lot of people. It wasn't like making a decision about what you have for lunch - tho anyone who's had food poisoning will tell you those decisions matter too! :) This mattered....

And someone told me it didn't. Man, has that been bugging me. I don't know why. I wish I could have just written it off as bad advice, but I haven't. So maybe just venting about it will help? :) The thing is, I know that there are times and moments in our lives when it really doesn't matter what we choose, and that some of those decisions are life-altering. Years ago that feel like yesterday, I quit my job and moved to Colorado to be an assistant chaplain at a camp in the mountains. I won't go into detail about what made it not the greatest experience in the world, but I will say that it was hard. It was really hard. And I was miserable, and I didn't know what to do. So I sought counsel, and across the board, the advice was: "God can use you and teach you a lot if you choose to stay. It will be hard, but it will be good. But if you choose to come home, no one will think you're a failure. Just choose." And as I prayed and hiked, the sense really was, "Hap, this is your decision. You tell Me what you want to do." So I went home. In some ways I regret it some days - but really, I don't. I'd like to go back now that I'm older and have that job again for a summer. Maybe someday. :) I feel a lot more... equipped ... to do that job now. Yay, there's something happy about getting old... :)

But this time - this decision - it wasn't like that. There was a very definite right and wrong path and I almost took the wrong one, the safe one, the one that would have been just okay, but that would not have led to everything God wants to lead me to - except that God sent the proverbial neon signs to say, "No. This is the way. Walk in it." And it mattered. It mattered to me, it mattered to a lot of people, and it mattered to my destiny. I can't tell you why I know that to be true. I just do.

"It doesn't matter. Do what you want, and God will bless it." What??? Even in the moments when that might be true, I'm not sure it's the kind of philosophy on which I want to build my life or by which I want to make decisions. It's a shaky foundation that if you take it to its logical conclusions gives you the right to be master and commander of your own fate and to do whatever you feel like doing whenever you feel like doing it....yikes.

No. It matters. Even on those occasions when God says, "choose" - it still matters.

going up to the mountain

This is what Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem: "In the last days, the mountain of the Lord's temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. Many peoples will come and say, 'Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us His ways, so that we may walk in His paths.' The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He will judge between nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. Come, O house of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the Lord." - Isaiah 2:1-5

Sometime last summer, I came across a link somewhere to the Emergent Village podcast for Christmas 2006. I don't remember where I found it, or why I downloaded it, but I did. You can find it here, tho! And while it's a couple of weeks past Christmas, I would still recommend giving it a listen if you get a chance. There's a second part, located here - I haven't had a chance to get to that one yet, and I won't let myself listen to it till I finish my homework. Which means I might get to it sometime next year.... :) (just kidding)

All of what I've heard thus far has been inspiring, but the last 18-20 minutes of Part I were excellent. It's a sermon from Tim Keel, pastor of a church called Jacob's Well, about Advent, and preparing our hearts. He preached out of Isaiah 2, and what he had to say was terrific. I will try to recap the bit that got me thinking, but he said it ever so much better than I will...

Verse 3: "'Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us His ways, so that we may walk in in His paths." "So that..." These are words worth paying attention to. How often I forget that there's a point to all that God asks of us! And how often I go about things so totally backwards...

As I listened to Tim teach on this verse, I became aware of something unhealthy in the way that I sometimes function ... it seems that I expect myself to simply be able to walk in God's paths and forget on a routine basis that it's sitting at His feet and letting Him teach me that enables me to walk in the first place. And I wonder why I burn out and get frazzled.... duh, Hap. Did you take time to listen today?

Well, yes. Today I did. But I don't always. This needs to change. Isaiah says there will be a day when we will go to the mountain of the Lord and He will teach us... and later in the Book, Jesus tells Martha, who is busy doing all sorts of things for Him (that need doing!), that Mary has chosen what is better... Listening to the Lord is important; time spent with Him is essential. It's not that all the doing isn't important - but there's something better, something that needs to precede and feed and become part of the doing... we need to go the mountain; we need to be trained in God's ways so that we can walk in them.

Tim Keel illustrated it by talking about some of the greatest baseball players in history. He said, they don't just walk up to the plate, swing the bat, and hit the ball out of the park. They've trained. They've swung that bat thousands of times, they've prepared, they've practiced, they've done the work it takes to be good at hitting that ball when it comes over the plate so that in the moment, when it's critical that they hit it, it's almost second nature. They just do it.

How much more so can it be with us. The more time we spend with Jesus and the more we learn from Him, the more like Him we will become - and one day, we will no longer need to ask, "what would Jesus do in this moment?" It will simply be second nature to us to behave as He would. The reality of the world - before the nations go to the mountain - is that people are training for war; they are training to fight (v.5). But once we go to the mountain, that changes, and no longer do we train to fight, but rather - we train to follow. And I wonder, with the whole "now and not yet", "kingdom come and kingdom coming" thing - while it's true that there will be a day when He comes back and the nations really do go to the mountain, if maybe it hasn't already started? I don't know...just late night - oh! not late - well, tired, end-of-the-day thoughts, then. :)

At any rate... I love it that God is so willing to teach us His ways so that we can walk in them.

stand at the crossroads: a New Year's resolution

This is what the LORD says: "Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. But you said, 'We will not walk in it.' - Jeremiah 6:16

Happy New Year, everyone, and welcome to my first post and my first meme of the year. It's called "Stand At The Crossroads" - a fairly short title for a slightly longer point. :)

It's New Year's Day - the day we all think about making "New Year's Resolutions" (at least here in the States, anyway) - and often we make them, even though most of us know full well that we will likely not keep them. Nor remember them in a month. I do not want to do that this year.

I have some married friends who sit down together at the beginning of the year and map out their financial plan for the year - a plan that involves far more than just finances, but also all of their hopes and dreams, both long- and short-term. I think this is wise. And I have, over the past few years, started my own New Year's Day tradition: I carve out 4-5 hours just to chill with Jesus. I pray, journal, read, study, exist, drink good coffee, and generally just try to submit my life (again) to the Lord. The conversation usually revolves around a few recurring themes: finances, time management, priorities, relationships, devotional life. This year I have also prayed over and asked myself a different question. And it is the question I pose to you as our first meme of the year:

What three things would you like to see God accomplish in your life this year?

(Note that I said God, not you.) :)

So go stand at the crossroads - and see what He says. Then tell us about it! :)

I suppose it's only fair to share my own answer first:

1) I would like to see God's hand at work in the development of my character. I want to become a more humble person, more caring, more compassionate, more honest, more trustworthy, a better friend, a kinder person - more like Jesus. I want to love God and my neighbor not because I "have to" or because it's right, but because it's an honest extension of who I am. I cannot become those things on my own. I need Him to refine me.

2) I want to recognize God's voice more clearly and more readily. To do this I need to spend more time in worship, more time in His Word, and more time in His Presence. I need Him to teach me how to hear His voice.

3) I want the Lord to teach me how to trust Him more deeply than I already do. I am aware that this means He will likely lead me into (or allow) circumstances that will require me to trust Him. Remind me I said this, but I'm okay with that, if it means that I truly learn to trust Him for everything I need, materially, emotionally, spiritually - everything.

So what about you? What do you want to see God do in your life this year? I tag everyone who reads this blog, including those of you who read it a lot and never say anything. I want to know who you are and how to pray for you this year! You take the time to read what I have to say, and I'm so honored. Please allow me the privilege of praying for you by name this year. :)

The rules to joining in a meme are simple:

1. Answer the question, either on your own blog or in the comments section here if you don't have a blog.
2. Tag whomever else you want (this means they get to answer the question too).
3. Then come and post a comment at the end of this post to let me know you've participated and where to find your response! (and please encourage anyone you tag to do the same)

And here's where it gets really fun - let's check back in every few months and see how we're doing! :) Or better yet - what God is doing in and through us!

Happy New Year, everyone! :)