Archive for the ‘500 Words Per Day’ Category

Back several months ago my car was totaled. The road was icy. The temperature was cold. The driver was inexperienced. The hill was steep. And the bend in the road fairly sharp. All this combined equals a destroyed rear-end of a car.

The rear-end is worth more than $3000 in damage repair. The car still drives like a champ. It's a seven year old car with over 100,000 miles. It runs well. It's the cosmetic aspect of it that is the problem: aesthetically it is about as unsightly as it can be. It is a perpetual embarrassment. The problem is that I have no choice but to drive it because I simply cannot afford another car right now.

I drive down a certain road every day to get to work and every day I drive past people walking to work, people waiting on rides to get to work, or people with cars that look like piles of garbage. It must be embarrassing to the folks who make up that huddled mass of humanity. Yet every day I see them. Every day they are there, sacrificing themselves to the sunrise and sunset rhythms of this world. Every day they are getting at it.

Recently there have been other reasons to be embarrassed here on earth and only this morning I asked myself why I feel that way. A car is a means to an end. A car doesn't have to be aesthetically pleasing in order to accomplish its purpose of getting me to and from here and there. It does not have to make me the envy of anyone or make me envy anyone. So I have to ask myself, why am I embarrassed about it?

Why do I care?

Envy. I think that may have something to do with embarrassment. Yes. I'm sure of it. This embarrassment, or the situation that causes embarrassment, is rooting out, by the grace of God, those insipid desires to have and to hold things–or to struggle against embarrassment. Maybe the embarrassment we 'suffer' is due to an inflated opinion of ourselves or an inflated opinion of what we think we are are owed or deserve. Embarrassment is the polar opposite of gratitude. So putting all this together I can conclude that embarrassment stems from active envy instead of active empathy or active gratitude. I get so used to thinking about myself and my own situation that I am blind to others.

Or I see them too much which might be even worse.

I'm embarrassed because I think I deserve better or more. There's a point where Jesus is telling me this is true–except that better is not more or shinier. Better is less. Better is an understanding of those for whom his own heart aches and those with whom he dined: the poor, the weak, the outcast. At some point, I have to realize that I am the poor, the weak, and the outcast.

Jesus–this Son of Man who had no place to lay his head–wouldn't be embarrassed to ride in my car.

Jesus too was poor and outcast–and I'm sure his car wasn't the best. Maybe being like him in this small way is the cost of my discipleship.

I've been thinking about God's Holy Spirit. And I have also been thinking about church. To be sure, I've been thinking about Christians. I've probably also been thinking about myself and how in some way or other I have had experiences with all three. I suppose the experiences haven't always been the best of times or the worst of times although the experiences could have been a little more or a little less complicated. I'm not saying one way or the other.

I was thinking hard about these things the other day when I was writing a book review about a book called Four Views on the Historical Adam. I read the book with great interest and enthusiasm and then wrote my review. Around the same time I finished reading Jesus Now by Frank Viola. Then I wrote my review. While writing my review I was complaining about Viola's characterization of those who might be considered cessationists because I would probably characterize myself as one. I'm grouchy like that at times because in Bible College that's what I learned and had to defend. And I was like that in Bible College because I grew up in a church that taught such things.

The Holy Spirit is useful for teaching, rebuking, and correcting us but there is simply no way the Holy Spirit heals people who are nearly dead or puts to death those who are a little too full of life (Annanias and Sapphira) even though in Junior Worship we sang songs about Annanias and Sapphira who got together to conspire, a plot, to cheat the Lord and get ahead. But speak in tongues? Well, the Holy Spirit hasn't inspired a member of the Church of Christ/Christian Church to speak in tongues since–well, Cane Ridge and even then it is debatable if it was the Holy Spirit. Isn't this what we are taught about the Spirit of Jesus?

Then I got to thinking about the Holy Spirit, Jesus, the Church and myself. I got to thinking about board meetings and committees and constitutions and by-laws. I got to thinking about how Paul said we should have order in our worship services and how we have probably ordered ourselves right out of the presence of the Holy Spirit.

I got to thinking about arguing in the church and some of the stupid things we used to argue about in the last church I served. I literally got in trouble one time because some folks had donated an air hockey table to the church for a youth room. Well, someone actually  used the air hockey table to play a game of air hockey and a piece of the table broke. This required a board meeting where I was skewered because of the table's brokenness.

I think the church board ought to be done away with for good and entirely. Frankly, I think the church board actually grieves the Holy Spirit of Jesus and stifles his presence among us.  Why should the Spirit show up to lead and bless us when we have a church board?

Eugene Peterson wrote, "The great weakness of North American spirituality is that it is all about us: fulfilling our potential, getting in on the blessings of God, expanding our influence, finding our gifts, getting a handle on principles by which we can get an edge over the competition. And the more there is of us, the less there is of God." (Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, 335)

I wish I could disagree. I wish I could say that when I first read this book in 2005–nearly 10 years ago–that I would have remembered that single line, practiced it, and preached it. I'm sure I did preach it, but upon reflection I think I was far too naive in my thinking that merely standing behind a pulpit on Sunday mornings was enough. I think sometimes I invented an idea of what strength was–standing up under the constant pressure of critics. This was my suffering; my cross. I think my failure was complete when I didn't wait.

Not knowing what else to do with a lack of employment, a mortgage, and no prospects on the horizon, I took the easy way out and went back to school and earned my masters degree. I had an ambition; I didn't want to wait. I did it; I did it well. I finished the course and earned my degree. I got a job shortly thereafter, and here I am. But at what cost?

Now I am doing nothing but waiting. In all my pursuit of safety, education, and security I found nothing satisfactory or substantial. Instead I have found a lonely life because in my pursuit I forgot to wait. Said another way, in my impatience I forgot to pursue the right way. I ran and ran and ran and ran. Lived up to a promise I made that I would not pursue another preaching ministry after the last one. Now here I am–every single day going over and over in my mind why my ambition superseded that of Jesus.

Here I am wondering, often aloud, why I took the path I took instead of just praying and waiting and hoping. I wonder about what my ambition accomplished…since I continue to find nothing but frustration at being at the mercy of someone else's plans for my life because that's what life has become for me. I am no longer in control of my life, my plans, my ambitions. All my ambition got me was a daily frantic concern for myself, a daily hurry to check LinkedIn, a daily frenetic pace to accomplish this or that, and a daily fever pitch hurry to check job postings.

Frankly all it is doing is making me old. And tired. Sadly, all those things that mattered most to me are gone. What I miss is fellowship. God's people. Bible study. Worship. Life has become all about me for the last several years disguised as self-righteous suffering. I pursued myself, instead of righteousness, and that's what I got.

Profound unhappiness.

Grace. "It's a name for a girl" (U2). Grace falls all over us and colors us clean. Grace marks as children of the living God. Grace prevails upon us when we have no clue who we are, what we are doing, or where we are going. Grace guides, teaches, sustains, and reveals to us the mystery of God. All we need to know is found in grace–charis.

And why not? While all the other gods of this world demand from us, Jesus gives to us. Grace enlivens the heart and enlightens the eyes. Grace creates space inside of the void of our selfish and survivalist existence and then fills the vacuum. Then slowly it begins to expand like a universe and what started as a mere pinpoint of light eventually has expanded into a galaxy full of light and life within us. We are consumed. We are lost and found again in grace. We are destroyed and made by Grace.

Grace is our peace. Grace is a thought we can never lose, yet we can never track it down. We can scarcely pin down and yet it never lets us go. Never let me go. Never let us go. Let your grace conquer the abyss of wickedness that swims and swirls in our hearts and minds. Dear Father replace our inclination to evil with a bent towards your mercy and love and forgiveness.

Grace like rain. Grace like a waterfall. Grace like an ocean. These are all ways various artists have spoken or sung about grace. It's always about drowning, being overwhelmed by a fluid density that we cannot stand up under: we are lost, we are drown, we are suffocated, we are consumed and of us there is nothing left when grace is finished. Can we overstate the case for grace? Can we condense grace to a single point? Can we contain grace or keep it from expanding in our lives until it replaces all of us we hate and even bleeds into the lives of others? I think not.

If grace once infects us, we can neither contain nor control its growth. It grows and spreads with a rapidity we cannot imagine or believe. We cannot stand before the flood, the rushing tidal wave of forgiveness, mercy and love. Once we see it, it's too late. Grace utterly wrecks and makes us less useful to the world of self-interests and more useful to the ministry of Jesus.

And we cannot stand before God any longer without fear and trembling once grace has taken over our lives. So with reckless abandon we hurl ourselves and are ourselves hurled into a broken world where the Father invites us to trust and believe and hope despite all that speaks against such things. We are asked to live as though his grace is all we will ever need–it is sufficient–and that it will somehow sustain us now and forever come hell or high water.

We need grace just to live in grace.

I'm spending the month of May reading through the entire New Testament and I am now finished with the book of Acts (actually finished a couple of days ago). When I was reading it I came to chapters 13-16 where I saw something I had either not noticed or not paid attention to in past readings: grace. See it with me: 13:43, Paul and Barnabas urged the church to 'continue in the grace of God'; 14:3, Paul and Barnabas 'spoke boldly for the Lord who confirmed the message of his grace by enabling them to perform signs and wonders'; 14:26, we learn Paul and Barnabas went back to Antioch where they had been 'committed to grace of God'; 15:11, 'We believe it is through the grace of the Lord Jesus that we are saved…'; 15:40, Paul and Silas were 'commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord.'

I like that they are not ordained into 'ministry' but to grace. They are not committed to missions but to grace. They are not commended to good works but to grace. They are not preaching growth, but grace. Their message is not of self-improvement, but grace. They are not to continue in spiritual disciplines, but in grace. Maybe one of the reasons we see our message so often confirmed by mere growth instead of by signs and wonders is because we preach a message other than grace? (14:3). This is a serious church problem: we preach more for results than we do for God to come among us and shred us with his power. I have little use for results, and we live in a results oriented church culture. And often we use the book of Acts to prove it when we point to times when God added 3000 to their number, or the number grew to 5000, and things like that.

What we fail to remember is that God was moving among them and empowering them. I think it's because they preached grace not because they were looking for results. There was no strategy for growth, no delineation of demographics, no plan for prosperity–it was just the clear, intentional, and deliberate preaching of the Gospel of God's grace to people who were broken and beaten down by life and by a religion that afforded no room for error or reconciliation. I think we do much the same in today's church. Our message is not one of 'comfort, comfort for my people', it's one of follow all the rules and you get to go to heaven.

I swear half the time people in churches do not even know what they are getting saved from or for so consumed are they with the mere idea of some vague notion of heaven. But grace–grace is always a fresh message, always a word of power, and always a welcome sermon to a people broken and beaten down in this world by sin, poverty, suffering, and hurt. Grace is a balm for our pain and how can we preach anything less in this world?

I teach special education. That might be evident by the address of the blog; maybe not. Either way that is how I make a living. It's not an easy calling, nor is it always fun. It's daily challenging, but I am a trained professional so I take it all in stride.

Many days there is one thing the students do that bugs me. I hate to say it, but it's true: laughter at inappropriate times. Really it makes no sense to me when children just start laughing for no reason in the middle of a lesson on multiplication. It makes no sense to me when a student throws object after object around the room and laughs hysterically as if pieces of paper fluttering to floor is really Oscar worthy in the best comedy category. Yet that's what they do. Often. Without any regard for the fact that it bothers me. Without caring a minute that no one else in the classroom thinks it is funny.

Laughter. Inappropriate laughter. Out of context laughter. Laughter.

Then I got to thinking about my students laughing, often uncontrollably for long periods of time, for reasons apparent only to themselves. To be sure, I don't spend any time at all telling them to stop laughing. I might point out that it is not appropriate at the moment but honestly there is absolutely nothing I can do to prevent or stop a student from laughing at all the wrong times, again, for reasons only God and themselves are privy to.

Then I got to thinking about laughter–uncontrollable, ridiculous, out of context laughter. Part of my work is to teach my students about social etiquette. But I have to ask: what is the etiquette of laughter? Maybe laughter bothers us. Maybe out of context laughter makes us uncomfortable. Maybe it angers us because we want to know what the joke is and no one–especially students who have communication issues–is telling us or letting us in on it. Maybe what we perceive as out of context is, to the student with disabilities, perfectly within its context.

Then I got to thinking about laughter–you know, just plain old silly laughter that is loud, raucous, annoying, and downright inappropriate. I got to thinking about funerals and why it is that at funerals we spend so much time crying and weeping and mourning. I thought about my own funeral and that when it happens I don't want a preacher but a comedian conducting the service and that people damn well better be laughing because I know I will be. Someone better stand up and tell inappropriate stories about all the stupid things I have done in my life and how the only way I am seeing Jesus is by the grace of God.

I was thinking about laughter…and I got to thinking that my students make me happy and that I would much rather have a classroom full of out of context laughter than out of context crying and yelling. 

I came across a startling idea when reading John's Gospel and it has to do with greatness or greater. Great. Greater. Greatest. We have fun ways of delineating hierarchy in the English language. I always enjoy seeing words like 'greater' in a text because it makes me wonder what's just 'great.'

It happens in John's Gospel on more than one occasion. I first saw it in chapter 1:51 when Jesus said that Nathanael would 'see greater things' than Jesus merely seeing him sitting under a fig tree. I saw it again in chapter 4 when Jesus was talking with a woman in Samaria (4:12) and in a discourse by Jesus in chapter 5 (20, 36), the latter of which Jesus says, "I have testimony greater than that of John." In chapter 8 someone asked Jesus if he is 'greater than Abraham' (8:53).

Jesus changes the perspective in chapter 10 when he notes for us that the Father..'is greater than all.' He tells his disciples in chapter 15:13 that there is no 'greater love' than to lay down your life for a friend and that 'servants are not greater than their masters' (15:20). Just before all this in chapter 14 Jesus said something interesting about those who follow him: "I tell you, all who have faith in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father" (14:12).

It's all very exciting. I should note that in each of those verses I cited Jesus used the same word for 'greater.' I don't know if that means anything in particular or not, but I note it simply to point out that Jesus was concerned about a hierarchy of people in the God-scheme of things: we rank somewhere far below Abraham, Jacob, John the Baptizer, Jesus, and the Father. Yet Jesus also says that because he is going to the Father we will do greater things than these. I'm not sure what the referent is for 'these', but it's at least interesting to know that Jesus is thinking about us: "All who have faith in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these…" (14:12).

Well, that's exciting isn't it? We will do greater things. Greater things. Well, there's at least one other reference to 'greater' in John's Gospel that startles us back to reality–and we probably need that startling because it's very easy to start thinking like gods when we read that we will do greater things than these. It comes from, interestingly enough, from the mouth of John the Baptizer: "He must become greater; I must become less" (3:30).

I don't think we ought to pursue greatness. Maybe our greatness comes when we recognize that we ought to be lesser. Maybe we get too concerned about greatness. Maybe we need to focus on shrinking and when we do the greatness of the things we do will become more evident to the world around us. Until then, it's all so much selfish ambition.

I will be honest: I struggle with prayer. Eugene Peterson wrote in one of his books that's quite OK if we struggle and that when we don't have words the Holy Spirit prays for us. Many people struggle, yet for some reason I find little comfort in that. For some reason this is the one area of my life where I take little comfort in the company that loves my misery. I wish, I wish I had the fortitude and strength to pray like David or Paul.

Luke's Gospel begins and ends with prayer–that is, if prayer is defined as talking to or responding to God. The first prayer (1:38) is Mary's: "I am the Lord's servant. May it be to me according to your word." And the last prayer is either that of Jesus (24:30) and is simply a matter of giving thanks or it is that of the disciples and is a matter of worship (24:52). Maybe it's both.  Scattered throughout Luke's Gospel are other prayers–important prayers of people like Zechariah, Angels, Jesus. Prayers are sometimes rather long and drawn out (Luke 1:68-79) and other times prayers are short, simple phrases like, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me" (Luke 18:38). Sometimes they are utterly confessional (Luke 18:13; "God, have mercy on me, a sinner"), and other times utterly desperate, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom" (Luke 23:42).

There's more. Sometimes when I think about it I realize that, given these examples, I pray a lot more than I think. Prayer need not be so formal–with all the hand folding, head bowing, and knee dropping. Prayer is not something we need to fear. I confess that I struggle because I'm not like those prayer warriors we read about in books on spiritual disciplines–you know the ones who say they wake up at four AM and pray for three hours before they eat breakfast, read the paper, shave, use the toilet, and go to work. Nah, that's not so much me.

I like these simple prayers I see in the Gospels–short little quiet prayers that demonstrate to God my minute by minute dependence or at least serve to remind me that I am no island. Even when Jesus taught his disciples to pray the prayer he used is a skeleton: basic, simple, and we have mostly memorized it (Luke 11:2-4). Jesus simply says for us to ask, seek, and knock. I find myself pounding on his door a lot–sometimes the hand is bloodied from so much rapping on the oak–yet like the mighty widow we persist (Luke 18:1-8).

I try not to be afraid of praying. I don't want to disappoint the Lord who wants us to pray. So the other day before I did my reading for the day, I wrote out my prayer. They are never long and this was true on that day. Yet I was feeling especially thankful for the simple things in life so I prayed: Dear Lord, thank you for this delicious Lender's Bagel I'm about to eat.

I started reading Mark's Gospel last night. Burned through 8 chapters and enjoyed it immensely. I should finish the book tonight if all goes well. Mark is without a doubt my favorite of the four Gospels.

Another thing I cannot help but notice when I read Mark's Gospel is that there is an overwhelming sense that everything Mark writes is designed to evoke a response from us. There is a question that is being asked by the author that stretches from the front of the book to the back: What are you going to do with Jesus? Or, perhaps, How are you going to respond to Jesus when he invades your world and disrupts your life? Because disrupt it he will–either for better or worse–and we will be confronted with a choice to do something about this strange person who seems to appear out of thin-air and walk onto the world's stage: "At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan…After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God" (1:9, 14).

Everything is going along for people in those days and then Jesus comes along and starts making a mess of things: he is binding up strong men, turning children against parents, driving demons out of the land and ruining animal herds, and rattling the theological cages of the religious elitists: "Who is this man?" people ask. Winds obey. Demons obey. Storms are calmed. He doesn't fast. Disease flees. He eats with dirty hands. He speaks in riddles. This is the fellow who dares to talk about the nature of the kingdom of God? He cannot even tell the difference between someone who is dead and someone who is sleeping. Yet he teaches as one with authority, he heals, and he forgives sin. Worse yet, he eats with sinners and tax-collectors.

And react people did. They tried to trap him. The laughed at him. They begged him to leave. They begged to go with him. They accused him. They thought he was out of his mind. They ignored him. They trusted him. They listened to him. They were amazed by him. They pleaded with him. They took offense at him. They amazed him. They took advantage of him. They demonstrated faith. They lacked faith. All that, probably more, in just the first eight chapters.

So it gets me thinking every time I read Mark: how would I respond to Jesus if one day he just showed up in my neighborhood or my school or my funeral or my wedding or a party I was hosting or while I was rowing a boat across a lake? I wonder what I would do. I wonder how I would respond? I wonder how I would feel if I met a person who just looked at me and loved me for no other reason than the fact that I am me.

Because that is who people met when they met Jesus. 

Related articles

500 Words with Matthew's Gospel: Living and Reading Slowly
Book Review: Mark

I'm working on a project in the month of May. The goal is to read through the entire New Testament, the Psalms, and the Proverbs. It requires reading 14-15 chapters of the Bible per day. That doesn't sound like much until you actually start doing it. Some days the chapters are short, other days not so much. Should be fun later in the month when I catch up to Psalm 119.

I've actually been doing this Psalms/Proverbs reading schedule since the beginning of the year–reading 5 Psalms per day and 1 chapter of Proverbs and it is finished in a month. I think I got the idea while reading N.T. Wright's little book The Case for the Psalms, but I could be mis-remembering. I started slowly but my stamina has increased so that last month I added the book of Revelation to the mix. It's a lot of fun having to consistently make the time to do the reading and being disciplined enough to do it each day.

This month (May), as I noted above, I have added the entire New Testament to the mix so that at the end of the month I hope to have developed a new reading habit. My goal is to read through the New Testament every month, with the Psalms and Proverbs, until the end of the year. My hope is that this will make the Psalms clearer and that the Psalms with make the New Testament clearer. After all, Jesus did say that the Psalms are about himself (Luke 24:25-27, 44). N.T. Wright makes a brilliant point:

Here is the challenge for those who take the New Testament seriously: try singing those psalms Christologically, thinking of Jesus as their ultimate fulfillment. See how they sound, what they do, where they take you. (The Case for the Psalms, 110)

Yet there is a temptation. The temptation is to read quickly, or to skim those sections of Scripture that we find boring or that we know really well already. It is tempting to breeze through some of the longer sections of discourse in Matthew's Gospel (they are long) since we already know full well what they mean and what Jesus is going to say. The challenge is to slow down, take time, drink it in and allow a nice even flow of his words to saturate us and fill us.

My doctor told me this the other day. He said: When you eat, eat slowly. Take your time. This will prevent sugar spikes and, consequently, sugar valleys. His point is that there is a harmony in the body when we slow down and take our time–that fluctuating sugar and insulin patterns are neither wise nor healthy (and, as I have learned, actually greatly affect our mood and emotions). I tend to agree with him purely from experience and not necessarily because I have any medical expertise.

It's important, thus, to actually take our time, taste our food, and enjoy it. So too, Scripture.

Related articles

Book Review: The Case for the Psalms

"So Dark is our situation that God Himself must enter and occupy it in order that it may be light. We cannot fully understand the Christian 'God with us' without the greatest astonishment at the glory of the divine grace and the greatest horror at our own plight."–Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, The Doctrine of Reconciliation, IV.1, p 13

There are lonely times in life, times when we don't understand why things are the way they are, times when we do not understand why God is so silent, times when we feel like the presence of God is galaxies away–or question whether he exists at all. The Psalmists were not afraid to ask such questions or feel such feelings. I am learning not to be afraid to ask the same questions, to use the words of the Psalms to express what I cannot otherwise express. I mean, God forbid a god-fearing Evangelical Christian ever dare to question whether or not God is 'there.'

Even an uncareful reading of the Psalms brings us back to reality. Seriously, why would the Psalmist say something like 'come quickly, Lord, to help me' (Psalm 40:13) if, in fact, God were already there helping? Surely the Psalmist was feeling the full of weight, or lack thereof, of the theological vacuum: Where was God in my time of need, in my darkest hour, when others were running roughshod all over my name, reputation, family, and career? Why does the Psalmist have to 'wait patiently' (40:1) for the Lord if the Lord is already there and not, as it were, making sure things were going well on another planet fully of people?

That's just one Psalm. Believe me, if you haven't read them, there are others. Many others that utter the same audacious things: Where is God when I need him most? This is how we can talk to God who is 'with us.' 

Growing up in the church we are taught that reverence for God is important (it is!) and that we should whisper our prayers and be careful what we say to God. We should have our heads down and hands folded, bowing, as it were. I think maybe we should learn to pray from the ancient Hebrews who wrote the Psalms: they were loud, audacious, fish-shaking, crying, weeping, moaning, complaining, shouting, worried, fearful, and honest with God. They held nothing back from him at all.

So, Matthew's Gospel and God with us. It starts and ends the same way, not with someone asking 'where are you God?' but with someone noting or telling us that 'God is with us' (1:23, 28:20) and that he has promised never to leave us. It is God who came into this space–not merely to inhabit space, but to walk with us, among us, and beside us. To be near us, is part of the goal. 'God with us' when Mary and Joseph were running all over the earth to protect that very God from the likes of humanity that he came to save.

 

Took some time late this afternoon to go birding with my wife. It was a great afternoon driving around slowly on the back roads, often on the wrong side of the road, without seat belts just hoping to catch a glimpse of some bird we may have never seen before.

We saw a lot of birds today. We saw a Red Tail Hawk. We saw a Great Blue Heron (with a damaged wing). We saw Red-Winged Blackbirds. Canada Geese. Ducks. Cardinals. And a few others whose names I simply do not know at this moment. I so enjoy just driving around and watching for birds and other animals to appear. 100_2123

Sometimes we see birds. Sometimes we see deer. Sometimes we see whatever that is to the left (beaver? groundhog?) Sometimes we see turtles.

We see them in the grass and in the sky and in the water. We see them in trees or walking across the road like they own the place. Birds sit in branches or on wires or fences. There is life all around and it is so much fun to look for it and find it.

So we were driving along a back road and we happened to see some ducks swimming around in some water that was running along the road but about 15-20 feet below us. My wife saw the ducks with their young and said I should stop. Well her camera's batteries had died so I decided to get out with my phone and snap a couple pictures. When I got out, however, I inadvertently closed my car door too hard and it startled the ducks; they flew off quickly.

What was amazing about this episode was something else though. As I stood watching our prizes fly off to safety something caught my eye and I turned thinking maybe it was other birds flying off too. No. Not so much. Turns out it was about 15 deer that had also been right beside the water having a drink or grazing or sleeping–I don't know because I didn't see them until they started bounding off through the tall grass and out of sight.

I suppose there are two lessons that can be learned from this. First, when birding, it is best to walk. It is best practice not to talk. It is best practice not to slam car doors. This was a rookie mistake even though we've been birding many times. The second, perhaps more important, lesson is that there is so much that we simply do not see. If I hadn't slammed my car door I never would have seen the deer. I would have only focused on the ducks.

Well my point is that maybe sometimes when we make mistakes it serves a greater purpose of opening our eyes to see something that we otherwise would not have seen. Perhaps we get so focused on seeing what we want that we overlook or ignore our surroundings. Then the door slams, and there are the deer.

It's pretty sad when I read more about unconditional love from an author who makes no faith claims whatsoever than I do in books by authors whose sole purpose is to tell their readers about God's unconditional love. Or maybe it's not. Maybe I needed to read it some place else in order for it to really cut me deep.

So I was laying bed last night–rather, this morning between the hours of 2:30 AM and 4:30 AM–utterly unable to sleep. I kept tossing and turning, flipping and flopping, changing positions, sighing and groaning, praying and gasping–I just could not figure out what was going on and why mind would not just shut down for a few minutes so I could catch the sleep so fleetingly eluding me. It was that book the Myth of the Spoiled Child and the word 'unconditional' that kept stretching my eyes, pounding my heart, and infuriating my mind. It wouldn't leave me alone.

I do not lay claim to having many, if any, of those particularly queer moments when God speaks directly to us with words, dreams, or pictures, but I think last night that's exactly what happened. Here are a few of the sentences that kept dragging me down:

Children don't just need to be loved; they need to know that nothing they do will change the fact that they're loved. They require reassurance that their 'lovability' isn't in question, which is another way of talking about self-esteem. By contrast, on conservative critic of self-esteem not only complains about 'unearned praise' for children but expresses distaste for how 'today's parents' are like to express 'enthusiasm for their children's very existence.' (Kohn, 136)

Unconditional love corresponds to one of the deepest longings, not only of the child, but of every human being; on the other hand, to be loved because of one's merit, because one deserves it, always leaves doubt; maybe I did not please the person I want to love me, maybe this, or that–there is always a fear that love could disappear. Furthermore, 'deserved' love easily leaves a bitter feeling that one is not loved for oneself, that one is loved only because one pleases, that one is, in the last analysis, not love at all but used. (Erich Fromm, as quoted by Kohn, p 136-137.)

This is why I was awake all night, but not just this. This of itself merely tickles me. It doesn't leave me so speechless as when I read this and remember what the Bible says about the way God loves us.

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

…nothing…in all creation will be able to separate us from the Love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:39)

Here's what kept me awake: I suddenly realized that God does, in fact, love me unconditionally. I had an epiphany of His love: I did nothing to earn it and can do nothing to lose it.

I've been reading this book called The Myth of the Spoiled Child by Alfie Kohn. I'll be reviewing it on this blog soon so I won't spoil much with this post, except to say that if what Kohn is saying is true, and at this juncture of my reading I'm leaning towards that particular assessment, then I may well have to reinvent myself as a teacher of students with disabilities. If what he has written is true, maybe more parents, teachers, and administrative specialists in schools ought also to read it; slowly.

The thing about life is that we are always at a juncture of knowing and learning. There are many folks among us who stand at said junctures and say something ridiculous like, "Well, I know; therefore, I need not learn." They are making a commitment to stasis, to static. Everything is fixed, nothing will change. Everything is stable and there is no upsetting that balance.

Others stand at the same juncture and say something lucid like, "Well, here I am. I'm not sure. I'm uncertain. I do not know. Teach me." These folks are making a commitment to a certain level of functional chaos; to imbalance. Everything is fair game, there is no balance. These folks have made a lifelong commitment to learning which necessarily means they are willing to change–at any given moment, on any given subject.

It used to be said, it might still be said, that it is a woman's prerogative to change her mind. I think it is a human beings' obligation to change our minds, our hearts, our lives, our views, our entire being. What would the world be like if we were born with a set of beliefs or values or ideas and those were the only beliefs, values or ideas we ever had? What if we lived in a world where learning was nothing more than the compulsory memorization of meaningless points of historical trivia? What if criminals were sentenced to summary execution which was summarily carried out and were never, ever given the chance to change?

This leads me to question the very nature of education. Is education merely about learning facts and dates and numbers? Or is education about learning to think in such a way that our minds might actually be changed and our lives irrevocably altered? What is change? Who is to say what change is and what it means? Who is to say how much change is required or how much effort should be invested in making changes? Who is to say what standard should be applied to measure whether change has occurred or not? It's all very confusing and rather unpleasant to think about this late.

Yet, I am rethinking everything I have learned about what it means to educate and, perhaps more importantly, what it means to be a teacher; what it means to be a human; what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

Maybe I have those in the wrong order.

I have a daily reading plan that I have been following for three months now. It is a fairly simply plan that enables me to read through the Psalms & Proverbs in their entirety every month. It goes like this: 5 Psalms per day and 1 chapter of Proverbs per day. This month I also added in the book of the Revelation. It is fun to keep up with this plan and even more fun to discover each day what particular word the Lord has for me. Some days it is a stinging rebuke of my childish ways; other days it is a word of profound comfort and grace. Some days it is seemingly irrelevant, other days it's as if the ancient writer looked into the future and could tell you how many hairs are on my scalp.

Words are important. Talking is important. The two are somehow related, but they can be mutually exclusive. I don't need to talk to make use of words and I don't need to use words to talk.

The Proverbs…the Proverbs. It amazes me that the writer, whoever that was, had such insight into the power of words and the effects that words have on people. The past couple of days I have been reading chapters 10-15 and here's what I found: 33 proverbs, even by a conservative count, speak directly to the idea of talking, the tongue, speaking, or otherwise. For example:

The soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit. (15:4)

A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger (15:1)

The words of the wicked lie in wait for blood, but the speech of the upright rescues them (12:6)

With their mouths the godless destroy their neighbors, but through knowledge the righteous escape (11:9)

And so it goes. The author had other things to say too and it is probably helpful and constructive to read through these a lot and perhaps even commit them to memory.

I like words. I always have liked words. I like learning new words. I enjoy when I am able to incorporate a new word into my vocabulary. Nevertheless, these Proverbs about speaking teach me something quite different about words and talking. They teach me, frankly, that most of the time it is prudent and much to be preferred to be quiet and listen. To make short use of words. To give careful thought to the words we use: The prudent keep their knowledge to themselves, but a fool's heart blurts out folly (12:23).

Or, "Sin is not ended by multiplying words, but the prudent hold their tongues" (10:19). Thus it is always important to carefully choose our words, to speak softly, to listen closely, to use words carefully, to nod often, and to respond prudently.

There are probably times in life when I have not been so wise about words, but I'm learning. It goes well with something I heard a long time ago that for this reason we have two ears and one mouth.