Shot of Optimism

I’ve mentioned before that stepping onto the board at my church has taken over my thoughts in many ways.  I’ve felt a bit disconnected from my writing in many ways and while I have not shut down it has been hard to fully engage as I had been doing in the months prior.

It feels disappointing but I can accept it at this point because I went into this endeavour with my eyes open and with a clear idea of why I was doing it and I feel good about that and I’m happy to let this take up residence in my thoughts for this period of time.

One thing that is a part of all this mind space dedicated to my church is the thinking about what a church should be and what it means to be a Christian.  I’ve spent so much of my adult life thinking about the cultural expressions of Christianity that are more recognizable to the world at large, and I have felt troubled by this.  My feeling is generally that Christianity as it is understood by the wider culture is that it is something backwards and empty.  I touched on this a little bit in my last post.

I keep coming back to this as I think about my church and I find myself growing more and more eager to move forward and to somehow move past this concern with the general understanding of Christianity and to begin to change it, and not just to apologize for the legitimate complaints about people who claim Christianity but who behave in ways that are a deplorable reflection of Jesus.

The thing is that there are many Christians of all stripes who are walking the walk in laudable and beautiful ways, but of course, as with so many of the quiet operators in this world, very few people (if any) outside of the immediate circle of influence ever hear about these things.

But it’s not just about defending my faith.  It’s not just about trying to rehabilitate the image of my religion, because I have to admit that there is a sense of feeling mortified about the way my faith is being misrepresented, and not just for Jesus sake, but also selfishly for mine.  It’s embarrassing.  There’s this feeling of wanting to distance myself from these things.

Paul famously wrote that he wasn’t ashamed of the gospel and I’m sure I’m not alone when I admit to thinking at times that I’m not ashamed of the gospel but I feel at times that I am ashamed of others who claim to love the gospel.  But I feel now that I need to let go of this.

There’s something that happens as a parent when my children misbehave in public and I feel embarrassed.  There are times when I respond to my children not thinking about how best to deal with them but how best to demonstrate that I’m a parent who doesn’t accept this kind of behaviour.  I want to appear to be a competent parent.  I am responding to my child but I am also putting on a show, not for their sake, but for my own.  I think that my reaction to the perception of Christianity often operates under a similar bad motive which I think is ultimately unhelpful.

This is not about my reputation as much as there may be times that I feel that way.  This is about the power of Jesus to bring what has traditionally been referred to as salvation.  I think that there are many people out there who would emphatically state that they are not in need of salvation of that kind so I want to try and come up with a different way to say the same thing.  What Jesus does has not changed, but I think the way we talk about it could probably use some variety – some attempts at connecting to the heart of the matter.

When Peter gave one of the first sermons that is recorded in The Acts of the Apostles it records that the people who heard it were cut to the heart.  I think that when the gospel of Jesus connects, this is what happens.  When people understand the truth of Jesus, it reaches across the gap that can be felt so keenly when people are faced with the meaning of our existence in this world and it goes right to the heart and it is felt deeply and undeniably.

This world is filled with good things and with meaning – I would say mainly in our connections with other humans and with the love that we can share.  Then there are the ways that creative expression like music and theatre and dance can touch us deep within in remarkable ways.  It is wonderful.  It is a glorious potential we have in this world, but it is not sustainable and eventually we all feel the gap.  We all feel our mortality and the finite nature of our lives and the lives of those we love.  Death is an ever present eventuality that comes along at some point for everyone and this is inevitable whether we feel it lurking or not.  We can accept it as a part of the cycle of life but I do not know if it is ever possible to bridge that gap that will be felt in one way or another.

And then there is the gap of our own abilities – even when the approach of death and aging has yet to be felt, our limitations and our inability to achieve all that we might hope for creates that gap.  We may frame our failures as victories and take heart in what we can learn from these things, but the reality of our weakness and our fallibility can leave us with a real sense of that gap.  It can leave us feeling lacking.

There is a glory and a peace that is beyond our reach for all the good things of this world and it is the good news of Jesus that can reach across this gap and the promise of life after death that gives hope even as the good things of this world grow weary and begin to wind down.  Jesus stood in that gap and he stands there still.

This is what I want people to understand.  This is what I want people to experience.  It is what I want to experience myself.  I may not have the time to write about these things as much as I would like these days, but at least I have opportunity to think about them, and I have hope that this too will bear fruit in time.

Good News…

I began this post a week ago and have been having trouble finishing it, but I have stuck with it because I feel like it’s important – important for me certainly.  It’s got a lot of the things that have been bubbling up in my mind these days – things that I need to get out somehow.

I will often listen to music as I write and I find that I listen to all kinds of things, from worship music, to classic music, Johnny Cash, to folk to rock ‘n’ roll.  I’m listening to Audioslave right now and it’s with a feeling of sadness and melancholy.  Amid all the noise of the Trump administration implosion I came across the news that Chris Cornell, the lead singer of Audioslave and Soundgarden ended his life last night.

I discovered Soundgarden near the end of high school and I found it surprisingly compelling.  I just wouldn’t have imagined myself being drawn to that kind of music, but I was.  I remember them playing a song called Jesus Christ Pose on MuchMusic at the time and it was a really interesting song, but at the same time I wasn’t sure if it was a song that I should be listening to.  It didn’t seem to be a song that was talking about Jesus in a particularly positive way.

But the guitar was so interesting.  It drew me in and although in some ways Chris sounded like a lot of other Heavy Metal singers of the day, there was something different about him.  There was something different about the whole band.  They seemed authentic.  They seemed to be doing something they believed in, rather than just putting on a show or strutting their stuff.  It’s hard to put my finger on it, but it was fascinating and exciting to me.

I found out later that the song was a criticism of the exploitation of religious imagery – famous people taking on a particular pose to project the image of a martyr or of someone who is above others.  While it is certainly not a defense of Jesus it seems to be a pointed and legitimate criticism of a certain kind of grandstanding.  I wouldn’t say that I ever felt completely comfortable with the song, but it certainly introduced me to the music of Soundgarden and when their next album came out it turned out to be one of the most creative and interesting rock abums of the time – certainly that I’ve heard.

But there was something about the music, that although honest, authentic and without pretension was a bit sad and lonely.  The honesty of the music, even though I couldn’t understand what a lot of the songs were about was compelling to me.  A lot of the songs seemed to be about disappointment and searching for something.  It resonated with me at that time.  It connected to the part of the journey where I found myself at that time.

I grew up hearing about the good news of Jesus and week in and week out I would go to church and to youth group.  I would go to camp and to youth retreats and I would hear from the Bible and yet somehow I found myself feeling a sadness at times that felt far removed from the religion and the faith that I grew up with.  Somehow I didn’t see that my faith and my religion was a place to find solace and relief from the things I felt at times.  For some reason I didn’t understand that my faith was actually a good place to turn in my sadness and my disappointment.

I see that now.  I understand it now, but I still find that I am trying to understand why it was that I didn’t see then – why I didn’t understand the beauty and the value of the faith I had grown up with.  Why was I drawn more to these somber rock musicians and the somewhat melancholic and often grim view of the world that they presented?  Why was I drawn more to their versions of hope that spoke more of resistance than redemption?

I remember that there were moments when I felt as if I wanted these singers I loved and revered to find Jesus for themselves.  From a cynical point of view you might think that I just wanted them to validate my religion that I didn’t understand myself, but I think that even in that place of sadness and confusion I understood that there was hope in Jesus and I felt instinctively that it was a hope that these guys needed.  I wanted them to find it and I also wanted to find it for myself although I’m not sure I fully understood the part about myself at that time.

I feel like I don’t fully understand the gospel of Jesus – the good news of Jesus.  I know the fundamentals; I know that he died and because of that we have life, but I feel like I don’t know how to translate that into terms that people who don’t know that can actually see.  I feel like so many people around me have heard of Jesus and know of Christians, but don’t really see any of that as good news.  They see the whole thing as being irrelevant to their lives.  I feel like I’m bringing people something they already believe to be empty and trying to convince them that it is good news…and I don’t understand how to do that, but like never before in my life I am feeling an urgency to understand how to do that.

Jesus IS good news.  He really is hope.  He really does bring life.  Jesus could actually transform every life of every person who sees his story as being irrelevant; just the story of a good man who lived a long time ago – but how do I do that?

I don’t know what was going on in Chris Cornell’s life leading up to that night he died.  Only Jesus knows for sure what passed between them in those last moments, but I find myself wondering if he knew – if he really knew the good news of Jesus.  I’m sure he knew a lot of things about Jesus.  He attended a Catholic school as a kid, but did he know the good news – the really good news?

As I ponder this question I feel urgently that I am sitting on the world’s greatest treasure – a treasure that is free for anyone to enjoy and yet I find myself struggling to know how to share that with people in a way that they might really see and really understand.  But I suspect that really the issue is more a matter of me not having understood it for so long and being afraid of it.  Maybe it’s less a case of me wanting to understand, and more a case of me knowing that I’ll look like an idiot by trying to tell people that something they believe to be empty is actually good news.  Maybe if I was more willing to look like an idiot then I might start to give people the chance to hear and maybe to understand.

My move.

 

Jumping In

There’s two moments from today that I feel like I want to reflect on.  The first one I want to relate is the one that happened later in the day.  The kids finish swimming lessons around noon so we sometimes will get pizza afterwards.  It made sense today because my wife was sleeping off a night shift and we also wanted to get some Mother’s Day stuff together.

So we ended up at a Pizza Pizza on Queen St. near Dovercourt and as we sat down to eat our pizza CP24 was playing on the TV above us which is always interesting with the kids because you never know what is going to come on.  In case you don’t know, CP24 is a 24 hour news station in Toronto that is often played on the televisions of offices and pizza restaurants around the city.

So, as we were sitting there they were playing clips from a commencement address that Donald Trump gave at Liberty University today.  It made me so mad.  I was actually pushed to the point of talking back to the television in the presence of my kids.  I wasn’t shouting or shaking my fist, but I was certainly shaking my head.  I called him a clown.

I think there’s something about Trump going in front of a group of people and giving them advice on how to be successful in this world after the week he’s had spouting off egregious lies lacking any sense of decorum or wisdom that gets me fired up.  He’s become a clown.  On top of that, that he’s being invited to speak at an evangelical University and Jerry Falwell Jr. is trumpeting his praises as a friend of American Christians, it makes me feel sick.  How anyone can buy that is just beyond me.  They’re clearly getting their news from a different source than I am.

I shouldn’t let it bother me.  It really has nothing to do with me.  I just get irked when people lie and behave badly without remorse.  It really gets under my skin.  It was the same thing with Rob Ford when he was the mayor of Toronto.  That kind of flagrant lying and deception just makes me angry.

***

So let’s go back a ways to my youngest daughter’s swimming lesson.  I love watching the part of their class where they get out of the pool and they line up to learn how to jump into the pool.

My daughter is six and she’s in level two so it’s a pretty rudimentary level.  Her lesson consists of them taking turns working on floats and kicks with the teacher for the most part and it seems to be quite enjoyable for them.  But then there’s that part of the class where they all get out and they have to jump into the water one by one into the waiting arms of their teacher.

It’s funny because there’s always one kid who will jump in on his own.  He has no fear.  He’s already figured it out.  He’ll jump into the water when no one’s around.  He’s the one flailing around in the pool without any qualms – dunking his head and splashing around.  But the other kids have not reached that level of comfort yet.  I love to watch them standing there, poised on the edge of the pool willing themselves to leap out into the water.  There’s two kids in particular who seem to have the most difficulty – my daughter being one of them.  They stand there and they wait, and you can tell that there’s a lot going on in their minds, but whatever it is, they have a hard time bringing themselves to jump into the water.

I wonder what it is that’s going on up there.  I don’t imagine that it’s a rational decision-making process that’s going on.  I don’t think that they’re logically reasoning out the risks of jumping into the pool based on how much they trust the teacher and how well they feel they can swim.  I don’t think it’s that kind of struggle they’re going through.

I wonder if they are actually considering that they really have nothing to fear.  Are they actually talking themselves through the facts of the situation – that they are only jumping into the shallow end – the part of the pool where they can touch and where they spend most of their time happily jumping and splashing around?  Maybe they are and maybe they’re not.

I think that what is going on is a struggle against their own instinctive response to the situation.  Their minds and their bodies are telling them very clearly that jumping into this pool is a very bad idea.  Every ounce of their being is telling them that this is not something that they should be doing.  They can feel it so strongly, and yet everyone around them is telling them to do it.  Everyone around them is encouraging them to just jump and to not be afraid.  But for themselves, they feel something very different.

They are going through a process of ignoring their instinct – their basic sense of what should be done and making a choice based on reason or suggestion.  It’s remarkable.  I’m not sure how often this has happened in their lives.  I’m not sure that my daughter goes through this very much.  I know that she is a very instinctive person and also a person who is very confident and certain of her own grasp of a situation.  It’s very counter to who she is to jump into that pool.

But she did it.  She and that other boy managed to make the jump.  It took a lot of coaxing and a lot of work, but they did it.  It wasn’t elegant or noble.  It looks kind of like they’re doing they’re best to try and stay out of the water as long as possible until they’ve got a hold of the teacher.  They crouch down and lean forward with their arms out trying to connect with their teachers waiting arms and then all of a sudden they’ve gone past the centre of gravity and they’re falling, and they’re into the pool…but they’re connected.  The teacher is holding them and they don’t even go under.  There is a big splash and it is over.

I don’t think the other parents get into it as much as I do.  I was even getting excited by the other boy whose name I don’t even know.  I had to restrain myself not to cheer when he made the leap.  I certainly celebrated when my own daughter made it.  I could have celebrated more – I didn’t want to make a scene.  It’s just such an amazing process – to consciously ignore your own inner signals because of what you’re being encouraged to do and because of how you yourself can reason out that this actually might be an okay thing to do.

It’s such a contrast to what is going on with the corrupt and the deceitful.  What has gone wrong with the process?  I suppose the ones encouraging the leaps are not to be trusted.  I suppose the one who is doing the leaping has lost the ability to see clearly or to care how this leap might impact others.  Maybe their own instincts were never strong enough in the first place.

I don’t know.  I suppose it’s a dangerous process – teaching these kids to jump in a pool when everything in them is telling them not to.  I suppose you run the risk of raising people who lose touch with their instincts and with their own ability to make decisions.

But on the other hand you also get people who learn that it’s fun to jump in a pool – that there are people that can be trusted to catch them and to give them good advice.  We don’t have to rely on our own instincts alone.  I do think it’s worth the risk.  I really do.  It’s just really important to have the right person there in the pool telling you when to jump and promising to catch you.

Latitude

It’s been almost a month since Easter and I have allowed myself to neglect my writing once more.  It has been a very involved time with the new board position at my church.  When I took on the role, I had no idea how much of my thinking time this stuff would take up.  I have found that there have been a number of mornings where I have sat down to write and I have instead been sidetracked by praying about something or beginning an email.

The emails are something else.  I don’t mean the volume – I mean the time it takes me to write them.  I find it challenging to write effectively to a group of people.  I have come to the conclusion that email is a limited form of communication.  There have been so many times when I have realized that what I’m trying to do with an email would be done so much more effectively with a conversation, either in person or on the phone.  But when it comes to communicating with a group you can’t just call them all on the phone at once and it’s never easy to find the time to meet.

I also feel like calling someone out of the blue is…almost rude now.  I feel like email and social media has buffered our communication so that we are able to receive these messages at our leisure and can respond to them after some thought.  It feels so immediate and intrusive to just call someone on the phone.  This is probably just my issue, but I feel it.  It holds me back from just calling people.  Using the phone feels more intimate now than it used to.

So I sit down with these things to say and I write out my thoughts and then I read them and write them out again or put the email away.  It can take me hours or even days to write an email.  I’m not working at it the whole time, but once I start, it doesn’t always leave my mind until I can send it off.

So all this meant that I have unintentionally given myself a pass on posting on the blog, which feels frustrating to me once I actually sit down to post.  I lose the rhythm of it and I lose the closeness and I really appreciated that over the course of Lent as I was posting nearly every day.

On the matter of trying to finish my book by the end of June, I have been moving slowly but I have begun to act on some things.  I started taking some time over my lunch to find a place where I can work on the book for half an hour to forty-five minutes every day.  This is so helpful.  It is a way to stake out some of my brain space against other matters.  It is allowing me to have some continuity in my thinking which has been a challenge in the past.  It’s so obvious, and yet when it comes to time it’s hard to make it happen.

It’s been quiet at work so it’s been easy to take those lunches to write, so hopefully once things pick up again at work I’ll be able to hold on to the habit.  It wasn’t easy for me to get going so hopefully now that I am, I can maintain the momentum.

I find that it’s hard to find a good place to write over lunch.  I don’t want to stay in my office because if someone wants something, my writing time would be interrupted.  It would be the same with the lunch room.  People wouldn’t want to talk to me about work, but conversations happen in the lunch room.  it’s not typically a quiet study area nor should it be.

So then the challenge is that I’m trying to find a good spot to write during lunch hour in a very busy downtown area.  There’s a big food court downstairs but it’s expected that you’re going to get some food and eat and go.  There are signs prohibiting people from doing what it is that I’m trying to do.  So I find a bench and I sit there with my laptop on my lap.  Hey, that’s where the name came from!  It’s not perfect, but it works.  It feels good.

Once more, if I’m going to be complaining about time or about things I want to get done, the best thing to do is make a resolution and to start carving out space to work at it.  Nobody wants to hear me moan about these things, or read about it either.

So, while I do admit that the latitude I have given myself on this blog is frustrating, I feel good about the ways that I’m making good use of time for other things in other areas.  It feels important.  All that being said, it’s 11:23 on a Friday night and I’m very tired.  The house is quiet and even Donald Trump is probably in bed at this stage, so maybe it would be good for me to go as well.

Trust

The basic needs of survival.  What is the bare minimum to survive relatively comfortably?  You need some form of shelter – a place to be safe, or at least to be not completely exposed to all dangers.  You want that place to be dry and warm – a place to rest.

You also need food and water, or the means to get it.  There’s a lot of ways that could work – from a light, sweet, bready kind of food that you find on the ground every morning (see the book of Exodus), a vegetable garden, money and a place to buy food.  One way or another you need food.

I have these basic survival needs met with lots of room to spare.  My wife and I own a house with help from a mortgage from a bank and we have jobs that bring in enough money that we can pay the mortgage payments each week and have enough left over to pay for utilities and buy food and other essentials like clothes and other supplies.  We also have enough to have a van and to pay for the insurance and gas to use that regularly.

It’s a nice life.

But on top of that there’s the question of what happens when we get old?  There’s the question of what happens if we lose or jobs?  What if the economy tanks and a depression that’s even worse than the one in the ’30’s happens?  What is our plan to take care of ourselves in an emergency?

The general idea for old age in my part of the world is that you pay for it yourself by socking away and investing money in your younger years so that you can use that to provide for yourself when you are old.  A person needs to save enough so that they are able to draw on that money for as long as they are likely to be alive.  Included in this money is a government pension and some people earn a pension through their job.

As for us, our plan to sock this money away is not as defined as maybe it should be.  Our plan is to figure this out in the near future.  I know that we’re not alone.  I have read on more than one occasion that people in Canada are not saving enough for retirement.  It’s a concern for people as well as for the society at large – what happens if a whole bunch of people get old and they reach a point where they can’t take care of themselves?  What if they aren’t able to retire and make room for the younger people who are looking for jobs?

Jesus said something about this in his Sermon on the Mount when he talked about not being anxious about what we eat and what we wear because our Father in heaven knows what we need and will provide it.  He also said to seek the kingdom of God first.

As I was writing the above I had this strange sense of familiarity and so I did a quick search, and sure enough, I wrote about this very same thing and this very same passage about eight months ago.

It was encouraging to read it and also a reminder that some things don’t change.  Maybe God is trying to tell me something.  I certainly have a sense that striving for the kingdom, for me, has something to do with this blog and with my book.  My wife and I also talk a lot about how we spend our money and how we can give more – how can we support people in this world who are helping out where the needs are the greatest.

So, does that mean we should just ignore what we’re supposed to do and not save for the future?  Should we not be thinking about that $1M or so dollars we’re supposed to require in order to retire comfortably?  Hard questions, and I don’t think that the answers are obvious – it may sound as if I’m implying that the answers to those questions is ‘Yes’, but I’m not sure about that.

What I am sure about, though, is that I need to be striving first for the kingdom of God, and I’m not sure right now if I am.  For myself and my family, I just know that I’m not in that sweet spot of knowing, “This is where I’m supposed to be.”  I’m pretty sure I’m not exactly where I’m supposed to be, at least not yet.  I’m also not sure if I’ve done something wrong that has kept me from being there – maybe I’m not supposed to be there yet.  Maybe this thinking and wondering and praying is all a part of the process I need to go through to get there.  I don’t know.

I suspect these questions about money and saving for retirement will fall into place once I’ve answered that other question…first.  Seek the kingdom…first.  The rest comes after.

I Miss My Drawings

If you go back a couple of months – all the posts before I began posting through Lent, you’ll see that I used to include a drawing with each post, often of some kind of a stick man.  When I started the blog, I really wanted to add some visual interest to the posts because it seems pretty clear to me that people are a lot less likely to spend as much time at a site where the site consists mostly of text…like mine.

I made a conscious decision to make my site very stripped down and simple.  I didn’t want it to be visually enticing.  I wanted to intentionally build something that was the antithesis of the sites that use visually enticing and stimulating images to get your clicks.  I was building it with the assumption that I was going to be drawing people who, like me, had struggled or continue to struggle with looking at pornogrphy – who may be suckered in by sites with alluring clickbait ads.  I wanted to build something that was the antithesis of that.  I wanted this site to be an oasis.

So I felt like my stick figures were an appropriate addition to that idea.  To be honest, they took a fair bit of my time and my posts were often held up by the completion of a doodle.  So when I came to the point of wanting to make a commitment to post regularly over Lent I decided that if I was going to do that, I needed to let go of the Doodles…and they’ve yet to return.

I miss them.

If I could churn them out in a minute or two, as the simplicity of their composition would suggest I should be able to do, it wouldn’t be such a big deal, but it’s actually kind of challenging for me.  I’m not an accomplished artist, but I do like to come out with something that I’m happy with.

On top of this it is occurring to me that I set up my blog in a certain way because I was expecting a certain kind of person to come here, but I haven’t actually done any work to get this blog out there.  I don’t feel terribly guilty about this.  I’ve done a lot of work to build content – I’ve got a fair bit of that now, and I’ve also been trying to find out what this blog is about.  I think I’ve got a good sense of that now.  But I’ve done nothing to spread the word and as a result my plans for why I wanted this blog to look a certain way have never really been road tested.

So, as I think about my doodles, I also have an opportunity to think about how to get this blog out there and if I want to rethink the aesthetic.  Maybe I should.  But to be honest, I really want to bring back this stick people.  I really love those guys and I want a chance to introduce them to a larger audience.

As I write about this I’m trying to think about how I can squeeze in some time each week for some more doodles.  Nothing jumps to mind but I think I can do it.  I used to draw my doodles in a sketch book and then I would scan them.  This is a much easier way to get the doodles into the computer, but is not as portable.  I could start to doodle during breaks at work in my notebook again.  I could do this on the subway if I have a seat.  I’m going to start looking for these opportunities.

One thing I really love about this writing thing is that it creates this practice where I’m intentionally reflecting on my life and writing about the places I see myself falling short of where I like to be.  Then, once I’ve actually started to write about it, it forces me to think about the fact that there is nothing stopping me from trying to do something about this.  It moves me into action.

It’s brilliant because I typically don’t find myself naturally moving into action.  I tend to live in my head and think about things in a theoretical way and there are a lot of things that just stay up there unless I put them into words and have a chance to actually see them in a different way.  Then, because I’m sharing it in a public forum, I move to the place of asking myself why, if this really is something I’m unhappy about, I don’t do something about it.

So, stay tuned for a return of the doodles.  I’ve got my notebook in my bag and I’m sure I’ll be able to find a moment some time in the next few days to pull it out.

The Tyranny of Sleep

Sometimes I feel like I resent sleep a little bit.  It’s a bit of a funny thing because I need sleep and when I get enough of it, I feel rested and alert and I’m able to do the things that I want to do.  I also don’t generally enjoy waking up from it.  But it just takes so much of my time!

My smart phone keeps track of my sleep.  I’m not sure exactly how it does this and I’m fairly certain that it is not accurate.  It tells me that I am averaging less than 6 hours a night which I think is low.  I don’t feel good getting six hours a night.  If I go to bed at 11 I have a hard time getting myself right out of bed at 5 when I try to.  I’m also not sure how it figures out when I go to bed.  I guess it’s a smart phone after.  Maybe I should trust it.

But imagine how much more I could get done if I only had to sleep for four or five hours, or not at all!  That would give me a third of a day more!  I would be able to finish my book without any trouble.  I could pick up a new hobby.

I had another board meeting on Monday that went to almost midnight again and I’ve got another one tomorrow night.  That’s unusual for one week.  We have a meeting with the church on Sunday that we need to get ready for.  So it’s not as if this is something to expect regularly.  I’m also leading worship on Sunday so I have to do some preparation for that.

So, the takeaway from this is that I had trouble dragging myself out of bed for the past two days.  But the best thing is that I’m feeling good through all of this.  It seems unlikely that I’ll be able to get in the writing time to finish my book in two months time, but there’s still hope.  I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeve yet.  I feel really good about stepping onto the board.  I think it’s going to take up more time than I had expected but I feel like it’s an important thing that we’re doing and I’m happy to be a part of it.

I had this dream when I was thinking about whether or not I should accept the position where Jesus was leading me out across a stormy sea to a boat being tossed by the waves.  I thought I might have written about it here already, but I couldn’t find it.  When I woke up from the dream I knew pretty clearly that whatever I decided about stepping onto the board that I was going to drown if I didn’t accept divine help through it all.

I feel like I’m doing pretty well with that.  There are some mornings where I get up to write and I find myself wanting to just spend the time in prayer.  I find that I just want to be quiet and to rest in the presence of God.  It’s not always a remarkable time.  It’s not as if amazing things happen during that time, but God meets me in the quietness and I come out of it with insight and with some small degree of serenity.  I feel like it’s time well spent.

I’ve been noticing that this peace has been staying with me through my days in a greater degree than it was a year ago.  Every once in a while I will take note of the fact that I’m feeling a sense of wellbeing for no good reason in the midst of busyness or despite feeling like I’m not making the most of my time and to be honest I’m a bit surprised by it all.  I like it.

I still haven’t come up with my plan for finishing that book.  It’s been a week since I toyed with the idea and I actually haven’t made a lot of progress but I’m ready to jump in.  My time may not be multiplying and it seems unlikely that I’ll be able to eliminate sleep from my life, but I think my head is in the right place and that may be the most important thing.  I don’t see my time multiplying for me any time in the near future but if I can step into the time I do have with a clear mind and a will to work I just might get something done, whether I’m tired or not.

Ambitious Targets

Well, I don’t have a concrete plan, but I’m going to go for it.  I’m going to aim to finish a readable draft of my book by the end of June at the same time that my wife writes her nurse practitioner exam.

I told my wife about it and she was very supportive.  She even suggested that I look at my vacation days to see if I might be able to use some of them to work on the book for a concentrated period of time.  I might actually be able to do this, but talk is cheap.  I need to actually take hold of all the small chunks of time that pass me by and make use of them.

I would like to revisit the idea I wrote about a few months ago about making better use of my thinking time.  I haven’t been able to make great progress in that area, but I haven’t given up.  One interesting development is that I’ve got a lot of new things to think about now that I’m on the board at my church.  I’m not going to discuss any of the ins and outs of what those things are, but it’s given me a lot to think about.

I spent a lot of time thinking about my church even before I stepped onto the board.  I find that often as I think about the search for sweet solid ground it comes around to the idea of a church and how a church is a place where people come together to do that.  It’s a very specific expression of that search.  The Christian faith has a very long history with many different streams and traditions with very robust theologies and practices, but I find that the most challenging piece is to make the connections from there to the day to day life with all its ups and downs.   That’s my concern and my quest.

Similarly in a church, there can be a very clear idea of what a church should be and what it should do, but in practice it can be extremely difficult to live that out in the way you would want in theory.  It is a community of human beings who can be very different and very flawed and human relationships can be complicated at the best of times.  It’s easy for things to get bogged down.  It’s easy to fall into habits – to do things the way that they’ve always been done without thinking about why.

I know that for me this is the case with my book.  It is very easy to feel strongly about wanting to finish the book simply because I’ve started it.  I don’t want to let this drop.  I’ve invested so much time in it that it would be heartbreaking to see it grind to a halt.  I want to finish it.  It means a lot to me.  But I don’t always think about why I’m writing this book.  I don’t think about what I want people to get from it.  It’s hard to think about it in that way because there is always the fear that no one will read it beyond the people I know.  What if it doesn’t find an audience?

So when I find myself thinking about things for the Board at my church I find myself thinking about these big picture questions.  It is our job to think about these things.  It is our job to think about why we do things and how we can do them better and all the important things like that.  I like doing that kind of thinking, even if it’s hard.  It’s fascinating to me how a group of people put aside differences to think and work together for a common purpose.  It’s not always easy.

Sometimes I think it would be good to have a board that came together to think about all the big decisions in my life.  Other times I’m very glad that I get to do it on my own – that I can do the thinking and I can do the choosing.  I think a fear that I would have is that getting input from other people takes the power out of my hands – it could become someone else’s life.  But that would only be the case if the people giving that input and doing that thinking didn’t know me or care about me.  In theory, an effective board is going to be making decisions and choices that will help me to do the things that I want to do and that are good for me.

On top of that, I also have a fear that the things that I want to do are mutually exclusive from the things that are good for me.  So then there is a fear that the people who are helping me will tell me the truth and that will actually ruin my life.

Fear can be so crippling.  A big part of having faith in God is believing that God knows me and that Gods want what is good for me and that God will not ruin my life if I let him and this would extend to the work of a board making decisions for a church – we do the thinking and the decision making but we want to make sure that we aren’t working against God in any of it.

It all comes down to trusting God.  We can plan and scheme and work things out and plow forward on our own, but there’s also this quest to find the way forward that incorporates all this effort on our part – we always need to put in the effort in one way or another – but to do it in a way that recognizes the role of God in all of it, believing that finding that sweet spot will be the best way forward.  It may not be the way we might hope for, but always it enables us to come through with a peace and a hope that it is never, ever for naught.

So…I’m going to set a goal and I’m going to for it.  If God wants me to do anything in this life, I’m fairly certain that he wants me to finish this book.  I don’t know what’s going to come of it, but I’ll trust him on that one.

Short Term Goals

Short term goals are good.  My goal to blog every day over the course of Lent was a great one for me.  I didn’t make it, but I would still qualify it as a success as I’ve already said here before.  But now when I sit down to write my posts, I find that I have run beyond the backdrop and I am floating freely in space.

I need a new short-term goal.  I need a new Lent, but somehow it needs to be something real.  If I said that I was going to blog six days a week for the next forty-six days, I don’t think it would have the same hook for me.  That kind of resolution would feel like an afterthought; a contrivance.  When it was for Lent, a recognized period of time observed all over the world it gave it some weight and some meaning.

I need a time period and even as I write this I know what that should be.  My wife has been studying intensely for a number of months now – since the end of the summer – for a nursing exam.  I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned this before so I’ll mention it now just in case.  She earned her masters degree as a nurse practitioner almost nine years ago now.  It’s easy to remember because my son attended her convocation as a nursing infant.  He was only a couple of months old.  He just turned nine today.  But she never wrote the exam that would certify her to practice as a nurse practitioner.  It’s a very hard exam and it takes quite a lot of work to prepare for it.  It’s a comprehensive medical exam so you can’t just wing it.

So anyway, nine years on and she’s preparing to finally write this thing and her exam date is at the end of June, just a little over two months from now, so it seems clear to me that if that is her big date, then I need to make my next period of resolution end on that date as well.

So here’s the thing that’s coming into my mind as I write this – There was another thing that began when my son was born: I started writing a book.  As an employee of the provincial government I get pretty sweet benefits and when my son was born I was able to take four months off at almost full pay.  I still can’t believe I was able to do that.  It’s remarkable, considering how little time off mothers are able to take in some places.

So anyway, I was able to take that time and I started writing a book.  My wife graciously gave me hours a day to hole up in our office to start this book…and nine years on, this book is still unfinished.  In my head I’ve been telling myself that I need to finish it before my son turns 10.  But why not shoot for ten months sooner than that?

The thought of it scares me.  I have to be honest.  If I was good at finishing things I would have finished this thing years ago, but the thing that comforts me about that is that if I had finished it years ago, I don’t think it would have been the book that it’s going to be once I finally do finish it.  I feel like all this time has been a learning process and I’ve been only adding pieces to the puzzle with each passing year.

I actually finished a draft of the whole book over a year ago but it was too disjointed.  My wife read through the first half, but while she was doing that I read through it too and I could see clearly that there was a lot of editing that I needed to do on my own before I wanted to pass it off to readers.  I needed to give more structure.  I’ve been working on it all fall and into the new year and I’ve gotten into a good rhythm but I haven’t set any goals…

I need to crunch some numbers to see if this is actually possible.

I just stepped on the board at my church and it’s a really crucial time.  There’s a lot of thinking and planning to do.  My wife and I have been talking to an engineer about doing some work on our basement and we really want to nail some things down to get that underway before everyone is all booked up for the summer.  There’s also a number of other projects that need doing.

But if I actually do finish this thing by the end of June then that might free me up to focus more on some of those things…it’s possible…if not unlikely.

It’s not the most achievable goal I’ve ever considered, but as much as it scares me, it also excites me.  Even if I don’t make it, the thought of going after it with all I’ve got feels right.

Okay, so give me a day to think through this and to look at the calendar.  I’ll come up with a plan and I’ll check back in .  I also should start working on the book tonight because I’m using up my book-writing time to do this post.  No more of that.  I need to get my posts done in the morning.

I’ve still got a little less than an hour here, so I’ll make the most of that and make sure I get up at 5 tomorrow and let you know where I’m at.