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Videos!  What an idea!  I’ve loved this song for a while and am excited to share it.  I love the combination on Tom Waits’ ragged voice and this wonderful metaphor of an offer of grace: “Come on up to the house.”

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A very interesting take on brokenness by Bill Tell of the Navigators.

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I had lunch with a former professor of mine the other day.  My time in Canada is coming to a close, and he was asking me about it.  He asked, “How have you changed the most in your time here?”  Normally I don’t feel like I have good answers to those kinds of questions, but for this one, I was ready.

I said the biggest change was that now I had a positive identity.  When I came to Canada to go to graduate school, my identity was largely negative.  I had been living in a city with what seemed to me to be a pseudo-Christian culture, a place where people added a little Jesus-language to the American dream, gave a little shake, and call it Christianity.  I hated it.  I knew it wasn’t right, but couldn’t articulate a better way.  I knew who I wasn’t, but I didn’t know who I was.

Now it’s different.  Through some long, hard years of study and reflection, I’ve come to a place where I can articulate a better way.  I have an understanding of my faith that gives me life and is compelling.  It revolves around the concept of shalom, something I’ve written about on here before.

The next question: “How will it be going back?”  I had to laugh at that one because I know that I will encounter things that push my buttons and piss me off.  But as I thought about it, I realized it will be okay.  Those things are no longer a threat to me.  Now I my identity is rooted; I am defined by something else, something better.  With a solid center I shouldn’t be as susceptible to reacting against, to feeling like I need to set myself apart.  I know who I am and that will be enough.

Haha, that’s the theory anyway; we’ll see how it goes!



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Manageering

I saw the book earlier this fall and I knew.  I knew that I would need to read it, knew that it would be important to me and knew I should wait to read it for a while.  The book in question: Shop Class As Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work.  The guy who wrote it has a Ph.D in political philosophy from Chicago and runs his own motorcycle repair shop.  The book’s blurb: A philosopher/mechanic destroys the pretensions of the high-prestige workplace and makes an irresistible case for working with one’s hands.  Yeah, I need encouragement to think that way like I need a hole in the head.

So I bought the book yesterday and plan to read it over Christmas.  But I started it on the busride home yesterday, couldn’t resist.

I’ve struggled to figure out what it is that bugs me so much about my job.  I’ve had plenty of boring or uncompelling or frustrating jobs, but this one gets to me like no other.  Well, I didn’t make it through the introduction before I found my answer.

Crawford writes: “We want to feel like our world is intelligible, so we can take responsibility for it.”  That’s pretty much it in a nutshell, but he goes on to elaborate:

“I would like to consider whether this poignant longing for responsibility that many people experience in their home lives may be (in part) a response to changes in the world of work, where the experience of individual agency has become elusive.  Those who work in an office often feel that, despite the proliferation of contrived metrics they must meet, their job lacks objective standards of the sort provided by, for example, a carpenter’s level, and that as a result there is something arbitrary in the dispensing of credit and blame.  The rise of “teamwork” has made it difficult to trace individual responsibility, and opened the way for new and uncanny modes of manipulation of workers by managers, who now appear in the guise of therapists or life coaches.  Managers themselves inhabit a bewildering psychic landscape, and are made anxious by the vague imperatives they must answer to.  The college student interviews for a job as a knowledge worker, and finds that the corporate recruiter never asks him about his grades and doesn’t care what he majored in.  He senses that what is demanded of him is not knowledge but rather that he project a certain kind of personality, and affable complaisance.”

It ain’t me babe.  Can I put that in my resignation letter?

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A Longer View

A while back a group of friends and I were talking about our hopes and dreams for the future.  One friend was lamenting the fact that, due to their present circumstances, they wouldn’t be able to work toward one of their particular dreams for the conceivable future.  I tried to encourage them by urging them to take a long view of life, to consider its many stages, but I was quickly cut off by another friend trying to be equally encouraging by urging a positive attitude and immediate action despite the circumstances.

This conversation has stuck with me.  What is our fascination with doing everything now? The older I get, the more I seem to take comfort in the fact that life is long, that there will be time for many many things, but that maybe some of those things will have to wait a long time.  Certainly this line of thinking can be problematic, but the principle is sound.  I have found this longer view to be so freeing and frankly, so sustainable.  It helps me to focus on what is most important for me to do now and that is where I expend my efforts.  So many people seem hurried all the time and while there are times for that for sure, I try to pace myself and have made it a point to live in an unhurried way.

I have lots of friends who are busier than I am and for someone who wants to do good things in this world, that is sometimes hard for me.  But I will be damned if I wake up five years from now burnt out or off track or both.  Not that my friends will, this isn’t an indictment at all; I am just pondering why we don’t think within a longer horizon.  Last week a former professor who I respect very much, a man who works many hours, told me I was being very productive for a young father.  This has meant a lot to me and that tells me that I am a bit insecure about how much I get done.  So please don’t take this as a “Look at me, I am great” sort of post.  This theme has just been on my mind and I am puzzled at our culture’s almost neurotic refusal to consider a perspective other than the short term.

I seem to be alternating between two threads in this post: hurriedness and a thinking within a longer view.  Clearly there are lots of reasons for business, but I have a feeling that these two strands are related.  I think a short term view lends itself toward being harried.  And, not that productivity is an end in itself, but my hunch is that a longer view helps us be more productive when it is all said and done.  Think tortoise and the hare.

Last night I was reading my favorite new author, Wendell Berry, and he spoke to this issue.  He was comparing the “orthodox” agribusiness emphasis on profit, production and expansion to the agricultural focus on health, skill, care, relationships, etc.  I will leave off with this (don’t let the simplistic gender language distract you):

“Production, some would say, is the male principle in isolation from the female principle.  Thus isolated, the male principle wants to exert itself absolutely; it wants to “do everything at once” –which is, of course, what doomsday will do.  But reproduction, which is the male and female principles in union, is nurturing, patient, resigned to the pace of seasons and lives, respectful always of the nature of things.  Production’s tendency is to go “all out”; it always aims to set a new record.  Reproduction is more conservative and more modest; its aim is not to happen once, but to happened again and again and again, and so it seeks a balance between saving and spending.”

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Who was I kidding?  Since the days leading up to Bella’s birth, I have cracked my “daily office prayer book” (I am using Celebrating Common Prayer) a mere handful of times.  I should have seen this coming.  It’s not as much that I don’t have the time- it really doesn’t take that long- but it is more that I just can’t seem to muster the effort necessary to attend to that kind of practice.  New babies tend to demand some attention themselves!  I am hoping to get started again in the near future.  I had a feeling the other day that I was actually missing those times of daily rest, of a brief space to re-center, of reconnecting with God and putting Him and His ways before my attention regularly in this way.  It was fleeting- and I will have to nurture it soon or it will die- but it’s appearance was hopeful to me.  It took over 5 weeks before I felt that way.

Reflecting back on the experience of praying the office through Lent, there is one thing that is worth mentioning- at least it is somewhat related to Jeff’s post and his hope that I would say something about meditation.  Throughout Lent (or any season in the church calendar) the daily office has some parts that you repeat every single day and since I was praying the office twice a day, there were parts I was visiting twice.  One of those things was the closing prayer:

Almighty and everlasting God,

you hate nothing that you have made

and forgive the sins of all those who are penitent:

create and make in us new and contrite hearts

that we, worthily lamenting our sins

and acknowledging our wretchedness,

may receive from you, the God of all mercy,

perfect remission and forgiveness;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.

I don’t know how that strikes you.  I like it, so I eventually memorized it.  (Other parts of the office, repeated just as often, I didn’t like, nor memorize, nor get much out of).  Praying this prayer became like breathing to me; receiving life and letting go, resting.  There is something about returning to and soaking your consciousness in a phrase or a refrain that grabs you- I think we humans are wired that way; unfortunately in this digital age we don’t have to remember anything and we think we know something just because we can locate information about it.  These kinds of disciplines help us stop, fully enter into something and revisit it again and again until it becomes comforting in ways that I am grasping at explaining (kind of like the difference between old friends and new friends, but now I am being cheesy, calling these phrases old friends!).

The one thing that I found particularly helpful about this prayer is that it helped me with one of the main thrusts of Lent: repentance.  Repentance isn’t something I am good at.  Generally, it isn’t the asking of forgiveness that is the problem for me, it’s simply the recognition of the evil in me (which seems to me to be the more serious of the two).  I think the simple praying of that prayer over and over, asking for a new and contrite heart twice a day, actually was a bit of a self-fulfilling prayer.  It softened my heart, opened my awareness and at the very least humbled me.

I really hope there is a Part III to this blog; that will mean I started up doing the office again!

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For the past six weeks or so I have prayed the daily office twice a day- well, at least on weekdays! The daily office- as it is called in the Anglican tradition- is a service of recited prayers, psalms and Scripture readings that change with and reflect the seasons of the Christian calendar. Think monks. But not only monks; many have found it a helpful way to stop and refocus a few times throughout the day- there are quite a few “services” you could pray as you go through the day, though the morning and evening ones are most common. I have dabbled in this sort of spiritual discipline before and am doing so again a little more rigorously for Lent. I plan to write a Part 2 to this blog looking back on Lent, but for now, below are some melodramatic thoughts culled from a little reflection I did when I tried this 4x/day for a week or for a class…

This activity of the heart is compared, not inappropriately, to that of a     mill which is activated by the circular motion of water. The mill cannot cease operations at all so long as it is driven round by the pressure of the water and it, then, becomes quite feasible for the persons in charge to decide whether he prefers wheat or barley or darnel to be ground. And one thing is clear. Only that will be ground which is fed in by the one who is in charge.” John Cassian, Conferences

For the past week and a half I have prayed through the daily office using Venite: A Book of Daily Prayer, by Robert Benson…The office became a metaphor for me, in that, as it was a challenge to map the office onto my life and as it was a challenge to attend to God through lengthy written prayers, so the life of faith is a challenge. Trite as it sounds, this is hard work, but it is a work of faith. Still, as the days went by I found that the yoke fit better and better. The office became a time of security, a time of rest. By end of the week, I began to long for the re-centering of the office and to return to the space it created in me.

How about a few ironies… Certainly, the power of the daily office is its ability to shape one’s spirit. This is ironic considering how severely one must shape one’s life in order to pray the office four times a day. The office, it seems, shapes back. The office confronts me with my weakness as I struggle to mean what I say. And the office strengthens me as I begin to become, bit by bit, what I have been saying. Thus, I am shaped by being continually reminded of who I am and compelled to become who I am invited to be.

Again, it is ironic that as I add more to my full life, the office shows me the emptiness that was there. By taking time out of my “life” to focus my attention on God through the office, I can recognize how infrequently my attention is focused before God during the rest of the day. As I work to be sincere while I am “away” praying the office, I learn to be fully present during the rest of my life.

It is not quite ironic, but it is unexpected nonetheless, that a set book of prayers would end up grounding one in a Reality much deeper than the rest of life. Perhaps it is knowing that I follow the footsteps of many thousands from over the centuries. Perhaps it is coming before God throughout the day with more than a short sentence shout-out.

These reflections feel a bit melodramatic to me. I am grasping at something I have barely begun to experience. It is a bit like describing marriage a few months after the wedding. Without question, soaking in these prayers- before God and alongside the Church- must have a profound effect on one’s soul, not least because Scripture is the best grist for the mill.

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