Carpe Aeternum

Finding the Eternal in the Every Day

The Long Haul

I just watched “Life Itself”, the documentary about the life of Roger Ebert. What an intriguing man. His influence extended around the globe to people beyond the film industry. He launched careers. He inspired people to pursue film as a career or film criticism as a career.

And all of this happened by reviewing films. There are more prestigious, more powerful journalism gigs. Yet he changed his world, he affected thousands of people.

Over the weekend, I took my girls to visit an art school in Chicago. Amid their pitch came the comment about finding something you love for a career. If you plan to do something for twenty, thirty or even forty years, they argued that it might as well be something you enjoy if not love.

My job intrigues me. Challenges me. Engages me. Some days I enjoy it; many I don’t. But that’s work. I don’t go to play everyday; I go to work. I find my enjoyment in what I do off the clock.

Ebert seemed to truly enjoy his work. He was passionate about writing. He was passionate about writing about movies. He was quite skilled at what he did,

There is something powerful in doing something you are passionate about. There is something powerful in doing things well.

I took my girls to check out this school because they love art. And they are pretty good at it too. I want them to factor that into their school decisions.

One of my coworkers told me that his daughter will get a degree in a design field. Apparently it is a growing industry which he seems suspect about. But he’s glad that she’s pursuing something she loves rather than making choices based on what will bring a better paycheck. His tone told me that he regretted not doing so himself. He truly was glad his child was pursuing a better path.

I don’t want my kids to repeat my mistakes. I want them to learn from me. I want them to find a better path. But I want the better path to be their path.

I hope they find the power of doing what they love. I hope they find the power of doing it well. I hope they get to do that for their full career – a good thirty to forty years, or more.

The trick for me is to find the time to do this on the side, to find my power, my passion, my joy around the other stuff. To be diligent at this rather than wallow in the depression of seeing others find this, and lament in my own failure to do so.

I must fight each day so that I don’t just give up.

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Hero Complex

I found myself in the uber nerd cars of the train on my way home Friday. Two guys discussed the merits of Superman. I dislike Superman. He bores me. Too much power, no real risk. Not much of a story. In fact I yawned typing that.

But these guys love Superman. For them the greatness of the story lies in his inability to save everyone. He can’t be beaten but he fails. And that drives him nuts, that he can’t save everyone.

A couple thoughts raced though my mind as I listened to this.

First, if am bored by limitless power, if that seems unattractive to me does that have any implications on my relationship with God. Am I bored with him?

I find myself fascinated with God and frequently surprised by him. Every miracle I experience or hear about feels like an amazing story. Maybe that’s because I hear it form the perspective of the people in need, and there is definite risk on their side of the event. But it never seems boring.

The other thought was how often I use the idea that I can’t help everyone for a excuse to help no one. There are too many problems in the world. Far too many people are in trouble. It seems that limitless resources, time and manpower wouldn’t be enough to deal with them all. If I help one, I feel guilty that I didn’t help the others. Better to be paralyzed in shame than wallow in guilt.

I have no idea how many people I pass in a day that ask me for money. Typically I don’t have cash so I am unable to help. If I do give some to one person, the next I meet feels more needy. If I give to one, I immediately wonder what addiction I am supporting. If I don’t give, I wonder if they truly will starve tonight.

I know all the strategies of offering to give the food or train ticket or whatever it is that they say they need money for rather than the money. And I know the prevalence of addictions in homeless people. That’s not the point.

This isn’t about judging the worthiness of the recipient. It is about the inundation of needs.

Last week, I wrote about imagining a better world and the end of poverty and homelessness. Selecting a starting point seems confusing, hard, overwhelming.

Today’s verse of the day, delivered to my mailbox told me that it is a sin not do what you know is right. But there is so much that I can do but I can’t do it all. I feel like Superman, feeling like a failure for not doing it all. I sin constantly in not doing all the right I see needing to be done.

I struggle each day with choosing to do something. Something is better than nothing. Since I can’t do everything, something is better than everything too.

Jesus said that anytime we help anyone, we are doing it to him too. Anything. That’s each something we do. Thankfully he didn’t say we only help him when we do everything. Just anything.

Tomorrow, I will look for something. I will not be paralyzed everything. I challenge you to find something too.

Imagine That

Scripture tells us that God is able to do more than we ask or imagine. Every time I read that passage, I wonder how much our imagination, or lack of it, defines our world. Not just how we perceive the world but how it actually functions.

What if many of the age old problems in the world remain age old problems because we accept them to always be true, to be part of reality. What if we could imagine a better world, one without those problems, we could actually bring it about.

One if the more perplexing aspects of the Bible is the concept that God answers our prayers and that he intervenes because we ask and sometimes doesn’t because we don’t. I cannot explain the theology of that.  I can try to accept it and pray with faith an hope that it actually works that way. Some of the time. If it is true, and my prayers and yours sway God in some way, then why not seek his help with more? With everything. Even the small stuff. Or, even the really big stuff.

What if poverty exists because we can’t imagine a world without it so we don’t pray for that. Or war. Or disease. Or pollution. Or… You can fill in the next 50 “ors”.

In the movie Searching for Debra Winger, several actresses are interviews, including Whoopi Goldberg. she discusses being a child and watching Star Trek. The impact of Lt. Uhura affected Whoopi. She remembers telling her mom “There’s a black lady on television and she’s nobody’s maid.” That was an astounding item when Star Trek first aired on TV. Racism and sexism still drove what roles people played. Gene Roddenberry dared imagine a world, albeit a far distant future world, where a black woman could be an officer. Not the maid.

Would we have gotten to a black president without Star Trek showing us something different than the expected in the mid sixties? Probably, but it may still be coming. One man’s imagination changes how other expected and accepted things to be.

Granted other people played other roles, other imaginations added to the momentum of this movement. But someone, several someones maybe, imagining something different helped other imagine something different. And change followed.

Someone imagined a world without slavery and started acting on that. Others joined in. It was a nasty mess to get to an America without slavery, but it has happened. There is a long way to go. Slavery still exists in the world. Racism still causes problems in the U.S. but things are better and they will continue to get better as we imagine such a world and act on making it so.

But what does any of this have to do with prayer as I started out? This is about art. This is about activism. It’s not about prayer.

Or is it.

The book of Jeremiah includes a letter he wrote to a bunch of people in exile. He tells them that God wants them to pray for the peace and prosperity of the city where they live. As they do so, God will bring it about.

What if praying for the peace and prosperity of the city we live in, or state, or nation, or world, is the first step toward them becoming better places to be? What if imagining it could be different enough to want to pray for it is the first step to God motivating someone to take action about it?

Whenever I pray this, I feel that if I am asking God to bring peace and prosperity to the place I leave, that I need to ask him to make me an agent of that peace, that prosperity. I am told that faith without action is not really faith. So I try to find how to take some action about what I ask God to do.

I think we could have a drastically better world if we dare to pray for it, dare to take action to make it, have the guts to make paintings and songs and stories that show us what it would look like.

Take a minute. Imagine what such a world would be like. Then ask God how you can do something about making it happen.

I dare you.

Foxhole Prayers

There are no atheists in a foxhole, or so I’ve been told. Mike Warnke, before his fall from grace, told a story of a Marine in Viet Nam who was Protestant/Catholic/Orthodox/Jewish/Muslim/Buddhist/Hindu, just in case. He wanted all his bases covered in case things went bad.

People often talk about the desperation prayers that soldiers say when facing tragedy, imminent death or terrifying circumstances. The movie Guadalcanal Diary from 1943 captures this beautifully, when a marine named Taxi hiding in a bunker confesses to the chaplain that he doesn’t pray because he changes things but sometimes like the horrendous barrage they are under makes him realize that he needs someone bigger than himself, someone God big to do something. He then details what kind of prayer he would say if he knew how to pray. When taxi stops talking, the priest crosses himself and says, “Amen”.

In the church I grew up in, these weren’t considered real prayers. They felt that a relationship  with God was necessary to have real prayers. Prayers sent up by nonbelievers and sinners had no value. They were the equivalent of spiritual barfing.

But I wonder if the emotional realism of those prayers are more significant that properly theologized prayers given by the faithful.

The counter argument is that relationship builds a better prayer life. The closer you are to God, the easier it is to pray and the more meaningful the prayers. Based on my experience, I agree that those are both true statements. Neither, however, negates the value of the desperate prayers of desperate people. Those prayers have power too.

The counter argument to this is that these prayers are the equivalent a friend or relative that only calls when they need something. They reach out in the time of need but never to just connect, or to see if they can help you. Those people are annoying. And it sucks to feel like you are nothing more than a contractor to resolve their issues, that you get nothing out of the relationship. And it’s worse when you want to have connection but it only comes when fixing their problems.

And I’m sure that as much as people like that annoy us, they also annoy God. He desperately wants relationship with us. He wants the connection of everything all the time, like the daily (or weekly)call back home when you first move away. The family wants to know everything that’s happening. God wants the regular, connected prayer that brings us closer.

But he is far more patient with  us than we are with each other. Jesus tells us to forgive far more often than we want to. Scripture tells us that God is ready to forgive us even more than that. If that is true of forgiveness, wouldn’t also be true of requests for help?

The thing that pissed Jesus off more than anything else were those instances that people prevented others from drawing nearer to God. Religious rules that made it hard to connect with God riled him up. Perhaps telling people that their prayers are lacking blocks them from God. Maybe we should be crossing ourselves and saying “amen” instead of assigning bad grades to the attempt to call out to God.

What if, every prayer we say is a foxhole prayer? What if our lives are in dire enough situations that every request for God’s presence or providence is an act of desperation.

We are all in the process of dying. Sure, we are living but we are also dying. The trick is to live as much as possible before we die. Some of us are closer to death than others, but we all face a significant risk of dying today. And tomorrow. And the day after. Prayers to get through today or to be done with today are as much foxhole prayers as they are anything else.

As simple as it is, a prayer of “God, help!” is significant. It is reaching out to someone cares and can do something about it. But most of all it is reaching out.

And that prayer may just connect you to a God who is already reaching out to you.

Theoretical Magicians

I just started reading Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. Magic was once practiced widely. Then some magicians began documenting what they did. Others then started commenting on what they learned from those documented accounts. Then others started writing histories from the documented accounts and the commentaries on the documented accounts. Still others ended up writing commentaries on the histories and commentaries that came before them. Fewer and fewer people actually practiced magic because all their energy was spent learning about what had happened, the right way to do things and more importantly, the right way to document and discuss magic. It became a purely academic pursuit.

Imagine if the same thing happened in our world with medical studies. If fewer and fewer people actually practiced medicine or researched medical advances, if doctors only studied medicine.

Or engineers only studied their craft but never experimented or created.

Or if theologians only studied works by other theologians and histories of people living out their faith. And if those theologians only learned about faith but never lived it. Oh, wait, that one is real. I’m doubt Susanna Clark the author of that novel intended this direct comparison but it seemed quite obvious to me.

In her story, a magician starts questioning why they don’t actually do magic and gets ridiculed. These things don’t happen anymore. The proper approach to magic is academic study of not the vulgar practice of actually doing magic. Then someone shows up who actually does magic and ruins everything for those who are convinced that their academic experience is the only experience.

When John Wimber, founder of the Vineyard churches started asking questions, he faced similar resistance. He wanted to know why we don’t do the stuff Jesus did. Why don’t Christians (followers of Christ), practice the things he did – healing people, casting out demons, raising the dead? Armies of theologians rose to explain that these things don’t happen any more. A good Christians studies accounts of these things in the past; they don’t make a mockery of their faith by trying to live it out.

The Vineyard movement was born out of people doing the stuff while others were telling them not to. They certainly weren’t the only ones doing it, but it was what they did and who they were.

I personally experienced this when I helped get some of Wimber’s books translated into Turkish.  Word got to a church in England that books about God healing people were being distributed for free in Turkey. They immediately reacted by getting a book translated into Turkish that proved that miracles no longer happen. They needed to block this heresy. In the meantime, the pastor of the church distributing the books arrived each morning to find people lined up around the block waiting to get healed, to have demons expelled, to see God do something powerful and personal in their lives.

These people in turkey accepted things like miracles, healing and demons. They fit their world view. Their experience and expectations allowed for the supernatural to play out in their everyday lives.

In Shakespeare in Love, Geoffrey Rush plays Phillip Henslowe who keeps insisting that the play will take place despite everything stacked against it. When questioned how he knows it will happen, he states, “I don’t know; it’s a mystery.” No one felt too comforted by this. They all wanted more certain answers, assurances that things will have specific, defined outcomes.

I think that situations like Wimber’s questions, the reaction to teaching Turkish people to expect miracles, the desire to see practical magic tend to push against that feeling of control. If we do not have clearly defined measurable results or expectations, we can’t know if things worked.

The preference of theoretical rather than practical pursuits of theology and magic desires controlled output. People feel safer with that. If someone starts actually doing magic, that causes problems.

If people in Turkey start experiencing miracles, much of merely academic theology becomes questionable.

Where is the practice? The real? The amazing?

I’m like that kid in The Incredibles waiting for something amazing to happen. I want the practical rather than the theoretical. If that is you too, start looking for it. Start asking the questions of why we don’t see it. Open your eyes to see if you can find the eternal in the everyday, if you can find the miraculous in the mundane.

Jesus promised that those who seek will find. Take a shot a t seeking and see what you find.

Shabti Revisited

In last week’s post, I talked about shabti, an ancient Egyptian magical statue used to capture the shadow or essence of a god in order to control that god. As I discovered shabti, it shone a new light on my understanding of the commandment about not having graven images.

The more I thought about it, the more depth I discovered. What if a god willingly gave his essence away to his worshipers? What if he wanted the connection, the interaction that users of shabti desired?

Moreover, what if this god created the shabti that his worshipers could use to contain his essence?

As I understand shabti, for them to work well, need to be made in the image of the god whose essence is being captured.

The scriptures of my faith tradition state that God created all of humanity in his image. That each human on this planet carries a likeness of God in them innately. It’s part of the core code of being human.

These scriptures also tell me that this God wants to place his spirit in us, to live in us. In short, we become shabti.not to control God but to be one with him, to have him work through us, that his essence working in our being imbues us and our world with a transformative power. We have an ability to be like God, to incarnate him.

What if this is behind the no graven images command? What if the issue is to not waste our time creating a feeble replica when God has already provided us with the image to carry his essence and given us his essence to invigorate his image?

It amazes me to think that something so powerfully miraculous is intended to be our normal state.

And to think that each of you is this same miracle. Each person I will interact with at work has the potential to be this same miracle.

God is trying to incarnate himself everywhere in this world. If just breath in his Spirit and get filled with his essence we are part of this miracle.

Graven Images

I recently read The Serpent’s Shadow the third book of the Kane Chronicles by Rick Riordan. These stories play around with Egyptian mythology overlaid on modern culture. In this installment, a key magical element are shabti, statues that can be used to capture a shadow and then control the being whose shadow is controlled.

Suddenly I had different understanding of idols. Up to this point, I only considered them as artistic renditions of gods people loved or feared. They only served as a focus of worship. But with grasping the concept of a shabti, I now get that to the ancient Egyptian culture, the culture that Moses and the Hebrews left, idols where not just foci but actual tools to control the gods.

When reading the Ten Commandments, I always struggled with the differentiation between the first two. 1 – Don’t have any other gods. 2 – don’t make graven images. It doesn’t’ take much digging to separate and understand the nuances of what is being prohibited in each. But the two of them seemed mildly redundant.

But shabti revealed a new layer.

We are commanded to not try to control God. He is beyond that. And to live in faith means that we are to trust him. Demanding, commanding, trying to force our will upon God aren’t ways to relationship.

Of course, trust is harder. Harder but better.

Further Thoughts on Being Myself

In all my defense of the value of being me, what if my self does need change?

I am currently on day two of being cola free. Odds aren’t very good that I will make it to day three at the moment. I have tried unsuccessfully to beat this addiction for over twenty years. There have been spells where I have resisted but it has never been more than a few months.

Many people dismiss my addiction because they don’t see it to be destructive as if I struggled with drugs or alcohol. I significantly increase my risk of Type 2 Diabetes because of the pop I drink. I struggle to lose weight but the cola habit makes that really hard. Thus I am at higher risk of heart related issues due to my obesity.

These are things about myself that I would like to change. If I followed my philosophy of striving for nonconformity in all I can and fully embracing myself in spite of my flaws, I don’t leave room for change.

There must be a point in being myself at all costs that allows me to change, allows me to evolve past what I currently am.

This is beyond adapting to a work culture or honing my speaking style. This is the deeper stuff. This is exploring why I turn to cola for comfort when stressed. Then I can find answers to something else that needs help. This change can bring about freedom from the addiction and solve my health concerns.

The truth is, there is a lot about me that I don’t like. Not mere negative self image, but character flaws I want to overcome. Fear, worry and anxiety are still driving forces in my life. I make more decisions based on them than other motivators.

I no longer take risks like I used to. A case could be made that I learned form my mistakes. A case could also be made that I haven’t learned from my successes.

I want to be true to myself. But I want a better self to be true to. Perhaps I will find that true self buried inside as I explore the dark places in my heart. When I do, I’m pretty sure he will be less conforming than the me I already am.

The Disease of Self

Last week’s post brought up a lot of thoughts for me and a couple interesting conversations with friends, so I will continue the exploration of how we retain our self in a world that demands conformity.

An interesting moment arose when a friend mentioned a  Christian song he had just listened to that used the line “the disease of self”. The concept seems to grow around the idea that to be part of something bigger than ourselves is a good thing but to do so means that we must be entirely absorbed into that to the point that our own identity disappears.

I am in agreement that it is a powerful thing to be part of something bigger than myself. I have and have had the opportunity to do this several times in my life. I am part of the family I grew up in. I am part of my family now. I am part of a church as I have been a member of other churches. I have been on teams in spots and work. I am parts of creative groups, project groups and service groups. I am a part of the Kingdom of God. Connecting in that way, contributing to make something happen that can only come from a group effort is a wonderful thing.

But part of what makes this kind of participation work is that is made up of individuals. That different people with different skills and different ways of looking at things come together to make something more is truly powerful. If they didn’t maintain their uniqueness it couldn’t be powerful. It would be like trying to build a car engine out of nothing but spark plugs.

I don’t know how this idea that God wants us to be absolutely nothing or ourselves came to be. I think that passages of scripture that warn us against selfishness or that steer us toward being connected to community mean that we empty ourselves

To put it in terms that Tori Amos used – You’re just an empty cage if you kill the bird.

As disturbing as this concept seems to me, somehow it has traction. People buy into it. Is that because they want so badly to be part of something bigger than themselves that they are willing to make huge sacrifices for that? Is it because they want to be right, to do right and someone they empower with authority tells them this so they buy in? Are they onto something that I am just too dense to see?

Or maybe, the rhetoric has been around so long that no one questions it.

In the book of Revelation, the Bible tells about those that overcome will be given a stone with their name on it, their true name only known to them. That implies uniqueness and individuality of a deep variety. If mine is only known me and yours to you, that most certainly means that it is not the same name for both of us. God seems to be celebrating individuals, honoring the self of each person.

Then there is the point that God seems to really like individuals in the stories of the Bible. He seems to get angry at groups pretty quickly, but Abraham, Moses, and David all seems to connect with God in individual ways. God seems to like them for being who they uniquely are.

And what is the value of me being part of something bigger than myself if it is not me that is involved? To be part of a football team requires that I contribute to team goals and work with others to achieve them. But the strength of the team comes form the fact that I contribute differently than others on the team. Our differences working together is what makes us stronger. Otherwise it’s not a very good team.

St. Paul makes this point when he talks about different parts of the body having value by being different parts of the same body.

Selfishness is something to overcome. Being yourself is something to strive for. Find your identity and then blend that into something bigger than you. You will be part of something fantastic. Possibly even miraculous.

Being Myself

“To thine own self be true.” Polonius gives this advice to his son in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Ever sine reading that in high school, I have done my best, as far as I understand it, to live up to that saying. I have always tried to be me as much as possible, not conforming to what the world expects me to be.

Except when I had to assimilate. On the football team in high school, I had to adjust my playing style to fir the expectations of the position I played. Adapting to the role and using newly acquired skills to adjust to what I needed to do. Then more so in college as I learned to play in a different system, adjusting a to a faster game, becoming adept at new skills needed for new positions.

Adapting isn’t the same as conforming is it?

My college coach once told me that some people march to the beat of a different drum, but that I had “my own dadgum parade”. Yes he said dadgum. That’s the way you  swear in a Christian institution that prohibits swearing.

He was referring to my general person, my unwillingness to flow with the fashion trends of the late eighties, my willingness to be different from most of the college population, to definitely deviate from the standard appearance and personality of my teammates. Part of that was that I didn’t have the money to buy the same clothes, part of it was refusal to get the Top Gun haircut that girls all thought was so hot.

Part of this was trying to be myself, to tailor my appearance to what I liked. Part of this was a conscious attempt to avoid what everyone else. i was conforming to the antipathy of what everyone else was conforming to. I created the counterbalance to what the masses flocked to by flocking away.

Then over the years, I have toned this down or amped it up as I felt I needed to keep the attention of the current girlfriend. Yep, I was that guy. I wouldn’t conform to society as a whole, but bent willingly to the whims of the woman at my side.

Bills came and job to pay the bills. then the need to get a better job to get more money to pay for bigger bills. It became a ridiculous cycle.

But jobs require adaptation if you want to keep getting paid or get paid better. Workplace cultures drive assimilation. I found myself conforming in new ways to new circumstances while trying my best to remain me as much as I could.

I needed frequent self reflection to try to be certain of who I was, who I wanted to be and keep that piece clear as I learned to play new societal roles.

New ways this manifests is in my writing and speaking. As I learn to grow in both, I find that my skills need to develop, to evolve Sometimes this requires that I do things that I am not comfortable with. Trying different tone and cadence. Am I still being true to myself as I do this? Am I strengthening my voice? Or am I making it like someone else’s.

I like that I am growing and changing. I like that I have some things that are always there as part of me. Reconciling these feels difficult at times and simple at others. Self reflection plays a key role in this.  This blog plays a key role in that.

Can I move forward, change and grow and stay true to myself at the same time?

Today is a new day, so I will see how it goes. same for tomorrow and the day after that. Adapt but not conform; stay the same while changing; that is a mystery each day brings and an assessment for each night.

If I can’t accomplish that, then I am not me. And if I am not me, then it is a wasted day, a day that I didn’t connect with eternity.

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