Her Fault

I left town earlier this week to attend a writer’s conference in North Carolina. When I called home to catch up on the day’s events in Knoxville, my wife shared a telling story from daycare.

Our daughter had recently graduated into the next age group at school, leaving behind some of her friends.  On this particular day one of her former partners in crime had graduated to the new class – a reunion accompanied by much rejoicing.

Their former teacher peaked into the new room and immediately started composing a text message to send to my wife. Away from the frenetic activity, a safe distance from the shouts of “Mine” and “No”, my daughter and her friend had escaped to the corner of  the room with the only friends they needed – piles and piles of books.

File one in the win column for nurture. This was a development that surprised no one in our families.

There’s a story my in-laws like to tell on my wife – about the time, in a fit of rage at a baby-sitter she deemed immature, she stormed off with a charge that still echoes: “I don’t like you. I’m going to my room to read.”

Years later, there’s not a room in our house where you couldn’t do that, because every one of them is filled with books. Most of them are mine.

They say confession is good for the soul. But I do have a defense. When it comes to my guilt in the passing on of this genetic obsession, it’s clearly my mother’s fault.

While our house is a minefield of books and toddler toys, there’s no such competition for space in my parents’ house. Words fill the house at the top of the driveway – books, magazines, newspapers, cookbooks – there isn’t a room that doesn’t bear witness to our need to turn letters into words and to group words into sentences. I suggested to my father that we buy my mom a Kindle for Mother’s Day a few years ago, an invitation he quickly accepted: “Anything to keep any more books out of this house.”

My first memory of yelling “Read!” to my mom was for more Cat in the Hat. She later badgered me into picking up Run With the Horsemen and even introduced me to John Irving, the gift that will never stop giving.

There was the time she told me I had to read this book on my high school summer reading list. It was so good, she told me. It had changed her life. Apparently this life change wasn’t as accessible to high school boys, because when it came time to discuss the book in September, I was the only guy in the room.

When I was trying to figure out what to do with my life in college, she wouldn’t shut it up about it – “Why don’t you go write for the campus newspaper?  You love to read.”

I put her off as long as I could. You go to college to get away from your parents telling you what to do – not the other way around. But it was like she knew. I didn’t hate it. I loved it. I loved it maybe like I hadn’t loved anything else.

The truth is that I exited the womb with the cynicism of a curmudgeon and the mouth of a sailor – which is to say that when it came to newspapers I was a natural. Before long I wasn’t just a reporter but an editor. The office on the top floor of the student center became a second home, reading and writing, cutting and fixing, all in anticipation of the feel of the fresh copy in my hands when I was one of the first to liberate it from the rack.

It wasn’t long before my Tuesday and Friday nights were spoken for and I was off working for the local newspaper. You can actually get paid to chronicle high school sports and write about the exploits and heartaches of small town heroes.

Eventually I left the newspaper and ended up in seminary, where I read a lot and wrote even more. I started writing and preaching sermons and one day I started researching what some people told me were called blogs.

I started one – and after I posted a few times I began to hear it again. She was relentless. I guess that’s the way moms are. At least mine is.

“You have a gift. You have to keep doing this.”

That’s how I ended up this week on the front pew of a church in North Carolina, pen in one hand and notebook in the other, writing and scribbling as fast as I could. In a sanctuary full of writers, I was just like everyone else, a hungry pilgrim searching for inspiration to form the letters and make the words sing.

What brought us together was more than those letters and words, however. This was a journey to rest in the presence of the Spirit.

As I walked out the door of that thin place where I glimpsed the work of God, I imagined my wife and daughter a few hundred miles away, reading together. I thought about the computer in my bag that was was going to birth some new stories. And I gave thanks for the books that had been hoisted upon me and the vocation that someone wouldn’t let me escape.

It’s her fault.

Thanks Mom.

 

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The Shrinking Gap

It’s currently seven degrees outside – yes, 7.

That’s what happens when you head north between Christmas and New Years Eve.

Thankfully warmer weather awaits us at home – and we will get there. But we’ve got about ten hours in the car between where we are now and where we want to be.

That’s what the end of the old year and the beginning of the new year are often about – the distance between our current location and our desired destination. We make resolutions – even if we don’t call them that. We set goals – even if that’s a phrase we don’t like to use. We might not make a big deal about it and we might not even say it out loud, but what we want is to shrink the distance between where we are and where we would like to be.

I, like everybody else, have some things I’d like to do a little differently in 2018 than I did in 2017. I’d like to write more and dawdle on the Internet less. I’d like the elliptical machine to function more like a piece of exercise equipment and less like a decorative piece. I’d like to spend more time doing the things that matter to me and a whole lot less time caring about the things that don’t.

I’ll probably write more about that early next week, once the calendar officially turns. But first, I want to celebrate at least one place I saw this gap narrow in 2017.

One of the prayers I’ve been praying for a long time has been for God to show me how to make more room for God in my life. I work in church and spend a lot of time figuring out how to help other people grow in their faith. But I know all too well the pressures and distractions that push and pull me away from what I need most.

So, like a lot of people, I’ve been asking God for a while to help me prepare the way of the Lord – to show me the way to clear out what I need rid of so I can receive what God wants to give me.

The truth is that there is so much more to the life that God wants to give than what I make room for. Jesus wants to abide, to find plenty of room in my life to fill me up for what I was made for. But it has been too easy for me to pack my life full of so many things that there isn’t a whole lot of room left for anything or anyone else.

Thanks to God, and with a lot of help from the Jesuits, I actually learned how to carve out a bit of room this year.

One of the spiritual practices that I’ve wanted to try for a long time has been the Examen, a way to pray that comes from the spiritual exercise of Ignatius of Loyola.

I finally decided to try it during Lent this past year. I received plenty of gifts praying this way during Lent – reviewing and praying from the experiences of the day – but the most significant one was noticing all the ways God was present in the ordinary moments of my day.

Or, as Ignatius might say, I began to notice how God was in all things.

Midway through the year I picked up a book I had ordered a while ago – Kevin O’Brien’s The Ignatian Adventure. It’s a year-long journey through the Spiritual Exercises. I had been reading about Ignatian Spirituality in a variety of places the last couple of years. It was as if God had been dropping me a hint and I finally decided to see where the hint led.

What I discovered by following the hint was how much the structured prayer became the anchor I desperately needed.

What I had been missing wasn’t a desire to pray or the knowledge of how to connect with God. It was the structure and the consistency in the guide that helped me remain rooted and disciplined in the practice of prayer. Each morning’s reading grounded me in Scripture and invited me to consider how my story is intersecting with God’s. I’ve had the opportunity to pray in new ways and to take stock of how God it at work in my life, my family, my job and my faith.

Some of what God is doing has yet to reveal itself. But there is one easy way to note how that gap I mentioned earlier is shrinking – I’ve almost run out of room in my morning prayer journal.

One of my friends challenged me a few months ago with a simple question – “Daniel, how do you celebrate your successes?”

“I don’t.”

“Well you better figure something out then,” he said.

I know that the progress of the last half of 2017 is relatively small. There’s still plenty of work to do and many more gifts God wants to give me. I know there’s still a lot of clutter to get rid of and many choices to make in order to become the person God wants to shape me into becoming.

But any progress in the spiritual life is worth celebrating. Any grace received is worthy of gratitude.

 

Practices For Making Room

If you want to make more room for God in your life, here are a few spiritual practices that helped me make room in 2017.

  1. Slow Down. Almost every spiritual teacher I read this year stressed that one of the most important things we have to do to grow in our connection with God is to slow down. Slowing down allows us to pay attention to ourselves – our bodies as well as our emotions, other people and the creation that God has given us. Making room in your schedule to slow down will likely lead you to make more room for God.
  2. Be Quiet. A teacher in graduate school once told me that the best way to pray was to stare at a wall and not talk for a long time. The practice would almost force you to listen and hear from God. I don’t know about the wall, but a consistent practice of silence in prayer is a great gift, particularly for those of us who talk a lot. I’ve started with just three minutes at a time. This is something I am going to try to be more consistent with in my spiritual practice in 2018.
  3. Create a Routine. I’ve often thought this was overrated, but I now know it’s not. Getting to work a little early so I can read and pray first thing in the morning has been a game-changer for me.
  4. Turn Off The Internet (and Cable News). Learning how to limit time on the Internet (except when reading and sharing my posts) can be a way to focus on what is happening in your life and how God is at work.  Spirituality doesn’t mean being ignorant of the issues of the day or how what’s happening in the world affects people created and loved by God. But particularly right now, the way we consume and experience news can do a lot to lead us away from God.
  5. Pray. Repeat. One of my friends invited me to participate in a challenge where people of all faiths prayed sentence prayers one thousand times per day. One example would be the Jesus Prayer (Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me a sinner). It changed the way I experienced my day to pray and remember God that many times. It reminded me of the goodness of God as I went about my day – in meetings at work, while walking the dog, in preparing dinner, and as I relaxed at the end of the day. It felt a whole lot like growing toward praying without ceasing.
  6. Start The Day Right.  Instead of turning straight for your phone when you wake up, what if you began your day with the Lord’s Prayer or the Apostle’s Creed or by praying over what you expect to be the significant events of your day? The Beatitudes or Psalm 23 could also help you begin well.

 

Guides For Making Room

We all need guides to show us the way. Here are a few of the guides who helped me close the gap this year. You might find them as one part of God’s grace for you as well.

1. The Ignatian Adventure, Kevin O’Brien

2. Sacred Rhythms, Ruth Haley Barton

3. Pilgrimage of a Soul, Phileena Heuertz

4. The Gift of Being Yourself, David Benner

5. The Good and Beautiful God, James Bryan Smith 

6. Wearing God, Lauren Winner

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Six For Your Weekend – Plus Some News on Moving Day

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If certain religious services were less about preening about one’s own virtue or pointing fingers at somebody else’s iniquity and more about tackling human needs around us, this would be a better world — and surely Jesus would applaud as well. -Nicholas Kristof

Six Reads that will inspire you, make you think and help make your weekend a bit better.

What Religion Would Jesus Belong To, Nicholas Kristof

“This may seem an unusual column for me to write, for I’m not a particularly religious Christian. But I do see religious faith as one of the most important forces, for good and ill, and I am inspired by the efforts of the faithful who run soup kitchens and homeless shelters.”

What I Learned in the School Cafeteria, Caroline Lamar

“I’m pretty positive the kingdom of Heaven looks exactly like a school cafeteria. Fellowship over the table. Laughter. Sitting with people who don’t always look like you or talk like you or believe the same things.  But there they were all there together, gathered around a table. I cannot imagine a more beautiful view.”

A Farewell Guide to Political Journalism, Ron Fournier

“A great article on leadership with serious implications for church leaders: (Don’t lose sight of your mission, remember who you work for, Build Relationships, Integrity is Everything, Own Your Convictions) “A reporter’s job is to get as close to the truth as possible, overriding personal biases and sifting through a rising churn of spin and lies to explain what happened and why it matters. At its highest levels, journalism informsprovokes, and holds powerful people accountable (with no fear or favor).”

Stop Touting the Crazy Hours You Work, Jena McGregor

“The idea that being well-rested could be a black mark against a leader is preposterous. And even if a super early wake-up time works for some people — and they’re sensitive about sending out email before dawn — if you’re having to get up at 4 a.m. to avoid distractions in your day, there’s probably something wrong with how we’re working.”

Hillbilly Elegy: J.D. Vance on Faith in Appalachia, Kelsey Dallas 

“I lived in a pretty chaotic and hopeless world. Faith gave me the belief that there was somebody looking out for me, that there was a hopeful future on the other side of all the things I was going through.”

To Attract Young People to Your Church, You’ve Got to be Warm, Not Cool, Kara Powell, Jake Mulder and Brad Griffin

“Ironically, it is possible that your church might be working against warmth by offering myriad programs. Busyness doesn’t equal warmth.”

A Bit of News…

I’m excited to announce that on Tuesday, I’ll be moving my writing to a new place on the web.  In short, I’m looking forward to sharing my new website with you on Tuesday.

It’s been a long time coming and more work than I expected, but I believe it will be worth the effort. My hope is that it will not only be a more attractive and better space from which to write, but more importantly, that it will make it easier to share resources and create community that will help all of us with the things I care about and tend to write about – church, the hunt for grace and the search for joining what we most desperately believe with how we actually live.

If all this sounds like something you might be interested in, you can learn more by following the link to sign up for my email list here, and I’ll send you a preview of the new space on Monday (Note: If you already subscribe to this blog by email, you don’t need to resubscribe to the website. If you follow via your wordpress account, however, you will need to resubscribe).  And if you aren’t impatient (or don’t care that much), you can watch for it on social media on Tuesday.

Thanks so much for reading and I hope you have a great weekend.

With Gratitude,

Daniel

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Six For Your Long Weekend

If you really want people to be tough, make them idealistic for some cause, make them tender for some other person, make them committed to some worldview that puts today’s temporary pain in the context of a larger hope. – David Brooks

I hope these reads help you think, help you connect but mostly help you enjoy a restful long weekend.  It’s been a long, hot summer.  Enjoy the space an extra day can bring you.  If you catch a moment or two, click on one of these.

Making Modern Toughness, David Brooks 

Dear Burning Man, It’s Not You, It’s Me, April Dembosky

“How do you maintain a freshness and a sense of innocence and discovery for something when you’re doing it over and over and over again?”

Nine Labyrinths for Restless Souls to Wander in Their Lifetime, Carol Kuruvilla

“The narrowness of the path helps focus the mind.”

Ann Patchett on Stealing Stories, Book Tours and Staying Off Twitter

“The best of me is always going to be in the book. I gave the book everything. I’m proud of it. I can sign it or read from it or tweet about it or gift wrap it but the book itself is still the same. If you’ve got that, you’ve got me.”

The Resurrection Isn’t An Argument, It’s the Christian Word for Defiance, Giles Frazier

“I know the Church of England is supposed to be dying. And there are those who want to save it with cod management theory and evangelical up-speak. But if we as a church really believe in death and resurrection, then we don’t really need any of that secular sorcery. There has been a priest in my parish continuously since the reign of King John in the early 13th century. Politicians call it resilience. I call it resurrection.”

The Bread of Blessing or the Stone of Original Sin, Danielle Shroyer

“What if we recognized that the story scripture has been trying to tell us, page after page after page, is that the basis of our nature is not sin but God’s unwavering love for us? What if our children were told this so often and so persistently and so passionately that they were able to move through both feats and failures with an anchoring in the One who made them?”

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Six For Your Weekend

Maybe redemption is the only possible story my life is telling. We are all being written together by a generous author. – Micha Boyett

These made me think, made me slow down and one even made me laugh out loud. I hope your weekend treats you well, and if you catch a few moments, enjoy one or two of these essays.

Simply Love, Amanda Tingle

Following a Forgotten Jesus, Ken Carder

The Real Nothing: Augustine, Evil and Race, Adam Ployd

The Look of Love, Anne Pierson Wiese

I Overlooked the Rural Poor – Until Trump Came Along, Tish Harrison Warren

Here On the Couch, Sarah Bessey

And a bonus for all you football fans can’t wait for it all to start again…

The Idiot Optimist’s Guide to the 2016 Season, Will Shelton

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