Open Books

by Assisted Living

Each of us belongs to larger groups or systems that have some investment in our staying exactly the same as we are now. If we begin to change our old patterns of silence or vagueness or ineffective fighting and blaming, we will inevitably meet with a strong resistance or countermove. This “Change back!” reaction will come both from inside our own selves and from significant others around us. We will see how it is those closest to us who often have the greatest investment in our staying the same, despite whatever criticisms and complaints they may openly voice. We also resist the very changes that we seek. This resistance to change, like the will to change, is a natural and universal aspect of all human systems.

(From Harriet Lerner’s The Dance of Anger pgs. 14-15)

Quote of the Day

Photo Thanks to Jon Tyson

Photo Thanks to Jon Tyson

I’m posting quotes as we go through the fuzzy zone of being new parents again in these next days. This quote comes from Jaco Hamman (Becoming a Pastor, 71):

Ministry, like any other truly human activity, emerges from your inwardness, for better or worse. As you lead and pray, you project the condition of your inner space and those around you. Ministry opens the window to your soul.

Tentativeness + Foolishness


Photo Thanks to Ryan McGuire

There is a person in the world that I avoid. And yet I meet this person often. Each time I see him coming, I shudder just a bit. Because I don’t like this person.

I don’t like what she brings out of me, what he pulls from my depths. This person is the personification of pride and, to be clear, of the arrogant variety. I’ve known over the years that I didn’t like pride. I knew before I knew that pride was a life problem of mine.

I knew this growing up and while growing up because I had surrounded myself with people who had similar psychic needs. I knew that one of my life’s goals was the constant attentiveness to who I am and who I am not.

I knew that one of my existing internal conflicts would be the exacting appraisal of my true identity—my true self—as opposed to, in opposition to, wrestling with and reconciling with my false self.

That kind of wrestling-turned-reconciliation produces tentativeness in me. In other words, it makes me react with less speed. And I’m a person who knows things. I deliberate but when I know something, I work from that knowing. I have a sense of things. I say that with all humility…

There are things that I get, things that I know. And when you’re used to getting things, it’s hard to be tentative because tentativeness is the expression of not knowing. Why be tentative when you don’t need to be?

And then, of course, I meet all the reasons in the world to be humble. I meet all the things in me that stand between who I am and my true self, which is, for the sake of my written review here, humility.

Humility is the negotiation between who I am and who I am not. It’s landing on the side of reality. In a world that frames days based upon fantasy, humility is hard to cultivate. Humility takes work, and in a world where commercials are filled with hype, the work is too hard to be realistic.

Between tentativeness and humility is foolishness. Foolishness is the experience of life between some epistemological rupture, where old ways of knowing fall flat and shatter—leaving you tentative—and a better, more precise expression of your is-ness. Your “I really is humble.”

The bridge between those two is foolishness. And who wants to look like a fool much less be one?

I have a memory of somebody in my upbringing using as a bad name “Boo Boo, the fool.” Nobody wanted to be Boo Boo, the fool. Whoever Boo Boo was, the name alone was a commercial against him.

And yet I’ve started to aspire to be Boo Boo. I’ve started to look forward to the indispensable role foolishness plays in setting me up to be, perfectly, wonderfully, humbly me.

Friends vs. Strangers

Photo Thanks to Kevin Curtis

Photo Thanks to Kevin Curtis

In a day I spend time working with three people: participants in mission at church; patients in a hospital setting, usually in medically intensive situations; and students preparing for continued ministry. All of those people are experiencing some thing in life that is calling out to them, emerging within them.

In the church, we are hearing and speaking to one another around an old and almost common event, reflecting upon the life of Jesus and what that life means now. In the hospital we are generally responding to the crisis of the medical moment and the myriad of ways hospitalization matters to people. In the learning environment (and I’m in three of them in one way or another), we are inspecting the materials available to us for preparation, refinement, and formation.

All those settings are identity shaping settings. In each place, we question—and I do this as a leader or caregiver or teacher—what’s happening and how those happenings turn us into the people we are. Jaco Hamman said, “Many of us live most of the time as strangers to ourselves” (From Becoming a Pastor: Forming Self and Soul for Ministry, p. 10).

When I read Hamman’s words, they struck me because they were a reminder that most of the time, we can be distant from our selves, strangers to ourselves. We can be strangers to the things that shape us and to who we are as shaped, identified people.

How do we get to know who we are? Where are the places in life that reveal, construct, critique, reform, affirm, and embolden identity? I’m paying attention to how my working worlds are more than places I go; there are places I’m made. The same is true for home and circles of friendship. Those are the contexts where identity happens. When we sit in those places with open eyes, we get closer to ourselves. We become friends to ourselves.

“…who live by faith.”

Thanks to Rowan Heuvel

Thanks to Rowan Heuvel

We have imaginations, intuitions, and moments of awakening that disturb us into awareness of dimensions of circumambient reality that we can only name, on our own, as “mystery.” And yet our feet mire in the clay of everyday toil–getting and giving, spending and being spent–in the struggle for survival and meaning. In the midst of contingency, suckled on uncertainty, we spend our blessed and threatened years becoming selves through relationships of trust and loyalty with others like us–persons and communities. We attach to one another in love; we struggle with one another in fidelity and infidelity. We share our visions of ultimate destiny and calling, our projections in hope, our moments of revelation in awe, and our fear in numbness or protest. We are language-related, symbol-borne, and story-sustained creatures. We do not live long or well without meaning.

That is to say, we are creatures who live by faith. We live by forming and being formed in images and dispositions toward the ultimate conditions of our existence.

From James W. Fowler’s Becoming Adult, Becoming Christian, pg 39.

Choosing To Be A Dad

I think a lot about work/life balance these days.  How to balance career and family and how much my level of effort at work balances my level of effort at home.

We just finished a release at work and while the high fives were going around, I left. I walked out of the building at a few minutes after five. I had worked hard these past few months to get the release out the door, I was proud of my effort, but I only wanted to see my daughter.  Walking out of that building, I felt an immense sense of accomplishment and pride in what I had done there.  Walking into my apartment at 5:45 on a Friday and being greeted with “Daddy’s home” I forgot it all.

Why is it so hard to leave work at work?  I know that my family needs me more than my job does.  I know that a few extra minutes at home could mean the difference between being there for and missing a First. And yet there is a struggle.  Is it the immediacy of the problems at work?  Is it the sense of accomplishment or a swelling ego that causes me to work beyond what is required? Is it because my parents taught me how to work hard and I’m just applying life lessons?

I think it’s actually a lot simpler than that, for me at least.  The reality of the situation is that I’m good at my job and doing well makes me happy.  When I’m at home, I’m not as good.  I’m more necessary but less effective. I’m more likely to get pooped on than to save the day with a solution.  I’m more likely to miss a cue for hunger than see through the noise for that one necessary thing.  Being home is harder than being at work and I think that I, as a dad, need to admit that to myself and to my wife.

The hallmark of my next step of maturation will be to be present in situations that are difficult and to go there, even when more comfort lies elsewhere.  It’s not about work/life balance.  It’s about choosing to be a dad with a job instead of an employee with two roommates.

“Words Are Too Small”

Emily Allen quotes her sister friend, Sophia, who is reflecting on her son’s diagnosis and experience of Leukemia.  Her son, Jacob, was experiencing hair loss around that time:

I did not cry, not there, but later when going through the pictures of hair falling off. 
It’s just hair, you can say but no, it’s so much more. 
It’s love. 
It’s a statement. 
It’s hope. 
It’s pain.
It’s a side-effect.
It’s a mother’s heart.
Words are too small. 
I have seen my son’s hair fall off, seen the chemotherapy side-effects, all of them.
It is hair, but it is a big deal It is part of our identity, a part we cut and style and color and pay for to feel prettier. 
Without hair we look different, naked, people notice. 
I know God was there, counting, every single hair that fell, every tear. 
And he is there when new grows back, there in every moment.

I read this here at Rachel Held Evans’s blog.

Boycotting Chicken, Securing Identity

Much of the time when we shop we’re probably not assuming the store owner shares our particular values and beliefs.  This is true of both small businesses and larger corporations: the thought of shared values didn’t cross my mind at the local hot dog joint on Thursday or while buying ice at Walgreens on Sunday morning.  There are, however, certain brands that ask for more than our dollars; they’re interested in our identities.  They hope we will align ourselves with what they’re selling.  This makes great sense for the company but much less so for us.  Discovering something about our favorite brands that obviously clashes with who we hope to be creates – to slightly overstate it – an identity crisis.

So we are left to boycott a company we love not because of gross exploitation – again, we don’t think this way about many of the companies we frequent – but because of how closely we’ve become identified with their products and experiences.

Christians are people who don’t construct our identities but, rather, have them secured for us in Jesus.  We are who we are because of who God is rather than anything so profane as a corporate marketing strategy.  Does this mean Christians of all political leanings shouldn’t boycott?  I don’t think so.  But living differentiated from the shallow identities of savvy corporations may allow us to think differently about what what we abstain from, and why.

Read all of David’s post here.