33

33

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Highway 33, one of my favorite places in the world. That lovely photo from the top of Reyes Peak looking south to Port Hueneme, Oxnard, Ventura, Carpenteria, and Santa Barbara that is the main header for this blog? That was taken at the end of the Pine Mountain Summit turnoff from Highway 33 in the Sespe Wilderness.

33.

A fun number I suppose.  Not extraordinary.  Not a nice round number ending in a tidy “0.”  Not a number to be counted off by 5s.  A palendrome to be sure, like all its elevensy kin.  They don’t make special cards for 33rd birthdays.

Maybe they should.

I couldn’t tell you when or what sermon it was, but I remember hearing one of my favorite preachers, Alistair Begg, once say in a sermon something to the effect that he thought that God must love birthday parties because they are about celebrating life.

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That's a really yummy pound cake by the way, there were fresh strawberries and freshly-whipped cream to go with it. Was I really ever nineteen? So young...so innocent...so long ago.

Life is certainly worth celebrating.

The calendar of my life will turn a page this week, and I will add another candle to the proverbial cake.

If I were a tree, the 2012-2013 growth ring would be very thin, and fire scorched on one side.  This has not been the worst year of my life, but it certainly has been one of the leanest and most discouraging.  There are a lot of reasons to take pause and want to forget most of the past year…

…but there is love and beauty to be found on even the darkest days.

I haven’t had a full-time job in eleven months.  That’s not encouraging at all.  The run-up to the election did not bode well for the job market for office contract work, it just didn’t.  I eventually just gave up and decided to throw my hat in the ring for university.

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Sacred Heart Chapel...GO LIONS!

Got in…to my first choice school…one of the most prestigeous universities in Southern California…very easily…on my first try. This wasn’t a gift — I worked really hard, have what it takes…and proved it.

But I can’t go.

Then the car accident.

Then the recovery.

I’ve been sick ever since, no prospects for work, little hope for school (though, on paper, I am “going” for fall; if I can find a cosigner I can make that a reality).  No clue how I connect the dots from the ghetto to grad school (trying to finish the last two years of undergrad in Theological Studies).  No clue how or where I will find work — meaningful or not.  No car in L.A. is no asset.  Intelligence is no asset without the credentials to prove it.

My credentials prove nothing to potential employers (except, perhaps, instability).  God has a plan in this somewhere.  God?  Yeah, hi — a little direction in this would be nice.

I watched God open doors in supernatural ways — open them WIDELY — toward a bright and promising future, the way out of so much long struggle and despair.  I ended up at dinner with someone oblivious to the fact that he was the devil’s mouthpiece for temptation to the easy way through school.

Was I willing to compromise my integrity to accept help from someone with less-than-honorable motives?

No.

[Sidebar: Realizing that what started out as a business meeting has turned into a dinner date with the devil is terrifying.]

All hell broke loose at that point.  Thanks-be-to-God for protecting me from much worse harm last December.  Much was broken and destroyed, but I am mostly intact.  Life will go on.

A friend and a cousin each got married last summer (not to each other, but each to very lovely spouses) — blessed to be there.

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Annie Wigglewhiskers, 31 January 2013

Found Annie, lost Eleanor.

Lost a dear friend and mentor, got a precious baby niece.

Waiting for little Annie/Wentworth babies…any day.  A second generation of beautiful and precious — the combination of the two best-tempered guinea pigs I’ve ever had.  The kiddos of two of the most dear and precious pigs I’ve ever had.  I’ve loved these little ones since long before they were born, I only wish Eleanor could know them.

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I am waiting…waiting between now and forever.

In some ways? It’s hard to think about 33 — for in thirty-three years Jesus Christ was born, lived, accomplished his entire earthly ministry, died, rose, and ascended to heaven.

In thirty-three years…I can’t even seem to get my feet off the ground.

I was advised by a well-meaning friend back in 2000 to focus every bit of my energy and resources to getting back to school.  I didn’t, and I’m not sorry.  I was able to live a much richer life for making sure that I looked up, and out, and to the world and life beyond…not just singlely-focused on that vague thing “the future.”  There were so many people to meet, so many lives to touch, so many things to see…things to learn…days to fully live.

And life is never fully lived when one focuses only on one’s own self.  It is possible to miss all of life if too narrowly-focused (and what could be more narrow a focus than one’s own self?).

“The future” moves anyway.  It’s clear where I’m supposed to be.  God will get me there…someday.

Today is not that day; tomorrow doesn’t look good either.

There are moments when I am momentarily angry or sad for my struggle.  Is it fair that I have had to struggle so hard for so long…only to just stand still?  Some of my former professors and friends share in this frustration.  Sometimes blessings don’t seem to be distributed evenly or equatably — do little eighteen and nineteen year-old slackers with parents supporting them in everything really deserve a free ride?  No, but we don’t live in a karmic universe.  If life made sense, they would be living in the ghetto and pining for entry-level work.

Life doesn’t make sense, maybe life isn’t supposed to make sense, at least not in a karmic way anyway.  I honestly don’t think it matters.  Whether life is or isn’t fair, what does that really change about anything?  Will singing the injustices of your own world really change anything?  Not so much, but it will let you wallow in unalterable misery.  Will that really change anything?

Yes: it will keep you miserable, self-centered and miserable.

Because, really, to some degree life really is what you make of it.

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And at some point the question that needs to be asked, wrestled with, reckoned with is: what’s the point? What gets you up in the morning? Why bother getting up in the morning at all? What’s going to get you out of bed tomorrow morning?

Are you living life for yourself?

Are you living life for others?

Are you living life for God?

Are you living at all?

Are you merely alive and muddling through?

They’re honest questions, though perhaps incomfortable ones.

Living life for yourself: If you’re living life for yourself, you’ve set yourself up as the center of your own universe. Thus you get credit for the good, but when all hell breaks loose in your life, it’s on you to fix it — alone. Totally alone. You can’t give up, you can’t phone a friend, you just have to plod along. If this life is all there is, that’s it — the beginning and end of everything. Come what may, you’ve got to keep it together, because you’re all you’ve got. I know athiests who try to live good lives, but I can’t for the life of me figure out why. If no one’s keeping score, what’s the point of effort? In The Imitation of Christ, Thomas à Kempis writes at length on the idea that anything “great” one accomplishes in this world will be little noted nor long-remembered. Ashes-to-ashes, dust-to-dust, from dust you came, to dust you shall return. If we are all “dust” and no “soul,” there probably is no point. I absolutely DESPISE the writings of Eckhart Tolle, because I find him to be one preaching false ideas of “cafeteria spirituality” (take what you like of various theological and philosophical worldviews, crowd it together on a tray, and leave the rest), but one thing I think he got at least somewhat right is that most people live their lives in light of their own egos. His “what to do about that” is a view I feel to be dead wrong, but that’s another story for another post I never wish to write. But if you travel through life, perhaps driven by ego, as the center of your own universe, are you — yourself — reason enough for the universe to exist? If you are perhaps not an atheist but a vague deist trying to live a good and moral life, who sets the standard? How good is “good enough” to squeak into a benevolent afterlife? If it’s all on you — can you do it? Eternity is at stake here (no pressure). Living for yourself is empty, very empty.

Living life for others: Living life for others isn’t exactly wrong…unless you’re living life only for others. Because if you’re living life only for others, you’re setting yourself to be the center of someone else’s universe. It’s a quick trip to holding up all of the sky at that point. The pressure of living to carry the lives of others is enormous — no pressure, but you never get a day off and can never, ever, ever fail.

Not fail, not ever.

Your entire life exists for the sole purpose of only serving other humans — perhaps only one other human — with no higher purpose apart from this service. There is no glory or honor in that, you are a slave. And — no matter how much you love the person or how lovely the person might otherwise be — people are inconstant and disappointing. Eventually there will come a moment of resenting and feeling trapped under the weight of this life. “Oh, no, that sounds terrible…I’d never do that.” No? What’s first in your life? If you’re the type of person who makes idols out of relationships or the type of parent who stops at nothing to serve your children, this just might be you. Don’t tell yourself it’s love, it might not be love. If it is an all-consuming obsession and drive to serve, it’s not love. As the Bob Dylan song goes:

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

So what about the Lord?

Maybe this is the first of St. Val the Eccentric’s posts you’ve found. Could be…I’m an ecclectic person, I often throw a few odd tags — fitting, but odd — into every post. I have a pretty ecclectic following. If you’re following me, I’ve read at least some of your blog — enough to get a picture of who you are and what you’re about. I love the “tag cloud” widgit — tag clouds give a beautiful picture of what we write about. The biggest words in my tag cloud are: Christ, Christianity, encouragement, guinea pigs, hope, love, and theology.

This is me.

I am about hope, love, and encouragement all rooted in Christ Jesus (and also about guinea pigs, because I am “fearfully and wonderfully made,” and God decided I was supposed to be the Guinea Pig Whisperer, and I’m okay with that).

So…you knew it would come to this, yes?
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Nothing is more practical than finding God,
that is than falling in a love in a quite absolute, final way.

What you are in love with,
what seizes your imagination will affect everything.

It will decide what will get you out of bed in the mornings,
what you will do with your evenings,
how you spend your weekends,
what you read,
who you know,
what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.

Fall in love, stay in love and it will decide everything.

— Pedro Arrupe, S.J. (1907-1919), former Superior General of the Society of Jesus (i.e., the Jesuits)

Living life for God: Some time in the past calendar year, I quietly crossed a line and have now lived longer “beyond” the day when I was so powerfully redeemed from death so many years ago than all my natural life before it. That’s something to give me real pause. I’ve lived long enough to know and experience profound loss, and to also experience profound gratitude for the precious pieces of my life that remain. I struggle, however, with a general “elevator pitch” statement for why you, too, should love Jesus. All I know is that I was powerfully redeemed from death through faith and prayer, I am not the same person I was, God always keeps his promises (“I will never leave you or forsake you” being among them), and that even though sometimes God can seem to disappoint because my life doesn’t quite go the way I think it should…God is still sovereign and comes up with answers that are (in the end) better. My life is just better for God being in charge. I’m not sure I have a better answer than that.

A friend of mine sent me a quotation she found in her studies a few days ago:

“Faith is an expression of the fact that we exist so that the infinite God can dwell in us and work through us for the well-being of the whole creation. If faith denies anything, it denies that we are tiny, self-obsessed specks of matter who are reaching for the stars but remain hopelessly nailed to the earth stuck in our own self-absorption. Faith is the first part of the bridge from self-centeredness to generosity.”

— Volf, Miroslav (2009-08-30). Free of Charge (p 44). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

I think there is a whole lot of truth in that statement.
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“Men and Women for Others”: Pedro Arrupe, S.J. coined the phrase “men and women for others” in a famous 1973 address on the feast day of Ignatius of Loyola when he declared:

“[O]ur primary educational objective must be to form men and women for others, who believe that a love of self or of God that does not issue forth in justice for the least of their neighbors is a farce.”

That was part of the prompt I picked for my university admissions essay, and it’s stuck with me ever since. “Men and women for others” — isn’t that a very large componant of Christian discipleship?

I think it is (and argued it deftly…and will someday finish editing that essay to blog format).

Because the difference between merely living for others and living for God for others is that when we live for God for others, the motive is to serve God. What is on offer from God is such a beautiful and powerful gift — life, eternal and beautiful; we do not work for the kingdom to earn salvation, we work for the kingdom to glorify God with our lives in a gratitude response of obedience to his call to love and to serve. It’s a beautiful thing. Life and love are meant to be celebrated, not kept in a box on a shelf.

Life is, in many ways, what you make it. Celebrate life this day and every day. Love and bless others. Sparkle and shine.
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Grace Abounding

Grace Abounding

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I haven’t forgotten my Ignatian journey, but that journey has led me to a careful examination and contemplation of the lives of various individuals, Joshua among them.  As I’ve walked through a careful meditative study of Joshua’s life (and what God thought about Joshua and the promises made to Joshua by God), it has taken me through Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy in a couple days (yes, I am crazy like that).  What strikes me though, is the details of the various sins I’ve committed in my own life punishable by death.  There was a question in our study group tonight that asked how we reacted to the idea that God thinks we are “a keeper”?  My response is that the measure of God’s grace and mercy required for that to be true sends me to my knees and often flat on my face before the throne of God.

Good Friday is coming, but Maundy Thursday first.  The intertwining of Easter and Passover cannot be missed.  It is Christ’s blood on my doorpost.  I don’t deserve that.

I saw this earlier and it gives me chills (there is no appropriate response but love and gratitude):

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Transfiguring the world with joy

Transfiguring the world with joy

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As most who know me know, expressing an intriguing idea in my presence always carries with it the risk of me thinking deeply on the matter and then giving you my $0.02 (and by “my $0.02,” I of course mean $0.02…with about $17.98 in spare change to go with it).  In an e-mail to another Christian — one I admittedly do not know well, but know well ENOUGH to know that both Easter and Lent are on his radar screen — I closed with a cordial word of hope and a reference to the resurrection:

“As we, with all our brothers and sisters in Christ, progress through this holy season and prepare to celebrate the grace and mercy of the crucifixion and the glory of the resurrection, may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in your faith, that by the power of the Holy Spirit, your whole life and outlook may be radiant with hope.”

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His response was:

“Maybe joy of the resurrection transfigured our whole world”

Which, of course set me to tho thinking…and thinking…and thinking some more. What follows is my response…

[I preface the following with the reminder of my intent toward Theological Studies as a major…and that I have had more time than normal American humans to read/write/think about theology; normal American humans watch TV at night instead]

I thought about it, and maybe you’re right and the resurrection did transfigure the whole world. Maybe it’s like C.S. Lewis in The Last Battle where we come upon the dwarves who are in Aslan’s Country but think they are still in the stable and actually came to a place of such total resolve to self-reliance that they were blind to the truth of reality? Lucy begged for compassion for them, but they were not able to receive it because their own perspective was too warped. Or perhaps it is like all the “ghosts” in The Great Divorce — the ones who wouldn’t get on the bus, the ones who wouldn’t get off the bus, the ones who headed back to the bus, the ones who couldn’t be persuaded to stay and preferred the awfulness of the place from whence they came? That place that may or may not have been heaven was available to anyone if his or her heart and mind were in a place to be able to receive the beauty and blessings that were on offer…yet many either left that offer on the table or else were so damnably self-absorbed they never knew the offer had been made. The joy of the resurrection may or may not have transfigured the whole world, but even if it did I can tell you truly that not everyone in the world has noticed. There is a lot of dark brokenness in this world trying to mess things up and distract people away from the glorious joy and truth of the promises fulfilled by the crucifixion/resurrection/ascension. Those three are inseparably co-dependent on each other to fully complete God’s great rescue plan, and while I think I need to think about this a little more before I’m comfortable to give what I’m about to write status as my “final answer,” I’m leaning in the direction that — of the three — the ascension was and is the one that has had the biggest impact for transfiguring the whole world because the transforming power of the Holy Spirit is “present progressive.”
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Christ is truly awesome in every sense of the word, but in life the gospels are replete with stories of desperate people following him in great thronging crowds for just the chance to MAYBE encounter this Jesus. And though his resurrected body apparently had cool abilities like being able to walk through walls, there was still only one of him. A pastor friend of mine preached a very good sermon last fall as part of a series on The Nicene Creed where he ran through a very amusing “What if?” on “What if there was no ascension?” as the intro. It was imaginatively funny, but drove home the point in a way I don’t think I’ll ever forget, because without the ascension we wouldn’t have the Holy Spirit. And it’s the Holy Spirit that makes possible Christ’s power in plurality across the whole world and all time. Christ set his immediate world ablaze, but the Holy Spirit set the WHOLE world ablaze (and being at least 7/8 filthy gentile scum in ancestry, thanks be to God for THAT!). And while God is God is God regardless of person, and while the Holy Spirit’s primary function is to point to Christ, the Holy Spirit enables Christ’s power to transfigure the world in an amazingly unique (and present progressive!!! 😀 ) way.
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So while the crucifixion and resurrection began the transfiguration of the world, I would argue that the best news of all is that the Holy Spirit has been/is/continues to carry the torch for the transforming power of Christ in the world. But I reiterate, even such a great and glorious manifestation of Christ’s power still — on some level — requires notice to be appreciated; notice of God and Christ is inversely proportional to degree of self-focus (and my brain with its Calvinist bend is of the view that the primary operating gear of humanity in its post-fall “natural” state is “self-focus”).

So all that to say that I think I agree with you, but with some corollary modifications to your original statement (mea culpa, it’s the mathematician in me).

Blessings to you in all things

Latest Lenten post up (Gratitude)

Latest Lenten post up (Gratitude)

I FINALLY finished the third Lenten post on gratitude. You can find it here:

Day 3 — Gratitude (Monday, 18 February – Monday, 4 March, 2013)

If you missed either of the first two, the links are at the main page for the Lenten series here.

My morning wake-up bug hunt

One of the more disgusting aspects of my present missionary post, as it were, is that we are overrun with roaches (nasty on levels you don’t want to think about).  In addition to sweltering heat, there are bugs.  It’s gross.  These do not feel like “first-world” problems.  The first thing I saw this morning when my alarm went off was a small roach scurrying toward my bookshelf.  It ran around a volume of Thomas Merton and a volume of three collected works of Augustine.  Seemed a pity to kill the beast since it obviously had good taste in theology, but it had to be done.  I found it amusing, however, that it selected two works which well-complemented each other.

Yuck.

Blessings for your Sunday.

Finding friends among the “fools for Christ” and “friends of God”

St. Francis of Assisi coined the phrase “fool for Christ” — may we all live and die so “foolish” as St. Francis!!!!

As I’ve read the Bible over the years, and paused to reflect on the lives and the story of the lives within, it often strikes me that I would be friends with some of them  had we ever lived contemporary to each other “in real life.”

I think I could have been married to this one.

If your friends could describe your life with one word, what would it be?  I like this life and the answer of this man’s friends.  One of my heroes…in the quietest way possible.

Truth For Life with Alistair Begg — “Son  of Encouragement”