Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Give Audible a Try

For about six years now, I've been a member of Audible.com and have been downloading audiobooks that I listen to while I exercise, commute, do chores, or just chill on the couch. It's been a way for me to fit more reading into my lifestyle, and the spoken medium adds another interesting layer of color to the text.

Right now, Audible is offering 30 days free for one of their listener plans and for everyone who enrolls they will donate $10 to a literacy program. And as far as I can tell, there's no free goodies for me for referring you so you can take this as an unbiased recommendation. But in case they ask, my username is kezekiel.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Lifehack.org: 10 Simple Ways to Save You From Messing Up Your Life

Worth a read... and quite timely for the Zekester. Hat tip: Digg.com.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

First Discipline: Thanksgiving

So, this week I began to take on the discipline of giving thanks. This consists of using my morning time (working out, the shower, commute time, etc.) for thinking about what I'm grateful for, then writing down at least ten things daily, then thinking of at least one person to express my gratitude to. It's been an interesting process. Here's some of the things on my list so far for this week:

  • that I'm taking on discipline
  • that I got up this morning to do yoga
  • that my car runs well
  • that (person) has been easy to work with
  • for chai lattes--like joy in a cup!
  • that my daughter had a good day in classes last night
  • that my wife has a heart to care for other people
You get the picture. I'm looking at a list of about 40 of those types of things right now.

I know that disciplines are taken on for their own sake, but I don't mind mentioning some positive side effects. I would say that much more than usual this week, I have been pretty calm and accepting of things. Not my usual worry-worting. And without getting into the specifics, evidence popped up that I had been worrying needlessly about something important in my life.

I must admit, I have had my mind on things just a little bit higher than what's on my desk and my email inbox, which is a fine development.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Wanted: Discipline

Over the last few years, I've settled into two very reluctant realizations: One, that I had turned into a frumpy, graying pudgepot; and Two, that it was possible for me not to be that way. The first was factually hard to see otherwise; whatever mental image I had in my mind of what I thought I looked like (thinner and more vigorous, certainly) wouldn't survive a reality-check in the mirror. The second realization was a tougher one, as it meant that I actually could do something about it if I really wanted to.

So for the past few months, I've taken on a fairly serious program of diet and exercise. Sure enough, the benefits are gradually coming around and I feel much better in just about every way. This has been the product of some amount of discipline and a lot of positive motivation.

So now I'm thinking that I'd like to apply the principle of discipline to the pudgepot that my spiritual life has become. While I'm not opposed to church per se, I think I need more discipline than what regular attendance would provide. Prayer and Bible study are obvious choices, but I'd also like to hear what's worked for you. I imagine that across this community, which I know includes some people who practice spiritual disciplines outside of a more traditional churched community, I should be able to find some inspiring examples of how you grow yourselves spiritually in a disciplined fashion.

Thanks, all. Looking forward to hearing what you're up to.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

"I miss fundamentalism..."

Andrew Sullivan's blog is a regular stop for me, and a post today ("The Plight of the Moderate Christian") recounted a recent letter from a reader who was responding to Andrew's serial debate with atheist Sam Harris in which Andrew defended moderation in faith. The reader was a conservative practicing Catholic until he broke with Church teaching on the issue of contraception as his wife, a Type I diabetic, faced serious health implications were she to become pregnant. He had this to say:

Currently, I have no church in which to practice, or justify, my faith. Essentially, I’m a wannabe fundamentalist forced into moderation. This leaves me intellectually stripped of any argument about why my “faith” is more attuned to God’s will than a your average Mormon/Muslim/Amish. Sometimes, when the wind blows just right, I smell the distinct odor of oblivion. There was a time when it blew by unnoticed.

I miss fundamentalism.

He may, but I don't. Christian fundamentalism is only comfortable with giving God a wide berth as long as the mystery of his work doesn't intrude upon fundamentalism's ample body of decided "truths." Fundamentalism, by my lights, spends more time being afraid of being wrong (or perhaps more accurately, afraid of being uncertain) than being humble in its lack of knowledge.

Fundamentalism broadly understood (both of the religious and the secular variety) has helped to create in America a culture of fearful, angry culture warriors girded with a secure knowledge that the Truth is vested in their creeds--the religious their Scriptures, the secular their studies, theories and experts.

The mystery upon which Andrew's reader catches the whiff of oblivion is to me a breath of fresh air after too much fundamentalist doctrinalism. I have come to appreciate less the human-spun received wisdom of scriptural interpretation than the simple truths of the Gospel coupled with the stunning mystery that is Creation. "I don't know" is for me becoming the way in which I trust Jesus. I don't know, but he does. I may screw things up, but he won't. I may not understand the whys and the hows, but he does. So in a way, I am more childlike and trusting than I was before. I just have tightened up the box around which I've drawn the lines of Truth.

For some, that's scary. For me, I think it's more the makings of a new phase of spiritual growth.

Now I just need to add some discipline.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

"What did we do wrong? We paid for piano lessons..."

Thanks to Eric at Two World Collision for bringing to my attention the story of Christine Bakke and her years of involvement in "ex-gay" ministries, desperately trying to be "cured" of lesbianism. Her story is like many I've read: a heartfelt desire to change, burdensome guilt and shame, loneliness, and an inability to build a bridge of understanding to frightened and angry family members and fellow churchgoers.

The most difficult and poignant passages recount the reactions of her family to her initial attempts to admit her sexuality:
The conversation brought a flood of tears and arguments. Her mother claimed that God couldn’t have made her gay because “the plumbing just doesn’t match up.” Then she “made certain hand motions to communicate this. There’s nothing quite like seeing your mother put her hands in an OK sign and move the holes together to explain about the plumbing...
...“When you rock your baby in your arms, you never think one day my daughter will be homosexual and want to have sex with another woman, never have children. No one holds their baby and says maybe they’ll grow up to be a rapist, or this or that. You have dreams for your children.”...
She also vividly remembers her mother asking, “What did we do wrong? We paid for piano lessons!”
It's easy to be angry at the suffering that stems from such a profound insensitivity and lack of understanding, especially when it's done in the name of God. But I remain convinced that the church has a great awakening coming with regard to how it has dealt with the gays in its ranks, an awakening that can only be hastened the more that stories like Christine's make their way into the hearts of an otherwise fearful and suspicious church in America.

As an aside: the same day I read this, I also came upon this post from Andrew Sullivan, blogging innovator, conservative, and gay Catholic. The post brings up the topic of gay marriage and the difficulties that gays have getting legal protection for their relationships. Andrew recounted a heartbreaking memory from the days of the AIDS devastation in the 1980s that I wanted to share with you:
I remember a story told by a friend during the plague years. He was visiting a dying friend in hospital and a couple of beds down the ward from his friend, the curtains were drawn around a patient. From behind the curtains, he could hear a man softly singing a show-tune. "Well, at least that guy's keeping his spirits up," my friend remarked. "Actually," his dying friend replied, "the man in that bed died this morning and was taken away by his family. That's his boyfriend. The family won't let him go to the funeral or ever see his spouse's body again. They've kicked him out of their apartment. It wasn't his name on the lease. So he's just sitting there, singing their favorite song to an empty bed. It's the last time he'll get that close to his husband. The nurses didn't have the heart to tell him to leave yet. He's been there for hours."
Again, I can't help but think that the reason there's so much dogmatism on the subject of homosexuality is because few people have bothered to walk a meter, let alone a mile, in the moccasins of gays forced to deal with the stigmas and stupidities that we load upon them so carelessly.