America’s Church and My New Obsession With It

Maybe it is the fact that I’ve been going to church in a school gym for the last 8 years, but I’ve recently found myself drawn to several classic elements of traditional churches. I find myself craving stained glass windows, hymnals, and arched ceilings with murals! And on that note, I think I have a new mini-obsession with our National Cathedral.

Tonight my husband brought home a link he knew I’d love. It is Donald Miller’s blog entry on his experiences at President Obama’s Inauguration. I love Miller’s writing and his take on this historic event is compelling. It is a little long, so check it out when you have time. In the meantime, here is a clip similar to the one Miller uses of the song “Amazing Grace” at the Inaugural Prayer Service. Let’s just say, you have probably never heard anyone hum like this (watch it all – the end is the best part):

The Inaugural Prayer Service, of course, is held in the National Cathedral, and earlier in the day I was researching an author and found out that the National Cathedral website posts video clips of many of their guest speakers. Talk about a who’s who of spiritual leaders (not all Christian, by the way). And while they talk you can gaze longingly at the columns and ornate decorations. Well, anyway, that’s what I’m doing.

I’m enjoying this traditonal phase almost as much as my big hair phase in high school. I just hope this one has more eternal value!

I Corinthians 9:27

Today Claire had to get Botox shots in the calf and hamstring muscles of her left leg. Mom tells her she is just like all the pretty girls in Hollywood! Of course, Claire’s Botox is not cosemetic, but the concept is the same. Botox is injected into muscles to weaken them, keep them from contracting. In middle-aged men and women, Botox keeps you from developing wrinkles (and any form of facial expression). In little girls with CP, Botox weakens muscles that are too strong in hopes that the weaker surrounding muscles will have a chance to catch up. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. In our minds, it is worth a try.

All of this has me thinking about virtue. (Hang on, you’ll get there too.) Early this year I posted about training our spiritual muscles in the same way we train our physical muscles. This is what ancient Christians might have called “practicing the disciplines” and it isn’t a very glamorous part of the Christian life. It is all about hard work and determination and a big dose of grace. But when we work at it to the same degree that we work with Him, we start to see changes – improvements in our character and attitude. John Ortberg describes the spiritually disciplined person as the one who does the right thing, at the right time, in the right way, to the right degree. (Just think about that for awhile …. )

So, what do you think are the too-strong muscles keeping us from becoming the spiritually disciplined people we want to be? How could we Botox the selfish muscle, the jealous muscle? Claire knew those big shots were coming at her tiny legs and still smiled at me until the first big stick. Could we face the mortification of our own flesh as bravely? Tonight at the dinner table Claire said she was thankful for “Dr. Farid and the shots he gave me because they are going to make me strong.” She meant it.

hardwork

Doin’ That Thing You Do

Big news in the White House this week. Claire got a 100% on this spelling test.

spelling1

She even had to write her own numbers. For a girl who couldn’t write out all the letters to her own name at the beginning of Kindergarten, she’s come a looong way!

I’m not expecting to take many spelling tests, but my own school career resumes this week. I’m going into my second to last undergrad semester and I’m feeling a new desire for excellence. When I started this endeavor it was only about finishing my college degree, something I had always intended to do but somehow lost sight of in the middle of marriage and kids. Now I’m setting my goals on grad school and wondering where I get the nerve.

spelling2

Encouragement is usually not hard to come by when God is speaking to my heart about something. During a family viewing of Facing the Giants this weekend I was reminded of the story of the two farmers who asked God for rain. Only one of the farmers actually believed he would get it; he’s the one who went out and prepared his field for the precipitation. Then my pastor spent time this morning reminding the members of our community to pursue with excellence the gifts and talents that God has given us.

I’m going into this semester like that farmer went into his field: I’m expecting something. I may not win any full-ride scholarships to grad school … but I might. I know I won’t if I don’t put in the effort of a person intending to. I also know this, if Claire can ace a spelling test, I can get my GPA up to cum laude standards.

You Can Do It!

I’ve been thinking about developing new habits lately. Good habits, the kind that make you healthy, wealthy, and wise! This year the resolutions in our home have to do with getting fit – spiritually and physically – and I know accomplishing these goals is just a matter of changing my habits.

In my Disciplines of Life class I use an analogy from John Ortberg about the difference between TRAINING and TRYING. Ortberg says running a marathon is a great goal, but if you only TRY to run it, perhaps by getting the right outfit and faking some warm-ups at the starting line, you will never suceed. Instead, you must TRAIN for that marathon. The TRAINING is inevitably hard and time-consuming, but as you progress in your abilities you will eventually reach your goal. Many of us approach our spiritual growth in the same unwise manner. We decide to be different and so we start a regimen of daily prayer for two hours and a rigorus Bible study. Inevitably we will fail when we simply TRY but do not TRAIN.

Training means working up to a goal. You start with small steps and persevere. Trying usually means you have good intentions but no follow through.

A couple of years ago we took Jesse to a special football camp at Truman. He loved it and I love looking at the pictures of his smallness up against those big college players. They were so gentle and sweet with the boys.

football

Practicing physical or spiritual disciplines may seem daunting – kind of like a 5 year-old up against a collegiate athlete – but don’t forget where your strength comes from. There are major promises involved and much grace.

If we train faithfully, someday we will taste the sweetness of victory. It will probably feel something like this:

football2

A Rare Title: Do Hard Things

I started reading Do Hard Things by Alex and Brett Harris (twin brothers of Joshua Harris from I Kissed Dating Goodbye) because I hoped to find some brilliant ideas for inspiring my students. Nothing makes me crazier than perfectly capable young people living beneath their God-given potential. Well, I found inspiration, but a lot of it applied to more than just my students. It applied to ME!

The message in Do Hard Things is based on Paul’s exhortation to Timothy to not “let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set the example for believers” in all matters of virtue and faith. The Harris brothers point out that the term teenager has only been in use for the last 50-70 years and, obviously, isn’t mentioned in the Bible at all. In other words, our cultural idea of being a teenager is a phenomenon that imposes ridiculously low expectations on otherwise capable young people. This book challenges teenagers to do hard things in five different categories:

1. Things that are outside your comfort zone.

2. Things that go beyond what is expected or required.

3. Things that are too big to accomplish alone.

4. Things that don’t earn an immediate payoff.

5. Things that change the cultural norm.

Even though I still FEEL like a teenager, I realize I’m not exactly the target demographic for this book. Still, I am challenged by this message of excellence. I would reccommend this book to the ‘tweens and teenagers in your life (and you could read it first).

Also, The Rebelution Blog put together a Modesty Survey that I found valuable. Christian girls anonymously asked questions about the way they dress and Christian guys answered. Sometimes it is helpful to see specifics when it comes to the modesty question. It is a topic I’ll probably take up later, but for now you might want to look at the work of some teenagers trying to do hard things!

The Modesty Survey

New Every Morning!

It is the start of a new year and yet many of us are all too aware that the world in 2009 is already stuffed with war, insecurity, poverty, and unrest. I find comfort in this passage from Lamentations 3. This lament is actually part of a carefully crafted acrostic poem – beautiful literature, especially  if you can read Hebrew! Michael Card writes about laments in his book A Sacred Sorrow.

If you struggle with the concept of suffering as a part of the Christian life you should read this book. Card explains the idea in a lyrical voice that will leave you softer and more at peace with God. The lament is a lost art in Western Christianity but Eastern Christians have understood its power for centuries. The idea is that instead of pretending you are not suffering or “claiming victory” without exploring the root of your actual feelings, you take your lament directly to God. As you pour out your honest thoughts and complaints, a natural shift will happen. Almost every lament Psalm takes this course. The path to praise is often through lament.

There is so much to this concept and I could take you through the literary structure of a lament for a really cool example of how it works, but you have parties to attend and exercise equipment to pull out of the closet. We’ll talk about it later. For now, here is a little soul food for your New Year in the form of lament!

17 I have been deprived of peace;
I have forgotten what prosperity is.

18 So I say, “My splendor is gone
and all that I had hoped from the LORD.”

19 I remember my affliction and my wandering,
the bitterness and the gall.

20 I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.

21 Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:

22 Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.

23 They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.

24 I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.”