Wednesday, July 30, 2014

New Beginnings: Breaking and Remaking

I'm settled into my new home on the east side of Michigan, and I think I finally have something to write about.

My writing desk...
This is a blog post, not an essay. I don't have a driving thesis here, I'm just confessing my thoughts, asking questions, and probably writing more than necessary.

My spiritual growth seems to come in sudden spurts that steadily build on variations of the same theme. My last growth spurt was in Asia, where the world suddenly expanded to shocking proportions and I realized the very small space I utilize in this enormous environment: I call it the "de-centering" effect.

Before I left for China/Thailand, I was involved at my church and campus community. I wanted to know everyone and pour myself into as many lives as I could. I signed up for volunteer programs, campus events, whatever I could manage. Post-China, I did nothing. Community outreach and fund raising seemed meaningless to me, even absurd.

This question haunted me: How could it ever possibly be enough?

I began to believe my lifestyle was insulting. I understood who I was, in a way. I was born into privilege, caught up in a highly Westernized Christian culture, attempting to reach down over my life-hedge to spread Christ's love. I saw this as ridiculous. I understood that even saving the whole country of China couldn't possibly satisfy God, that's not what He wanted from me. In this way, I grew. I set my mind to find joy in the monotony of life, being thankful for the small space and timeframe I occupied. Still, it hurt my heart to think about my purpose too deeply (or the lack thereof), so I stopped trying and pretended it didn't matter. In the mean time, I was drawn to other, less Westernized religions in search of a better way to live.

I stopped hearing the pastor's sermons. I'd listen and walk away wondering, "did he really believe any of that? Do I? Do any of these people?" I couldn't help thinking if we did, our lives would look different. I wanted to give up and, amidst my search for meaning, came to embrace a humanistic pursuit of pleasure and happiness. The pursuit of happiness in itself can be a great reward, and is enough for many people.

It wasn't that I had lost my faith, it was that my faith had lost its former meaning. I wanted to cling to what I had always believed, but the tighter I held on, the more it seemed to dissolve in my hands. Along with the disillusioning of myself, China had broken through the holes of my Christian lifestyle.

Now, I am living on my own and once again feeling growing pain. A dear friend has been challenging me to reevaluate my life and what I want--or rather, what the Christian Way looks like. What should I want? I don't want success if success means taking one step after another on the ladder of illusionary goals masquerading as a sensible means of purpose--an ideal career, money, material wealth, and/or a happy family. It's not that such a climb is wrong, but it easily can be. It has the potential to draw us away from our need for God and people. There can be beauty, Truth, and goodness in the mundane, ordinary things in life (even while climbing the ladder), I know, I've seen glimpses, but...

I have to believe there is something more. The de-centering showed me that it isn't about my individual works and good heart (i.e. trying to be a good Christian and save China). I alone shouldn't be the focus or center, that is a very individualistic, American way to understand Christianity. Christianity is a body of people centered around Christ, I am a part of the whole--the whole body of Christ. This is where it can get tricky, and a little too abstract.

People complain about the church, Christ's body, everyday, multiple times a day, so there's no need for me to add to the white noise. However, I know that I need people, God's people, who will challenge me and lovingly demand that I live rightly and give of myself. I need people further along in their own understanding of God and life, who can challenge my lifestyle and provide a clearer picture of what Christ looks like. Such people draw attention away from themselves and point instead to a better Way of living. Without mindlessly climbing or consuming, they are beings who are active in the body, allowing the body to move as a body should. They need the body to live as much as the body needs them.

Maybe these people aren't necessarily "reaching out" (or down) amidst their business to help the church or community. Instead, maybe these people are building their lives, their lifestyles, around the network of the body, so how they are living is directly connected to and reliant on everyone else rather than hedged in and fenced off and self-supporting. Together, as one body, we are stronger and able to reach and continue reaching beyond ourselves.

I suspect much of my thoughts revolve around idealistic notions, but I don't mind being an idealist. At least I have a clearer understanding of what I intend to run toward, evening if I never will completely arrive.

As I look for a new church to attend, I don't care about the institution. I'm looking for God's people, and I will know them by the way they live.  


Monday, July 21, 2014

Favorite Quotes

Some of my favorite quotes I've been hoarding over the past year: 


I am under no obligation to make sense to you.
Neil DeGrasse Tyson

It’s life that matters, nothing but life—the process of discovering, the everlasting and perpetual process, not the discovery itself, at all.
Fyodor Dostoevsky

Let people feel the weight of who you are and let them deal with it.
John Eldridge

If you don’t pray often, you won’t gain a love for praying. Prayer is work, and therefore it is not very appealing to our natural sensibilities. But the simple rule for prayer is this: Begin praying and your taste for prayer will increase. The more you pray, the more you will acquire the desire for prayer, the energy for prayer, and the sense of purpose in prayer.
Leslie Ludy

But it’s only by having some distance from the world that you can see it whole, and understand what you should be doing with it.
Pico Iyer 

I enjoy controlled loneliness. I like wandering around the city alone. I’m not afraid of coming back to an empty flat and lying down in an empty bed. I’m afraid of having no one to miss, of having no one to love.
Kuba Wojewodzki

Look, l may not be an explorer, or an adventurer, or a treasure seeker, or a gunfighter, Mr. O’Connell, but l am proud of what l am. I am a librarian.
Evelyn O’Connell

My life is not an apology, but a life. It is for itself and not for a spectacle. I much prefer that it should be of a lower strain, so it be genuine and equal, than that it should be glittering and unsteady.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

I used to be afraid of failing at something that really mattered to me, but now I’m more afraid of succeeding at things that don’t matter.
Bob Goff

Attract them by the way you live.
Saint Augustine

The best portion of a good man’s life is his little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and of love.
William Wordsworth

Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the whole earth revolves – slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future.
Thich Nhat Hanh

I also believe that introversion is my greatest strength. I have such a strong inner life that I’m never bored and only occasionally lonely. No matter what mayhem is happening around me, I know I can always turn inward.
Susan Cain

Feminism isn’t about making women stronger. Women are already strong. It’s about changing the way the world perceives that strength.
G.D Anderson

Enlightenment is a destructive process. It has nothing to do with becoming better or being happier. Enlightenment is the crumbling away of untruth. It’s seeing through the facade of pretense. It’s the complete eradication of everything we imagined to be true.

Such a simplified lifestyle can be truly wonderful - you’ll finally have time for the things you really love, for relaxation, for outdoor activities, for exercise, for reading or finding peace and quiet, for the loved ones in your life, for the things you’re most passionate about. This is what it means to thrive - to live a life full of the things you want in them, and not more. To live a better quality of life without having to spend and buy and consume.
Leo Babauta, Thriving on Less: Simplifying in a Tough Economy

You have to dream, you have to have a vision, and you have to set a goal for yourself that might even scare you a little because sometimes that seems far beyond your reach. Then I think you have to develop a kind of resistance to rejection, and to the disappointments that are sure to come your way.
Gregory Peck

If you don’t design your own life plan, chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s plan. And guess what they have planned for you? Not much.
Jim Rohn 

Blessed are the weird people - poets, misfits, writers, mystics, painters, troubadours - for they teach us to see the world through different eyes.
Jacob Nordby 

Nobody is superior, nobody is inferior, but nobody is equal either. People are simply unique, incomparable.

It was being a runner that mattered, not how fast or how far I could run. The joy was in the act of running and in the journey, not in the destination. We have a better chance of seeing where we are when we stop trying to get somewhere else.
John Bingham

Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.
Henry David Thoreau, Walden

The most monstrous monster is the monster with noble feelings.
fyodor dostovevsky, the eternal husband

One day, a long time from now you’ll cease to care anymore whom you please or what anybody has to say about you. That’s when you’ll finally produce the work you’re capable of.
J.D. Salinger

Someone once asked me, “Why do you insist on taking the hard road?” I replied, “Why do you assume I see two roads?”

I wasn’t actually in love, but I felt a sort of tender curiosity.
F. Scott Fitzgerald

But luxury has never appealed to me, I like simple things, books, being alone, or with somebody who understands.
Daphne du Maurier

I wish I could have the ability to write down the feelings I have now while I’m still little, because when I grow up I will know how to write, but I will have forgotten what being little feels like.
Sylvia Plath, age 8

Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.
Gustave Flaubert

Before you speak to me about your religion, first show it to me in how you treat other people; before you tell me how much you love your God, show me in how much you love all His children; before you preach to me of your passion for your faith, teach me about it through your compassion for your neighbors. In the end, I’m not as interested in what you have to tell or sell as I am in how you choose to live and give.
Cory Booker

At twenty-something my world is new: new opportunities, new understanding, new standards. I have learned the exterior details of life are infinitely expandable. If I’m not suited for something, I can move on. I can find a better place to belong. Life is and will always be a terrifyingly honest representation of what I value most. I hope to choose wisely.
danae marie

Monday, July 14, 2014

Thoughts on a Plane

The plane had finally taken off. The familiar popping and buzzing in my head left me moving my jaw around in circles and digging my finger into my ear. I looked out the window, observing the strategically planted square fields, a thousand different variations of green. I noticed the slender ribbon-like roads, weaving in every direction, lined with tiny insect cars. The roofs of the houses were like long dull spikes, arranged side by side in dozens upon dozens of rows. Above the thin clouds were the perfectly clear blue sky and painfully white sun. It was god-like to me, seeing the earth and sky from such a view. I stared with melancholy approval.

"Such a small plane..."said the woman in the next seat, looking around and then over at me; she was expecting an affirming reply.

"It is tiny." I said.

"I've never flown in one so small. These things make it all the way to Michigan?"

"Yeah, I hope so." I looked over and smiled at the woman. She had grey hair and a round, tired face. She shrugged and didn't say anything more.


It's not surprising I associate the sky with God. My Christian tradition titles him, "our Heavenly Father." The name is fitting: the skies, or the heavens, are infinite and mysterious to us, they always have been, like God. The earth, although incredible in detail, is perhaps less unknown. We can see the earth: "Mother Earth." To me, when seen together, our Heavenly Father and Mother Earth could be argued as the arch-parents of humankind.

Humans. We're somewhere in between, a composition of both. Our physiological being is from the earth, our "mother," but our Father's essence runs through us as well, all of us. I think it is rooted in our ability to speak, words are so essential to our existence, yet they are not tangible, much like the thin air. John 1:14: "The Word became flesh" is the act of God becoming man, he became "flesh," a product of the earth. Language has the ability to create things we cannot see, it defines everything around us. Language gives us a means to distinguish one thing from another. "This is an apple, that is an orange," there's a difference and, given the name, we know which is which without either being in the room.

When we say "apple" repeatedly, it stops meaning "apple," as in the fruit that grows on a tree, and becomes a meaningless sound. Try saying "apple" for a minute straight. I believe God works in the same way. If we say his name, or even speak of him or hear him spoken of over and over, we forget, we stop hearing. He becomes just a noise to our ears and carries no meaning to our head. When language loses its meaning, we must come up with new ways to say things, new ways to state what has been said over and over for thousands of years so it can be heard again.

Just some thoughts I've had recently.