Archive | October, 2011

Resting in spite of Society!

31 Oct

We live in a frenetic, impatient culture.  The evidences are everywhere.  As a fan of sports, I marvel that we want to fire a coach after each loss, and we’re willing to crown someone a champion after each win.  If we watch a race, we rarely notice what the person running in 6th place does, because he isn’t close enough to the front for us to pay attention.  When we drive, we are unwilling to allow someone to get in front of us, as that may delay our arrival by at least 15 seconds, but we are greatly offended if someone does not allow us to cut in.  In pregnancy, we want to induce a baby’s arrival, if it is a day beyond the due date.  In Presidential elections, we want to know now what people are doing, despite the fact that we don’t really need to make up our mind for over a year (I realize it’s only 6-9 months for primaries, but still).   We value someone being on time as a virtue and cast out someone who is unwilling to show up on time with the proverbial garbage.  We make rash decisions on almost any topic and then are disinclined to listen to evidence to the contrary.  We create ways to better use our time, like books on tape and on-hold music.  We’ve created cell phones so we can always reach people.  Then talking wasn’t enough, so we created phones that could look at computer documents.

As a member of this culture, I know that at least a few of you were anxious to skip some of my examples and get right to the meat of the article.  And while I continued just a bit longer than may have been necessary, I am quite confident that there is something to Redeeming the Time and making each moment count.  It is true that our time is somewhat limited.  But I assert that this is a crazy way to go through life.

My sister posed the question today about when we feel most relaxed.  As I thought of my answer, I was not sure if there was a discernible difference between when I was relaxed and when I was the antithesis thereof.  This got me to thinking, “Is it healthy to live life in such a way?”  I am not sure this is completely answerable in a few words, but I think there should be times of relaxation and times of high productivity.  My friend, Mark Fields, used to call it working at multiple speeds.  He liked it when people could pick up the pace, as it allowed them to have stretches, where we were busy, of high productivity, so we could make sure to get the job accomplished.

Personally, I think times of relaxation lead to those times of high productivity.  The 4th commandment, for crying out loud, is to keep the Sabbath holy.  God rested on the 7th day (with apologies to all you framework guys), after creating the world.  Of course, putting up with all these free-thinking people he created was the bigger task that he rested up for.:)  It is with that in mind that I think relaxation needs to be taken seriously.  And by relaxation, it needs to be a break from your normal tasks.  We need to relax and we need to do it well.

So, if you are one to worry about a dirty house, either put blinders on and not worry for 24 hours or just make sure you get it clean the day before.  I’m not trying to set up a legalistic standard, but I think that we would all benefit from a real good relaxation day.  I will join you all in setting up a designated relaxation day.  It will make us so much more productive.  Of course now that I’ve written one on relaxing, I guess I need six blogs on how important work is.  Yikes!

I live for little moments like…

29 Oct

Tonight as we were eating dinner, we made the decision that Jacob was old enough to wield his own knife for the purpose of carving his own meat.  The fact that we feed our children copious amounts of beef aside, this isn’t necessarily a big moment for us (though it may seem like it to Jacob for a while).  It’s no bigger than the fact that he’s learning to field a baseball or the fact that he’s joining his first football team.  Similarly, it isn’t a lot bigger than the fact that Julia chewed her first piece of gum without swallowing it today!  Julia also had her first trip alone with daddy to Sam’s.  Emily achieved two or three little milestones herself this week in her book reading growth.

Now the purpose of this is not to brag about my children, (but seriously, I need to give that a run soon, because they are GREAT!)  The reality is that this week is seemingly bland when looking at the course of their lives, and yet so many things really happen.  Clearly, the course of their lives isn’t generally altered much by the changes in any given day.  The process of growth in our lives is such that very few days carry specific weight or meaning.

Almost all of us live lives of obscurity.  While we all have delusions of grandeur, most people will not know what we did on a particular Tuesday afternoon.  Now before you let this depress you, realize that there is a set of people you have been given who might just talk about your Tuesday routine at your funeral.  There is a sphere of influence that you have been given—a little corner of the globe that is yours to manage.  While my relative anonymity is a reality, it is not the reality that I choose to dwell on.

In my life, I have been blessed to be around for the marriage to my wife, the birth of each of my three kids, the birth of a sister (don’t really remember it, but hey, it counts), and unfortunately, the death of a few people close to me.  The thing is that all of these have had a profound impact on my life, whether or not the majority of the world ever knows who they are or what they meant.

As I look back at those who have gone on (and people, like my parents, who are still around), I know that the way they really impacted me wasn’t so much the way they attempted to teach me to ride a bike or hit a baseball (I stink at both) or the way they taught me to pray better or learn Bible verses (though these things are great).  The things they taught me that did have an indelible impact on my life only impacted me, because they spent so many “meaningless” hours with me that I valued them and their input.  This is when I start to be cheerful and not just because I have so many “meaningless” hours to give.

You see, as much as the deaths of those close to me have impacted me to value the time with those whom I still have around, they also teach me that I can totally mess up when teaching Jacob how to catch a baseball, Emily how to sound out a word, or Julia how to chew gum.  The one thing I really need to do is to get off this stupid computer and turn around and talk to them.  I need to snuggle up to them while watching a movie for the 500th time.  I need to actually participate in the throwing of the baseball with Jacob.  I need to value all the small things that have impact and inject enthusiasm into those moments.

And while this is largely about my kids, there are a few others God has placed in my life.  And I need to show them a similar commitment.  I love them and I pray for them daily, but I also make a concerted effort to show them that I care.  I hope they realize it, and I hope that I continue to give time with my family.  In fact, I hope I give more.  I hope that I don’t get consumed in my job (though that is important, too) to the point that it keeps me from that.  Because I live for those little moments that are seemingly minute, but they mean the world to my little family!

A pagan holiday? What to do?

27 Oct

It is the very nature of God to take something that is completely opposed to His way and reconcile it to Himself, so that it begins to reflect Him.  This is a truth that mandates that, as Christians, we attempt to transform culture.  One of the ways this has been done by Christians historically is through holidays.  But with each holiday comes a unique set of issues that people have with that holiday.  I will start by saying that noone should adopt my philosophy on most holidays.  I’m just weird.  I don’t really like to celebrate my birthday, I celebrate like crazy some aspects of Christmas and am surprisingly melancholy about others, and I really am a curmudgeon when my wife expects me to want to, reasonably so, celebrate many different holidays.

Needless to say that most of my friends will see that I am writing about a holiday and just pass it off as West being an idiot, which may, in fact, be the case.  And many friends will probably skip the reading of this article, which may be appropriate.  But with that pretty big disclaimer in mind, I will attempt to write about one holiday I love to celebrate.  That Holiday is Reformation Day.  It is October 31, and it is the celebration of the commencement of the Reformation.  Those of us who live today owe a great debt of gratitude to those Christians who came before us and established a church that is anchored in theology and the priesthood of all believers.  One of the reasons we can see so clearly theologically (relatively speaking) is because we are midgets standing on the shoulders of giants.

Most holidays have elements that some people complain about which show the origins being pagan.  These people will say that Christians who celebrate the holiday are making a mistake.  These very actions are, in one respect, a perfect illustration of our Christianity.  The fact that we, as Christians, have taken the Soli Invicti and made it seep into the consciousness of our world that the holiday should be to celebrate the coming of Christ is awesome.  The fact that the Astronomical Vernal Equinox can be used to celebrate the Resurrection in lieu of just being a way to derive your horoscope is phenomenal.  And in at least one of the cases, there is significant doubt as to whether the celebration lines up with the proper season historically.  Nevertheless, these are things where we can take otherwise godless events and turn them into celebrations of our faith.

Almost all holidays have many secular events surrounding them.  Some aspects are terrible, while many others are innocuous.  I don’t want to get into that blame game at all, but I do want to assert that many of the traditions of Halloween are clearly not honoring to the Lord. Wherever the Lord directs your conscience in terms of the other components of Halloween is fine with me, as He is much more qualified to direct your paths than I am.  But I do think that, as Christians, we have neglected our opportunity to turn this holiday into a more Biblically-centered event.  The Reformation is largely the event that allowed us each to have Bibles in our own language and in our own house.  These are worthy of celebration!  The lives of Luther, Zwingli, Bucer, and Calvin, to name a few, have a profound impact on our ability to worship Christ today.

As a huge celebrant of Reformation Day, I think this holiday is our opportunity to seep into the awareness of our culture today that the real meaning behind October 31 is a Christian cause.  Whatever death, skeletons, gore, violence, or viciousness the world might have; people could believe and know that the real meaning of the holiday is one of the recognition of the Priesthood of All Believers.  The test for everything in my life should be, “Does this action further the cause of Christ?”  and “Am I doing this to glorify Christ?”  And I think we could all further the cause of Christ’s fame a little better by our celebration of Reformation Day.

Autonomy and Decision Making

25 Oct

If anyone knows me (or has no idea who I am and just reads what I write occasionally), he knows that I am abundantly grateful to be in the United States of America.  This country is fantastic, and one of the things I love the most is that it is unapologetically capitalistic.  Capitalism is a great form of government, in my opinion, because it allows people to be rewarded based on their own merits.  I like that.  Unfortunately, my belief system also tells me that if I were rewarded based on my merits, I would be achieving eternal damnation, so sometimes I like to buttress my enthusiasm for capitalism.:)

At any rate, every humanly good system is not without flaws, and one of the flaws about rewarding people based on their own achievement only is that we create a system whereby worrying about the dead weight of another is not rewarded.  In the postmodern world in which we live, it seems that autonomy is the mantra that makes people delight.  The fact is they seem to like having the freedom to make their own decision and create their own path.  While it is true that we have the ability to choose which sin we want to perform on any given day, it seems very odd to take such pride in that ability.

While the average, moderately-intelligent human can spot the person who lives without accountability, I think we must also look at the bigger picture.  We can spot the individual whack-jobs, but often we find ourselves in groups who function that way also.  Unfortunately, I have had the misfortune of dealing with a group or two recently who completely deny the need for accountability.  They want to use their freedom to make a decision that others question.  They try to use a cry of freedom, even Christian liberty, as something that they have and can take advantage of.  You should “never confuse your right to do something with doing the right thing.”

Whether an individual or a group, there is often the belief that they should have the right to make a decision about their life.  While some of my other posts may rain on that parade later, the fact is that your right to make that decision does not justify the content of the decision.  Many teenagers becoming adults make decisions that will affect the rest of their life greatly. Their belief is that they should have the right to make those decisions and, often, they can.  Nonetheless, that right should not interfere with the concept that those older than you who care about you probably can see the totality of the situation and consequences better than you.  Don’t neglect their wisdom just because you can!

Similarly, even the well-educated or seemingly wise may tout their self-governance.  We, however, were not created to be without checks and balances.  Even the great capitalistic country in which we live, in its forming, knew that we needed those checks.  We have three branches of government, each with its own tasks.  These protect us from the aforementioned whack-jobs.  I advise anyone dealing with a group that purposefully separates itself to the extent that they answer to noone, be careful.  They are purposefully acting with the wisdom of a teenager who never listens to his parents.

Giving credit where it isn’t earned

23 Oct

My son got his first school report card and he made Superintendent’s Honor Roll.  For those of us who didn’t know, a Superintendent is apparently a principal’s boss.  So, therefore, the Superintendent’s Honor Roll is a superior honor roll.  In shorthand, he got all A’s on his report card.  This is a tremendously impressive feat–one I never really achieved in elementary school, and we are quite proud of Him.  While his greatness will surely be covered in great detail later, my point in this conversation is to talk about the name of the Honor Roll he made.

You see, when I was in school, this honor roll was referred to as the President’s Honor Roll.  And lest someone attempt to tell me that perhaps my school was just different, I went to the same elementary school that he is currently attending.  So, this was obviously a calculated move.  Now, I do not have problems with changes that are made.  Specifically when those changes are made to make things more understandable.  But that leads me to at least three problems I have with this change in particular.

First, noone really knows what a Superintendent is.  That could be because it usually means different things.  I’ve worked in the education industry in various capacities for more than ten years.  I’ve heard the word “Superintendent” many times.  In the SACS accredited college I worked at it meant something different than it did at the FACCS-accredited high school I worked at and it meant something different still at the ACCS affiliate member home school coop I taught at.  So since noone really knows what it is, it makes my son’s accomplishment difficult to brag about.

Second, in order to explain what a Superintendent is at this particular school, I have to, at least to some degree, belittle the Principal.  To fill two honor rolls with positions filled by the school, you might as well set up a hierarchy with a Superintendent Honor Roll, a Principal Honor Roll, a Teacher Honor Roll, and a Janitor Honor Roll.  Let’s start to tell these kids that some jobs are better than others.  On the other hand, ranking a President ahead of Principal isn’t a comparison kids are going to start equating in their head (My son may say the Superintendent is over the Principal, but he’d never really have to make that distinction between a President and a Principal).

Now before I sound like one of these Namby-Pamby guys who wants to not promote achievement over those who are merely sliding by, I am not.  I am fine with rewarding children for effort, keeping score, and recognizing different honor rolls.  I am not fine with creating the ranking of the adults to whom they are supposed to be submitting.  It’s kind of like when parents go in and belittle the child’s authority figure.  You might as well tell the kid, as long as you can persuade me that you are right, you can ignore this authority.  Why make a point of belittling the position of principal?

My third issue is that this is not a change that was made to synchronize with culture at large.  Of course, if every school were making the change to Superintendent from President, it could be something that I still disagree with, but you still have to recognize that there is merit in being similar to others.  Based on a simple google search, President’s Honor Roll was 25 times more popular than Superintendent’s Honor Roll.  And, on the first page of results, more than half of Superintendent’s Honor Roll results were honor rolls that were the equivalent of this school’s Principal’s Honor Roll.  So not only is the school requiring kids to value Superintendents over Principals, they are creating a system that when they talk to their friends from other schools, the accomplishment is not understood.

So, why am I writing about such a silly change in terminology?  Well, first, as a parent, I need to watch every little thing I tell and teach my children, and I don’t mind teaching about capitalism realities, but I don’t like putting a sliding scale of authority to two authority figures he has to see (though hopefully not report to) on a regular basis.  My main issue is that this seems to be a calculated move that can only be made by this school either to stroke the ego of the Superintendent or to temper the support of our President.  Having met the Superintendent and believing him to be relatively humble, I can only guess that this move was done to temper the support of our President.

This is a move that I don’t like.  First, that is one of the things I loved about the school I attended in my youth.  We were taught that we had to submit to multiple authorities–our parents, our church, our school, our local and state governments, and our Federal government.  The silly name attached to an honor roll is not the only way we communicate, and by all appearances, I am confident they still teach this.  But I don’t want to temper our teaching of our children in support of our country.

First, I am real proud to be an American.  I don’t like everything that happens here.  I have issues with Presidents–some more than others.  But, at the end of the day, I believe that God, in His sovereignty, not only put me in America, but he also put the leaders we have in authority.  And my prayer is consistently that I become better as a citizen of this country (and a better servant to my family, member of my church, employee to my boss), because I know that ultimately, I serve the Lord Christ.  And, frankly, there is nothing that any leader (including President) has to do to earn that.  We must give that respect, regardless of what they do.  (If you literally want to hear me preach on this, you can probably waste 45 minutes here).

I was reminded tonight by Paul Tripp that our lives are made up of mostly small moments, and our preparation of service in these small moments is what prepares us for the few big moments and decisions in our lives.  Similarly, while it is easy to get people to agree to vote and to do the “big” things in support of the leaders God has put over us, it is the small things that show our commitment, dedication, and real purpose.  It is the seemingly meaningless things whereby we show what we value.  And, for my money, I’d rather have our students learn to submit to multiple types of authorities in the simple naming of Honor Rolls.

Change–Inevitable and yet, arduous

21 Oct

On this The Maiden Voyage of my blogging career, I decided to tackle something easy.  I have spent the majority of my adult life doing as much as I could to keep things as constant as possible.  And now, in the last year, God has changed virtually everything in my life.  This leads me to two philosophical thought processes.  First, why do so many things seem to always change at the same time?  Second, why am I so reticent to speak on it?

When considering the first, I have come to the contemplative realization, that our lives are in a chronic state of adaptation.  We are forever augmenting our schedules or adjusting our preferences to an amazing degree.  The thing is that we change so much, that change, in and of itself, usually has no bearing on us.  The reason for this reality is that we normally have things in our lives that we rely on for consistency.  Grandiose or simplistic as that may be, we all have the “tentpoles” of congruity.  These “tentpoles” hold up the ever flapping tarp of our lives.  As long as the “tentpoles” remain, we feel like our lives are consistent.

Then without the aid of a monition, we lose a tentpole and we notice the greater degree of flapping.  Let me give you an example.  My wife and I recently had a discussion about how we were hesitant to change our cell phones because our lives had seen so much modification.  As I thought back on this, in the last two years, I have had four different cell phones, my wife has had at least as many, and we did away with our home phone line.  Clearly not a change we are normally hesitant about, but our tentpole was gone, and so was our ability to ignore the flapping tarp of phones in our lives.

Therefore, my big conjecture is that alteration of life is consistent; we only notice it when something big mutates; and at that point, we notice all the small things that ordinarily leave us with little or no worry.  Whether you agree with my speculation or not, it is an inexcapable part of the human condition, which leads me to my second point of consternation.

Is my reluctance to acknowledge the reality of variation something that corresponds with my personality, my gender, my faith, all my fellow humans, or just something unique to me?  This is something that I am still pondering, but I have noticed through my recent gripes that some people seem to thrive on change, others claim to thrive on it (but really don’t), and some (like me) admit that it is not something accepted easily.  While I did not have a satisfying answer to the general question of why I dislike engaging in the discussion of its reality, I began to notice that I love to talk about, accept, enjoy, and encourage new evolutions in actions, thoughts, and patterns, if it was something that I was behind, had thought about, or instigated.

So, as I conclude this exchanged reality of my writing thoughts for all to see on a public blog, I realize that this apprehension surrounding switched lifestyle is really just a manifestation of my lack of belief that it will end up as well as it should.  While I (usually) eventually give in to God and his call for change, I tend to fight it more than I should.  So that makes life more difficult.  The reality that I need to strengthen my belief is one that scares the dickens out of me.