October 7, 2014
A recent road trip stirred up my thinking about laws and drivers. Washington state, for example, posts higher speed limits than Oregon, apparently thinking that Washington drivers can handle it. As an Oregon driver, I’m not quite sure that I’m up to it, though my wife, who learned to drive in Washington, never hesitates. When we crossed into Idaho, I noticed even higher speed limits. 80 miles per hour! At first I thought that Idaho drivers must out-class us all, but that turned out not to be obvious. Drivers and machines whizzing by startled me. Especially the tractors. So I wondered how Idaho had set their 80 mph speed imit. Perhaps they took drivers’ average speed, since clearly some drivers viewed 80 as a suggested minimum. But then I thought that these drivers may be in that special group of people, whom I’ve seen elsewhere, who actually are above the law. There’s no published list, but they know who they are. I’m not in that group, though I’m perfectly willing to break the law for conscience’ sake. I know a lot of folks who do break the law, and mostly they’re pretty good people, even the Sunday School teachers. Some do violate the law routinely and even buy radar detector devices to help them speed. Others brag about what they can get away with or about how fast they can get to Bend or Boise. In contrast, I think that people who support civil disobedience should disobey the law only out of conviction, not out of convenience or whim. That’s part of obeying governing authorities, as Paul directs (Romans 13). If law-breaking is your habit, then taking a stand for conscience’ sake won’t be bold or convincing. It just piles on more being a law unto yourself. So, among other mundane practices, observing speed limits seems important to me. Perhaps some readers will find my mentioning it an uncivil obedience. However you take it, though, please don’t startle anyone.
September 26, 2014
“College taps the power of cow manure.” As many colleges were gearing up for a new year, I discovered this headline praising Green Mountain College in Vermont for using electricity from generators powered by methane gas extracted from cow manure. The “cow power program” increased the college’s electrical costs a bit, but provided the “environmental college” a way to model using renewable resources based on the local economy. Students can even observe the energy-generating process at local farms. Apparently this and other sustainability initiatives have effectively reduced the college’s carbon footprint, so visitors can now walk on campus without worrying about stepping in carbon patties.
Such initiatives not only bring immediate practical benefits, but they also help fire up the imaginations and consciences of students who may not have pondered the environment and methane beyond fart-lighting contests in their dorms. “Cow power” can also bring a bit of gender equity to campuses that have for years used only b.s.
Actually, firing up students’ imaginations and consciences is what good colleges and universities do. Of course, they’ll teach students to read and write, to think and solve problems, and to develop other useful skills. But they want students to dream less about how to make a bundle than how to make a difference. They help students explore worlds they’ve never imagined and re-imagine the worlds they already know. They help discover the magic in methane. So cheers for the colleges with Cow Power and for the students they serve.
August 18, 2014
“How ya’ doin’?” “Keeping busy.” Noting how often we hear and say this, a visiting friend and I explored how easily we let busyness pose as virtue. Being busy means you’re doing well, maybe even doing good. But, even leaving out busy people who are up to no good, busyness may not gauge how we’re doing.
If it did, we could invent devices to measure how fast we’re spinning our wheels or how much we’re cramming into our lives. Maybe a Cram-o-Meter. Or a Spindex. If “keeping busy” misses the mark, though, we might think of ways to avoid falling into its trap. I’ve been thinking about three ideas that might help.
The first idea is “margin.” I first learned this term from Richard Swenson’s book Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives. He writes in part from what he has seen as a physician and argues that we all need some margin between ourselves and our limits. That margin creates space for emergencies, for surprises, or for Murphy’s Law, “whatever can go wrong will go wrong.” (I’ve checked and can confidently declare that this is not named after our Bruce Murphy.) Margin also breathes in availability to follow God’s unexpected nudges.
The second idea comes from Richard Foster at Northwest Yearly Meeting sessions last summer. Annoyingly enough to me, he spoke of sleep as a “discipline.” It’s a way of noting our limitations, he said, a way of recognizing that we can never get it all done. Obviously that’s quite meddlesome even beyond calling some of us to better habits in sleep. Who says we can’t get it all done? But I think about it.
The third idea is keeping Sabbath. I’ve thought about this very old idea for a long time and have experimented with it in a variety of ways. Simply put, Sabbath is taking a day each week to celebrate God and God’s steady presence in our world and our lives. It’s a day to step back and relish the gift of life, of love, of family and friends, and of our wondrous world. It’s a day to live our trust in God. Abraham Heschel calls it a “sanctification of time,” a time set apart, a holy time. In contrast, it’s not a “day off” when we rush around doing personal chores, shopping, cleaning, and managing all of the personal work we have to do. That’s not Sabbath rest.
Of course, Christians widely neglect Sabbath and sometimes churches schedule so many Sunday meetings that it nearly wears you out. Our larger culture pressures us in many ways to live in 24/7 compulsive ways, pursuing consumption, achievement, fame and fortune, etc., or at least lots of gadgets and trinkets for body, home, and hovel. This is one of the reasons I like Walter Brueggemann’s recent book, Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now. The key word is “resistance.” Sabbath resists the lies of culture.
I connect this particularly with the version of the Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy 5. In verses 12-15 God requires keeping Sabbath as a way of remembering the Israelites’ liberation from Egypt where they had to work as slaves 24/7. But it’s not just remembering; it’s living in the reality of a wonderful gift. God rescued them from Egypt with God’s “strong hand and outstretched arm,” and they are now to live boldly, knowing that God will continue to deliver them and provide for them.
The challenge of Sabbath is to learn to rest and rejoice in God. It is to act like we believe that God can and will care for us. It is to imagine that God might capably manage the world even if we’re not working 24/7 to make sure it all runs right. This will challenge many of us who are “keeping busy,” but I believe we can find creative and joyful ways forward to enjoy the freedom that God offers us.
[This essay first appeared in Your NFC, the newsletter of Newberg Friends Church, Newberg, Oregon, on August 8, 2014. I've included it here since I have a couple of readers who aren't part of my home church. Of course, you'd all be welcome.]
July 12, 2014
“And they never thanked me. After all that time! Not once!” These refrains, heard from several folks, have been echoing in my head. After all, people were still hurting from being used and taken for granted. No wonder they complained. Certainly someone forgot the cultural mandate that we should often say, “Please,” “Thank you,” and, when necessary, “I’m sorry.”
But please, I’m sorry, can’t we just get over saying “thank you” all the time? Sure, say it when it’s in your heart, when you really mean it. Say it with gusto: “Gracias!” “Merci beaucoup!” “Donkeyshine!” Otherwise, think of the damage it does. Just imagine how offering up easy thanks may deepen the sense of entitlement some folks have, thinking they should hear thanks and praise for the slightest effort on their part. We risk stirring people up to coax and control, refusing to do a thing until they’ve heard a “thank you.”
Actually, even more profoundly, they probably should be thanking you. You gave them a chance to do some good, and you might even have taught them how to do it. They can add it to their resume or add a merit badge to their outfit. When they catch on, expect a thank you note.
Saying thanks all the time also requires that you pay attention and notice what people are doing, and that can undercut your effectiveness. The work you do is important and demands efficiency and focus. You really can’t afford to be distracted by peripheral stuff. The people you hire, and even volunteers, should be on board with your importance and the great good you’re doing. Despite what people might say, staying focused is not the same as being self-absorbed or oblivious. You shouldn’t have to worry about whether you say “thank you” enough.
Sure, people like it when you say thanks, even when you overdo it. They hardly ever complain, except for a few who are really trying to pry still another thanks or two out of you: “You don’t need to thank me. I didn’t do much.” “Oh, but yes you did! Thanks again.” That’s all touchy-feely stuff that we eventually have to leave behind. Feelings are over-rated. You can’t kowtow to them all the time.
If you think of other reasons we should get over saying “thank you,” please feel free to post them in a response. Thanks.
June 14, 2014
For years now I have been searching for and collecting pictures of Jesus that hint that he might have been joyful, that he might once have smiled. It’s not easy. Most images of Jesus, historically and now, portray him as dour, morose, burdened, or, at best, flat affect. They seldom show him as happy, warm, or friendly. In The Joyful Christ, Cal Samra reports that the oldest picture of a joyful Jesus he could find was one commissioned for the Ohio State Fair about 1950. Between Samra’s prompt and my search, I think I now know of about twenty images of a joyful Christ, still a miniscule number, even though I’ve no doubt missed some.
So when my talented young friend Chris Breithaupt wanted to barter for an ancient (and terrific) Olds Ambassador cornet, we agree that he might create a new picture of Jesus as genuinely happy. After all, it helps to see that the person who promised us joy might actually have experienced it. Because of an earlier picture Chris had created for a mutual friend, I knew he could do it. So Chris got a fine horn, but I got the best of the deal.
I love his new “Joyful Jesus.” Because I want lots of folks to enjoy and share it, we’ve worked to make that possible. We’ve made quality prints of this image in standard sizes and at modest cost. Prints come in 4×6, 5×7, 8×10, and 11×14 sizes so they can be easily matted and framed. Prices range from $4 – 15, plus shipping and handling. We’ll eventually distribute prints through Red Nose Fun Publishing, but for now, if you want to inquire, please contact me at email@example.com