Archive for the 'Random Thoughts' Category

Working with my hands … for the sake of my mind

I’ve often noticed that my favorite hobbies are ones that involve using my hands to build, shape, repair, or re-make something.  When I am too busy to make time for these hobbies, I find that my mental faculties just aren’t as sharp as they might otherwise be.  When I read this quote below, it put some things together for me that I was missing:

There’s something about the rhythm of the hands being busy and then your body falls open to absorb and concentrate on what you’re listening to, but not completely, because you have two concentrations. And then from that, that sort of cultivates a kind of attention.
—Ann Hamilton, in Making, and the Spaces we Share.

I’m familiar with kinesthetic learning, but Hamilton’s concept of “two concentrations” seems to go beyond that.  It is more like “kinesthetic attention” (if such a term is defined anywhere).  This is engaging the body in movement, and aiding concentration in the process — even if it is concentration on something not directly related to the physical task at hand.

If I need proof for myself: some of my best “thinking” and “ah-ha” moments happen while I am mowing the lawn.

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The Right People at the Right Time

By all accounts today should have been a very rotten day. There was a perfect storm of several major things going all converging on this day of my calendar. After nearly over sleeping, I started my day in prayer, not asking for a miraculous resolution to my woes, but the strength to deal with it all.

The stress lifted so gently over the day it was not until the end of my work day that I looked back at the day objectively and said “that wasn’t so bad!” The day I expected to be the worst in recent memory turned out to actually be a nice day.

What made the difference?

The people. Today reminded me of how blessed I am to be surrounded in my professional, family, and academic life by people who support me up when I need it, and even when I don’t ask for it. Had it not been for the angels in my life, who probably don’t even recognize their identity as angels, this day would have been one of despair; instead, it was one filled with thanksgiving.

I started the day in prayer asking for strength to deal with insurmountable hurdles. Now I close the day in a prayer of thanks for surrounding me with his care, in the form of the caring people in my life who by a simple smile kept my heart warm and elated.

Adam Hamilton to Preach at National Prayer Service

Adam Hamilton

Adam Hamilton, senior pastor of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection will preach at the National Prayer Service as part of the Presidential Inauguration this year.  I look forward to his message to hear what he will say to a national audience.  You can read his message to the church about it here, and his related blog post here.

If you are able, you can watch the service online on Tuesday, January 22, at 9:30 AM CT at the National Cathedral website.  For those in the Kansas City area, the Leawood sanctuary of the Church of the Resurrection will be live streaming the service.

I admire Rev. Hamilton for many reasons, and have no doubt God will use his moment in front of such a large audience well.  Please remember him in prayer as he addresses the leaders of our nation.

Rev. Adam Hamilton practicing his sermon at the National Cathedral

A Carpenter’s Legacy

My paternal grandfather was, among many other things, a carpenter.  This past Thanksgiving our family gathered at the family farm where my grandparents lived.  My dad and I loaded up some of my grandfather’s tools for me to bring home.

Since arriving in my basement, I’ve found several excuses to fire up the band-saw and table saw for small projects, and cutting out pinewood derby cars for boys in our cub scout pack.  That was what I intended to be using these tools for.

… but there was an unintended consequence.

Every time I look at the tools or use them in a small project, I am intensely reminded of many characteristics of my grandfather.  I remember, of course, his skills, the multitude of tools hanging in his workshop, some of the very creative solutions he came up with, and the precision with which he worked.  I can’t help but also think about the characteristics of his personality as well, his dedication to serving his church, his love for his family, and his laugh.  I love his laugh.  When I hear it in my head, I can’t help but smile.

My son Andy has taken an interest in the budding workshop in our basement.  He’s coming up with his own creative solutions, seeing how to use these tools and pieces of scrap wood to make something useful.  Recently he asked me, “Daddy, you got these tools from your grandfather … will I get them from you some day?”

I showed him the collection of tools that my father, Andy’s Granddaddy, has been purchasing for him, and he became very excited at the prospect of building two work benches in the basement.  One for my projects, the other for Andy and his little brother to work on and store their tools.

I don’t have the practice and knowledge to claim to have the same skill at carpentry that my grandfather did (not even close), but something more intrinsic, my grandfather taught his son how to be very creative, in a MacGyver sort of way, to use whatever he had around him to solve a problem.  This is a trait he passed on to his son, who passed it on to me.

My grandparents lived far enough away that I did not get to see the more than a few times a year growing up.  The skills and positive traits of my grandfather, however, are deeply embedded in my own father, who, living under the same roof, I did spend a lot of time with growing up.  All of those wonderful traits of my grandfather are present in him as well, and he has served as a great lens through which I can see his dad when I look at him.

More importantly than the skills and tools that I inherited from my grandfather, my Daddy and Granddaddy both modeled their faith in their daily life, which now resides in me.  This inheritance is continuing.  As Andy asks questions about the tools in our shop, he is also interested in how they have been used in the past, and who used them in the past.  I love telling him about my memories of the adults important to my childhood.

Today is my dad’s birthday.  I’m looking forward to celebrating it with him.  I don’t have any great gifts to give to him, certainly nothing that can compare to the generosity and love that he has shown me all of my life.  The best way I know to honor this generosity is make sure I pass it on to my sons, just as he did to me.

Happy birthday, Daddy.  Thank you for passing on the love, skills,  and compassion from your father to me, which ultimately came from the Father of us all, which you reflect so well.

It all started with the son of a carpenter.

2013: Time to make some (more) noise

I don’t usually make new years’ resolutions, but I think I am going to make one this year.

I came to the realization that I have a lot more to say than what I write in this blog.  There are two main reasons for this:

  1. Some of the things I’d like to write about and get into dialog with others about are not necessarily related to my current theme of this blog, Encountering Ministry.
  2. Sometimes I think that I need to spend more time in contemplation before I hit the “publish” button on the blog entry.  The result, however, is that sometimes the draft copy of the blog post grows stale in my mind and I end up deleting what may have been post-worthy if I would have quit striving for perfection and just let the idea flow off of the keyboard and into cyberspace.

To address #1, I think I am going to rename the blog.  I don’t know exactly what the new name will be, but I want something that is the full scope of me.  Most of the things I like to share with others revolve around topics of faith, but I also spend a lot of my mental cycles running around topics of:

  • bicycling 
  • photography
  • technology / computers / gadgets
  • music
  • car repair
  • carpentry
  • metal working
  • camping
  • astronomy
  • sociology
  • psychology
  • community formation
  • leadership

So … expect to see a bigger variety of topics.

As for item #2 on my list.  I just need to learn to let go, and let the thought fly.  I do like dialog, so I hope anyone reading who has a thought to share will (please) hit the comment button and start a conversation.  As for my perfection, I’m going to start by sending this post without so much as a cursory re-read to check for any errurs.

Happy New Year!

John

God Bless You … if you can handle it

My wife posted the following insight on Facebook today.  It really made me think, as did the sermon that inspired it.  It is worth pondering on the first day of Advent.

What does being “blessed” mean? I’ve struggled with the definition of this term for a few years now because while we use it often to say that God has blessed with good fortune or health (or even something as inane as a good parking space), what about those who aren’t blessed with a job, or who aren’t healed from an illness? What about the family that loses a baby to miscarriage? Are they not equally as blessed by God?

During the sermon this morning, Pastor Adam told us how Mary’s cousin Elizabeth told her that she was blessed because she was carrying the child of God. And while we all say, “Yes! Absolutely, this is a blessing,” Pastor Adam reminded us that Mary was faced with being stoned for her unplanned pregnancy, faced with losing her fiance, faced with raising a son who was quite different than all the other children, and eventually would see her son die in a most awful way.

So, as followers of Christ, we may be “blessed,” but we also carry a burden. A burden of giving, loving EVERYONE, and walking the narrow path.

I’m not advocating that we stop using the word blessed, but I have been thinking hard about it’s meaning for awhile now, and this morning’s sermon didn’t exactly clear it up for me. Gosh darn it, made me think some more.

May you be blessed this Advent season … if you are up for it.

Quiet Places

Our family had a wonderful mini-vacation this weekend.  We went to a state park, enjoyed the weather and nature, and most of all, enjoyed each other.  There were no computers or TV.  The only games were the board games we played with one another.  We had camp fires, cooked in a dutch oven, and looked at the stars.

There were a few times that I felt like pulling out my computer.  I didn’t have internet connectivity, but I wanted to tidy up my inbox.  The first time the thought crossed my mind, I recounted what made this particular vacation so special: it was my chance to really disconnect from the rest of my world.  After that thought, it was quite easy to resist the temptation to look at my phone to see what was going on at work or on Facebook.  In fact, it was no longer a temptation, it was a joy to remain disconnected.

Our society is driving us toward increased connectivity and multi-tasking.  I sometimes wonder about the personality dynamics this will drive in future generations.  I am an introvert.  I “recharge my batteries” by seeking a little time of isolation.  I don’t have to be isolated for long periods of time, but I don’t function well if I can’t have a little bit of alone time every day.  At work, sometimes I think I have a few minutes to myself when a new email or an instant-message pops up to remind me just how rarely I am truly alone in the state of a constantly connected technology.  In a world that is increasingly connected, where do you go to be alone?

This sounds like a new problem, but really it is not.  While we were camping, I toured an historic old house, where a couple raised 9 children in the mid 1800s.  The size of the house, by modern standards, was fairly modest.  The rooms were small and naturally there was no indoor bathroom.  At the time it was built, it was considered to be a very large house.  Most families that size would have lived in something much smaller.  Yet, I found myself looking at the house and asking myself the same question I ask today: where did anyone in that family go when they wanted to be alone?

Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.  — Luke 5:16

There are numerous references to Jesus dodging the crowds or his disciples in order to be alone.  I wonder if he was an introvert too?  … or maybe he just followed the wisdom that seeking solitude is sometimes necessary to hear the still, small voice of God speaking to us.

Sometimes we just have to be very intentional about it.

Westboro

I’ve never felt like talking much about Fred Phelps’ organization.  The hate his group throws out seemed to speak for itself.  In their recent win at the United States Supreme Court, however, some statements made afterwards brought a new angle on what they are about.

I previously gave them the benefit of the doubt.  I believed them to be be mis-guided Christians who were, sadly, giving the rest of us Christians a bad reputation.  I thought they were merely trying to judge others, and point out what they perceived as sins, without love or tact.  Then I read this statement made by Shirley Phelps-Roper, the Westboro Baptist spokeswoman, and daughter of Fred Phelps:

We are supposed to blind their eyes, stop up their ears and harden their hearts so that they cannot see, hear or understand, and be converted and receive salvation.

So as I interpret that, they are not trying to lead anyone to repent of what they perceive to be sins.  I don’t think they are even trying to do what they believe is right in the eyes of God.  They are simply trying to harden people’s hearts against their Creator.  Their stated purpose is to lead people away from God, instead of toward God.

The phrase to “harden” someone’s heart against God is taken very seriously in the Bible.  Once a person’s heart is truly “hardened” against God, they can not be turned back to God.  Is anyone ever truly beyond salvation?  I confess, I’m not sure.  But, I can think of no greater sin, than to intentionally try to steal the God-given gift of salvation from someone else.

My first reaction to this most recent statement was anger.  The anger, however, gave way to pity.  Something must have hurt Mr. Phelps to his core to harden his own heart to this level.  I can not imagine what kinds of emotions it would take to stir up such long lasting hatred toward God and his fellow human beings, and pass this hurt on to the rest of his family, and so many innocent bystanders.

I pray for Mr. Phelps, his family, his followers, and those whom he has hurt through his actions.  I hope somewhere, somehow, they may all come to know the love of God, free from a judgment of hate.

Why write?

I saw a blog post this week that had me thinking a little more critically why I have this blog.  So, here is my shot at the question: why do I write this?

To share some ideas:

My brain is full of lots of random thoughts.  Sometimes it is just fun to put those thoughts on (virtual) paper.  If I’m lucky, maybe it will make others think.  If I’m really lucky, it will make me think too.  The very act of committing a thought to writing makes me slow down and think it over in greater depth.

To practice writing:

In seminary, I have to write a lot.  This is good practice.

To practice critical thinking:

In my first class at sminary, the main point was learning how to critically analyze situations, topics, books, theology, etc.  So putting the two items above together, writing helps me sort out some of my thoughts, and forces me to practice my critical thinking skills.

So if you’re following along, thanks.  … and feel free to comment to help me think even deeper about what I post.  I have several topics in various draft stages, so I hope to write a little more frequently this year.

Saying “No” to Distractions … GIT-R-DONE!

Larry The Cable Guy, picture from Wikipedia

This is a little bit of a departure from my usual blog topics, but it is relevant to some of my current struggles in the workplace, and within myself at times.

Almost everyone knows Larry The Cable Guy.  Even if you have not watched his stand-up comedy, you’ve probably heard his famous phrase “Git-R-Done!”  I haven’t watched much of his routines, but Git-R-Done resonates with me.  It’s a call to action.

You’ve got work to do?  Great… go do it.  GIT-R-DONE!

Recently I’ve been very frustrated at work.  Some days I would spend 8 hours doing nothing but answering emails, instant messages, and attending conference calls.  At the end of the day, I felt like I helped other people get their work done, but my work was left un-done.  Don’t get me wrong, I definitely think there is value in helping others get their to-do list things done, and accomplish things.  Invariably I need help to get some of my tasks done too.  There’s always a wonderful benefit that comes from feeling like I’m being helpful to others.

The problem is that lately doing that has come at the expense of me getting my work done.  Also, in many cases, I know that if I did not provide the help I was asked to give, others would eventually find the answers themselves.  … and when people find answers themselves, they learn.  Am I stealing learning opportunities from others?

Last night I watched the video at the end of this post by Jason Fried.  Ironically, I was working at home at the kitchen table doing work that I could not get done during the day because of too many distractions, the very heart of Jason’s TED talk.  I took a break to watch this video, and it changed my day.

I came into the office today with a very fresh attitude of Git-R-Done.  Just because someone sends me an instant message, doesn’t mean I need to respond to it that instant; especially if I am in the middle of composing a thought.  It is truly amazing how much more productive I feel, and probably am, when I complete my thought or activity, reach a logical stopping place, and only then respond to the latest issue or question in my midst.

Do you feel incredibly busy, but not productive?  Maybe it’s time to re-prioritize what really deserves your attention, and saying no to some distractions.  I highly recommend watching Jason’s video, and implementing the strategies that make sense to you.


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