Friday, January 25, 2008

Something Rather than Nothing

A NEW BLOG: And I promise, no Latin this time.

One of the many self-proclaimed radio gurus (the experts we are supposed to learn our job from) has said,"It's better to do something than to do nothing," countering the fear jocks sometimes have of taking on-air risks.

Nota Bene: If you have ever listened to our show, you know we have no fear of taking risks. Sometimes it might be better if we did.

VIOLATION: Apologies. The Blogger Police have just caught me using Latin after promising I would avoid ancient langugage in this blog. Oh well, mea culpa.

Where was I? Oh, yes: the philosophy of doing something rather than nothing that I said was promoted by one of those radio expert guys -- well, he's right. Pay the man and give him an important title. Only, it's possible he doesn't know how right he is.

One of my life struggles has been perfectionism. I used to think that term applied to me was a compliment. It isn't. Perfectionism is the tendency to spend much more time and energy on something than it is worth. I could spend all day trying and I'd never look like this guy (who is that greaseball anyhow?), so what's the point?

My point is that I have often been paralyzed because of the perception of a lack of time or energy or focus or resources. The feeling is that, to do the job right (which is "perfectly" of course), I must have/be/get/take something I currently don't have. Therefore, I will wait (Ah, friend of Perfectionism, welcome to the party, Procrastination!) until I have more...

And here's the deception: more usually never comes. I have a stack of books to get to when I have more time. Forget that: I have books I want to write when I have more education, more skill, more time. This is the paralysis analysis.

Here's more (hang with me, I have a point). What if we do have enough? What if there's enough time, skill, etc. to do the thing we have been putting off? The perfectionist thinks he can then perfect, but it isn't so. There is only one Perfect One. Everything his creations create is imperfect. The perfectionist vainly labors under the false assumptions that a) he is able to overcome his own internal imperfections, and b) that we want him to wait until he does before we savor his work. Good artists are a counter-illustration. Have you ever watched an artist work and felt frustrated that what she thought was finished wasn't really perfect? Yet the WHOLE turns out to be better than if she's allowed you to tinker with the parts.

Is this making any sense? Here's a better illustration. Last week I had enough time to do a thought-through blog. Write. Edit. Re-read. Re-edit. Post. Yet when Carmen read it, she found it nearly unintelligible, and it's not her fault. My Lord, I used Latin terms, technical words, and it was even longer than this one! This post will probably turn out to be at least as good, to at least some of the readers, and it's completely off the cuff (no time). I chose to do something rather than nothing.

This week was great on The Morning Cruise. We had laughs, tears and surprises that make us, not to mention our audience, remember that life is unpredictable, that it's good to remember your humanity. I just thought I wanted to share that with you. And I wanted to share the fun video that we did with Matthew West. Take a minute (actually seven) and watch 60 Seconds with Matthew West. And then, right after you watch it, take a minute and do SOMETHING you have been putting off, laboring under the whip of perfectionism.
(I just realized I don't have the ability/time to upload the video here. Maybe I should wait... Oh well, just follow this link: Morning Cruise TV.)

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Devotional Reading

Carmen has us doing this 30-day journey in journaling, using the Life Journal, a simple little publication that seems to be the outgrowth of the personal devotional habit of a pastor in Hawaii (as far as I can tell). It's great, though, because it is so simple. Lots of material currently labled "Devotional" in bookstores is, in my opinion, either too complicated, not flexible enough, or shallow. The Life Journal suffers none of these, though it somehwhat lacks adequate space for reader response in the various sections. Its purpose is straightforward: interaction with Scripture, and through that interaction personal devotion to God.

Though simple, devotional reading is not simplistic. Reading the Bible devotionally is a discipline that dates back, as such, to the Middle Ages. The practice of Lectio Divina is being revived in contemporary Christian practice, in both Catholic and Protestant spirituality. It consists of four movements: Reading (out loud), Meditation, Prayer and Contemplation. The trajectory is somewhat mystic, aimed at bringing the worshiper beyond his analytical reflection into the mystery of communion with God. I've been practicing this type of devotional reading for about the last two years. For me, the Medieval aim of the Lectio needlessly separates the analytical from the spiritual -- a Gnostic dualism that can be remedied if one's goal in devotional reading becomes not experience, but rather action, seeking to live out what we find in the text.

Devotional reading at its best should be nothing less than the radical application of God's word and will to our lives. Distinct from other types of Bible reading - study for example - devotional reading requires that both our heart and head, our will and emotion become fully entangled with the text we are reading. It is not that we won't learn Scripture as we read devotionally. Just the opposite: devotional reading puts our hearts in the proper position to instruct the affections to savor and the intellect to retain . Thus the word of God becomes more than an object of reflection or contemplation, it becomes life to us (
Psalm 119:159; John 12:50).

I would commend devotional reading as essential, not optional, for the spiritual formation of every Christian. Saying this, I would be quick to add that I am not asserting that a particular method or formula is necessary. When I was a baby Christian, I'd just find a text I was interested in and read it Coram Deo (before the face of God). Intuitively, new creatures in Christ read their Bibles as if God were speaking to their hearts in the text. In those tender days I always read with a pen and notebook in hand, because I wanted to write down what God was showing and telling me through interaction with his word. I naturally treated the Bible not merely as an object for study (though it is!), but as a personal letter from a Father who wants to shape the values and vision of his sons and daughters. Natural curiosity compelled me, however, to never separate observing details of the text from existential application.

Spiritual maturity requires that we turn those innocent responses into disciplines, so we will learn to be faithful in the difficult or dry times (
2 Tim. 2:1-15). The Life Journal has advocated a four movement method called, simply, SOAP. The four movements are faithful both to the devotional tradition and basic inductive Bible study principles. Scripture, the first movement, includes the entire Bible, but the reader has to determine which verse or short passage he or she will zoom in on, taken from large chunks of reading. Observation, the second movement, is the core of all sound exegesis: what is the text saying, to whom, by whom, for what purpose. Again, the Life Journal doesn't leave enough room for detail here, but at least basic features of the text can be observed prior to personal application. Application follows Observation, querying one's own heart and the Spirit as to how the text might be lived out in the reader's life. Finally, Prayer brings the reader into communion with God, making the whole exercise more than an intellectual enterprise.

The journey has been profitable for me, and I trust for those listeners who have participated. I started at August 8 in the Life Journal, because I wanted to read Jeremiah. Most recently, I zoomed in on
Jeremiah 4:23 (ESV) I looked on the earth, and behold, it was without form and void; and to the heavens, and they had no light. Now, there is a powerful piece of prophecy I might have missed, had I not slowed down enough to notice. I titled my journal entry, "Uncreation." I observed that these words are a direct reversal, in attitude, of Genesis 1:2-3. I remembered that God's judgment on Israel's committed anti-law attitude was literally the dissolving (un-creation) of the northern tribes by Assyrian invasion in 722 B.C. I thought about the poetic language in Jeremiah and noted that the application of these passages sometimes reaches beyond the original audience. I thought about my own life, committed in some ways to Christ as his disciple, but in other ways perhaps conformed, committed to the world rather than to my Lord. Writing that application, it was time to voice a simple prayer: God, help me to be in the world but not of it. Please continue to conform me to the image of Christ.

The power of devotional reading is that, behind that simple prayer stands the force of God's word and Spirit applied to the heart of the one who has uttered it. There is certainly more in the text of
Jeremiah 4 than my devotional reading has yielded, but there is not less. In other words, slowing down to savor and apply a single verse, as the SOAP approach, or Lectio Divina or perhaps another method requires, is the most effective way to get our hearts saturated with the significance of Scripture.

I hope lots of listeners (and maybe a few random blog-readers) will take this journey with us. Feel free to comment as you do.

Friday, January 11, 2008

A Tough Assignment

I am the world’s worst blogger.

Not sure if I’m willing to wear the title yet, but I’m in serious competition. First I ask people to “visit often” and leave comments. Then I post this thing about Pullman and the death of “God” in His Dark Materials – something many of my readers probably don’t care a whit about (but I do, so expect more of it). Then I leave it up for weeks. Geesh.

I guess I’ve figured out that I want this blog to be about four things: inspiration, information, cogitation and imagination. Each of these –ations comes to me somewhat unpredictably, and I want my blog to reflect that.

Okay, so I’ve missed some pretty good information/inspiration right? This last weekend I had the “assignment” of picking up Brandon Heath at the airport and entertaining him a bit. He wanted to meet the kids, so we took him home for a Wii tournament (man, I should blog on the Wii gaming system – it has breathed life into Martin family time). Madison destroyed him in bowling. In fact, all the kids beat him except Payton, who got taken down after four rounds boxing. Brandon’s claim to fame: his k-o of the four year old.

Then it was off to dinner (tuna, rare!) and on the show the next morning (go to The Morning Cruise site and click on As HEARD, Monday, 1.6.08 if you want to hear highlights). After the show, a really difficult part of my “assignment”: I was supposed to take Brandon sightseeing on my boat. Can you believe the hardship?

So, we launched in the bay and grabbed dockside lunch at one of our favorite haunts, rendezvousing with our buddy and Summer Cruise companion, G.T. Between Brandon, Dan Brodie and G.T., I don’t think we’ll be invited back to that particular establishment.

Dave Cruse, G.T., and Brodie had to leave (congrats on the LSU win, Dave), so that left a couple of hours to treat Brandon to some of our fine saltwater fishing here on the Gulf coast of Florida. I just happened to have two rigged spinning reels aboard, and a guy at the docks supplied us with a few live shrimp. I let Brandon drive the boat, and we ran to one of my favorite flats/channel spots. No hookups. Water temperature was a negative factor, but that didn’t stop a friendly competition from heating up, where Carmen just HAD to catch the first fish. We moved to a deep water cove and she did.

The fish was tiny, but its tale was huge. In fact, Carmen told the tale and posted a picture on our webpage. Brandon had been bested and he knew it. We packed up the poles and ran out into the Gulf to catch a truly beautiful sunset. Intense. Can God ever paint!

I have to be honest. This was no “assignment.” Brandon has become a friend, and spending a day with such friends as he, my wife, G.T., Carmen, Cruse and Brodie is no chore. This is the place where labor and love come together. We did more than supply an artist with a great P.R. trip, we made a memory with friends.

I wish we could share more such times with artists, listeners and colleagues. There is something very humanizing about play, nature and good meals. It reminded me of the reason Jesus chose a few fishermen for disciples, reclined at the table with them and enjoyed their fellowship.