|inner stillness: when everything is all the same to you, and you live for the day, and you are not dreaming and waiting
books I've been reading
Communion, Community, Commonweal: Readings for Spiritual Leadership, by John S. Mogabgab
The Ascent of a Leader: How Ordinary Relationships Develop Extraordinary Character and Influence, by Bill Thrall, Bruce McNicol, and Ken McElrath
The Catholic Imagination, by Andrew Greeley
Spiritual Guides for the 21st Century: Faith Stories of the Protestant Reformers
Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ, by Dallas Willard
movies I'd like to see
Lost in Translation
The Station Agent
sermons in process
Ruth 1:1-18--"Why Go with Me?"
Mark 12:38-44--"Abundance and Poverty"
1 Samuel 1:4-20--"The Desperation of Hannah"
John 18:33-37--"An Interrogation"
Malachi 3:1-4--"Messages and Messengers"
lectures on tape in my car
Introduction to Renaissance Literature
Dante's Life and Times
Dante's Literary Antecedents
Erasmus, In Praise of Folly
Introduction to Shakespeare
|Saturday, January 5
I am preparing to leave tomorrow at noon for San
Antonio. This should be no big deal, but it is. I should consider it no
more than a long car ride and a week away from home, but it is more
than that. I get so accustomed to being “in place” and knowing where
everything is, and assuming that everything is where I want it to be.
But now, I’m leaving home. That means that I need to take things
with me for that week. And I wander around the house wondering,
“What have i forgotten?” Here at home, I don’t worry about clothes.
There is a laundry in my house, and clothes are always available. But
now I need to pack for a week and predict what I will need for each
day and not have a washer and dryer to depend upon. I’m moving out
of my comfort zone. Every time I leave home for a few days it seems
that I always forget something. Or I pack the wrong thing or forget to
pack the right thing.
Several years ago I served as a counselor for
summer church camps. This began as a once-a-summer thing, but
evolved into three times a summer for two years. I took on packing
for camp as a challenge. I actually had a detailed packing list, which
evolved from making notes of things I had forgotten to take to
previous camps. How can one know whether a week in summer will
be extremely hot and dry or cold and wet? You can’t. So, I would
pack for all possibilities.
These events make me feel the need to take my
house with me. I’m always wondering how I will spend my time. And
what if I have time all to myself? How should I plan for that?
Obviously, I can’t haul my entire library with me. But I can try to
make some intelligent choices. And therein lies the
I find that leaving home for a week is good for me.
It would be good for me even if I had absolutely nothing significant
scheduled. However, I don’t take many vacations. And when I do,
they are short, usually less than a week. But the reason being away
from home for a stretch is good for me is that it does take me out of
my comfort zone. By that, I mean that I don’t have to re-think my
planning processes as long as I am living in the same house in the
same town and serving the same congregations. I fall into a rut. But
leaving town, and needing to plan for a week without my comfortable
bedroom and bathroom and closets and kitchen, I need to become
aware of a different kind of setting.
I also become aware of the suspicions I have of
many Christians who have lived in the same community for dozens of
years and been a part of the same congregation for dozens of years. i
wonder if they are as comfortable as I suspect them of being, and as
fearful of change as I am disoriented by planning to take a
John Harrison at 5:30 PM
|Friday, January 4
If there were a contest to choose the world’s worst
housekeeper, I would enter. I would probably be a finalist. There is
nothing I dislike more--and therefore do less often--than clean my
house. It takes a major effort of will to clean my bathroom or vacuum
my carpet. Maybe that is because my father never did any of this.
Anyway, today I have been trying to summon up the will power to do
some of this stuff. The bathroom looks the best it has in months. But
that’s not saying a whole lot.
I’ve discovered that there are at least two
perspectives to how one “keeps house.” I once lived with a woman (I
was married to her) who was very conscientious about the cleanliness
of a house, but not bothered by disorder. I, on the other hand, could
abide all kinds of dirtiness, but I liked things to be neat. She couldn’t
understand how I could deal with dust, and I couldn’t understand how
she could deal with clutter.
My father, who, in addition to being a teacher and
a farmer also rented houses and apartments, claimed that one could
fairly accurately determine how a renter would take care of the inside
of his or her house or apartment by looking at the inside of his or her
car or truck. I hadn’t thought of that until he told me. Then, I began
paying attention. There may be exceptions, but I think he was correct.
It seems that whenever I have seen the inside of a car or truck or van
or SUV filled with clutter, it has belonged to a person who lives in a
house or apartment that is cluttered. I was once with another pastor
visiting the home of a third pastor. The place was a colossal mess, but
I just assumed that might be normal for young families with children.
So, I later asked my friend, with whom I had made the visit, “How
many children do they have?” He answered, “They have no children.
HE is the child.”
So, if our external lives carry consistencies of
behavior, do those conditions also reflect our inner lives? I often
suspect that outward calm may be masking inner turmoil; but does
that inner turmoil exhibit itself externally in other ways? It has been
argued that we are not physical bodies that happen to have spirits, but
rather that we are spiritual beings inhabiting bodies. So, if that is the
case, what messages are we sending to others about our spiritual
selves? Yesterday I threw out and organized much clutter in my little
office. I amass piles of stuff. And, that may be an indication of the
condition of my spiritual self. I let “stuff” accumulate, not knowing
what to do with it, or fearful of throwing it out. My dirty bathroom?
Even when it is dirty, it does the job of getting me clean. Just because
it is dirty does not mean that there is no soap and water being used in
that room. And, as far as my physical body is concerned, maybe I’m
less concerned with the process and conditions of getting clean than I
am with the results.posted by
John Harrison at 1:11 PM
|Thursday, January 3
In a bible study this morning, I and a dozen other
pastors were exploring the Song of Solomon. Of course, the subject of
love is involved, but what exactly does that mean? The word “love”
has been so bent out of shape by the contemporary culture that we
need an entirely new vocabulary to deal with it. One of the questions
posed in the study group was this: “What is your understanding of the
idea that human desire for sexual intimacy and human desire for
intimacy with God belong together?” Now, that question is a bit
clumsy, but let’s pull out the notion of “intimacy.” It is easy to say
that we love people and things (like I love my cats and my computers
and my car and even my parishioners), but where does “intimacy”
enter the picture? Or does it? And if it does, how does it? The next
step, then, is to try to figure out what intimacy means to us. How do
we know we have a degree of intimacy with people or things or
I suspect that most people would define “intimacy”
in some way or another as meaning “being close.” We are “intimate”
with another person if we are “close” to them. And yet, I suspect that
it may be possible to be “close” and not intimate. So, I would add
another qualification: “vulnerability.” In our study manual, this
position is asserted: “Risking vulnerability in loving and being loved, in
knowing and being known, the radical disciple practices lavish
self-giving and joyfully receives the self-giving of another.” Again, this
may be a bit clumsy, but it seems to me that true love shows up when
we are willing to risk being vulnerable in being known by others or by
God. The opposite of that is to be closed to others, to never take risks
or chances in life, to wall out the world so that we can have absolute
control over our little corner of it.
So, does this have anything to do with God?
Absolutely. When we “learn to float” we have acknowledged and
exposed our vulnerability to God. We probably still want to be on top
of things, but we’re willing to turn much over to the Almighty. We’re
willing to admit that we’re not in charge. I think genuine prayer works
this way. When we ask God for anything, we’re admitting that we
can’t get it or do it on our own. When we confess anything to God,
we’re exposing our frailties, our errors, our flaws. And if our prayer is
genuine, we are turning things over to God. We are surrendering. I
say “if,” because only saying the words doesn’t do it. We’re talking
attitude adjustment. In fact, I believe that prayer--talking to
God--transcends words. For me, it is an ongoing attitudinal
relationship. Sometimes I don’t handle it very well, and sometimes I
don’t listen to God very well, and frequently, I want to be in charge
and dominate the conversation, but the relationship is nevertheless
always there. posted by
John Harrison at 3:52 PM
|Wednesday, January 2
It’s difficult to begin a new year without somehow thinking
that one should be making new year’s resolutions, that it is
somehow a moral obligation. Because if we do not make such
resolutions, then we will not break them. And how dare we
attempt such perfection. I learned long ago that new year’s
resolutions were made to be broken. And broken very quickly.
That way we could forget about them until the next year. No, it
made a heck of a lot more sense to me to restructure my
approach to each new year. Instead of making a resolution
that was just begging to be broken, why not set goals that
could tempt me to achieve them? And, the more difficult to
achieve them, the better. One could always think, “Well,
maybe next month,” and have a dozen delicious months to
work on. And, even if the goal is not achieved during the year,
it can always be reset for the following year.posted by
John Harrison at 1:58 PM
I suspect that we have traditionally looked upon new year’s
resolutions as an opportunity to prove our perfection, to prove
our purity. Of course, should we discover that we are NOT
perfect, NOT pure, the resolutions get broken and discarded
and forgotten about. We approach a new year’s resolution like
a pitcher going after a no-hitter. Somebody gets a hit in the
first inning and it’s all over. Or, we’re a pro football team going
after an undefeated season. We lose the second game of the
season, and it’s all over. How absurd. The reality is that a
professional football team with a ten-win, six-loss record will
probably make the playoffs. Is it not better to aim for the ten
wins and take our lumps along the way than to seek after some
silly notion of perfection?
And so, I have my notions of how I might proceed through
2002. I have no silly notions that anything about my life will
be perfect; but I do think that there may be some
accomplishments in store for me this year. I also think it is a
good idea for us to set many goals at the beginning of a year,
and to set lots of goals that we KNOW we can achieve. That
way, when the really big ones seem to be elusive and
frustrating, we can take consolation in the smaller ones. I also
think that it’s OK to continue to set up these goals throughout
the year. Why should January get all the attention? I know a
pastor who, instead of asking his parishioners to make annual
stewardship pledges, asked that they make their pledges
quarterly. He asked them to pledge for only three months at a
time. That way, if someone got half-way through the year and
realized that it would be impossible to fulfill his or her annual
pledge, he or she would not just give up and not try at all. No,
for many people, three months is a much more manageable
time frame. And sometimes, maybe we should just take life a
month at a time.
|Tuesday, January 1
Thomas H. Green, S. J., in his book When the Well Runs Dry: Prayer Beyond the Beginnings, speaks of “floating” as leaving everything to God. It would seem to be an act of surrender, an act of giving in. In a spiritual journey it seems appropriate to speak of
my efforts as being aimed at “learning to float.” Our culture doesn’t really welcome this sort of thing. In fact, it would seem to be the antithesis of acceptable behavior. Wouldn’t a floater be like a drifter, maybe a person who isn’t doing much of anything and isn’t
going anywhere? But therein lies the challenge. Can there be a positive approach to floating? This little corner of the web will be a record of my trying to learn to float, and the questions that floating raises. There may also be odds and ends of ramblings about
other aspects of my life.
It has been almost four months since my first session with the Academy for Spiritual Formation. Upon returning home from San Antonio, I was eager to begin a program of personal spiritual disciplines, but I ran into snags. The day after I returned, and within the
space of about eighteen hours, two significant things happened. First, I learned that there was next to zero interest in a study group I had been looking forward to doing for many months, a study group that was to last for nine months. It just disappeared. Second, the
World Trade Center and the Pentagon were crash-bombed. Maybe I could have dealt with the loss of my much-anticipated study group; but the attacks and the responses to the attacks have been hugely depressing. Suddenly God became very popular, with “God
bless America” signs everywhere.
Anyway, it’s been tough getting my head straightened out over the past couple of months. Perhaps it is needless to say, but I’ve had trouble floating. I’ve had difficulty just turning all this over to God. In the case of my lost study group, I’m reassessing the place of
education and learning in the church. I’ve been told that folks are “hungry for the word.” You couldn’t prove it by me. They are not hungry in my congregations. So...should I just not care about this lack of interest? Should I say, “Hey, God, I tried, and nobody cares”? Somehow, that does seem like an appropriate response. Maybe I expect too much of my parishioners. Maybe I’m imposing my set of values upon them, when I should just letthem go. And maybe, sometime in the future, when the time is right, an interest will
show up among them.
I will speak only briefly about our undeclared war against a person and an organization. To read the headlines in the nearest daily newspaper, one would think that folks were infected with a bloodlust. And the male person who lives in the White House declares
that he will rid the world of evil. If he is successful, I’m out of a job. With no evil in the world, what will be the purpose of pastors?posted by
John Harrison at 11:41 AM