30 September 2007

A Worship Tip

One of the priorities a Christian faces is how to make worship more meaningful. I wanted to pass along one that is meaningful to me.

I've been singing hymns and praise songs for so long, I don't think there are many that I don't know by heart. I've started singing everything by memory. It's better that way, and it seems like more of an expression of worship than if I'm reading off a screen or from a hymnbook.

(My church has a modern early service and a traditional second service. On days when I sing with the choir, I go to both services, so I get to sing both praise songs and hymns.)

As I sing the songs, I often find myself looking down, rather than up at the screen where the words are. I find that when I'm looking down and to the left--in the lower left quadrant of my vision, the words mean so much more to me. I feel much more worshipful.

Is there anything to this? I've read in the past that you can often figure out what someone is thinking by the direction their eyes look when they look away from you. I'm not sure if I've ever found a connection between worship and where one looks with their eyes.

22 September 2007

Living Biblically for a Year

I have long enjoyed A.J. Jacobs work in Esquire magazine, as well as his book, The Know It All, about the year he read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica.

His latest book is called The Year of Living Biblically. Here's the plot: Jacobs spent one year following every single rule found in the Bible. He consulted with a Hasidic Jew, an Amish, and a Jehovah's Witness to make sure that he had all his bases covered.

How did it go? Jacobs grew out his beard (see picture right). He cut out the cursing and the coveting. He built a hut in the middle of his New York apartment and tried to wear white, as recommended in Ecclesiastes. He celebrated the Sabbath. And when he met a man who admitted that he had committed adultery, Jacobs politely asked to stone him.

I'll look forward to reading the book, although I'll probably wait to borrow it from my local library. When asked by MSNBC if the book changed him, Jacobs admitted that he changed from "an agnostic to a reverent agnostic."

Having grown up in Seventh-day Adventist communities, I know my fair share about living biblically: what food to eat, what I can (and can not) do on the Sabbath, what not to wear, etc. It's easy for me to eat & dress like a fundamentalist, but like St. Paul, I felt that "living biblically" was an imperfect route to the Father; furthermore, when I 'lived biblically' it empowered people around me to criticize my actions and motivations. Now that I live for Christ, I don't have to put up with that stuff anymore.

Jacobs, however, felt empowered by the experience:
The experience changed me in big ways and small ways. There’s a lot about gratefulness in the Bible, and I would say I’m more thankful. I focus on the hundred little things that go right in a day, instead of the three or four things that go wrong. And I love the Sabbath. There’s something I really like about a forced day of rest.... One thing I learned is that the outside affects the inside, your behavior shapes your thoughts. I also really liked what one of my spiritual advisers said, which was that you can view life as a series of rights and entitlements, or a series of responsibilities. I like seeing my life as a series of responsibilities. It’s sort of, "Ask not what God can do for you, ask what you can do for God."
The book comes out next week. Jacobs also has a feature story in the latest issue of Esquire about his one-year efforts.

15 September 2007

A Collision Billions of Years in the Making

I found the following items in this week's TIME magazine:

New Look at Dinosaurs' Demise

A recent study pinpointed the interstellar collision that eventually led to the dinosaurs' extinction. The event was so deep in space that the meteorite it created didn't slam into Earth and kill off the dinosaurs until nearly 100 million years later. While the findings, if true, would "link the biological history of the earth to events far from earth," according to William Bottke, who led the study, they would also alter what we know about the history of dinosaurs:

(The pictures at right are of the Yucatan Peninsula, site of the Chicxulub meteorite site. In the top picture, a faint green line shows the extremity of the huge crater. The bottom picture has a white dot, which identifies the impact point.)

This brief was hard for me to really "get." My mind simply cannot conceive of the idea of one million years. I've tried. I couldn't. I guess my mind is just too small.

The article is based on science, however, so I try to understand. The timeline looks like this: 250 million years ago, dinosaurs become the dominant land animals.

Ninety million years later, on the other side of the Universe, two asteroids, one 106 miles in diameter, the other 37 miles, slam into each other and explode, creating a field of interstellar meteorites, The Baptistinas.

One of these meteorites, a six-mile behemoth, travels for 95 million years through desolate space. At the appointed time--the time mathematically destined since the collision that created it--it slams into earth, just off the shore of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. Clouds of dust arise and blot out the sun for months, years. The dinosaurs go extinct.

Now, I said before that I can't comprehend one million years in time, much less the distances of time and space, the mathematical precision, and the tens of millions of years between explosion and impact that this study explains. Anything that vast, I tend to ascribe to the Mind of God.

I mean, think about it. According to this scenario, life on earth developed, existed, thrived under a death sentences. Tens of millions of years earlier, an explosion far across the universe doomed life on this planet. My bounded imagination cannot explain this without God.

But what would an event like this tell one about God? Here's what I think:

I think these adjectives need to be forever banned from discussions of God: impetuous, arbitrary, and capricious.

In fact, His will is so vast as to understand causes and effects when they are separated by the tens of millions of years, miles, units of energy, etc. Mankind cannot understand this, and we deceive ourselves if we claim to do so. When God creates, He does so in a way that is timeless and mind-blowing. When God destroys, that too is an event set in motion eons and light-years away from those ultimately affected.

With a God who spans tens of millions of ages, then, 'what is Man that [God] is mindful of him?' (Psalm 8). We are probably a lot smaller than we think! We are too willing to exalt ourselves, considering the actions that God set in motion before our lives that may or may not come to fruition during our days on earth.

I'm reminded of this exchange, found in the book of Job (40.2-4):
The Lord said to Job, "Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer him!"

Then Job answered the Lord: "I am unworthy--how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth."
My mind is still trying to take it all in. Maybe your minds can help me with this.

11 September 2007

Speaking for the Dead

Her name is La Doncella. She has been asleep for over 500 years. Look at her. See the way her legs are crossed, her arms are wrapped around her tummy to ward off the cold. She looks as if she could awaken at any time, but she won't.

La Doncella was 15 when she went to sleep in a cave high in the Andes Mountains, along with a boy, 7, and a little girl, 6. They were willing, human sacrifices.

The best we can tell, the Incas needed guardians for their villages. Children, often the children of nobility, made great candidates. They were innocent, pure, almost godlike. They would be buried alive on a 22,000-foot peak overlooking the city of Salta, Argentina. They would join their ancestors, and their spirits would watch over their surviving kin.

The children were well dressed. They carried with them many artifacts to take into the afterlife. Their mummified remains show no signs of struggle. They squatted as the cave was sealed up, wrapped their cloaks tightly around themselves, and closed their eyes, never to awaken again.

What fascinates me about La Doncella and her tiny friends isn't the perfection with which they have been preserved at 22,000 feet: it's the unseen part of her--the spirit that allowed her to willingly offer up her life to be a guardian of her people, the spirit that cannot be found among the artifacts of her burial.

I know a little about the spirits and personalities of 15-year-old girls, and I wish that hers could be coupled once again with her body--to wake up, and see the world through Incan eyes. In some ways I hope her spirit can't see her remains, moved to a museum in Salta, and kept at 0 degrees Fahrenheit in a glass cylinder. From what I know, I doubt she would care anyway.

Our spirit is the only part of us that is eternal: it was created in the Mind of God before we were formed in our mothers' wombs. It is the only thing that will remain after our remains have rotted away--unless we can arrange ourselves a burial on one of those Andean peaks!

08 September 2007

Of Daddies and Daughters

You're never too old to learn, never too old to realize how the world really works. I've spent the summer having a lesson seared into my mind--one which contradicts one of the greatest goals of my life:

The ideal that my daughter would grow to cherish me.

It was much harder for me to write the sentence above than it could have been surprising for you (especially if you're a father) to read it. I've found it to be one of the coldest and hardest facts of life to come to terms with, yet I ask you...

Can you think of a grown daughter who actually cherishes her father?

I think it's a myth--one that I fell for hard the minute Ellie was born on a bright Arizona day in May of 1997. We have all these niceties in our culture--the expression, "Daddy's girl," is a prime example--that deceive fathers like me into believing a Lie.

When Ellie was nursing, I spent every night reading The Odyssey to her and Jenny. We took her everywhere--to Grand Canyon, Calfornia, Vienna, Budapest, and Albania--and both Jenny and I dreamed of raising a girl who would share our adventurous view of the world.

When Ellie was three, I read a series of books about world history to her. She showed a wonderful aptitude for history--any story, for that matter. "Daddy, tell me a story!" was her favorite expression, and I grew as a storyteller and a writer--my first manuscript, still unpublished, sadly, is a book-length version of one of her most favorite stories from that time: Nitokris's Sandal.

We returned from Albania when Ellie was two, and for the next four years of her life, I stayed home with her for all but one of them--a year I flailed away working for Catholic Charities. I coached her soccer team for four seasons. I went to incredible lengths to be a part of her life and to lead and adore as a father should.

And now it seems that it was really a waste of time. Ellie turned ten last May. Contempt followed soon after. "I don't think you really love me," she wrote me in a note at that time. It was a slap in the face, but I played along, trying to point out some of the things I've done for her, showing affection when I could. But to be honest, it was like telling me, in the middle of an epic road trip, "I don't think you've started the car yet."

Don't get me wrong, in many ways I've seen Ellie grow up this summer. She's taller. She takes a lot more responsibility at home, and her grades have improved. But I've also seen her grow apart. I'm the only person in the family who has a stronger personality than Ellie, which leads to far too many conflicts. She gets her way with just about everyone else.

The more I think of it, though. This is the way with little girls. They grow away from their daddies, pausing only for a brief, nostalgic display on their wedding day, before continuing life without them. I looked at the little girls that had grown up around me: Jenny, my sister, my close friends. I just don't see that any of them really love their fathers in the way that I wish my daughter would love me--the ideal that I mentioned earlier.

I talked with Jenny about this. She talks with her dad once or twice a year. He visited last summer for the first time in four years, and she's fine with that. She blames him for a lot of that--and, I agree that he made some major blunders with both her and her mother. But I asked her if she hadn't already started moving away before that. She figured that she probably had.

That is my major revelation of the week. It isn't a very positive one, but it is an important one, both for me and for Ellie. Since I came to this realization, I have treated Ellie with affection, but I haven't made a big deal about the insulting things she says or does. For example, when she planned a whole summer trip to go to EPCOT Center for just her and Jenny, I said, "Then I'm going to take the boys to Niagara Falls so we can be as far away from you as possible."

The 'Old Daddy' would have said, "Don't you remember all the road trips I've taken you on? Do you remember the places we've talked about visiting together?" The 'New Daddy' just volleyed the insult and went on with life, lower expectations and all.

Because that's the real way it is with daughters, and with daddies, and with life.

03 September 2007

Say Hello to my Blogging Friends

I've added a few new buddies to my blog list over the last few months, and I wanted to introduce them to all of you.

I think all of you know this, but The Sexiest Woman Alive is none other than my own, beautiful Bride, Jenny George. She's trying to use her blog to slow life down and take pictures of the only men in the world she loves more than me: her sons, Owen and Jo-Jo, and her boyfriend, Bart.... Wait a minute, she informs me that there is no Bart in her life. Whew!

Pastor Mike's Thoughts come from On High, even though he's pretty smart in his own right. Mike Potts is a close friend and a theological sojourner--he's helping me with my "working man's MA in Theology" by providing me and Jenny with dozens of books. He was the pastor at Bethpage UMC when Jenny and I first started going there, and while we don't see him on Sundays anymore, we still keep in touch.

My newest blog buddy is also one of my oldest friends. Gavin knew Jenny and me at Newbold (I know of one banquet at which Jenny was his date). He spoke at our wedding, and he has been our close friend for over 15 years. He is currently youth director of the Icelandic Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. His blog, "Reflecting Jesus," demonstrates the deep spirituality I've come to respect him for.

Finally, Andreas Dittes is a long-lost relative of mine who lives in Karlsruhe, Germany. He is a technology nut, and most of his posts are about new software and hardware he's picked up. He is trying to build an online database of our far-flung Dittes family, and I'm trying to help him track down the "prodigal" American branches that emigrated away from our cozy Heimestadt of Diedelsheim-Bretten, Germany, between 1850 and 1905. There are many Ditteses still living near Karlsruhe, although Portland, Tennessee, may not be too far behind! (You need to be able to read German to really understand Andreas's blog.)