Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Spiritual Self-Help?

Since when did spirituality become self-help?

Self-help is an American philosophical ethic that includes a self-focused and pragmatic individualism.

Spirituality has to do with transcendence and getting beyond yourself.

So, why is spirituality and self-help so syncretized together and how in the world are we buying in it it all?

Friday, October 26, 2007

Research Methods

If a quantitative researcher were to study an apple, this person would do the following:
  1. Weigh the apple.
  2. Slice it into pieces.
  3. Compare apples to apples.
  4. Observe apples in many contexts.
  5. Study apples over time.
  6. Find the infinite correlates of apples.
  7. Log all of the differences between kinds of apples.
  8. Discover the effects of apples inside various ecosystems and inside animal's bodies.
  9. Learn what happens when apples are ignored.
  10. Take surverys of people who have had experiences with apples.

If a qualitative researcher were to study an apple, the researcher would eat the apple and tell you how it tasted.

Dan In Real Life: A Movie Review

Do not believe the bad reviews that this movie is getting from some reviewers. They are out of touch - sitting at their laptops wondering why they have a wedgy and are blaming it on Dan.

"Dan" gives us some good surprises, some good tension, and some good laughs - OK, some great laughs. Steve Carell's humor is subtle, sometimes nonverbal, and always timed perfectly. I laughed out loud at least half a dozen times and chuckled frequently.

The plot is surprisingly not totally predictable. But best of all, this movie shows a family that is healthy (not perfect) and good. You might think you could be comfortable in this family.

The plot does a good job of connecting themes and it moves alongs fast enough.

See it. You won't regret it.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Jesus and the band of frauds

I sat in a local pastry shop (free wi-fi rocks) on Friday working on some school work. I couldn't help but overhear a group of men in an accountability group of sorts - a Christian group.

On the one hand, I really liked their friendship and sense of unity with one another. It was easy to come to the conclusion that they had been doing this for a while. There was a sense of community with these guys and it was good.

On the other hand, their conversation seemed shallow, packed with evangelical cliches ripped off from Joel Osteen. At some points in the conversation it seemed like these guys were trying to show off their spiritual biceps, like it was some sort of muscle flexing contest poorly cloaked in pre-packaged religious rhetoric.

I knew that I could never be in this group. Thinking of being with these guys gave me the same feeling I have had with many Christian men (not all) and Christian men's ministries (most, but not all). It has so often felt like men trying really hard to be men. That gender straightjacket they like to wear hurts me and I get to feeling inadequte so fast - what with my small biceps and all.

Hearing these conversations was so discouraging to me because I wanted to hear something of depth and thoughtfulness. I guess there is a longing inside me for a genuine male spirituality that perhaps doesn't have to me so "male." Hearing these conversations gave me the feeling of spiritual isolation and loneliness. I didn't even feel like I was in the same religion as these guys. Although they seemed like decent guys, I found myself not wanting to be associated with these them - maybe wishing that they were really Hindu or something so I could say to anyone who might ask, "No, I don't believe any of that stuff, I'm a Christian" without having to explain myself any further than that.

I guess what I wanted were guys with more depth, more theologically thoughtful words, with some part of their life a mystery they were catiously stepping into or helplessly caught up in and were trying to figure it out. Nope, there was nothing left for these guys to figure out. I wanted their conversation to make Jesus look like more than a vending machine that works on prayer coins.

I began to despair thinking of who I am yoked with as a Christan.

Ah, but what saved me last Friday was recalling the standards Jesus used when choosing people with whom to associate. He chose some blue collar guys, some rich guys, some educated guys, some unschooled fellows, some political radicals, some politically apathetic guys, some arrrogant dudes, and a whole bunch of women with varying economic, financial, and political statuses as well. In sort, he selected a bunch of people who were in their own ways weak and self-interested. He chose a bunch of frauds.

If these guys sitting around the table last Friday were in some way frauds, there were not any different that the frauds Jesus decided not only to hang out with, but to release portions of his mission to. And even more piercing to me Friday was the self-analysis of this question:

What kind of fraud won't associate with people Jesus has accepted?

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Can't say no to this song

I've been taken by the song, "Good Enough" by Evanescence.

I do not know the intended context of the relationship within this song, but I take it as an extremely vulnerable prayer. The piano and strings and vocals are beautifully haunting and dramatic.

Anyone out there know this song or have thoughts on it?

"Good Enough"

Under your spell again.
I can't say no to you.
Crave my heart and it's bleeding in your hand.
I can't say no to you.

Shouldn't have let you torture me so sweetly.
Now I can't let go of this dream.
I can't breathe but I feel...

Good enough,
I feel good enough for you.

Drink up sweet decadence.
I can't say no to you,
And I've completely lost myself, and I don't mind.
I can't say no to you.

Shouldn't let you conquer me completely.
Now I can't let go of this dream.
Can't believe that I feel...

Good enough,
I feel good enough.
It's been such a long time coming, but I feel good.

And I'm still waiting for the rain to fall.
Pour real life down on me.
'Cause I can't hold on to anything this good enough.
Am I good enough for you to love me too?

So take care what you ask of me,
'cause I can't say no

Friday, October 19, 2007

The 3 Signs

There are three ways, three signs if you will, by which I know that I have overcommitted and become consumed with school and work.

1. I have an ambiguous sense of dread. Everything is frightening and I want to crul up in bed more than any other thing. It is ambiguous because when I am in it, I don't know what it is, why it is there or how to escape it. When I am caught within an ambiguous sense of dread, if I cought or sneeze, I have to rule out cancer as a first precaution because I figure that I must be, in some way, near death's front door.

2. My sacred windows close. Sacred windows of time with my family appear to me to be opportunities to get more work done knowing that everyone will understand.

3. I have neither laughed nor caused laughter in a span of three days.

If none of these are in play, I am probably pretty balanced - or am closing in on my ever enlarging capacity for denial.

Foolish Musings on Wisdom

Ever since I was a child, I have been interested in, longed for, intrigued by the concept of wisdom. It is probably the influence of my mother which got me interested in the thing.

Now, I can say by experience that interest in wisdom does not necesssarily correlate with increased wisdom. I have a good bit of stubborn foolishness lodged in me such that any attempt at quick extraction might cause the death of me - or perhaps even something more serious.

And yet, I do not lose heart because I know there is wisdom somewhere and I figure if I live long enough I might stumble across a bit of it - not that I would know what to do with it when I found it. In those rare moments when I detect the presence of wisdom, I regress into the depths of my immaturity. I'm a geeky 7th grade boy struggling to find a word, a single word, to speak to the very attractive 10th grade girl - the girl who actually wouldn't mind haging out with me if I acted the least bit human. Usually I am quiet in the presence of wisdom, but sometimes I crack and rattle off bizarre collections of words that in no way resemble meaning. I can further the window grade in Annapolis skyscrapers like Tibetan Monks...uhm...uhm.. Inconvenient Truth. Grizzly Adams. Spider monkeys farts smell really bad. When I am with wisdom I am out of context.

I find ways, with remarkable reliability, to alienate myself from wisdom everytime she flirts with me. Does wisdom ever run out of patience? If she does, I'm done for because this stake of fools is lodged in my heart and is sticking out of my chest and I have in many ways come to depend on it - kind of a Stockholm Syndrome dependence, but dependence nonetheless. I'm not sure she's willing to wait around for me to realize that I can break off the end of the stake and then go get surgery and actually remove this foolshness from me.

Sometimes she touches the end of the stake with the tip of her finger, cocks her head to the side to let her hair dangle down a bit, smiles, and benignly tries to start a conversation, "whatcha doin?" She doesn't make eye contact immediately, not until I start answering, which ends up being something about the flatulence of spider monkeys. I don't know how to talk to the girl.

When she asks what I am doing, I come to realize that I don't have any idea what I am doing and that I never had a clue that I was actually partiticpating in life in any meaningful way. But her question tells me that I am doing something and that my doings, whatever they are, not only can be noticed, but might even be of interest to someone. Her question is call not only to awareness, but a call to responsibility. Wisdom does not flirt with me becuase she wants to consume me, but rather because she wants to awaken me from my foolish slumber of self-absorbed immaturity, awaken from this love affair with the stake in my heart and be active in this world. She sees my power and wants to motivate me to use it for the benefit of the world.

My prayer is that I can learn to speak with wisdom, converse with her, receive her counsel. Who knows, maybe I'll set and appointment with the surgeon.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

100,000 Hits

On Friday, one of you will be the 100,000th hit on th is blog.


Wednesday, October 17, 2007


My wonderful, overly observant, creative, and not-afriad-to-say-it-to-your-face, nine-year daughter suggested to me that I should be Dumbledore for Halloween as she made me aware of her awareness of the few grey hairs emerging on my gotee and on my head.

Oh she laughed and laughed, thinking it to be quite funny. And her laughter was not misplaced because just prior to her laughter, she delivered her lines with an innocence (false though it was) that wandered into believability.

I love having children. I know that my own personal entertainment and amusement is not a good reason to have children, but dang, they are entertaining and amusing.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Messiah: Stubborn and Patient

Broken bread; broken body,
Hunched under a world's wait
For a Messiah - The centuries
Stumble into each other
Anticipating a hero;

Broken bread; broken body,
Hunched under a world's amnesia
Of a Messiah - The centuries
Push each other over
To be the hero;

Broken bread; broken body,
Holding together a world of wounds,
For this Messiah - the centuries
Gathered together.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Hard To Kill: Restoration Movement Version

There are lots of reasons for people to abandon their Restoration Movement church these days. Hypocrisy, irrelevant arguments, out of touch worship styles, some weird theology, and a growing sense of becoming the new Amish. And to be sure, many have left their RM church in the dust.

But larger numbers of people have remained. Oh sure, there are some who remain because they are trying to cling to old traditions and good feelings from the 1950's, but this crew is diminishing. Many people in RM churches, in contrast, are staying as they are slowly re-theologizing their lives in a number of ways. What keeps them from leaving is not so much the same theological adherence as their parents, but other theological, social, and strategic perspectives. Forces other than perfect doctrinal adherence are driving these people.

Here are a few:

1. Network. Their network of relationships is so strong that to leave the congregation would not be limited only to what happens on Sunday morning, it would mean losing deep friendships, a collective sense of direction, and the support of people who "understand." They would lose their "we-ness."

2. Comfort. There is something important about knowing where the blind spots are. Having to learn new blind spots can be very difficult and unnerving once you find them. Lots of these people who stay understand that putting themselves and their chidlren through the kind of change that moving on requires might do more harm than good.

3. Personalized Emergence. Many people who stay in RM churches know that there are flaws and tolerate them corporately; however, they have found other missional, spiritual, or worship outlets not provided by their congregation. Most of these people do thses kinds of things under the radar - under the radar not out of fear for themselves, but that their hearts are so good that they do not want to makes waves for other people.

4. Excessivley Patient: These people have hope and a high view of God and people. They believe that the current "identity crisis" RM churches are supposed ot be having is not going to outlast their dedication to God. They believe that God loves this people called the RM (among many other, of course) and will not leave them to be overrun by church tyrants, spiritual thugs, and the warlords of religion. They believe redemption is in process and in fact works best when things look their worst.

The Restoration Movement is going to be a hard one to kill off. There are just too many people who are truly loving God and exploring new theological realities who choose to remain.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Monday, October 08, 2007

Philosophy Shifts in a 1000 places

Everywhere I turn, philosophy is hiding behind the door. From theology to theories of family and family therapy, to ideas about how change happens, to research methodology, philosophy is always there somewhere.

Not only is philosophy ever-present, it gathers and exerts a powerful influence people's thinking. Furthermore, people need not be aware that they are influenced by philosophy for it to have influence. In fact, the less aware a person is that philosophy has an influence, the more influence it is likely to have.

Let's look at theology and church. The emerging church is experimenting with a philospohical shift from modernity to postmodernity. It has sparked a huge debate. Many have called the emering church a heresy. The loyalty people have to their denominational brand is threaened with the emerging church. Emerging church people would say that they are just re-thinking church in a way that is truer than what church has become with all of the denominational contaiminations.

In the world of counseling and therapy, there is a shift from modern to postmodern. The big dog model of therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), has been one the top for models of therapy. The problem is that it doesn't work for everyone. New, postmodern, models of therapy are emerging. There is a pragmatic approach interested in common factors more than model of therapy. There are other postmodern therapies emerging as well. CBT disciples cannot agree that anything but CBT could help anyone. Kind of sounds like denominational loyalty to me.

I am now learning about the implications philosophy has on research and research methods. I wonder if similar patterns will emerge here as well.

What do you think?

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Diagnosed by Palmer

If you are human, especially an educator or minister kind of human, then you should read Parker Palmer's little book called, "To Know as We Are Known: Education as a Spiritual Journey."

The whole book is good, toggling between the philosophical and practical. It relies on wisdom of the Desert Fathers and a saying by Abba Felix.

What struck me this morning on the thrid to last page was this excerpt:

But most of us in our daily lives exist neither in solitude nor in community, but somewhere in between. We sacrifice both form and content of truth. Seldom are we truly alone, and seldom are we truly in relationship to others. This is the vacuousness of mass society and mass education: our lives alternate between collective busyness and individual isolation, but rarely allow for an authentically solitary or corporate experience. In this half-lived middle ground, our solitude is loneliness and our attempts at community are fleeting and defeating. We are alone in the crowd, unable to touch the heart of love in ourselves or to touch others in ways that draw out the heart.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Choking on RESEARCH

One time when I was a kid, I recall eating a large piece of pizza with my mother at the Pizza and Pasta in the local mall. A couple of college students approached us and asked if they could photograph us for a project there were doing. They needed photos of children doing things. They asked me to take a big bite of pizza, so I did.

Cheese and pepperoni drooped between my teeth and the pizza crust in my hand as I pulled my head slowly back from the pizza crust. The thinning cheese strand dangling between my mouth and the remaining pizza supported a single pepperoni, but the cheese was losing a battle to gravity.

The college students snapped photo after photo as I tried to smile with a massive mouth full of pizza. I had literally bitten off more than I could realistically chew.

I now feel like I have done the same thing, only this time it is with research projects. I am involved in varying degrees with 7 research projects. My professors said, "Do some research," and there I went doing research.

But, just like the pepperoni pizza, I really like it.