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My Soul, there is a Country
Far beond the stars,
Where stands a winged sentry
All skillful in the wars,
There above the noise and danger
Sweet peace sits crowned with smiles,
And one born in a Manger
Commands the Beauteous files,
Hes is thy gracious friend,
And (O my Soul awake!) 
Did in pure love descend
To die here for thy sake,
If thou canst get but thither,
There grows the flower of peace,
The Rose that cannot wither,
Thy fortress and thy ease;
Leave then thy foolish ranges;
For none can thee secure,
But one, who never changes,
Thy God, thy life, thy Cure.

~ Henry Vaughan (1621-1695)


Theology and fitness podcasts

I listened to a really good podcast on fitness the other day.

Yes, I listened to a podcast. Something I rarely do. This one was short (as I believe all podcasts ought to be) and dealt with the idea of an easy fix or a quick finish. The speaker talked about our rush to be able to do something quickly; like deadlifting a certain weight, or doing a certain number of pull-ups, or running a marathon. All of those goals take time and the getting there is part of the benefit.

I have a fitness goal: I want to do a handstand. I used to be able to do one. I have a friend, who on her 55th birthday, did a handstand for -- you got it -- 55 seconds. Doing a handstand requires strength in the arms, the core, the legs. It requires control of the body. I am resisting the temptation to hurry. There are steps along the way.

At the same time, my more serious and important goal is to know God better. This summer I have been reading Bavinck's Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 2, which is on God and creation. I'm on page 296 of 619. I had the notion I would finish by the end of the summer. The same with Grant Osborne's Hermeneutical Spiral. That's another goal I have: learn more about hermeneutics. I'm on page 222 of 547. I predict I will finish Osborne first. Not only is the book shorter, it's easier reading. Bavinck goes into great deal with every doctriine he presents. He goes back to how the Greeks may have understood it, how the early church fathers understood it, and so on. Bavinck is not easy reading. Someone I know referred to him as "Horrible Herman."

I felt kind of frustrated that I would maybe not finish these books by August 31 (I'm thinking that's a definite eventuality) but after being reminded about fitness goals and time investment, I was reminded that the process of learning about God is beneficial in itself. In the end, I will never understand God completely because he is so high above me. Whatever understanding I attain will be given through the Holy Spirit as I pursue understanding. The growing awareness of deep truths itself is a reward. Those moments where the light comes on and something really amazing dawns on us are not nearly as meaningful when we have not worked hard.

The fitness guy asked the question: "Why do we want fast result?" That is a good question for those of us who keep our nose in the theology books.

Why the pressure to finish X-number of books in a year? Why the pressure to say that I finished this or that book in a certain amount of time? Isn't the process important, too? Sometimes, I think the pressure to say "I've finished 100 books this year" is akin to boasting "I'm a size 6."

I have some theories about why we rush, but those will wait for another day. 


The only "open letter" I will ever write

Not a lot of theology writing right now. Lots of reading, but I'm holidng my thoughts close me at the moment.

I'm not partial to open letters, but I'm going to write this one. I have no other reason than because maybe, someday, the one to whom I write it may see it. It's to my Grade 13 history teacher, Mr. O'Hearn. 

Dear Mr. O'Hearn:

When I arrived in your classroom for Canadian history, I didn't actually want to be there. Not your class specifically, but the school; the city, the province. Only three months before that, I was living in Calgary. For the first time in my 17 years of life, I thought "I would like to live here forever." A few months after thinking that, my dad said we were moving again. I didn't want to leave. I didn't want to live in Ontario ever again. I was a girl from the West.

So, it wasn't your class that I objected to, but the whole process of being in a new school. I struggled in math. I hated it. I hated chemistry; the teacher was not helpful. I hated getting up and getting on that bus every morning.

But I loved your clalss. You kept our attention, and you communicated interest in your subject matter. To this day, I remember the things you taught us about why Canadians are different from Americans. I remember your lessons about how immigration patterns made regionalism a reality in Canada. I remember the comments you wrote in red in the margin of our papers. These days, it's not cool to use red, but I never minded. I especially liked when one of the students identified an event as "The Articles of Copulation" instead of the "The Articles of Capitulation," and you wrote "Oh, really?" in the margin of his paper. You instilled a love of history in me as well as an interest in my country.

I remember your lessons about how to study for exams: take breaks every forty minutes; pay attention to how many marks the question is when figuring out how long to spend on it; do something fun the night before an exam; never study for an exam in the hallway outside the exam room; do something physical before an exam, like walk or run. You were preapring us for university, and when I got to the University of Waterloo, I was very well prepared. Your short answer questions prepared me for Sociology 101 exams.

More than that. Mr. O'Hearne, I remember your kindness to me. That fall, I had the lead in the school play, "Up the Down Staircase." My workload was heavy, and it was a stressful term. On top of generally wishing I was elsewhere, I was frustrated at how my term was going. In a conversation with you one day, you said something to me that I will never forget. You told me not to be too hard on myself because a long distance move such as I'd been through was one of the most stressful things to happen to a person. 

Finally. Someone got it. 

The final night of the play, you and your wife met me backstage, and you gave me a rose to congratulate me on a job well done.

I will never forget you because you were kind to me at a very hard time in my life. I guess these days, many teachers would be afraid to show such concern. I'm grateful you did. I wish when I left school, I'd had the words then to say thank you. 

So, Mr. Bert O'Hearn, wherever you are, thank you.


If these drawers could talk

I'm doing something I did a lot of as girl: I'm the only one awake and I'm at my desk. You can tell my husband and I are an older couple, because one of us is asleep by 10:00 on a Saturday night, and it's a novelty for me to be staying up. My husband has a reason for his fatigue. In preparation for an 80km fundraising bike ride, he rode 80km this morning, and he's a big peckish after all that.

I have had this desk since I was 17 years old. In the late 70's when my dad's employer began replacing their wooden banker's desks with metal ones, he bought a couple and stripped and re-finished them. I don't actually know where the other one is, but this one has been mine ever since. The first year my husband and I were married, it stayed at my parents' house because it was too big for our apartment. After we got a bigger place, it was brought home. It is a big desk: 59 inches wide by 39 inches deep. It holds a lot of stuff: my Mac desktop, my printer, a lamp, a selection of pens, and at the moment, three Bibles, seven other books, and three notebooks. The desk has pull out boards on either side, and I keep my Bibles on one and my notebooks on the other.

This desk was re-stained and finished with varathane around 1978, and it's still in good shape. One year, when I was doing a lot of quilting, I used a black Sharpie to draw around a heart onto a piece of tracing paper. It soaked through, and there is half of a heart, faded now, underneath the vinyl blotter. When we moved my study from the dining room to this room, I seriously thought about replacing the desk so I could have more bookshelf space. I couldn't do it.

I have done a lot of writing on this desk. I studied for my final exams in my last year of high school; I took my very first faltering steps of Bible study when I was 20 years old; I have prepared Sunday school lessons; written essays during my undergraduate years; written essays in seminary; done my Greek homework; written blog posts, and written old fashioned letters. I have planned homeschool lessons and curriculum purchases at this desk.

I have poured out my heart in journals at this desk; tried to sort through conflicting emotions; complained and castigated myself within the pages; sorrowed over burdens; cried. I have written stories at this desk, both on paper and on my desktop. I remember what was happening in my life at the time I wrote them. Sometimes, at my worst moments, I wrote nothing, because writing it down made it seem so real, so official. 

I dreamed of being a writer at this desk. 

I am not a "real" writer. I don't have published material. I don't have books to sell, or a platform to generate interest. The thought of trying and failing is quite paralyzing. It's much easier to say I just don't have a book in me. I feel like I don't know enough yet. I have had people ask me if I plan to write a book someday. I always tell them I don't have anything to say that someone else hasn't already said. 

But I continue to write. These days, other than school, it is mostly on paper in my journal, or in a file on my desktop called "offline blogging." As long as I want to think, I'll be writing. One of my favourite writing quotations comes from Stephen King; that writing is "refined thinking." If I can't write, I can't think. 

I love my desk. I love the memories it conjures: I'm an 18 year old girl, and I have given my heart to someone who lives far away. The long distance relationship is terribly romantic. Alone in my room, in the silent house, I write about it. My parents are asleep and my brothers are probably out somewhere, or asleep themselves. I write about my dreams for the future. I write about my 18 year old struggles. I hear potato chips calling me from the kitchen downstairs, so I get up and get some and bring them upstairs. I have my radio on low so as not to disturb my parents, who sleep next door.

My father re-finished this desk and gave it to me. It connects me to him. I like that. Some day, I will probably write about what it like for him to be gone. That may sound morbid, but it will happen.

Until I lose my mental faculties, I will be writing, and that is a comfort.


The fastest way to discontent

One of my husband's employees took a survey recently. He asked 30 people if they made their beds every day. Then he asked the same group of people if they backed into their parking spots or pulled in forward. Overwhelmingly, those who made their beds daily backed into their parking spots. I think there were only two like me, an outlier: I make my bed every morning and I never back into my parking spot. 

I like the word "outlier" better than "outsider." That would probably describe my situation for most of my life. I have seldom felt like I "fit in," and on the occasions when I did, I was forcing myself to by adopting the necessary traits. When we have the need to fit in, it can rob us of a lot of opportunity to do things we enjoy or things we ought to be doing.

It follows me everywhere. I am an outlier with the women whose mission it is to talk, non-stop, about women's issues. I don't read a book just because a woman wrote it. I have no plans at the moment to use my money to buy books on the subject (hey, we're going to Scotland next year; my pennies are required elsewhere). At the same time, I don't fit with the women who line up with the requirements for womanhood which have been determined by men; you know, the men who are most vocal in Christian social media, but outside of it, no one knows them.

I'm feeling more comfortable about where I am now. The fastest way to becoming discontent is to worry overmuch about "fitting in" or in finding a group to align myself with; a star to hitch my wagon to. If we naturally fit into a group, that's great, but if we have to force ourselves, ultimately, we're just pretending, aren't we? Being an outlier is a good thing. I wish I'd learned this years ago. 

The sermon series at my church this summer is about spiritual gifts, and one of the things our wonderful associate pastor said last week was the all the gifts should be used in service to God and others. How do we use what we have in service? I have been asking myself that question a lot lately in relation to why I'm in seminary. As a woman in seminary, I'm an outlier in my sphere of living. How will I use the things I'm learning? God has made it possible for me to do this. What will I do with this opportunity? I have to worry less about being aligned with a particular "side"or "group," and more about how I can serve. 

I'm hopeful that as long as I focus those questions, matters of "fitting in" will not be an issue.