Spiritual Pornography

 

Someday, I’ll have a little log cabin in the woods at the edge of the lake. There will be mountains off in the distance and gorgeous sunrises will paint the sky.

I should really take a vacation in the Caribbean. Relaxing oceanside is just what I need. I deserve the break from all the hard work I do.

My workplace is such a drag. I should look for a place where work is fulfilling and all my co-workers get along. 

Sound familiar?

I have become rather skilled at complaining lately. Mostly to myself, but I am sure my friends have noticed. To justify my malcontent, I’ve created a litney of excuses, such as:

I’m just so tired from work,

the weather has just been awful lately,

and I just don’t have time to do the things I enjoy anymore…

However, my excuses don’t get at the root of the issue. The real problem is that I have learned to focus on the often small inconveniences and troubles of everyday experiences while becoming blind to the much more abundant and meaningful good. Our current culture thrives on this attitude, focusing on success and growth as the markers of happiness. The emphasis to always seek bigger and better breeds malcontent and leaves no room for gratitude.

In order to cope with my selective perception and grumbling, I often turn to fantasizing about ideal situations, e.g., the log cabin dream house, where everything is awesome (as in the Lego® movie). But this is spiritual pornography:

“…creating a mental fantasy of a perfect place of people or people and not recognizing the good things around me. This spiritual porn is my nemesis. It’s poison.

-Kevin Rains in Living into Community1

Fantasizing about a trouble-free future negates appreciation of life in the present, minimizing both personal actions and interactions with others right now. This is not the way life should be. But what to do about it? Instead of cultivating a culture of complaints, nurture gratitude. Be thankful for not only for the career advancing, relationship building ‘big’ events in life, but also for the fleeting and fragile moments of grace. Pause and take note when a friend shares their life with you over tea, when you notice an unfolding bud, and when the sun scatters light just so in the sunrise before a busy work day. Recognize the unexpected good in the mundane.

Counter-cultural attitude transformation sounds like a big deal, but I’m hoping to start with the small stuff.

 

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Trying to be thankful – even for snow…

1. Pohl, Christine D. 2012. Living into Community: Cultivating Practices that Sustain Us. Eerdmans Publishing. pp. 215.

Au Sable Conference 2016

Early each year, the graduate students and staff of the Au Sable Graduate Fellows Program are invited to spend a weekend together in the Michigan north woods. Au Sable promotes education, research, and scholarship of environmental stewardship, from a Christian perspective. For graduate fellows, the conference is an opportunity to both build relationships and networks among academics from many major universities with similar interests and also refresh, worship, and reframe with a break from graduate student ‘life and business as usual’.

Visiting the ‘fingertips’ of the Michigan mitten in the dead of winter creates a vision of snowscapes – and the Au Sable campus did not disappoint, despite the strong El Niño year. Fellows enthusiastically participated in cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, hikes around the frozen lakes, and broomball as critical ‘retreat’ aspects of the conference agenda.

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Dave Warners and the dramatic Au Sable campus backdrop

Professor Dave Warners, Calvin College, gave two plenary sessions focused on restoration ecology/reconciliation (restoring the human-creation relationship) ecology. He used two primary examples to illustrate his vision of what creation care can and should look like. The first highlighted the work of the Plaster Creek Stewards, a watershed-focused, ecological community restoration project in Grand Rapids. The second was the story of how and why the Chacón family (Rio Savegre Valley, San Gerardo, Costa Rica) transformed their land-use practices from traditional slash and burn dairy to ecologically considerate orchard and fish farming, forest preservation, and ecotourism.

The weekend was capped off by a Sunday worship session and a sermon/plenary contextualizing historical theological responses to environmental crises by Au Sable Graduate Fellows director Rolf Bouma.

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2016 Au Sable Conference participants

 

A fresh look

Happy 2016!

As time turned to a new year, I realized it was time for a new website. I’m not thrilled with the WordPress twenty sixteen theme, but it’s a lot easier that building my own site in html.

The most exciting part about the new site is the inclusion of my small-scale photography pursuits, focusing on world travels, equestrian, pets, and human portraits. Hopefully I’ll have both content, options, and pricing up soon.

ALSO, Steve has created a new blog about carbon offsets in travel, called My Carbon Neutral Vacation. Check it out here: https://climateneutralvacation.wordpress.com/

Time for a change

Last night, we hosted a casual New Years Eve party to mark the passage from one calendar year to another. As we were waiting for the ball to drop (why do we do this, anyway?) with champagne in hand, I started to reflect on the year.

The bad:

Early 2014 – I totaled our favorite car, the weather was awful, I was unsatisfied with my job, and I injured myself beyond repair.

Mid 2014 was the slow, painful process of recovery. Extreme physical limitation (crutches are NOT my friend) taught me apathy, and how to shut out the world so that time would pass more quickly.

Late 2014 brought the realization that despite my best efforts, I was not yet healed. I would have to submit again to the surgeon’s knife in hope of regaining full strength.

Looking outside of my own experience, friends and family also struggled. Depression, fear, divorce, diagnoses, and lost faith seemed rampant.

However, through the memory of the pain associated with all the bad, the good began to shine through:

Community. Through all the pain of this year, we were there for each other. I feel overwhelming gratitude for the friends that were there, helping me, when I couldn’t help myself.

Hope. Through the apathy and disillusionment, there was always the promise of things to come. From immediate flickers of progress, like the feeling of joy when taking my first walking steps again, to the brilliant hope of the returning kingdom that makes itself known through a million widening tears in the fabric of this fallen world  – a day will come when all is right.

LOVE…

I can’t even express with words what the love was/is like.

When the countdown ended and the confetti in Times Square blanketed the skies, I realized that the tradition of celebrating the passage of time to a new year was so much more than marking the completion of another trip around the sun. Events in time are important, but the real celebration is centered on the timeless fruits of eternity underlying our earthly existence.

May community, hope, and above all, LOVE, pervade all our experiences in the new year.

Happy 2015, y’all.

My place in this world

Today was a truly magnificent day.

After the pleasantries of church, seeing family, and having a wonderful home-cooked meal, I was able to enjoy a quiet walk with Flora all the way down to the pond and back in the fading sunshine.

The walk was a feast for the senses. The dry, matted down turf was springy under my slippers and crutches. The light breeze rustled through the few remaining blades of last years’ tall grasses and the creek ran swift and clear underneath the footbridge. The scent of spring tickled my nose as Flora excitedly snuffed the drying trails of field mice and voles that ran through the tiny sprigs of greening moss and clover. The backyard phoebe male announced he was back, sallying after early insects in the pasture and pumping his tail rhythmically like one of those silly nodding birds whose habitats are office desks and car dashes. Flights of ducks and geese whistled over as their new plumage stylishly held them aloft. As dusk creeped in, a couple brave spring peepers called, but were nearly drowned out by the bugling of the Sandhill cranes overhead as they returned to their evening roosts. 

Being outside, free from the stuffiness and confines of inside, is incredibly liberating. Everyone needs a place – somewhere they identify with, somewhere they feel at ease in, somewhere to recharge — that they’re searching for:

Lookin’ for a reason
Roamin’ through the night to find
My place in this world                           ~Place in this World, Michael W. Smith (1990)

My place has always been outside. Being in, within, and a part of creation is of invigorating, purposeful, awe-inspiring, and calming, all at once. 

Thank goodness for spring!

Stubborn is as Stubborn Does

*Warning – this is a bit of a rant post*

It’s been made very clear to me over the last couple weeks that I’m one stubborn pain in the arse. At least, that’s the not-so-subtle vibes that I’ve gotten from a few folks trying to help me out as I learn to navigate life with crutches and a bum knee. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m overwhelming grateful that there are folks around me who are kind enough to offer help and I’m truly not trying to snub them. However,

1) I value independence. Yes, it may be a bit vain that I want to do everything for myself, by myself. But, folks aren’t always there when you need them. Better to learn how to do things yourself and not count on/rely on/overburden others who have their own issues to deal with. Even worse, I’m gun-shy of asking for help in situations where said help could refuse. That happened recently…and it stung a bit.

2) If I can take care of myself, I can still take care of others. That’s very important to me. 

3) Being able to come up with creative solutions to problems intrigues me. If you see me trying to balance a book on my head, carry a glass of water in my teeth, and use my hips alone to re-position my crutches, I’m probably having fun. The inherent danger of such activities also correlates with a sense of accomplishment. Seriously, how else am I going to entertain myself? 

4) I love challenges, especially physical challenges. 

5) I want to still be viewed as normal. Let me join the social groups, go to events, play games, without feeling the need to treat me special. I’m not dead. I’m not dying. I want to be included and loved, not accommodated. 

Should I learn to accept help from others more readily? Yes.

Do I feel as if I’m snubbing people when they do offer to help and I refuse. Yes. 

Will I continue to offer help to others who I think could also use a hand? Yes!

Am I young and stubborn – and will probably reconsider all of this as I get older? Yeah…

Should you continue to offer me a helping hand? Yes!

But, please don’t be offended if I don’t let you do everything for me, ok?

Long time coming – but not how I expected

Let me start out by saying that I’ve wanted to start a personal blog for a long time – however, time so easily flies away and I always had something more interesting to do.

Life has a funny way of stopping you in your tracks sometimes, especially when you’re comfortable with where you think you’re going.

On March 21st, while playing soccer in our Campus Edge co-ed team, I took a hard kick to the outside of my extended knee. Before I hit the ground, I knew this one was the B-I-G O-N-E. The instant searing pain created a spinning kaleidoscope of colored flecks in my vision as I curled up on the field, trying to manage the pain. After being carted off the field, with many a ‘We’re sure it’s just your IT-band acting up’, I hung out for awhile at the house of some of the team members’ and then called it a night – hoping the useless knee would magically reconfigure and be right-as-rain in the morning. Alas, it was not to be. Turns out I had left an ACL, part of my MCL, and a small chunk of medial meniscus on the field that night. Curiously, in hindsight, I recall the actual event being rather undramatic for my first real sports-related injury.

Last Thursday, March 13th, I had arthroscopic surgery to repair the knee. I am now the proud owner of a cadaver tendon – folded up nicely to emulate an ACL and screwed into my bones in the approximate locale of the original. I also carry a single stitch in my mensicus — which is more troublesome than it would seem at first blush. The end result of all of this is that I am now reduced to sitting in my porch chair, squeezed by a leg immobilizer, and soothed by the dulcet hum of my new best friend – the DonJoy Ice Man. He keeps my incised and traumatized knee tissues cool with his icy embrace. *Ahem!

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My new, icy friend

The ACL rehab is a full 9 months which is bad enough, but the single meniscus stitch complicates things a bit and requires 6 weeks of crutches before additional progress can be made. Yikes! Those of you reading this likely know that is a near death-sentence for my typical lifestyle. Anyways, until I get my normal, athletic, crazy life back, I have a bit more time to appreciate the finer things in life, right?!

Most events have a silver lining if you look hard enough – even if you have to turn them over and shake them to get a tiny glimmer to pop out. My side-lining has shown me how amazing my friends are. They created a supportive network since the surgery, providing meals, entertainment, gifts – seriously! including gorgeous floral bouquets and chocolate, and shoulders to lean on. A couple in particular have really gone far beyond the call of duty. It’s humbling to realize how good I have it. Thanks, y’all – I love you.

Anyways, that’s where I’m at for the moment – hopefully my chair will inspire me to new blogging heights.

I’ll finish with a cherry-picked verse for the day:

Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work:  If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!