Stillness

Psalm 23 was balm in an otherwise chafed week. As I read its words again for the first time, I found myself dropping all pretense allowing its words to massage my soul ineffably. In particular, I found comfort in its second verse:

[The Lord] makes me lie down in green pastures
and leads me beside still waters.


Where do you find stillness these days?

Where do you find quiet?

Like the Psalmist, do you believe God leads you into stillness?

Like a caring Father who knows our needs better than we, does God make you lie down in order to find rest?

We find ourselves climbing a mountain with Isaiah and companioning with the church’s early female saints in today’s readings. We were called out of our complacency by Christ, and Christ serving as a judge pointed to outer darkness as a threat to our souls. Complacency and apathy are not the only dangers to our souls these days. Another may be refusing the Lord as Shepherd, the Lord who leads, the Lord who not only made the heavens and the earth, but makes us lie down in green pastures. It is this Lord who pats us on our backs to settle us. It is this Lord who whispers, “Get some rest.” “Go to sleep.” “It’s okay.” “Everything’s going to be alright.”

This fatherly sentiment is something the great hymnist Isaac Watts discovered in the 23rd Psalm. Today I’ll leave you with his paraphrase of this arresting Psalm.

My Shepherd will supply my need, Jehovah is his Name;
in pastures fresh he makes me feed beside the living stream.
He brings my wandering spirit back when I forsake his ways,
and leads me, for his mercy’s sake, in paths of truth and grace.

When I walk through the shades of death, thy presence is my stay;
one word of thy supporting breath drives all my fears away.
Thy hand, in sight of all my foes, doth still my table spread;
my cup with blessings overflows, thy oil anoints my head.

The sure provisions of my God attend me all my days;
Oh, may thy house become abode and all my work be praise.
There would I find a settled rest, while others go and come;
No more a stranger or a guest, but like a child at home.
~The Hymnal 1982, p. 664


Where do you find [childlike] stillness these days?

And a Little Child Shall Lead Them

While outside, J. does not like being in his stroller. Walking and pointing out things are more his style. Yesterday afternoon’s walk took on this new game. He rebuked the stroller, reached for my hand, and pointed down the street. J. wanted to walk. He wanted to walk and see the Halloween decorations a few houses down, and that is what we did.
It’s a small miracle when my child takes me by the hand and leads me. Just like he was reluctant to take a ride in his stroller, I was unwilling to follow his lead, but am forever grateful for choosing his way instead of my own. Yesterday J. reminded me of innocence, surprise, and delight. J. showed me joy, invited me to play, and to see – to see. When was the last time joyful innocence caught you by the hand and pulled you along to surprise?

Parking Destiny

The kingdom of heaven is like a parking lot.
A church parking lot
where spaces are gotten, but mostly free.
Cars, trucks, vans (and even motorcycles) have their place.

Most days the parking lot patiently waits.
At times for a patron.
Always for a visitor.
Occasionally, a school bus, delivery truck, or mail carrier making use of its asphalt turns ‘round. The twist leaves tire marks like an icon of repentance.

The kingdom of heaven is like a well-worn parking lot,
its tacit function not altogether obvious.
Think parking? It shows you a pilgrim.
Found a spot? Next time, it’s claimed.
One’s sweltering plight? Find relief through its sultry saints.

Parking fortune,
and destiny,
and lot, remembered
and forgotten at once.

Deschooling

Since our oldest first started attending elementary school, our family was used to a Monday through Friday drop-off at 7:30 A.M. with a 2:30 P.M. pick-up. At once, the school served as both an opportunity for education and childcare. For us, childcare officially ended at 2:30, but the education continued. After an early afternoon break, the rest of the afternoon and evening was set aside for homework, study, and reading. Like mom and dad had a full-time job, so the logic went, for our oldest, education was his current vocation. This ideology changed somewhat when we decided to homeschool, and when I first discovered the concept of deschooling.

Home School Mom defines deschooling as “the adjustment period a child goes through when leaving school and beginning homeschooling. To fully benefit from homeschooling, a child has to let go of the private or public school culture as the norm. Together, these norms are called deschooling, and it is a crucial part of beginning homeschooling after time spent in a classroom.” I soon discovered parents had to deschool and let go of norms as well.

Time and schedule were the first things on our deschooling list. When, exactly, were we going to homeschool? At first, our default went to the norms held in brick and mortar schools. We soon discovered our old conceptions of time and schedule did not work, so we started asking questions around time. “What is the best time of day for our oldest to learn?” “Where was he comfortable learning (table, desk, couch, outside/inside)?” “What were his default learning styles?” What were our natural teaching abilities?” “Do we want to learn together?” “Do we want to teach one another?” With these questions and others like it, we soon discovered a natural teaching/leaning cycle in the morning with lighter activities in the early afternoon. We also learned that if we only have one hour of substantial learning time one day while doing four hours the next, there is no harm. Finally, we got rid of the Monday through Friday mentality; instead, teaching around work and life schedules. Sometimes we take the weekend off. Sometimes not. Sometimes homeschooling happens several days in a row. Sometimes there’s a needed break in the middle. We all had to learn that every hour of direct one-to-one instruction far exceeded the time in a classroom full of other learners. For example, if we need to spend a whole hour on something difficult, we do so. If we solve a problem in 10 minutes, we move on, pushing the learning hour to its limits.

The concept of deschooling also gave us the freedom to experience learning in all aspects of family life. We’re now cooking more together, visiting exciting places during the week, checking out more books from the library, discussing the candidates for President, watching documentaries, playing board games, and getting curious about the world – together. We listen to music while we study, play chess, and memorize Shakespeare. We pray Noonday Prayer out of The Book of Common Prayer. Learnings mostly occur at our home, but they also happen in car rides, family walks and trips to the swimming pool.

Homeschool has permitted all of us to take charge of where, how, and what we learn. It gives us a sense of awe and joy for the world around us while nodding to humility as we realize that we are standing on the shoulders of all the saints and sinners who came before us. My wife and I no longer check homework because the work is done at home, in the car, around the dinner table, and on walks. We no longer rely on the brick and mortar school to provide an education as well as childcare. We’re caring for one another in new, different, and more profound ways. The choice to homeschool has brought us closer, and for that, I am grateful.

To read more about deschooling and to find many books on the subject click here

This is an ongoing blog about the ups and downs of homeschooling. For my previous posts on the subject click here and here.

Mind Mapping

As I mentioned in my first post on homeschooling, our family has chosen the three principals of prayerwork, and study taken from St. Benedict’s Rule of Life to guide each day. These three principals provide balance and purpose. Like the North Star, they order the day. Their guidance helps to answer questions like, What is a balanced life? What does purposeful living look like? How do we pray? Why do we work and study? These are weighty questions to tackle for a 4th grader. These are profound questions for anyone. Creating a mind map began this process of inquiry.

A mind map is simply a tool to get the creative juices flowing. (Back when I was in elementary school it might have been called brainstorming). We were interested in creating a routine that was at once, orderly and flexible. We already had our guiding principles (prayer, work, and study). Now, we just needed to flesh out what those meant at the time of the mind map, and with the understanding that reality will help form new ways of living into this Rule.

Under the Rule of Prayer, we agreed upon three practices: prayer at meals and at bedtime, reading the Bible, and celebrating The Lord’s Supper. Currently, prayer is sporadic, as is Bible reading, while celebrating Holy Eucharist has been with my oldest son and me. These are new practices for our family underneath the same roof. I’m starting to realize how I relied on other contexts (church and Sunday School) to reinforce prayer practices. Now the full burden is on me. Prayer begins in the family. Church and Sunday School strengthen practices in a Christian home. I hope to report our family’s progress in prayer at a later date.

Using the mind map, we translated Work as simple household chores: cooking, cleaning, taking out the trash, washing the dishes, setting the table, etc. Thus far, our oldest now wakes up, eats breakfast, makes the bed, brushes teeth, and gets dressed for the day. As the year passes, I hope to add taking out the trash/recycling and setting the table, among other things.

The last principle under our Rule is Study. As parents, this means lesson planning and seeking out teaching opportunities within life’s daily routine. It is giving our oldest the freedom to study and learn where he wants (kitchen table, his room, on the porch, couch, outside, etc.). We’re also learning how to navigate formal learning time with downtime, and develop boundaries around screen time versus leisurely reading. For a 4th grader, 1 to 4.5 hours of instruction/learning/exploring four days a week is recommended. Our family is staying within this rubric based on everyone’s schedule. In our four weeks of homeschooling, not one week has looked the same. Our routine is flexible enough not to worry about tight scheduling. It’s also let us experiment with having a day or two off in the middle of the week because we all worked hard over the weekend (homeschooling is not a Monday – Friday gig).

Starting with the mind map has helped us focus. It also begins to show us the tensions of chaos and order, or love and law. My next post will explore the topic of deschooling. 

On and Off the Court

Matthew 15: 21-28

It’s been said, “There’s a thousand different entryways into the life of the Church.” For some, it was having the privilege of baptism at an early age – being born into the Church through a parent or grandparent by the providence of God. For others, it was a harder road of conversion. Maybe you came to Christ later in your life, finally acquiescing to the Spirit’s call, and saying ‘yes’ to discipleship. Still others may have found themselves coming to the Lord through the classical expressions of Truth, Beauty, and Goodness. The truth of the Gospel came to you from unexpected quarters – music, a novel, a play, or philosophy. Perhaps a swim in the ocean, a walk in the woods, or an attempt to climb a mountain allowed for transcendent beauty to ravish your senses taking you out of yourself and into something beyond. Still, an entryway into the life of the church could have been the greatest action of all time; that is, love – the kindness of a stranger, an act of unconditional care, the touch of a beloved. All of these are one of a thousand ways in which God reaches in and reaches out to us beckoning us into the good life.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus shows us yet another way into the life and into relationship with God. It may be categorized as wrestling – wrestling and persevering with God. Like Jacob who wrestled with an Angel of the Lord, finally pinning him down, and demanding a blessing, today’s Canaanite woman begs for mercy, does not receive it immediately, but intellectually spars with Jesus in one of the greatest one-liners in the Bible, and in her perseverance finally receives not only mercy and blessing – but an increase in faith. Jesus, acting like a good coach doesn’t (initially) give her what she wants. He allows her to persevere in prayer which gives her the confidence she needs. Jesus, acting like a good coach calls her a derogatory name she’s heard all her life knowing she doesn’t really believe the name-calling. Jesus wasn’t tired. He wasn’t grumpy, and he certainly wasn’t prejudice. Jesus knew that she knew where mercy came from. Jesus knew that she knew where dignity was planted. Jesus knew that she knew the faith, and like an original coach with unorthodox methods, he drew these out of her; perhaps even surprising them both in the process.

I’m currently watching the sports documentary, The Last Dance on Netflix. It’s about the lead up to the 1997-98 NBA playoffs with the iconic Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. MJ’s second-hand man was Scotty Pippen back then. Next in line was the controversial figure, Dennis Rodman. The coach was Phil Jackson. Phil certainly had an unorthodox style of coaching, and this is clearly seen in the way he coached Dennis Rodman. Dennis was always in the news for being a bad boy. He liked to party. He liked women. He liked to gamble. Overall, he liked to live life on the edge. From time-to-time, and in public cries for help, Dennis would disappear. His team, coach, and organization didn’t know where he went and because of his battle with anxiety and depression they often worried about him. Dennis would allow his bad boy persona in the media to get the best of him during these times of despair. He was liked one day, and judged and hated the next. On the other hand, and for Dennis, basketball was very simple. It was ordered. It had rules and boundaries – something he never was really fond of outside the court. Phil Jackson understood the tension within Dennis. Phil knew Dennis knew that he was something far more greater than any reporter could ever write about him – on the court, as well as off it. Phil took him under his wing, and worked with Dennis’ dignity as a way of making him a better basketball player. He wouldn’t allow Dennis to believe what others said or thought about him.

This coaching posture is exactly what I see Jesus doing in relationship with the Canaanite woman. He saw her for what she was even though he names for her what other people (falsely) said she was. He challenged her. He gave her test. And she passed. With flying colors. Her perseverance in prayer paid off. Her daughter was healed, her faith was increased, and her relationship with God deepened.

Who are those coaches in your own life who wouldn’t let you get away with what others said you were? Who are those voices who have told you with their words as well as their actions that you are a beloved child of God, and don’t you forget it? Who were those voices who didn’t say such things, but allowed you the space to figure that out on your own? How, perhaps, have you challenged God to remember you, and to remember your needs as well as your wishes? Is your relationship with God mature enough that you’re willing to wrestle, to wonder, to persevere, and to get clear on things with faith as a backdrop?

This week, reread this story with Jesus as that coach asking yourself, “What deeper things is God calling me into – on the court, as well as off?”

A Pivot in Priorities

Each morning I read a section of St. Benedict of Nursia’s Rule he established for his monastic community 1,500 years ago. I follow his writing with commentary by Joan Chittister, O.S.B. (A link to her book can be found here). In this morning’s selection, Chittister says,

The spiritual life is not a set of exercises appended to our ordinary routine. It is a complete reordering of our values and our priorities and our lives.

Her phrase “complete reordering” struck me in the context of COVID-19. With this pandemic, the world will undoubtedly go through a complete reordering – spiritual and otherwise: Valleys are being raised, and mountains made low (Isa. 40:4). At the same time, wheat is being torn away from the chaff (Matt. 3:12).

Pre-COVID, my wife and I were doing what many people our age do: working hard in our jobs and raising children. She’s one of two pharmacists whose specialty pharmacy serves those diagnosed with HIV-AIDS. Her clinic also provides preventative care for those most vulnerable to this virus. After a long day of work, she’s usually greeted by our 9-year-old and 18-month-old clinging to her side until bedtime. Dinner’s prepared, books read, then lights out.

My job as a minister had me working conventional and unconventional hours each week as I made myself available to the people I serve more on their time than my own. When I arrived home after a long day, I would see my kids for a few hours before bedtime. If I had a meeting at night, it was up to my wife to put the kids to bed.

All this busyness changed with the pandemic. Suddenly pharmacy schedules were staggered (5 days in the pharmacy/5 days working from home). Church services, as well as meetings, were all moved online. No separation from children as school became virtual, and preschools closed—a work/life balance – nonexistent.

However, what did exist amid all this bustling chaos was my ability to listen. Thinking about Chittister above, I suddenly began to question what I valued, where my priorities lay, and how I spent my time. Put differently, I was invited into a reordering of my life.

St. Benedict’s Rule is grounded on three principles: prayer, work, and study. Suddenly, I was praying more and invited the parish I serve to do the same, not-to-mention, my own family. I started to view work as an ongoing extension of prayer. If I’m stuck in the house, I would say, perhaps housework and the raising of my boys could be a more intentional way of living and praying. As far as studying went, I picked up those books I had meant to read, and I read them. As a family, we went on more walks together. Some days we sat at the kitchen table for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. There was a new rhythm, and I was starting to like it.

Out of this new song, my wife and I started to talk about school. Our 9-year-old was clear that he did not like virtual learning and wasn’t getting anything out of it. I tended to agree as I watched him struggle in those first few months of the pandemic. As a family, we finally discerned that we would be homeschooling him this year. Within Georgia, the pandemic is not under control, but we decided that we could control what was under our roof as a family. We could honor and live into the truth that spiritual life is not a set of exercises appended to our ordinary routine. It is a complete reordering of our values and our priorities and our lives.

In a family meeting, we began our own intentional Rule centered around the Benedictine principals of prayer, work, and study. We did a “mind mapping” exercise together, categorizing what each of these realities looked like within our context. Then we began.

Through this blog, I hope to record some of my thoughts, experiences, givings, and misgivings about the homeschooling experience. I’m excited about living in this new adventure as I genuinely believe it to be a reordering of vision, values, and priorities for my family and me.
Please pray for us, our community, state, and nation as old things pass away while all things are becoming new (2 Cor. 5:17).

To read the mind mapping blog click here.
To read about the experience of deschooling click here.

The Church as Ark

Matthew 14:22-33

Since the pandemic began I have found comfort in the image of St. Peter keeping his eye on Jesus, for in doing so he’s able to walk out and greet Our Lord. When Peter allowed his focus to shift to the winds of anxiety and waves of despair he began to sink. I also find comfort in his frailty for there have been many times when my own misery desired tempestuous company. Throughout these many months I’ve also been humbled by my own limitations, and have dug deep within my soul to give mercy to others who may not be able to acknowledge their own.   

For these past four months, I’ve also watched as institutions and their leaders have given way to a spirit of fear allowing their foundations to fall like houses of cards while truth revealed them for what they really were. I’ve observed power struggles between institutional and ideological tribes that seek validation for their very existence, when all they are really doing is crying out for their dignity to be acknowledged. How tempting it is to be distracted by the unnecessary and seduced by slogans. How tempting it is to ignore the peace that is right in front of us whose very eyes search our own.

Within Biblical imagination, the boat represents the Church. Like Noah’s Ark, it is a place of comfort, safety, and order stowing away the values and necessities of life for a time. Once the time for remembering eternal virtues is formally over, the doors of the ark open, and the gangway is placed allowing for the disembarking to occur. During COVID-19 I’m finding comfort in the Church as ark. There is order and discipline within the Church’s prayers and practices, along with providing safety to others in Her works of mercy. While Her disciples are found around dinner tables instead of altars these days, the Church’s corporal and spiritual works of mercy are being administered (physically) in neighborhoods and (virtually) online.

As we continue to weather the storms in our lives, how do you maintain your gaze upon Jesus? What mountaintops do you climb in order to pray to the true Son of God? How has the Church provided comfort, safety, and order to you and your family? In many respects, COVID-19 has opened our eyes to many things – good and bad. Today’s Gospel compels us to keep a steady eye not on the wind and the waves, but on the one who has true power over them. Come to Him today. Come to Jesus.

Lord, in your mercy; Hear our prayer.  

Release

Our youngest, J., chooses to wake up between 6:30 & 6:45 AM. I’m already up by then and welcome the opportunity to get out of the house and walk down to the local elementary school. Since March, the school has been unoccupied due to the COVID-19 virus. At the beginning of the pandemic I started noticing the newspapers piling up near the entrance to the school. We are not subscribers, but I took it upon myself to gather up the discarded papers and recycle them – reading the headlines or an occasional article that piqued my interest before doing so. Later, I emailed the principal to let her know who was taking her papers. She blessed my efforts, dubbing me the elementary school’s official recycler.

 On Tuesday of this week, J. and I were making our way to the school when I saw a cardinal land on a high wire singing its song. All of a sudden, I felt an immediate need to pray the prayer for the dying called A Commendation at the Time of Death found in our prayer book.[1] There was a stillness to the air that seemed to be inviting me to ‘come along.’ There was an ineffable hope and promise that ‘all shall be well.’ Who was I to question this invitation? I prayed the prayer and kept walking, making my way to the school and the news of the day. Peace was now me and my son’s companion as we were reassured that death and life are not opposed to one another.

 On Sunday, my mother-in-law asked my wife and our family to come and say our goodbyes to my father-in-law, Chuck. It was another invitation to come along, to say hello/goodbye, and to freely walk into those thin places of paradox. Unlike the cardinal, Chuck’s song was not a surprise. He’s been battling the debilitating disease of ALS for over 2 years now. Throughout these years he’s been fighting back death as best he could, but this week and for reasons only the angels know, he’s decided to acquiesce.

 Before making the journey to my in-law’s home, J. needed his afternoon nap. We’re a liturgical family and like our patterns. We’re raising both J. and H. to recognize these as constants among the chaos. As is our custom, we read a few books but always end with Margaret Wise Brown’s “Goodnight Moon.” It’s always amazing to me how her words meet our son’s yawns. Each page makes their eyes grow heavy as their bodies long for the rest of their beds. This time, and as I was reading to J., I intuited that I was also reading to Chuck. I was already saying my goodbyes to him – first with Tuesday’s Commendation at the Time of Death, and now with a children’s author who has long asked little ones to go to sleep by letting go. “Let go of the moon, and the bears in their chairs.” Say goodnight to the “toy house and young mouse.” Listen to the “old lady as she whispers, hush.”

 Perhaps J. was more tired than usual because he started flipping the pages to the last. He loves that final page in the book with its soft (eternal?) flame in the fireplace along with the moon and the stars begging for a final glance above – one last time before sleep. I suppose I imagined something similar for Chuck. “Release” was my new prayer companioned with peace.

 “Goodnight stars. Goodnight air.”
“Goodnight noises, everywhere…

 “Goodnight, Chuck.”    

 

[1]            Depart, O Christian soul, out of this world;
In the Name of God the Father Almighty who created you;
In the Name of Jesus Christ who redeemed you;
In the Name of the Holy Spirit who sanctifies you.
May your rest be this day in peace,
and your dwelling place in the Paradise of God.
~The Book of Common Prayer, 464

 

Steadfast Hope

Inspired by Psalm 26:1-8

At the date of this writing eleven weeks has passed since I have celebrated Holy Eucharist. Eleven weeks has passed since the congregation I serve have participated in any formal sacrament. Like the lamenting Magdalene who cried out twice, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him” we call out to the authorities of the church as well as to God in our disorientation (Jn 20:2, 13). By now disorientation has slowly turned to disillusionment with the bishops of the church continuing to preach steadfastness while the resurrected Lord remains to reveal the world his wounds. St. Paul promises that our sufferings (disorientation & disillusionment?) grounded in a life of Christ “produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us” (Rom 3b-4). The bishops are right in preaching steadfastness in the faith because it allows us the audacity to hope. But hope for what? Hope to regather and celebrate Communion? Yes. But that’s not all. If indeed, the resurrected Lord continues to reveal his wounds to the world, and our faith calls us to participate in Christ’s sufferings, then the sacramental life (right now) is revealed to us in our own brokenness. Like the Magdalene, we cry out, and God answers us by calling our name (Jn 20:16). Once Mary’s name was heard she “went and announced…“I have seen the Lord”” (Jn 20:18). Once we name our own laments, God calls us each by name to wake us up to the reality of resurrection still found in his wounds intimately joined to our own. This is the Body of Christ broken for you, and at once we are forgiven and free to proclaim hope within the sufferings of the world.

What does steadfastness tangibly look like? For the Psalmist it looked like washing one’s hands (Ps 26:6a). Only when we (as the priesthood of all believers) wash our hands in innocence may we go in procession round the Lord’s altar (Ps 26:6). When we wash our hands we are at once acknowledging our past as well as preparing for the future. We do the hard work of self-examination (confession, forgiveness, discernment) in order to go around the altar of the world in a spirit of hope, praise, mercy, justice, and compassion.

What does a revealing of Christ’s wounds to the world tangibly look like? For the Psalmist it looked like a house built upon a foundation of Love (Ps 26:8). In this house the “wonderful deeds” of God are the topics of conversation (Ps 26:7). We vulnerably admit that our hands have been dirty, and like Christ are invited to show the world their redeemed wounds. At once, the world sees its own past as well as a hopeful future where God, table, and house become the place “where [God’s] glory abides” (Ps 26:8).

Over the past several months, kitchen tables have replaced altars, and houses have become little churches. The sacraments have been administered, only this time in the form of kindness, patience, compassion, justice, and mercy. These are not easy times, but they are hopeful times. Like Mary Magdalene, “I have seen the Lord,” in new and exciting ways. He is [still] Risen. He is Risen, indeed! Come, let us adore Him in our own brokenness alongside a broken and redeemed world.