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Creating space to receive simplicity

11 Mar

This is a picture of Ke’e Beach which is the western most corner of  the United States on the Island of Kauai.  Whenever I look at this picture I think of how wonderfully quiet Kauai was, and especially this beach, which is at the beginning of the main road that goes around most of Kauai. Life in Kauai seemed simple and it was very freeing.

The reason this image popped back into my head today was because I was meditating on Lent and how over the years, I have used Lent season to center myself, which usually involves simplifying my life.

As most of you also experience, life can be hectic and quite the whirlwind.  I find that the pace of life for me gets the best of me and I find myself being thrown from one thing to another- of course, all of them are important and usually places where I am needed.

My husband, Joe encouraged us to read through a book together to declutter our lives a little bit about a month ago. I’m finally picking it up and reading it slowly but surely.  It’s called “Freedom of Simplicity” by Richard J. Foster. I love this new concept that I learned about simplicity:

What we do does not give us simplicity but it does put us in a place where we can receive it

I like this concept that simplicity is not something I can achieve, but rather that I receive.  Foster calls simplicity grace because it is given to us by God.  We declutter our lives not to say that we’ve accomplished the goal of simplifying our lives but so that we can create the space to receive simplicity.

Foster goes on to say that simplicity is a tension between inner and outer dimensions- that it is an inward reality that can be seen in an outward life style. If simplicity was only outward, it would be fairly easy.

It struck me that in my strive to achieve simplicity, I had lost sight of the very goal I set out to accomplish. And I realized that its because I’m trying to achieve something that I can only receive.

As we journey in day two of Lent and are focused on what we can achieve (like me trying to reflect on Lent everyday!) this is just another gentle reminder from God that so much of what we strive to accomplish, God generously and graciously gives to us.

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Top Ten Books I Live By

10 May

Ahead of my summer reading, I thought I’d share a bit more about my reading habits. I’m a bookhound, so its really difficult to tell you what my favorite books are.  It really depends on my mood and what it is I’m looking for.  So an easier task might be to tell you the books that have most influenced me.   These ten tomes (yes that’s a nice round number) have been shaping my politics, my faith and my overall perspective on the world since I was a kid.  I’m going to leave out the Biblical canon because while its influence on me evident, I do not consider it to fall within a particular genre like the rest.  It’s a living story to me.  Anyway, if you’re looking for reading on that deserted isle or maybe a trusty guide in times of trouble,  here’s what I would recommend (in no particular order), they’ve certainly worked for me:

1. The True and Only Heaven by Christopher Lasch

-an epic takedown of the idea of Progress, and not a bad summation of Western social movements either.

2. The Complete Emerson

-I’m alittle past the transcendentalists now, but Emerson, along with Thoreau were among my first companions along the journey to becoming a Christian.  Emerson’s peculiarly American philosophy is full of wisdom and audacity, even if it comes across alittle dated.

3. The Quiet American by Graham Greene

-Greene’s old-school, self-effacing and sarcastic tone has its own charm and he methodically unravels idealistic myths about cross-cultural encounters (specifically Vietnam), replacing them with a realism which humbles, educates and even entertains the willing listener.

4. The Prophets by Abraham Joshua Heschel

-this is the mega of all commentaries on the Hebrew Prophets from the prominent 20th century rabbi.  His understanding of the connection between empathy, emotion and Truth have helped me define like few others, what it means to be Christian.

5. The Politics of Jesus by John Howard Yoder

This book gave me a greater biblical understanding of why and how Christians should be engaged in the public sphere, despite Yoder’s seemingly contrarian and some say sectarian views.  I was particularly moved by his connection between the cross and the healing of ethnic/social strife.

6. Selected Poems by Wendell Berry (includes Mad Farmer Liberation)

-Growing up in the big city, I wasn’t much of a nature/outdoors guy, but Berry’s poetics can convince even this southsider to buy a farm in the country.  What’s more, his wise and witty take on the politics and culture of modern, fast paced America is a great counterbalance against conventional ideas about progress and liberty.

7. Collected Poems of Langston Hughes

-This guy looms large in my own early wrestling with identity, particularly black identity in a complex American culture.  Hughes influenced future generations of poets who I also read, and his lyrical phrasing continues to help me put the ineffable into words.

8. Hamlet by Shakespeare

-There is nothing rotten about the Bard’s take on all of life’s big questions and frustrations wrapped up in iambic pentameter.

9. Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky

-If you don’t trip over pronouncing Russian names or its length, this book has some pretty profound takes on human suffering and the nature of redemption.

10. Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T.E. Lawrence

-I’ve always been fascinated by cultures outside my own, and the famed “Lawrence of Arabia” gives a fascinating outsiders account of early 20th century Arab culture and reveals a good deal about himself if you read between the lines.   His adventures propelled my interest in travel, diplomacy and global affairs.  At the same time his writing illuminates the backdrop of consternation and loneliness which shadows those who dare to cross the culture line.

Summer Reading = Summer Blogging

9 May

Here’s a look at my summer reading list.  These    things usually turn out more ambitious than I can manage.  But hey, as a wise cliche once said, “shoot for the moon and even if you miss you’ll be amongst the stars!”  Or perhaps you’ll end up suborbital and eventually fall back to earth in pieces, but I digress.

This time around, my reading list is structured to equip my response to what I consider two nagging, but important questions:

1.)  Where does cultural change come from?

Jesuit on the roof of the World by Trent Pomplun

To Change the World by James Davison Hunter

Christianity and Contemporary Politics by Luke Bretherton

2.)  What does it mean to be the child of Southern immigrants? (yes I meant the southern U.S.)

American Slavery, American Freedom by Edmund Morgan

The Known World by Edward P. Jones

Capital Men by Philip Dray

Confederates in the Attic by Tony Horwitz

Bridges of Memory Oral History Series by Timuel Black

I’ll be blogging selectively about these books over the next few months.  If you have an interest in them, please feel free to comment as I go along.  And if you have other suggestions on the themes above, please share them as well.  This canon is not closed.