heroic "adults"

I think I’ve distilled a little more about our glorification of the “adult,” productive part of life. It starts early, that seems clear. Partly because children have a distorted view of their parents’ capabilities. It seems to them as if their parents are all-knowing and all-powerful, and that’s what they expect of adults. And they yearn to have that kind of power themselves. By the time they are in their twenties, people usually don’t see their parents as all-powerful, but this is often because they are flush with their own growing capabilities and think they can correct the failings of the generation before them.

Again, it’s a mistaken view of how capable or powerful adults can be. When we’re kids we admire and long for it, as young adults it seems to be coming to fulfillment, and it’s not until maybe middle age that our limitations become undeniable. Relative to children and the elderly, yes, people in the “prime” of their lives are more capable. But we still can’t solve all the problems (sometimes it seems like we can solve very few of them). And we can’t just do anything we dream, anywhere we dream of doing it. There’s lots of frustration and burnout in trying, and everyone experiences lots of failures in life. But we don’t usually see clearly how limited we are until quite a way down life’s road.

And even then, there’s reasons to keep up the illusion of heroic “adults.” The next generation is now looking up to us with admiring eyes. And people are looking for role models to inspire them. I suspect the inspiring picture presented of most role models isn’t quite the whole truth, but it’s for a good cause, right? And society as a whole promotes the idea of capable human beings, able to overcome our problems, especially if people work together. It helps people to hope, right?

The big drawback is that the hope is directed towards a mistaken image, rather than the truth. So there’s confusion and frustration and guilt when we don’t become the heroic adults we believed we would be (or should be). And when many of the problems of our lives persist despite all our efforts.

Then there’s the spiritual side of this. The image of capable, heroic adults focuses our hope and trust on them (us). It doesn’t help us direct our hope towards God and encourage dependence on him. It’s not surprising, then, that Jesus wasn’t like the usual image of a capable hero. And that he said we must turn and become like children to enter the kingdom of God.

If we expected to be “like children” our whole lives, not heroic or even “in charge” but continually looking for guidance and help our whole lives, then we’d be a lot closer to the truth and closer to God. And there would be  more of a continuity in our lives. Not a pre-life and post-life tacked on to our prime “adult” years, but practicing the same dependence the whole way. Learning to turn that dependence towards God, and to never turn away.



my real life?

I haven’t had a lot of time for focused thinking and writing these days. But maybe that’s not so important. I say that because of this little something that’s been nagging at me lately.

For quite a while I’ve believed that my life began sometime in my college years. My real life. Everything before that had been my pre-life, just a preparation, gathering the necessary materials for a life, while being mostly just an accessory in someone else’s life. Then gradually I woke up and my life began. It was when I became aware, and could start making free, conscious choices of my own, when I could begin to shape my own unique identity through the actions, the path, I was choosing. My life began.

Now, though, I wonder if that belief was just another form of the common assumption that the productive “adult” part of our lives is the part that really matters. The middle part, when people are at the peak of their powers. When they are inventing and building things and managing households and businesses and nations. The part when these people are running, and “saving,” the world. This is the part of people’s lives that is reported in the news and written about in history books. The important part of human life.

But, being in that part of life, while spending most of my time caring for people who are not in that part of life, I’m beginning to wonder. The assumed “important” part of life is usually less that half of it. Maybe a third. Is childhood and old age, the majority of our years, just preface and afterword to the “real” story of our lives?

Is that what God had in mind, in creating human life like it is? From what I’ve seen, God doesn’t have the highest view of people “at the peak of their powers.”

I’m going to let this nag at me some more...


psalm 40

I waited patiently for the Lord;
he inclined to me and heard my cry.
He drew me up from the desolate pit,
out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
making my steps secure.

He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
and put their trust in the Lord.

Happy are those who make the Lord their trust,
who do not turn to the proud,
to those who go astray after false gods.


songs of lost innocence

Saw this in an article about a new U2 album that was given away free (to a half million iTunes users) at an Apple event. Apparently Apple paid for that album:

“We were paid,” Bono [said]. “I don’t believe in free music. Music is a sacrament.”
I don't get it. People should pay for sacraments? Or getting paid makes it more holy, in his opinion?


2014: the beginning of an odyssey

(The video can also be downloaded here.)


social justice?

When I notice a person repeatedly acting selfishly, or unkindly, or unjustly, my tendency is to think that eventually enough people will recognize that behavior and isolate that person. That the community will turn their backs on such a person once they discover what he’s really like.

And that’s true. If you’re living in an animated children’s movie.

In real life, though, that’s not usually what happens, is it? There are lots of selfish, unkind, unjust people who are not rejected by the rest of the community but who are at the center of it, with control of the resources and political power, with many, many people supporting them and vying to be near them. In children’s movies, there are just one or two bad apples, who are found out and punished in the end. But in real human society, there aren’t just one or two bad apples, are there?

Look at the story of Jesus. It wasn’t the selfish, unkind, unjust ones who the community turned their backs on. The one who was rejected and cast out was Jesus.

So I shouldn’t be looking to human society for justice. But that’s not to say there is no justice to be seen. We usually don’t have to wait too long to see consequences for selfishness or injustice, because it’s bound to run up against the selfishness and injustice of other people, and those clashes will result in painful losses for all parties involved. I’d like to think God has some hand in bringing such people together.

And I do believe God is always near to them, pursuing them. Showing them again and again, in love, what they desperately do not want to see.




does Jesus need a movement?

I just came across this article I wrote over five years ago, and I still really like it. I called it: "Does Jesus need a 'movement'? Lessons from the old new monasticism." And I have to say, I'm not disappointed to note that the "new monasticism movement" seems to have faded over the past five years...

"So you're gonna be a bum?!"

That was my father's initial reaction when I told him I was leaving on a long walking trip, hundreds of miles, without backpack or tent or sleeping bag—or money. I tried to explain that Jesus was my inspiration. Jesus' life and the way he sent out his disciples:
Go your way; behold, I send you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals... Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you; heal the sick in it and say to them, 'The kingdom of God has come near to you.' But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say, 'Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off against you; nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.' (Lk 10.3-4,8-11)
Three years earlier I had joined the Dominican Order, following that same inspiration, looking for a way to follow those words of Jesus. Dominic, and also Francis of Assisi, had also been inspired by those words when they started the Dominican and Franciscan Orders, introducing a new form of monasticism in the Middle Ages. That's what drew me to them. But during my years of novitiate and seminary I struggled, resisting the wealthy and established organization that the Order had become. Eventually one of the brothers sat me down and told me I was "not fitting in." It was then that I gave away the rest of my belongings and took to the road, to try to experience the life of the kingdom of God that Jesus had described.

Before I joined the Dominicans I read the story of Dominic and Francis and was impressed by their desire to follow Jesus example more closely. The monks and clerics of their time were wealthy and politically connected. Many people were rejecting the Christian message because of the obvious corruption and oppressiveness of the church leadership. Francis, however, found inspiration in Jesus' call to "sell all, give to the poor, and follow me." He gave up his inherited wealth and embraced poverty with a passion, believing that the church would find healing along the path of selfless giving and humble poverty rather than the path of wealth. Dominic had a similar vision. He noticed that the common people had lost respect for the powerful, pampered clerics, while "heretic" preachers wandered among them demonstrating their zealous commitment with lives of charity and extreme austerity. Dominic saw Jesus' life of poverty, and the way he sent out his disciples with nothing but their faith, as the best way to preach the gospel.

I agreed with this when I joined Dominic's Order, and after leaving the Order, and spending months at a time on the road over the next eight years, I was even more convinced. Jesus' life was not just a good way to preach the gospel, it was the gospel. His good news was that God was offering salvation from sin and freedom from fear as a gift. We were only asked to believe, to put our faith in God completely, to depend on his love to protect and sustain and guide us. And this is clearly seen in Jesus' life of poverty. Like the birds and lilies he trusted God for everything, and God provided. He sent out his disciples without money and without power, as "lambs among wolves," to demonstrate what it looked like to depend on God completely. And at the end of his life, when Jesus asked them if they had lacked anything, they answered, "Nothing." This was also my experience. And I saw that presenting this good news to people from a position of weakness and poverty does not diminish the message, but rather directs all attention and honor to God rather than the poor, weak messenger. It encourages faith in God's power rather than faith in our own.




Heather's been missing French pickles, which are a bit different from the dill variety we're used to here. So she grew the little cornichon cucumbers they use, and I found a recipe that's easy and pretty good. It uses tarragon and thyme (which Heather grows as well) instead of dill. And this recipe is "cold crock," no cooking or canning necessary, so the pickles are crisper. Here's what I do:

Wash and rub the cornicons to remove the prickles. Then put them in a strainer, sprinkle heavily with pickling salt (or any salt without iodine added), and leave them overnight. A good amount of juice will drain from the cucumbers.

The next day, rub off the excess salt (rinsing is not needed since a little remaining salt is desired). Then wash jars with tight-fitting lids and pack with the cornichons along with:

One or two peeled garlic cloves
Several whole peppercorns
A few sprigs fresh thyme and tarragon
A bay leaf
A little lemon juice (or slice of fresh lemon)

Then fill the jar with white vinegar. The pickles will swell as they absorb the vinegar, so make sure they are covered with a little space to spare. Place the lids on tightly and leave them at least a couple weeks for the cucumbers to absorb the flavors. That's it. Spicy and delicious.