On Simplicity

One of my very favorite spiritual hymns is the Shaker hymn that we now call “Simple Gifts.” The lyrics are plain, and they are plain for a reason: the song is about finding joy and pleasure in the simplicity of hard work, and in finding a relationship to God in the toil of uncomplicated life. Here are the lyrics, and a version of the song sung by Alison Krauss (whose voice is clear and rings out like an angel’s) accompanied by Yo-Yo Ma.

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free,
‘Tis the gift to come down where you ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

When true simplicity is gained,
To bow and to bend, we will not be ashamed,
To turn, turn, will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come round right

I’d like to take a moment to appreciate the breathtaking beauty of this version of the song. It is as perfect a rendition as I believe is possible. Firstly, in a song about simplicity, there are exactly two brilliantly balanced instruments: Krauss’ gentle voice, and an austere cello. It is the quintessence of simplicity, and the harmony of two sounds intertwine almost as if they are playing each other.

As for the lyrics, I find great comfort in them. Sometimes it feels as though my entire life is more complicated than it ought to be. Sometimes, in fact, it feels as though the entire world is more complicated than it should be. I occasionally think that the old way of doing things can be the best way, and that a simple way of living can be the most fulfilling. I am inspired by minimalist movements that seek to uncomplicate and disentangle our lives some unnecessary pursuits that often seem to get in the way of our joy: vitriolic social media, material possessions, consumerism, and unbalanced relationships are just a few examples.

They say that if you chase two rabbits, you won’t catch either. I don’t necessarily think that this means that we can’t pursue aspects of our lives but one at a time. In this context, what I think this means is that while we may have more than one pursuit at a time (e,g. careers, romance, God’s light) we must pursue each of them wholly and simply and with one mind and our best intentions. And, I think, our best results can only be had when we pursue them in the context of pursuing God’s will and understanding what His plan for us might mean.

In the book of Proverbs, it’s written that “A pretentious, showy life is an empty life; a plain and simple life is a full life . . . The lives of good people are brightly lit streets” (Proverbs 13:7,9). When I think of such a simple life, and simple pursuits, I can feel the stress which weighs down my shoulders slough off.

I can feel clear, and light, and free of expectations.

Anger Revisited

Paul writes in the epistle of Philippians: “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7). Often, we expect dualities in our emotions that prove to be false. When we are young, we think that the antithesis of Love is Hate, but as we grow older I think we find that is untrue. I learned long ago that the opposite of love is not hate, but is instead apathy. In much the same way, where a child might think that the opposite of anger might be happiness or joy, I now know that it is actually peace.

I’ve written before about anger, but yesterday was a struggle for me, so I want to revisit the subject in the hope that I might come to understand it and conquer its power over me.

I think anger and frustration are the greatest source of darkness in my heart. They are demons that I battle every day. On a long walk last night, I found myself actively thinking about those feelings, and what they mean to me, and why they rule my consciousness from time to time.

The frustration is easy to explain, I think: it comes from expectations. I expect things to go a certain way, or fit a certain way, or happen in a certain order. I expect things from people, and from my job. When things don’t shake out the way I expect, frustration can rear its head.

The question, then, is where do the expectations come from? Do I feel entitled to those things? That the world owes me this simply by virtue of my own existence? Not consciously, I don’t think. Is it an issue of control? Perhaps that’s part of it. When happenstance and chance collude to subvert my expectations, I am often guilty of being frustrated that I couldn’t control the circumstances. I feel as though things are happening to me, and I am simply a subject to the whims of the world; I am without agency, and that can be frustrating.

What I really think it might come down to, though, is Pride (yet again). On some level, I think that because I behave with temperance and justice, or think in terms of kindness and gentleness and gratitude and charity, that those things make me worthy. I think that on a subconscious level, I believe that I deserve to have things go my way. I’ve thought (and worried) before that I am incapable of a relationship that does not function on a transactional level. Said differently, I have wondered if I am capable of giving without expectation of a return on investment. I’m not talking about altruism in this case–that’s different to a degree. What I’m thinking about now is something more akin to the concept of Karma. I don’t consciously expect the world to treat me in kind, but I think part of my unconscious mind might.

But then where does my anger come from? It is partly an extension of that frustration. When that festers and swells in my heart, I give it more power than it ought to have. Like an infected wound, the problem is thereby exacerbated if I leave it untended and untreated.

But I think there is another allure to anger for me. It is easy. It is fast. It is powerful. In a world where I often feel as though I have little agency, it can make me feel as though I have control over my own vulnerabilities. In this way, it is a shield. When I allow myself to feel a deep-seated anger, it can override all the other emotions I’m feeling. Pain and betrayal and insecurity and sadness are easily cast aside in its tremendous wake. But, the hangover is heartbreaking, because I know that anger is not what I want to feel. I also know that it doesn’t actually solve any of those problems it displaced. It just helped me procrastinate for a few moments or hours or days.

The book of James, which I’ve quoted several times before, says “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19). Originally, I thought that the context of that verse was only in relation to our fellows on this earth. I should pay special attention when I listen to them and put myself in their shoes, and that act of listening and empathy will connect me to them in a way that anger could not. That is certainly true, but now I wonder if I missed something even more important.

Perhaps part of being quick to listen also means to be quick to listen to Him. To allow Christ into my heart, and listen to what his teachings tell me about myself. To allow his path to fill my soul, and quell my anger. I need to allow myself to feel that vulnerability, and allow Him to heal my heart. Procrastination will only prolong that suffering.

It Is Not Enough to Simply Know

I’m trying to finish up C.S. Lewis’ “Mere Christianity,” and last night I read a chapter geared towards explaining why we must study theology. The “science” of Christianity, he says, not only deepens our knowledge of God, but also paints a metaphorical map of what we must do about it.

One of the stories he relays in this chapter is of an old Air Force officer who, upon hearing Lewis give a talk about theology, protested and said that “I’ve no use for all that
stuff. But, mind you, I’m a religious man too. I know there’s a God. I’ve felt Him: out alone in the desert at night: the tremendous mystery. And that’s just why I don’t believe all your neat little dogmas and formulas about Him. To anyone who’s met the real thing they all seem so petty and pedantic and unreal!”

I’ve relayed, and felt, similar things in my life. I’ve had moments where I’ve felt God’s presence in a song, or through an interpersonal connection, or in a quiet breath in nature, or even in a time of great need. I know God was there because I felt it, and for the longest time I thought that was enough. I thought that was all I needed to know, and so I put those moments aside in my mind and went about my day, forgetting about that pursuit.

For the past six weeks, though, I have been pursuing the other half of the equation. I felt then that my moments of communion were insufficient, and that in order to make God a part of my life and accept Christ in my heart, I needed to do with Christianity what I have done with all the other great pursuits of my life: learn everything there is to know until I’m satisfied that I know the map/the path/the way, and can make it to my desired destination.

Remarkably, Lewis relayed almost the same analogy early in part four, entitled “Beyond Personality.” He says that while experiences of God can absolutely be real, they are not enough to understand the totality of what is laid before us.

“Now in a sense I quite agreed with that man. I think he had probably had a real experience of God in the desert. And when he turned from that experience to the Christian creeds, I think he really was turning from something real to something less real. In the same way, if a man has once looked at the Atlantic from the beach, and then goes and looks at a map of the Atlantic, he also will be turning from something real to something less real: turning from real waves to a bit of coloured paper . . . The map is admittedly only coloured paper, but there are two things you have to remember about it. In the first place, it is based on what hundreds and thousands of people have found out by sailing the real Atlantic. In that way it has behind it masses of experience just as real as the one you could have from the beach; only, while yours would be a single isolated glimpse, the map fits all those different experiences together.”

He goes on to explain that theology is like that map, and that through it we can learn the path, because that map distills the knowledge of many who have walked that path before us. Furthermore, in the ocean analogy, it would not be safe to go to sea without a map, because we would be lost in infinity.

As it relates directly to my own life, I feel as though I am only beginning to understand the outlines of the map. Within that analogy, in order to understand a map, one must also have a good compass and a proper bearing. That is where I think those experiences, those moments of communion with God, come into play. In the real world, I am gifted with a good sense of direction. By experience and intuition, I know which way points north, so I also know which direction I’m headed. In terms of my spirituality, I think those experiences of God will help guide me in the direction of Him, if only by feel at first.

In the first epistle to Timothy, Paul writes about “God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:3-4). The word conveyed is not “experience” of the truth, or even “understanding” of the truth, but “knowledge.” Over and over again in the gospels, people were astonished or amazed at Jesus’ knowledge of the teachings, even at his young age. Of course, both that knowledge and the experience truly matter, because without both, I would eventually get lost.

All That Is Gold

My inspiration this morning comes from a seemingly unlikely place, though I think that by the end of this entry it will not seem so unlikely after all.

For “The Fellowship of the Rings,” J.R.R. Tolkien had Bilbo Baggins write a poem about Aragorn, the rightful heir to the throne of Arnor and Gondor. Here it is:

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.

In the context of the Lord of the Rings universe, this certainly has a specific meaning. Aragorn himself is the subject. The first couplet is about him not carrying himself with adornments and prestige as he wanders the land as a Ranger. He’s descended from the Dúnedain–who had very long lifespans–which explains the line about being old. I could go on, but the idea is that in a specific context, this poem has a specific meaning.

However, I’m not interested in that specific meaning today. I want to explore the possible dual-meaning in the context of Tolkien’s relationship to God and Christ.

J.R.R. Tolkien was a devout Catholic, and as I learned recently, played an instrumental role in C.S. Lewis conversion to Christianity. I had known they were contemporaries, active in Britain at the same time and writing more or less the same type of fiction, but I did not know that they were very close friends. If read in the context of Christianity, that poem can take on a very different meaning. I’ll go line by line on this one for the first six lines.

The first line could contain several allusions. Christ Himself, though he was the Prince of Peace, walked among us, and as one of us. He did not wear crowns of jewels, or adorn himself in plush robes or fine silks. He walked humbly in plain clothes, ate plain foods, and never once took anything for Himself. So, though He did not “glitter” in the traditional sense, His value was immeasurable. He was gold that did not glitter.

In another sense, Tolkien could be alluding to the fact that the material value of this world pales in comparison to love, and specifically the value of God’s love. This applies to me directly. I have surrounded myself with shiny objects–the trappings of an earthly life. At the end of that earthly life, though, would any of those things matter? Will I say to myself “I should have bought more things?” Or, will I say “I wish I had loved more, and accepted more of God’s infinite love?” Those things, in the end, will have more value than any “gold” I might acquire.

The second line is perhaps the most famous, and is often referred to by those with wanderlust in their feet. Today, though, I want to think about it in the context of my own life and faith. It could mean two things as well, both of which are important to me. Before a few weeks ago, I had struggled to find solid footing for my faith in my heart. I was a wanderer. But through grace and patience, I was not lost forever. I found my way. In another way, within that faith, my mind tends to wander. I flit from verse to verse, from book to book, from thought to thought. I think that while my compass bearings may read differently than some peers, God is giving me direction (even if it is non-linear).

The third and fourth lines really should be read together as one. To me, this could be referring to God Himself. His strength does not wither, and he provides for us a fixed point and a deep root to which we can cling. He is infinite, and unaffected by external forces. This reminds me of a verse from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians: “For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength” (Corinthians 1:25). Nothing on this earth or otherwise could ever affect Him, because it is of Him.

The first couplet of the second stanza feels very personal to me. I feel as though I have trod in darkness for my entire life, just on the periphery of something great. I have always flirted with that light, but stayed in the shadows. Since I woke up, though, I feel as though a fire has started in my life. I am changing faster than I ever have before, and I see things in a different light. I also want to make sure that the fire is well-made, and does not extinguish from simply leaving it untended.

So, even though this poem was written for a fantasy series about a man that lived to be 210 years old and married an elvish princess, I’m not sure that it wasn’t also about Tolkien’s (and my) own relationship with God.

Faith in the face of _____

I’m about seventy-five percent finished reading “Mere Christianity,” by C.S. Lewis, and I came across a chapter last night that spoke to me in my current state of mind. The crux of Lewis’ argument in this chapter is that faith must fly in the face of our ever changing moods and thoughts. We are fickle creatures, and over time our pride can rear its head, rendering our faith diminished. Faith in this sense, he says, is “the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods.”

I’ve mentioned here before that the catalyst for my change of heart was a crippling personal loss. I was at a low point in my life, and I was seeking refuge, and because my heart was raw and vulnerable and introspective I found it easy to accept something I had been reluctant to believe in the past. God and Christ offered exactly what I needed at the time: acceptance, unconditional love, peace, and hope. My “mood” at the time not only wanted to believe, but it needed to believe.

I also knew then that the “needing” would not last forever, and that there existed a chance that I might backslide into my old self. That is why I say that I must rededicate my thoughts and feelings to this purpose every day. I know that if I don’t spend time reading and thinking and praying about my relationship with God, that garden will grow wild into a state of disrepair. If I do not tend to the growth of Christ’s presence in my heart, the weeds of secular thought will overrun the garden, and blot out the sun that feeds me.

I’ve only been a true believer for five weeks. I’ve been a skeptic for 33 years. I know that if I am not careful, old habits will win out. The thing is, though, I much prefer the new version of myself, and I don’t want to go back to being that person. He was prideful and conceited and selfish, and I simply don’t want to be those things anymore.

Lewis continues: “The first step is to recognize the fact that your moods change. The next is to make sure that, if you have once accepted Christianity, then some of its main doctrines shall be deliberately held before your mind for some time every day. That is why daily prayers and religious reading and church going are necessary parts of the Christian life. We have to be continually reminded of what we believe. Neither this belief nor any other will automatically remain alive in the mind. It must be fed. And as a matter of fact, if you examined a hundred people who had lost their faith in Christianity, I wonder how many of them would turn out to have been reasoned out of it by honest argument? Do not most people simply drift away?”

I’ve spent my whole life drifting in uncertainly, swayed this way and that by the wind. For the first time I can remember, the direction that this journey has given me makes me feel as though I might be headed somewhere better. I’ve spent years struggling so hard with resisting pride and temptation that I didn’t even realize that I was failing. I feel as though I am finally awake, and though some aspects of that wakefulness hurt, I don’t want to forget it and drift back into my old self. Said another way, even though my wounds are healing to some degree, I don’t want to lose that compass bearing.

I want to continue this journey, and in order to do so, I have to push through my mood changes. I must hold my faith gently, and tend it carefully, as I would a fledgling baby bird.

On Deconstruction

I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of demolition: tearing things down, breaking them apart. Smashing, crushing, detonating. It seems cathartic. Swinging a big hammer and really breaking down walls. Tear down the supporting beams of a structure, and it will collapse.

What I’ve been experiencing over the last few weeks, though, does not feel like demolition. It feels like a deconstruction.

I’ve always been very good at disassembling things. When I was young, my Papa would give me old and broken mechanical things, electronic things, motors and engines and gears and circuits. He’d let me experiment and play and test my intellect and motor skills. Back then, I couldn’t really fix things–when you’re seven years old, you don’t really worry much about putting the things back together afterwards–but I’ve always had a knack for taking things apart and seeing how they work. What makes this cartridge lock into place? What sequence powers this circuit? Why is this cylinder losing compression? Even then, I always had this sense that with enough time, and the right tools, I could fix anything.

Twenty-five years later, I think that’s still true. I’m still good at disassembling things, but now I can actually diagnose the problems, think analytically and mechanically, repair things, and reassemble them in working order. Sometimes due to the disposable nature of the items we keep in our homes, as well as the high cost of replacement parts, it’s not cost-effective to do so. Even so, it’s liberating to know that if I so desired, I could probably manage most repairs.

What’s new to me, though, is applying those same principles to my own life. What makes me tick? What keeps these mental cogs spinning smoothly, as opposed to grinding to a halt? What has gone wrong?

Mechanical things are not all that different from our own minds and hearts in some ways. The initial build quality has a lot to do with how long something will last, and how well it will perform. This calls to mind the story of the foundations of sand and stone. In the same way that a cheaply-made good will be more prone to disrepair than a well-made one, so too is my own psyche. I have suffered from depression and anxiety, and I have felt anger and sadness that I allowed to overwhelm my heart. My diagnosis of what ailed me? My foundation was made of mere sand.

Today, I feel differently. In Isaiah, it is written, “Therefore thus says the Lord GOD, ‘Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a tested stone, A costly cornerstone for the foundation, firmly placed. He who believes in it will not be disturbed'” (Isaiah 28:16). Once I understood the purpose of that cornerstone and my relationship with Him, I could begin to rebuild my psyche, and my life, on something more solid. It has done my heart good, but I can only begin there.

The other factor in the utility of a mechanical good is how carefully it is treated, and how well it is maintained. Think of an internal combustion engine. It is a complicated thing that needs constant maintenance: oil to lubricate, detergent to keep chambers clean, fresh fluids to avoid buildup. If you run them too hot or too hard or too long without maintenance, you can throw rods, warp heads, blow gaskets, crack blocks. We are no different. I have written before about constantly practicing Christianity, and this is the maintenance required to keep me running smoothly. Prayer, readings, thoughtfulness and mindfulness. Even practicing kindness and gentleness and love for my neighbors keeps all the parts clicking together.

And, I know that if I go too long without service, it could spell problems.

Ultimately, what I’ve been working on over these last weeks is probably somewhere between a deconstruction and a demolition. I had to break myself down to understand from where my problems originated, and then tear it down even further to rebuild a foundation. In the end, the exterior may look the same, but I don’t think I’m really the same person. I’m new, and I hope to keep this version of myself running until the wheels fall off.

“Jesus replied, ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again'” (John 3:3).



On Love

I’m nearly finished (re-)reading the new Testament for my first pass. I’ve found plenty of complicated messages, and while unraveling the most complicated parable can be highly rewarding, sometimes the most refreshing messages to be found in verse are the simplest. And, there is no message more simple than this one, found in the first Epistle of John: “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them” (1 John 4:16).

God is love. That’s all there is.

God’s love is made manifest by our existence, and is again proven by the fact that he sent His Son to us, that through Christ we might live. Through Christ we might walk with Him.

God is love. He embodies love such that we did not need to love Him in order for Him to send Christ to us.

God is love, and it is so easy for us to walk with Him. We need only to accept that love, and that sacrifice, and live in that love, and then we are with Him.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that doing so is not necessarily as easy as it sounds. Perfect love is complicated, and in some ways it goes against our nature. Our base instinct is to fear the unknown, and act in retaliation when we are confronted with strife. I know that I personally must make efforts to love my fellows; it is a constant, conscious choice. Even when I am not being attacked in any way, often my reaction to my neighbor is indifference. This is not good enough.

Later in that same chapter, John continues: “For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister” (1 John 4:20,21). This idea hearkens back to a lesson I’ve written about before, which is that we must practice being like God, and like Christ. Part of that practice is the love I’m thinking about today.

John tells us the same thing when he says, Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God . . .  since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:7,11). He’s saying that we ought to practice the same grace that God has granted us, but I think he’s also saying something more. If God is love, and we are to practice being like Him, then we too must also strive to become love embodied. His love, and our own love, which is enabled through Him.

I know that in my own life, this will be difficult to apply. Even on days when I am angry, or hurt, or wounded, or simply tired, it will be easy to just retreat from that calling. Just shrug it off and say “maybe tomorrow.” Like all parts of this journey, I must consciously choose to make those qualities manifest within and through myself.

I heard a zen koan that has always stuck with me: the people that are hardest to love are the ones that need it the most. It’s a lovely thought, and true. I think there ought to be a corollary to it, though: Even when it is hardest for us to give love, that is when we need most to give it.

The Axiom of Choice

There’s a specific language used when people talk about Christianity–about becoming Christian. Like any other cultural demographic, there is a certain amount of jargon, and specifically a fairly tight set of words used to describe the act of becoming a true Christian. Three words in particular are relevant to my thoughts today: “choose,” “allow” and “accept.”

One of the more famous, oft-quoted verses that people bandy about comes from the book of Joshua, and it is relevant to my thoughts this morning: “But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).

Often, it is just the last line that is recited, almost as a mantra: As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. Sometimes, in fact, the use of this verse has rubbed me the wrong way. While at face value it simply states “My family walks with God,” there is also a nearly pejorative implication left unsaid: “You don’t, and I can tell from up here on my horse that God doesn’t like your actions.” In the past, I’ve felt as if the use of that verse is almost . . . weaponized. Out of the mouth of the wrong person, it feels like a shot across the bow before things get really nasty.

But, I think that there is a word in this verse that is much more important than the aforementioned last line: “choose.”  The implications there are much more amicable; you get to have a say in the matter. This is, I think, the crux of Christianity: you have to want it, and it has to be a conscious decision.

In my own life, I know this to be true. Proverbs tells us to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding,” but that’s exactly how I’d lived my life until just a few weeks ago (Proverbs 3:5). I allowed my intellect and understanding of the world to rule my faith, and it left no room for true trust. Only when I made a choice to pursue Him did I find Him in my heart.

Only when I found Him in my heart could I allow Him to become a part of my life and thoughts.

Only when I allowed Him to become part of my life could I accept Him as God.

God doesn’t make us Christian; he can only guide us.  If He could do it for us, that wouldn’t be free will. Christ doesn’t make us Christian; he can only sacrifice for us and teach us. Only we can make ourselves Christian; we must choose that path, accept Him in our hearts, and allow ourselves to be changed in that way. It doesn’t happen to us. We do it, and then the magic happens.

One month later

Today marks one month since I started this journal. I feel as though I am growing closer to God every day, but I also believe that that growth is a moving target, and that I can never simply be satisfied with an outcome. I am, after all, striving to be as much like Him as possible: I’m aiming for perfection, and such a thing cannot be achieved. It can only be approached asymptotically. I’ll try to get a little closer every day.

This is one of my favorite verses from the book of Psalms: “Declare that the LORD is upright; He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him” (Psalm 92:15). To me, declaring the Lord as my rock means more than simply saying that he gives me strength and foundation. Such a declaration also means that I see Him as an anchor; He is a fixed point on my moral compass, and the solid ground on which I hope to stand. I’ve always had a good sense of direction when it came to maps, but in my spiritual life–and internally–I’ve always lacked direction. I have not necessarily been amoral, as I’ve always known right from wrong, but I have lacked a destination. This past month has showed me that there is something that I can aim for.

I have opened myself up to friends, and to the world, and found that giving of myself begets rewarding returns.

I have been more honest with people in the last month–really, truly honest–than I ever have before. In return, I have found the resultant conversations to be more revealing and rewarding than I thought possible.

I have also been more honest with myself than I’ve ever been before, and I’ve found that underneath all the shields I have put up, I am still capable of being vulnerable and open. My deepest introspection, in combination with earnestly seeking God, has revealed my true nature. It turns out that I was not happy with myself, with the person I had become. It also turns out that I wanted to be better all along.

I am trying to relinquish my attachments to material things. I have given away things and money, and simply said “these things do not give me meaning.” I found it to be true! Once I stopped defining myself by material achievements, and actively and consciously decided to stop giving those things power over me, they ceased to hold me. We live in a consumer society, and therefore we must consume at times. But now I know that such consumption is just something that I might do, and it is not who I am.

I have tried to approach learning verse with a bit of a scholastic, intellectual approach–it’s been a while since I was in school, but I still remember how to learn. This approach has helped me learn things I never even imagined wanting to know a month ago. All it really took was a push off the ledge. I was anxious to take that plunge, because I didn’t know if the reward was worth the risk.

I have accepted that in order to live that life for something beyond my own selfish desires, I must make a conscious choice to accept that not only is there something bigger than myself to live for, but that my life actually belongs to that something (Someone) bigger. Accepting Christ as the Son, and as a part of my own heart, means allowing Him to act through me. I am not great at this yet; thirty-plus years of habits are difficult to override. But I am trying.

Most of all, I have learned a great deal about what it truly means to love others as I love myself.

At the end of this first month, I want to take a moment to be grateful for my journey so far. Lord, I am grateful. Grateful for direction, grateful for understanding, grateful for forgiveness, grateful for friendship, even perhaps grateful for pain–it means I am still alive, and still have an opportunity to grow. Thank you.

The Aloha Attitude

One early teaching of the Hawaiian “Aloha Spirit” is as follows:

Aloha is being a part of all, and all being a part of me. When there is pain – it is my pain. When there is joy – it is also mine. I respect all that is as part of the Creator and part of me. I will not willfully harm anyone or anything. When food is needed I will take only my need and explain why it is being taken. The earth, the sky, the sea are mine to care for, to cherish and to protect. This is Hawaiian – this is Aloha!

The community here is very focused on following this path of life. I wouldn’t say that it’s consumptive, but it is definitely at the forefront of people’s minds. Driving is done with the Aloha spirit. Retail transactions are done with the Aloha spirit. Strangers on the street are greeted with a smile and an “Aloha!” It is pervasive in a way I didn’t expect. In fact, even though this is a tropical island in the middle of the Pacific ocean, and the humid weather, wind, and surf are like nothing I’ve ever really experienced before, the “Aloha Spirit” is what makes this feel like different world.

Looking at it from a Christian context, there are definitely parallels to my faith. In fact, it reminds me very much of a chapter from early in my current reading material, C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity: “The first thing to get clear about Christian morality between man and man is that in this department Christ did not come to preach any brand new morality. The Golden Rule of the New Testament (Do as you would be done by) is a summing up of what everyone, at bottom, had always known to be right. Really great moral teachers never do introduce new moralities . . . The real job of every moral teacher is to keep on bringing us back, time after time, to the old simple principles which we are all so anxious not to see; like bringing a horse back and back to the fence it has refused to jump or bringing a child back and back to the bit in its lesson that it wants to shirk.”

Let’s start by looking at that first idea: Christ didn’t really teach us anything about social morality that we didn’t already know. My old roommate and I were talking about one night this week, and we both agreed that essentially if you boil down any of the great moral philosophies, they basically all employ this same concept: Love others as we love ourselves. They do NOT say to love others instead of ourselves, or to love others more than ourselves. As it relates particularly to Christianity, if we are all a part of Christ, and we are united with and through God, then doing wrongly by another means doing wrongly by ourselves, and wrongly by God. The inverse is also true: treat others rightly, treat ourselves rightly, treat God rightly. I’m not sure that it ever really occurred to me before that we oughtn’t treat others as ourselves out of respect and love, but because in a large way, others are ourselves.

This mirrors exactly the first idea of the Aloha spirit mentioned above: “Aloha is being a part of all, and all being a part of me. When there is pain – it is my pain. When there is joy – it is also mine.”  Being a part of Christ’s life on Earth means that if we hurt each other, we hurt ourselves.

This also reminds me of what Paul wrote in Colossians: “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity” (Colossians 3:13,14).  Paul shows us that treating each other as God would teach us binds us together in our love, and in His love.

I know it’s kitchy, but this idea also reminds me of the opening line of “I am the Walrus,” by The Beatles.

I am he as you are he as you are me
And we are all together