Friday, September 19, 2008

A Year in Blogging...

So last Saturday, September 13th was the first year anniversary of my little blog experiment and I have to say that looking back a year later, I am really, really enjoying this experience. It is a lot of fun to have your own little corner of the internet, making a page that reflects your personality and where you can post thoughts and musings or pictures and poems. I love the interaction with really cool technology because it keeps me on my toes and gives me something to play around with Sometimes it has felt like a burden - "I haven't blogged in like two weeks, oh no!" - and sometimes it has been cathartic. I am surprised and pleased though with myself because I have kept it going, despite lulls here and there. I also love that so many of my friends have blogs as well, because it helps keep me in touch with people that I may not see very often, and because they inspire and/or educate me with their postings.

All in all, I am happy with "The Road Goes Ever On..." and I'm looking forward to seeing what another year will bring.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Chaos on Wall Street?

What is going on with the financial markets? Is it really bad? And how did we get here? And is it over?

I wish I knew - but the problem of a free market economy and capitalism is that these downward spirals happen and sometimes take a while to get out of. This is not the Great Depression - we don't have breadlines for the majority of the nation yet.

This article is one of the best that I have read while trying to sift through the various news media outlets to find out the truth about what is going on. It details why we are in the mess that we are in, and why this is not going to be over anytime soon unfortunately. And also why no politician is going to be able to fix this problem, despite their promises of "regulation" (because Sarbanes-Oxley works soooo well...riiightt). No, unfortunately, the way that this problem is going to be fixed is banks need to start giving out loans again (but only to those who are fiscally responsible - ie, buy and pay what they truly can afford!), commodity prices and inflation need to go down, the dollar needs to strengthen, and the drop in pricing for houses needs to bottom out.

And while we are blaming the housing industry/market, let's also throw some of that blame onto Alan Greenspan during his reign at the Fed that allowed these interest rates to increase inflation above the average American's wage, and make borrowing money (ie, "credit") easier than it should have been for that American. So those people buying the McMansions (that are now foreclosing in droves), 4 luxury cars, and sending their kids to private school were overextending themselves after all, and now can't pay their bills and thus are sending Wall Street into turmoil, because they can't pay back the amount of debt they owe and have to foreclose and the banks have to write down that debt. Coupled with the fact that someone decided it would be great to make some money off of the amount of debt that someone else owes, we find ourselves in a "credit crisis". Yeah, that was a brilliant idea - make money off of negative money - that'll work! Because eventually that money will be paid off right, and since it is accumulating interest, that lump sum will be worth even more? Turns out nope - they actually couldn't pay back the loan, because they never had the money in the first place - and YET someone approved them for a loan. And then it gets all technical with the types of loans given out - adjustable interest percentage rates mortgages or interest only loans, where none of the principal was being paid down, and the loan money kept going up and up - and Wall Street placed bets on that, never foreseeing that the assets that people were banking on (their homes) were NEVER WORTH THAT MUCH!

Now that the housing bubble has burst and continues to plunge, and continues to be exasperated by Wall Street's lack of foresight, we the consumer will continue to suffer, because the commodities that we need to go down (energy, inflation, agriculture) continue to the do the opposite - they go up, weakening our dollar and deflate the purchasing power of the average American because companies have to raise their prices in order to account for the cost of commodities going up.

It is making me nervous that the government continues to bail out these companies on Wall Street (at least some of my money is being used to save some people's jobs and livelihoods though), because the government has moved into uncharted waters in terms of involvement on Wall Street. I am not a fan of "big" government, but in this era of socialist democracy, I guess there is not a way to avoid it. But when I hear stories of how two government workers had to be hired in order to do another government worker's job because she was such a mess and yet was never fired - it brings a sick feeling to my stomach (and that is a true story).

And while people continue to buy IPods, Blackberries, and Rock Band 2, you can't say that we have reached Great Depression levels - sure, we are in a recession, but while people continue to buy "stuff" that is, in the end, non-essential to their existence, there is still some faith to be had in our economy. And there doesn't seem to be a shortage of work (just go to, or just yet, so again, there are reasons to remain confident and not hide in the bunker yet - or stuff all your cash under your mattress.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Follow Up to Georgia Situation

The Russia-Georgia-US-West situation (see previous post, The Guns of August) continues to escalate and now Venezuela is getting into the mix. The most poignant part of the linked story is the fact that two Russian military planes conducted exercises in Venezuela. Not good people!!

So in between the stories that people are fascinated with like Hurricane Ike, the VMAs, Obama, and Sarah Palin, I really hope and wish that this situation would be treated more seriously and with more tact in the diplomatic realm than it currently is being treated with. Russia is not to be taken lightly!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A Good Book

I love reading. I love a great book and the inspiration that it can provide. And once in a while, I come across an amazing book - one that just goes above and beyond anything that I have recently read. Dallas Willard's book, The Spirit of the Disciplines is one of these books. I recommend that everyone read this book because he is saying things that I have not heard anyone say in a long time.

First, to provide some background, I have been doing a lot of reading this year on the nature of spiritual discipline and what it means to walk with God. John Ortberg's book, The Life You've Always Wanted:Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People and Love Beyond Reason, John Eldredge's book that I just finished, Walking With God, are three books that I deliberately delved into because this is a topic that I have been trying to understand throughout the year. I enjoy Ortberg and Eldredge and I think that they both have great things to say, and it was actually through one of Ortberg's books that I came across Dallas Willard's, as Ortberg references it as the source of inspiration for his The Life You've Always Wanted. I, being a history student at heart, decided to go straight to the primary source and read this book (primary sources being the hallmark of research for history majors :)).

Also, I usually try to read with a critical view, questioning what the author is saying. But sometimes, I cannot help but agree with everything that an author is saying and this book is one of those. I have been consistently blown away, not only by the content of what is being said, but also how it is being said. Willard is a beautiful writer on top of a being a brilliant thinker. I am only about 30 pages into the book as I have to slow myself down to really read and digest what he is saying - he is one of "those" kind of authors, much like C.S. Lewis. If I was underlining this book, it would probably be one of my books that had about every line underlined.

I want to share one of the passages that I read today because of how it struck me. I think there is truth in this, because I see it in my own life - otherwise, I wouldn't be reading about spiritual disciplines!

...But we seem hard put to understand that what is true of the foundations is no less true of the superstructure. The surrender of myself to Him is inseparable from the giving up of my body to Him in such a way that it can serve both Him and me as a common abode, as John 14:23, 1 Corinthians 6:15-20, and Ephesians 2:22 testify. The vitality and power of Christianity is lost when we fail to integrate our bodies into its practice by intelligent, conscious choice and steadfasat intent. It is with our bodies we receive the new life that comes as we enter His Kingdom.

It can't be any other way. If salvation is to affect our lives, it can do so only by affecting our bodies. If we are to participate in the reign of God, it can only be by our actions. And our actions are physical - we live only in the processes of our bodies. To withhold our bodies from religion is to exclude religion from our lives. Our life is a bodily life, even though that life is one that can be fulfilled solely in union with God.

Spirituality in human beings is not an extra or "superior" mode of existence. It's not a hidden stream of separate reality, a separate life running parallel to our bodily existence. It does not consist of special "inward" acts even though it has an inner aspect. It is, rather, a relationship of our embodied selves to God that has the natural and irrepressable effect of making us alive to the Kingdom of God - here and now in the material world.

When our presentation of the gospel fails to do justice to this basic truth about the nature of human personality, Christianity inevitably becomes alienated from our actual everyday existence. All that remains for it are a few "special" acts to be engaged in on rare occassions. The church then is forced to occupy itself only with these special acts and occassions. Through what is in reality an astonishing lack of faith, the church removes itself from the substance of life. Powerless over life, then, it stands to one side, and God is left without a dwelling place through which He could effectively occupy the world in the manner He intends.

...This failure has nothing to do with the usual divisions between Christians, such as that between Protestant and Catholic or between liberal and conservative or between charismatic and non-charismatic, for the failure is shared on all sides. It stems from something the various parties must have in common. They all fail to foster those bodily behaviors of faith that would make concrete human existence vitally complete - taking them as a part of the total life in the Kingdom of God. Just as we mentioned in the opening of this chapter, we've somehow encouraged a separation of our faith from everyday life. We've relegated God's life in us to special times and places and states of mind. And we've become so used to this style of life, that we are hardly aware of it. When we think of "taking Christ into the workplace" or "keeping Christ in the home," we are making our faith into a set of special acts. The "specialness" of such acts just underscores the point - that being a Christian, being Christ's, isn't thought of as a normal part of life.

~ Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines, pgs. 30-32

I don't think I have ever really thought of the body as taking part in my
salvation. I have heard the Great Commandment, "Love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, your mind, your body, and your soul", but I don't think I have really understood, or even given much thought to, how to love God with my body. How do you really worship the Lord with your body? So, in reading this, something clicked deep inside of me - light bulbs went off - and I am beginning to get it. I am very interested to discover what other hard truths lie ahead - but I believe that it will be worth it.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

A New Leaf

This whole year has been quite a whirlwind for me. As I sit here and reflect I realize that I probably have not digested half of the things that have occurred, because SO much has gone on. It has been very tough at times and I have really struggled to find joy in the midst of it all.

But something happened this past weekend and I feel as if my heart has finally changed or it finally reached a realization of some sorts. I had the privilege to go to the Young Life leader/committee weekend and enjoy the beauty of Rockbridge (which, unfortunately was a bit diminished by the peskiness of the gnats - dumb bugs) over this Labor Day weekend. I have to admit, I was not excited about having to "give up" my Labor Day weekend (one of the very few holidays that I get at my company) and go to this weekend, but being a leader, I felt obligated to go. And I am so glad that I did.

I did definitely feel like a sore thumb in the middle of our group - being the only single adult high school leader will do that for you :) - but it was worth it. The worship was amazing, the seminars were great (shout-out to Bob Wells for an awesome seminar by the way), the speaker - John Wagner - was encouraging, and the place was beautiful. I also got to have 4 to 5 hours to myself to just sit outside and read and talk to God, something which has been hard to do lately, because frankly I have been very angry, bitter, and hurt by God (more on that later). And then the whole time was closed by a Prayer Mosaic, one of the most beautiful things I have gotten to experience. There were all these different forms of prayer stations and you could go to whichever one you wanted to and it was amazing. What a way to close the weekend. It has carried me through into this week, a week that is now full of hope and resolutions.

I realized that I had been angry with God. Anger, hurt, and bitterness crept into my heart and I was mad at Him. Mad for shutting doors when I hoped for open ones, mad at Him for the way that my life looks right now, and just in general, hurt by all the longings in my heart that continuously go unmet. I couldn't understand what He was doing to me.

And then I read in John Eldredge's new book, Walking With God, that our unmet longings and desires are supposed to point us to God and not away. He says:

"Something I read years ago by C.S. Lewis in the The Weight of Glory has proven helpful to me time and time again, and may rescue us in the very moment of awakened desire I am describing. Lewis is trying to show us that what God uses to awaken desire is not necessarily what we long for. The things 'in which we we though the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things...are good images of what we desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself, they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself.' They are not what we are longing for."

And realizing that opened the floodgate of sunshine and understanding. The longings, the desires of my heart are supposed to point me to the heart of my Lord. The pain that they cause is supposed to serve as a reminder to turn to Him in order to find joy. It is an intangible joy that comes from this pain but I will take the peace that I feel now over the turmoil of last week, any day.

This realization coupled with the reminders from this weekend of walking with the Lord (daily morning quiet times, monthly "day aways", living in community, keeping a missional mindset no matter what I do or where I am), has really impacted my heart. I do feel renewed, though another long semester of clubs loom ahead. Not all of God's promises are happy and joyful - He does promise that there will be struggle and hardship along the way. But the pain of this struggle can bring joy - but only if it is surrendered along the way.

I put this verse up on my bulletin board a couple weeks ago, and only now do I think I understand it a little better:

Romans 5:1-5
"Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the Hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perserverance; perservance, character; and character, hope. And HOPE DOES NOT DISAPPOINT US, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us."