Monday, January 30, 2012

Rest in the Mystery

When I think of how I might describe the past weekend at the Hancock abode, the best word I can come up with is "interesting."  Along with the typical weekend activities, like grocery shopping, picking up vegetables from the co-op, and preparing food for the week, I also had the onerous task of writing my first paper for Intro to Theology, this one dealing with the mystery of God as explored in Tomas Halik's Patience with God

Writing anything down on paper about the mystery of God is a daunting task, at best.  Let's face it, the Bible doesn't describe God's impenetrable light for nothing. Halik even asserts that "God is mystery" should be the "beginning and the end" of every theology.  Logically, if a statement is sandwiched by mystery, then the middle can only attempt to unravel the threads of understanding that allow the acceptance of mystery, not the solution of the mystery.  If God is not a thing among things or a being among beings, as my theology professor likes to say, then God's mystery is not a thing to be solved but a state of existence to accept.  And even then, I, as a human, can accept the fact and the truth that God is mystery without ever hoping to fully fathoming the depths of His mystery. 

The beautiful yet frustrating thing about writing in the field of theology is that it took me 2 days this weekend to mentally filter all of Halik's material on God's mystery to even begin to develop the words to write the above paragraph.  Thankfully, after mentally chewing on all of these thoughts, I am happy to report that the rough draft of the paper was finished this morning, 3 days before it is due!  All that's left is hearing back from my proofreader and applying all the proper formatting, and paper #1 for Intro will be complete.  I always worry about the first paper of the semester in any class.  It always feels like a testing ground between the students and professor.  How does my writing compare to the professor's standards?  How does my writing compare to that of my fellow students?  Does that matter in the grading process of the professor? And so the questions pile up.  My only comfort is that the professor probably has similar trepidations in anticipation of the first batch of papers she has to grade, so at least we're all on one side or the other of the same boat. 

After having so much on my mind this weekend, as well as a full day of work on Sunday, it occurred to me last night that I didn't do a very good job of resting and taking care of myself in the process of the weekend.  Ok, if I'm honest, it was Justin who informed me I wasn't doing a good job taking care of myself.  So, as we head into the heart of the school and work week, may we remember that:

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
   will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
2 I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
   my God, in whom I trust.”
 3 Surely he will save you
   from the fowler’s snare
   and from the deadly pestilence.
4 He will cover you with his feathers,
   and under his wings you will find refuge;
   his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
5 You will not fear the terror of night,
   nor the arrow that flies by day,
6 nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,
   nor the plague that destroys at midday.
7 A thousand may fall at your side,
   ten thousand at your right hand,
   but it will not come near you.
8 You will only observe with your eyes
   and see the punishment of the wicked.
 9 If you say, “The LORD is my refuge,”
   and you make the Most High your dwelling,
10 no harm will overtake you,
   no disaster will come near your tent.
11 For he will command his angels concerning you
   to guard you in all your ways;
12 they will lift you up in their hands,
   so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
13 You will tread on the lion and the cobra;
   you will trample the great lion and the serpent. 

Psalm 91:1-13

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Jehovah-Jireh, Jehovah-Rapha, Jehovah...Gourmet Chef?

In the Old Testament, God's followers would create and/or refer to God using a compound name in response to the particular revelation of His character they experienced.  For instance, in Genesis 22, God asks Abraham to sacrifice his only son Isaac, but before Abraham can complete the sacrifice an angel of the Lord stops him and God provides a ram for Abraham to sacrifice in place of Isaac.  In the face of such provision, Abraham names the place "The Lord provides," referring to God with the compound name Jehovah-Jireh.  Another instance occurs in Exodus 15 when God promises not to bring the diseases He brought on the Egyptians on the Israelites if they obey His commands.  In this instance, God calls Himself Jehovah-Rapha, or the God who heals.  One can find many other names and descriptors of God in the Bible, but these two always stick out to me as distinctive reminders of the power, might and mercy of God exceedingly above anything this world could offer.

This morning, I had my own particular revelation of God.  Honestly, it wasn't a mind-blowing event like Abraham's encounter with the angel of the Lord, but it was a divinely mundane moment full of the taste of heaven.  I was sitting on my first bus of the morning (my commute involves 2 buses, a train ride, and a shuttle bus) eating my oatmeal, and I was suddenly struck by the delightfulness of what I was eating. Oatmeal is a new addition to my diet, but my wonderful cookbook had a recipe for a homemade oatmeal mix with dried cranberries, dried apples, a little bit of brown sugar, and cinnamon.  So, this week I decided to do the mature thing and give it a try.  Since Monday, I have found myself actually looking forward to eating my oatmeal, but this morning was a unique experience.  As I took refuge in the bus, a typically depressing place to be even on a good day, from the cold rain outside, I opened up the cup of oatmeal I had just warmed at home, sank my spoon into the creamy goodness, and experienced a new sensation as it hit my tongue--surprise, utterly delightful surprise!  The dried apples and cranberries had plumped up just right, the oatmeal had reached the ideal state of earthy creaminess and the cinnamon was like comfort food wrapped up in a smell.  In that moment, I felt a unique closeness to God. 

I recently had to read Genesis 1 for a class, and after creating man and woman (in the Genesis 1 creation account) God says, "I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food." (NIV Genesis 1:29)  As a descendant of Adam and Eve and a creature in God's wonderfully made creation, I believe that I experienced this morning a glimpse of the holy act it is to participate in the gift God gave Creation from the very beginning in the form of food.  I mean, have you ever thought about that God didn't have to give us food?  He could have created us to gain our energy and sustenance by standing in the sun 20 minutes every day.  But He didn't!  He created beautiful, wonderful food and the creative minds that take pleasure in finding delicious ways to prepare it.  And above all that, the necessity of stopping to prepare and eat food has built in time for us to socialize and feed our souls off of time spent with family and friends over a meal.

These days food has gotten a bad reputation in our society.  There are diets telling you what you should and should not eat, restaurants offering quick and filling (though often not healthy) food options for the person on the go, and television shows advocating all manner of eating habits.  But let us not forget, food is a part of God's divine creation, given to human to sustain life.  Instead of viewing the consumption of food as a God-ordained right of humanity, may I take this as a divinely-given responsibility, not only to feed my family well, but also to use the fruits of the earth responsibly, to the glory of God the Creator and Maker of good foods. 

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Oh, Saturday!

What a week it has been!  The Spring 2012 semester is fully underway, complete with extra homework because one professor neglected to let us know we had readings for the first day of class until we were actually in class, creating double the reading for this weekend.  Needless to say, after practicing my Sunday service music early this morning, a good portion of the day was spent reading.  I'm so glad I like to read!  A bright note of the day, however, was the breakfast Justin and I had at La Madeleine's this morning.  I've decided my next culinary achievement needs to be learning to make Romanoff sauce.   My favorite breakfast item at La Madeleine's is their Crepes Romanoff with strawberries, and considering the crepes seem to be whole wheat and served with lots of strawberries, there are definitely worse things in the world one could eat for breakfast!  Plus, the French roast coffee is stiff enough you could stand a spoon up in it, which is just the way I like it. 

In other culinary news, our vegetable co-op bag we pick up every Saturday had fresh beets in it today!  I've been incredibly curious about fresh beets lately after hearing a good friend rave about them, but haven't been brave enough to give them a try, one because they're a bit expensive at the grocery story, and two because I'm not a fan of pickled beets AT ALL.  But, in the spirit of adventure, I wrapped those beets up in aluminum foil and roasted them for an hour.  After peeling, cubing, and salting the roasted beets I took my first bite of my newest food-affair.  It was sweet, savory, earthy, salty goodness.  It was like eating a jewel mined from the soil.  Needless to say, I'm thrilled at the fact there's enough to go in my lunch all week this week!

I have several thoughts of a theological nature swirling in my head at the moment but very little time or energy with which to expound on them.  So, in anticipation for Sunday worship, let me sign off for now with one of my favorite psalms:

I will lift up my eyes to the mountains;
From where shall my help come?
My help comes from the LORD,
Who made heaven and earth.  
He will not allow your foot to slip;
He who keeps you will not slumber.
 Behold, He who keeps Israel
Will neither slumber nor sleep. The LORD is your keeper;
The LORD is your shade on your right hand.
The sun will not smite you by day,
Nor the moon by night.
The LORD will protect you from all evil;
He will keep your soul.
The LORD will guard your going out and your coming in
From this time forth and forever.
Psalm 121

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Theology: Road Trip Anyone?!

What is theology?

This was the question posed today in my first Introduction to Theology class.  It seems like the answer to this question would be simple--"the study of God."  But, wait a second!  Though a correct academic definition, what does "the study of God" really mean?  Here, the use of language is both a help and a barrier.  Of course, we cannot understand our own thoughts without the definition language provides. But the careful use of language in defining anything as sensitive as "theology" is paramount to the success of any such definition. 

I don't mean to presume that after one class period I really "get it."  To be honest, there is a part of me that is more confused now than I was when she asked us to jot down a few thoughts.  But here is one thought that stuck with me during our mini-brainstorming session:

Theology is the study of the interaction of God on a physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual level with humankind and creation.

I honestly have no idea how this answer would be taken apart by a professor of systematic theology, but I do know this: it's the best I have at this point!  Hopefully, over the course of this semester this definition will grow both clearer and fuzzier in the midst of my pursuit of theology.  And let's face it--we're all in pursuit of theology.  For many this journey is not intentional nor as definition-dependent as an academic quest towards understanding God, but the drive still exists.  Whether the road trip is just beginning, stalled on the side of the road, experiencing twists and turns, or cruising down a normal stretch of highway, someday all of our journeys will end at God's throne room.
I read a passage the other day in Chesterton's Orthodoxy that I find a helpful companion in this journey:

"I wish to set forth my faith as particularly answering this double spiritual need, the need for that mixture of the familiar and the unfamiliar which Christendom has rightly named romance...the thing I propose to take as common ground between myself and any average reader is this desirability of an active and imaginative life, picturesque and full of a poetical curiosity, a life such as western man at any rate always seems to have desired."

I pray that in the midst of the academia--the reading, the writing, the studying, the struggling--this romantic theology will not lose its luster, but only grow in its ability to pique the imagination with thoughts of a God beyond human comprehension Who chooses to continue relating to humanity through the perichoresis (dance) of the Holy Trinity.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Night Before the Second First Day of Seminary

As I sit here listening to the maintenance man vacuum up water that leaked out from under my refrigerator, I find myself reflecting on this Christmas break and the upcoming semester.  To be honest, I always feel awkward about the beginning of the Spring semester.  You're not going to walk in to Wal-mart or Target and find all of the traditional back to school items one might find in August, and yet there is a sense of newness in the air, at least for those in undergraduate and graduate programs.  There are new classes to look forward to, new challenges to face, new professors to experience.  On the other hand, there is a sense of sameness.  As a music major, my private lesson instructor stays the same, as do my choir director and my advisers in the Sacred Music corner of the campus.  So while some things are new, other things are so familiar, it almost feels like this is a semester of settling into the things that were so strikingly unfamiliar in the Fall.

As far as Christmas break goes, it was one of mixed emotions.  One of my aunts passed away very suddenly and unexpectedly in the middle of December.  Combined with the fact we buried my grandmother on the same side of the family one week before Christmas 6 years ago, there were many reasons to be sad this Christmas.  But, in the midst of the difficulties, there were joyful times with family and the sense of coming home during our week in Lubbock.  Granted, Dallas is our home now, but there is something nice about going back to a comfortable, familiar place for a while. 

In the midst of this reflection, it occurs to me that a major theme in my life right now is the tension between the familiar and the foreign.  The draw of the familiar is alluring, but the move to Dallas and attending Perkins is anything but a comfortable life decision.  Isn't it interesting, though, that comfortable and right don't necessarily coincide?  Someday, Dallas and seminary may feel like a comfortable world, but the best part is that right now, its an exciting, uncertain, and challenging adventure.  So, here's to a new semester! 

Friday, January 13, 2012

Drunk on Carbs

Tonight, Justin and I did something that we've never done before.  Things have been tough around here.  Justin's had a winter cold for what feels like more than a week, leaving me to act as nurse, caregiver, housekeeper, wife, etc.  Granted, being a caregiver isn't easy anyway, but add illness into the mix and things can get tense. So, to combat the illness and overall low morale in our apartment, we got drunk on all-natural, gourmet carbs from Central Market. 

Now, I know that some of you health nuts out there might be thinking, "Didn't you just decide to start a new eating plan?  What about the exercising and being healthy?"  To that I will say this:
1. We ate well today up until dinner.
2. Today was a running day (completed 2nd day of C25k week 2 and was rather proud of my performance!) and I saved some of my snack calories in order to not totally ruin things tonight.
3. Though I am not a proponent of emotional eating, sometimes it's important to bend some rules (like on eating) in order to maintain what is most important, which in my life are my faith in the Holy Trinity and my marriage.
4. Whatever didn't get eaten tonight is going in the trash.  I know there are hungry kids in Africa, but the carbs we managed not to devour tonight are not going to do them any good, and it is not my obligation to eat leftover carbs that are not good for me in order to somehow have solidarity with starving children elsewhere in the world.  The best thing I can do to show my support for such children and their families is to pray for them and support programs that actually are providing them healthy food. Sorry...I'm getting on a soapbox...  Anyway, back to the story!

So, I went on a mission of exploration to Central Market, something I've been wanting to do since we moved to Dallas.  On this mission, I procured a piece of spinach lasagna, a mushroom & goat cheese quesadilla, macaroni and cheese, a fresh baguette, herb cheese to go with the baguette, organic blood orange Italian soda, and chocolate chips cookies from the bakery.  Told ya it was a carb fest!

While sampling all of the findings, we watched How I Met Your Mother and Dateline.  I started noticing our drunken state about the 3rd time we laughed hysterically during the same 5 minute bit in HIMYM.  By the time we put on Dateline at 9, we were in a close-to-delirious mood.  While getting ready for bed at 10, almost everything we said was funny and worth a side-splitting laugh.  All I can determine is we experienced a classic case of carbo-high.  Thankfully, the side effects are not terribly debilitating, and it got us to laugh with each other--A LOT. 

Now, loading up on carbs and watching a horny Doogie Howser and real-life murder mysteries may not be your thing.  Getting ready for bed at 10 p.m. on a Friday night may not be your thing either.  But tonight taught me a valuable lesson--whatever it takes to lower some of the tension in life to make room for the joy that surrounds you: DO IT!  Taking a bit of time to let life reset and laugh through the things that cause the most angst is a healthy move, even if it requires a few chocolate chips cookies here and there.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Christian Egotist

Happy Wednesday!  We had a fairly low key day at the Hancock household.  I start week 2 of the C25k training plan today and though it was definitely harder than last week, I completed my 30 minutes without dying and without backing down from my personal distance and calorie goals for the workout, so I'm pleased overall.  Then, Justin and I went over to our friend Lessie's house and ate lunch and played with her and her little daughter.  Tonight, I had choir practice for two and a half hours, so I'm glad to be home and done with my day.  Though not as busy as a normal school day would be, this day had enough activity in it for me to be glad I'm home.

I started another new venture today which has the potential to stir up many future musings and questions.  I decided to start reading G.K. Chesterton's Orthodoxy.  Chesterton was a late 19th-early 20th century English writer and theologian who engaged in theological debate with such contemporaries as Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw.  Chesterton is sometimes called the "prince of paradox" because of his ability to turn a popular phrase or idea inside out before using it to prove his point.  On a personal note, many of the people I know who have read Orthodoxy, including Justin, have told me that to make it through a page or two at a time of Chesterton is quite an accomplishment because of the density of his writing and his pithy phrases.  Therefore, though this volume is only 129 pages in length, it could take a long time to complete. 

Already today, in the Preface of all things, I found one such phrase that made me stop in my tracks.  In explaining his approach to writing Orthodoxy, Chesterton says he "has been forced to egotistical only in order to be sincere...It is the purpose of the writer to attempt an explanation, not of whether the Christian Faith can be believed, but of how he personally has come to believe it."  Egotistical = sincere?  Really?  The more I thought about this, the more it started making sense to me.  In fact, it reminded me of a conversation Lessie and I had not too long ago about how we misuse the word "selfish" in the Christian church.  We started thinking about all the times we would start phrases with "I know this may sound selfish, but..." and honestly, at the end of most of the buts was something that referred to taking care of ourselves.  Personally, I often find myself saying, "I know this may sound selfish, but I need to have some time to myself so I can't do (fill in extraneous activity), even though I know so-and-so really wants me to be there." 

Though it is difficult to acknowledge because of other people's expectations on my time and energy, the best thing I can do for other people is to take care of myself.  That's not selfish--it's healthy. To admit that I have limits both mentally and physically makes me real and human. In the same way, Chesterton addresses his faith through the lens of his personal experience in order to be authentic, not self-involved.  Defining his theology through personal experience makes his sometimes difficult-to-understand ideas real, tangible, meaningful for the fact they have been born and refined through the fire of human life.  It would seem in our day and age of the Internet, more such authentic sharing of life and faith would be easier and more accessible, and thus, more prevalent. 

Why, then, does it sometimes seem so difficult to distinguish between the selfish, shallow evangelist and the authentic, Christ-seeking egotist?


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

New Year, New Resolve

Hello friends and Internet world!

It has been QUITE a while since I posted anything on here, but I thought it might be nice to start writing again. Instead of trying to fill you in on everything that's happen in the last year and a half, I'll just include the pertinent details. Justin and I moved to Dallas in the Fall so that I could start a Masters of Sacred Music at Perkins School of Theology/SMU. My first semester was crazy and Justin is still looking for full time work, but God continues to provide for us and I have never been so sure of my calling. Really, it's been wonderful to lean on God and have no idea how He's going to provide for us next and yet trust that He will act in a powerful, magnificent way.

One of the most rewarding things about seminary is the almost daily theological challenges to be faced in reading, discussion, and writing. So, I'm hoping this semester I might have an opportunity to post more on theological issues I face and interesting things I read. For me, hashing things out in writing is usually a fruitful experience.

Justin and I decided this year we would try two new things to live more healthfully. First, we are trying the Comfort Food Diet from Taste of Home, which has thus far turned out to be very reasonable and delicious! One of my problems when we try new eating plans is finding recipes that in it that are yummy and satisfying. The Comfort Food Diet cookbook is quite excellent! The food so far has tasted good and included lots of fiber and fruits/veggies. We've also committed to working out 3 times a week, and I'm trying the Couch to 5k plan. To be honest, running is not my thing. I know for some people it is, but I've always hated it. But, I also recognize that it is one of the most efficient ways to achieve meaningful cardiovascular exercise in a decent amount of time, so I'm putting aside my dislike and giving it a try. Though I don't know that running is something I will ever love, my health makes it worth attempting.