Everyday Endgames

Yesterday ended up being a particularly good day. Which is great, because I spent most of the day thinking it was time to get back to work.  Let me explain.

C98218CF-1851-40BB-8EAF-8A3229A54A11My plans to go into work a little each day this week got side-railed relatively quickly- by Tuesday morning.  And while I’ve checked work email a few times, I haven’t stepped back on-site.  So this week was a chance to eat well, play Harry Potter Trivial Pursuit with friends, go to the gym, and take care of some church stuff.  But it’s time to get work back into the schedule.  There’s a frustration that comes with having a bit too much time on your hands with no one to spend it with.  It was clear yesterday that I had hit that point.

Which isn’t to say that I haven’t gotten much done this week.  I finished Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch.  I’m continuing my red-read/note-taking on Cavadini’s Visioning Augustine.  I got back to some too-long neglected correspondence.  I’ve spent time with friends.  It’s just time.

Yesterday I saw Avengers: Endgame one last time.  I like to see favorites one last time before they leave the theater, and Endgame should leave any day now.  It holds up really well.  The emotional beats stuck.  The pacing held up.  If anything, I wanted a little more time at the end to learn more about life after the final snap.  That’s what Far From Home is for, I suppose.

It’s been a slightly disappointing movie summer so far.  Godzilla was visually amazing but narratively weak (and I firmly believe that you can have a narratively strong monster movie). At least it wasn’t as nihilistic as Skull Island.  I caught Dark Phoenix a few days after its release (it was way to close to semester-end meetings).  While it was no where near as bad as its reviews made it out to be, the last installment of this particular X-franchise fell flat from a lack of chemistry and humor.  Plus I’m not a huge fan of turning Professor X into such a questionable figure.  Beyond that, it will take me some time to see McAvoy and not see the Horde from Split.  In my mind, the X-Men franchise ended with Days of Future Past and Logan.  Ah well.

Winning a big game of Hand and Foot last night makes up for it, I think . . .

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Summertime Help

Today was a day of reading, movies, sushi, cards, and talking with friends.  One of the best days of summer yet.  Kind of like this classic Calvin and Hobbes strip.

Summertime Nothing(image from gocomics.com)

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Summertime Trivium

In yesterday’s post I mentioned three things I was keeping in mind as I planned out and worked through my summer.  Those three things we mostly “structural.”  By that I mean they are key to the framework of the season.  They aren’t quite the same, though, as the content for the season.  That’s what this post is about: my summertime trivium.

As the school year came to a close, I gained some real clarity on three areas of concern for myself moving forward.  If I hoped to make the most of a transitional summer, there were three things I need to spend time reflecting on.  And this while knowing that everyday, face-to-face conversations might not be able to happen because most of the people I would talk to about it were either too close to things or are “quick fixers.”  The quick fix is not an option.

Before giving the list, let me acknowledge that the three are almost inseparable.  They intermingle on deep levels.  And while all three have been important to me for some time, the work of the last two years have helped me appreciate a different slant on each.

The first area is COMMUNICATION.  One of the core tasks of the last two years was to think through what public (almost mass) communication of the Gospel looks like, feels like.  I’ve spent the last decade-and-a-half in the classroom.  24 is a far cry from 400.  So there’s the level of right proclamation of the Gospel to a mixed audience (mixed in age, mixed in intent).  Something like “scale” definitely has to be considered here.  The simple fact is that some things don’t scale, particularly if they are tied to practices or personalities.  I wasn’t kidding a couple of years ago when I labeled my task a “temporary vocational stretch.”  So there’s a need for me to think through effectiveness and style and intent and even purpose, really.

The second area is intimately tied to the first.  MEANING is always tied closely to communication (it’s part of the communication model and is inextricably linked to what is being communicated).  And while there is a communication component to it, the question of meaning is perhaps as much about context as it is about content for me.  When speaking broadly to a mixed audience, equivocation is always a real danger.  But because day-to-day life is so messy (and that can be particularly true for the life of faith), it’s also inevitable.  Just underneath the surface of things there creeps a potential meaningless that is frightening because it leaves you with no traction, no sense of what is genuinely essential.  So actions and words, what do they mean?  And what does it mean when we do them often?  And what does it mean when we do nothing with them once said or done?

Which brings me to COMMUNITY.  Communication happens in community.  Meaning is discovered (is that the right word?) in community.  Community can be an odd thing, though, for those set apart in a meeting, a classroom, an auditorium.  It can bring with it a real sense of loneliness.  It can be an odd twist on a “haves/have nots” mindset.  And because it involves people, community is also intensely personal.  And because communication and meaning happens on different levels of community, there’s a certain amount of uncomfortable code-switching that might be required that makes community fuzzy.

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These are the three big concepts I’m mulling over this summer.  Already I’ve got some resources from Christianity Today and the life and works of Augustine that are proving helpful (and that I will share over the course of the summer).  I’ve got a few guiding passages of Scripture in play, too (beyond just Mary and Martha or Jesus’s parable of the cleaned-up soul).  I don’t think I would’ve been ready for this kind of reflection last summer.  There’s something about “being done” with a thing that helps you reflect well on it.  These are things I want to have thought through well so I can embrace something new as the next school year begins.

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A Hope Beyond Renewal?

Yesterday I mentioned some of the ingredients in my “summer stew.”  As always, a good bit of reading and reflection.  My routines will keep me in good contact with the people around me, too, which is vital for me.  All of these ingredients matter.

Here’s another strip from the classic Peanuts strips run by the folks at gocomics.com:

Peanuts Urban Renewal

“How come?” is another version of the question “why?” which most of us ask quite often.  I think one of my whys for this summer is for something a step beyond simple renewal.  Don’t get me wrong: rest and renewal are vital for the daily life of faith.  But I also enter this summer with the realization that many of the ways that I’ve gone about doing things have gotten old, stale, predictable.  It’s not necessarily about “doing things that work.”  It’s not something utilitarian that I am hoping for.  I am hopeful that the Holy Spirit can open up new ways for me to interact with those around me.  And now is the time to feel and pray those things out.  I think of it as a triad:

Make Space —> Make Petitions —> Make Changes

I think the three things are self-explanatory.  “Making space” is a version of Jesus’s parable of the cleaned-out soul.  “Make changes,” though, is the way of making sure the cleaned-out soul doesn’t end up worse than before.  “Making petitions” is there to remind myself to turn my attention in the direction of faith and the Forerunner of that faith.  I think writing here (along with journaling) will be a good way to help “make” that space.  And reading about the classic adventures of Chuck and Linus, of Peppermint Patty and Marcie, helps a great deal, too.

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Summer Stew

On some level, the transition from school year to summer-time is an opportunity to trade out one set of concerns for another.  Time works a particular way during the school year: the days are packed with routines and habits that don’t really show up during the rest of the year.  So I have to come up with other routines, other habits, that will help carry me through the six weeks in between semesters.  This year, I’m particularly blessed with some 2019-particular concerns.

  1.  Our church has been without a pastor for just over a year.  I’ve been serving on the pastor search committee, which has been an interesting blessing.  Our candidate and his wife arrive Wednesday night for a week-long visit.  After a series of meet-and-greets, the candidate will preach in a service and then we will vote.
  2. At school we hired a Christian Ministries coordinator.  That means I’ll be handing the chapel piece over.  But it also means that I’ll be taking on some new responsibilities (that I’ll talk more about later).  This summer is my opportunity to reflect on the last two years of work that have taken me beyond the classroom.  I’ve got three categories of things that sum up my thoughts; I hope to get to them here soon.
  3. If you’ve been able to tell from my last two “current status” updates, I’ve been reading (and reading about) Augustine.  It goes back to a comment made by Jamie Smith at last summer’s Laity Lodge retreat.  I’m using Augustine as a kind of sounding board/filter for my thoughts about the last couple of years.  I just finished a reread of his On Christian Teaching, which is where my status quotes have been coming from.
  4. Beyond those particulars, summer-time allows me to retool and retune some of my regular, school-year routines.  I’m able to be more consistent in getting to the gym.  I can rethink my diet (still eating well at places I only get to eat during breaks while also eating well at homer).  I’m able to strengthen my Bible reading (right now in Deuteronomy, 2 Corinthians, and Luke).  And hopefully, once I get into an evening routine, I can get to bed early and sleep well.

So lots of ingredients in the summer stew.  I hope to revisit many of them over the next few weeks.  And then there’s always stuff that I’m reading and watching and thinking about that doesn’t quite fit the mold of the moment (like the great British cop series I just started reading).  I just hope that writing here will be a good habit for me these next few weeks, particularly since posting here became a rarity this past semester.

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Unwinding, Not Unraveling

And so the school year comes to an end.  Today is the first full day of summer vacation.  And while I have to go in for a couple of hours (or at least should), it’s nice to be done with the year.  The end of any semester is always a sprint, the end leading up to graduation even more so.

Because I teach seniors in the spring, my grades have been done for a good while.  In place of a grade crunch, though, there were meeting agendas to plan and presentations to prep for.  Things wrapped up relatively well on that account.  I work with great people.  It wasn’t as next-year focused as I would have preferred, but that’s okay.  It gives me a little more time to get my act together on some key things.

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The Gospel reading for this past Friday, my last day of meetings, was the story of Mary and Martha with Jesus in Luke 10:

38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things,42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one.  Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

It was an apropos reading for me, as it’s a picture that I’ve come back to a few times over the last two years of my “temporary vocational stretch.”  More on that later. It is enough to say that I am hopeful that I will get a few weeks of “feet listening” than “distraction by preparations.”

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I really liked this recent classic Peanuts strip about the end of the school year.  It “works” on multiple levels.

2B37F77A-CBB8-4E95-873E-5E21547B0961More on Charlie Brown’s summer camp experience later.

It reminds me of another moment from the Gospel of Luke, this one a story that Jesus told.

24 “When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ 25 When it arrives, it finds the house swept clean and put in order. 26 Then it goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first.”

I know that Jesus didn’t intend this to be a commentary on people and what happens when their schedules open up, but there’s a principle there, something with a little more depth than “nature abhors a vacuum.”  I suppose this brings the post back to the title, unwinding not unraveling.  It’s good to try and plan for the transition between “full” and “empty.”  There’s always the possibility that wrapping something up will bring more disaster than delight.  And that can easily set you up for a rough beginning to what’s next.  I’ve definitely got ideas and plans for starting my summer well.  But I’m also aware of the frustrations and pitfalls.  It doesn’t have to be anymore of a “things fall apart” moment than any given time in life.   But it doesn’t have to be a rush from the classroom to the camp bus, either.

(image from gocomics.com)

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Summertime Reruns

These have been good days in the “classic comics” department.  The last couple of weeks have seen the retelling of when Calvin accidentally wrecked the family car in Calvin and Hobbes.  Over in classic Peanuts, though, we’ve gotten a story that started with Lucy kicking Linus out of the house only to find things working against her doubly.

Rerun 1

Rerun 2The facial expressions, as always, are simple and wonderful.  But then comes the “naming” of the third Van Pelt child.

Rerun 3

Rerun 4Rerun was a great, well-formed character by the time of Schulz’s passing.  He kind of represented a particularly late-20th century cynicism.  And while I’ve read lots of Peanuts strips over my lifetime, I don’t remember much about how he matured as a character.

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Posting here has been sparse because the end of the semester has been crazy.  I hope to update more on that over the next week.  I’ve been blessed to have good reading, quality quiet times, and good times with neighbors to relax some.  I’m reading a collection of essays about Augustine that have been great for me, particularly as I reflect on the last year and prepare for what is next.

(images from gocomics.com)

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