Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Faith in What?

Thinking about faith, and what it is, and why it matters. The world as we perceive would not exist if not for faith. We cannot live in community without faith. I'm not sure we can live at all without it. We have to have faith in certain basic things, don't we? I pondered a bit; what do you think?

we all have faith in something. what do you believe?

do you believe that if you follow the traffic laws
everyone else will, too? anyone else?

do you believe that the price of a loaf of bread
will stay the same from the bakery shelf to the checkout line? in this country?

do you believe that mothers and fathers
never want to hurt their children? maybe not often?

do you believe that wars are fought
for high and noble reasons? or reasonable reasons?

do you believe that your friends
will always have your back? if they're able?

do you believe that if you're careful with your money
you'll never do without? much?

do you believe that if you work smart and study hard and live clean
you'll get your dream job? or at least a job?

do you believe that if you treat people right
they'll appreciate you? respect you?

I don't.
I don't believe any of those things.
The more I see, the more I learn, the less I believe. The less I trust in people or things or patterns or systems, or even experience.

But I believe God is real, and loving, and active.
For me, that faith
is enough.

It is enough, because even if no one else follows traffic laws, and I lose property or health or life as a result, my faith says that God is still real, and loving, and active. That means He's still in control, since He's God; and He's taking care of all of us, including me, since He's loving; and things will work out for the best, since He's active.

It is enough, because even runaway inflation can't stop God's work, and we ought to be relying on Him for provision, anyway, not a bakery or an economy or a government. He is the Bread of Life, and the price for us to have that bread has already been paid, and we can therefore be full citizens and participants in the perfect Kingdom of God.

Mothers and fathers aren't perfect, and neither are children. War is hell. Friends fail us. Even when we do all the right things, life is difficult. That's to remind us that we aren't supposed to be able to live by our standards of what's good or pleasing or perfect.

Instead, we can interpret the disappointments as challenges to switch around our faith. Instead of believing in people or policies or processes that seem to make the world go around, we can follow the advice in Romans 12:2: "Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will" (NIV).

We can choose to believe that when things are out of our control, they're still in His control, so we don't have to get too bent out of shape about things like traffic and inflation and anger and war and on and on. We can choose to accept the task of finding what is good and pleasing and perfect in what He is allowing to happen in our lives.

faith in that
is enough.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Secret Garden

There is a secret garden far away with clear water flowing over smooth stones into a small pond. Today I saw a moment of video from the garden, because the gardener shared it online. I’d seen still images of the place before, but I hadn’t listened to it. Today I heard water singing and dancing over stones, and I breathed deeply and enjoyed the moment of peace. Then, right in the middle of my moment, I heard the evidence that not everyone has a peaceful place to be: I heard sirens wailing in the near distance.

This garden, you see, is not in the remote countryside, where only the gardener, God, and His insentient creation can hear the music of the water. It is not in an ancient holy site blessed by centuries of spiritual reflection. It is not on the grounds of a church or a monastery or an abbey. The garden is in a city full of His beloved, souls who are made in His image, fallen from grace and struggling along to somewhere, mostly unaware that there's even a better somewhere to be. It is a place of stillness in the middle of commotion.

I’m full of puzzles, and here was one for today: I smiled when I heard the sirens. It made me smile to know of the gardener being there, actively, intentionally inhabiting a peaceful place. The smile broadened as I realized we are called to be a peaceful place, and that we get to be that no matter where we are, even in a busy, hurting, noisy, unsettling place.

I believe we all can find such peace if we focus properly. “Be still and know that I am God,” He said in Psalm 46:10. That wasn't a sometimes-when-you-feel-like-it good idea way back when. That's a lifestyle choice right now. In the middle of a city, even in that very emergency vehicle we heard, we are able to pay attention, to choose to believe that God is, that He is good, that all things have a purpose, that this moment is all we have so we may as well love in it, rejoice in it, bless in it. When we do that, we’re all secret gardeners. We create space to enjoy peace ourselves, but we are actively, intentionally involved in being a peaceful place, sharing ourselves (and Himself) with all who are willing to sit and abide and receive.

I think even God Himself smiles at secret gardens like that.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Why I Love to Teach, or The Joy of "x"

“Why?” is a perfectly reasonable question. Fortunately, I ask it often, so when one of my students inevitably wonders, I generally have a good answer ready. Any subject can inspire such a query, but solving for the unknown ("x") is almost  guaranteed to have the effect eventually.

Today my beginning algebra student asks, "What do we use this for?"

He says it rapidly, words running together with a zzzzz sound, like a bubbling consonant soup spilling out onto a hot stove. His eyes dart from notebook to textbook to table and almost to me as he freezes his pencil hand, but his feet are still fidgeting, running under the table, off on adventures he can't quite follow until he figures this out.

The expression under his pencil is 15y + 9x - 6x - 1y.

I tell him a story about apple picking, yellow and red apples, losing some, figuring out how many of each we still have.

He nods, not wanting to disagree, but still not quite there. He probably figures he’s not likely to pick yellow or red apples, so maybe I didn’t understand his question. "They said in another class yesterday, when we were talking, that after Algebra 2 the math isn't for any reason."

I'd been helping in that class, it turns out; I’d heard that. "Ah, well! About halfway through Algebra 2, you'll get to a kind of math that works with ideas and imaginary things. You can't pick up apples or boxes to explain it."


"But people who need to make imaginary things real, those people use that kind of math. Like an architect who can imagine a cool-looking building. He has to figure out if he can actually build it. Will it fall down? How can he support it? Will the wind twist it too much? How many people can move around in it?

"So that other math helps people like that, people who imagine things. It helps them make them real."

Now he's with me. "I can imagine a LOT of things."

"Well, then you might just like Algebra 2!"

The hand unfreezes and pencil hits paper. The eyes stop searching and focus first on the textbook, then on the notebook as he starts copying down the next problem. "Yeah, so if I can just figure out the formulas and just do it, I can kinda fly with it."

Or something like that. It was really fast, and kinda buzzy. But he was smiling!

I love this stuff.