Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Body, Honor, and Humility

“Only the body saves the soul. It sounds rather shocking put like that, but the point is that the soul left to itself, the inner life or whatever you want to call it, is not capable of transforming itself. It needs the gifts that only the external life can deliver: the actual events of God’s action in history, heard by physical ears; the actual material fact of the meeting of believers where bread and wine are shared; the actual wonderful, disagreeable, impossible, unpredictable human beings we encounter daily, in and out of the church. Only in this setting do we become holy, and holy in a way unique to each one of us.”
-Rowan Williams

A book that did not make it onto my “influential books” list was “Living the Martial Way” by Forrest Morgan. It should have. It is primarily a text on how martial arts training ought to be a path to personal development. The most important part of the book, for my money, is his discussion of the foundations of honor.

Morgan puts forth that honor has three essential tenets – or if you prefer – three cardinal virtues:


Obligation means knowing to whom you owe debts. He is not speaking of financial debt, but rather of social and moral debt. For instance, we are indebted to our parents, if for nothing else then for the gift of life. We exist in a web of indebtedness, for other people are constantly giving to us, and we are constantly receiving from them. The honorable man knows to whom he owes, what he owes and he lives his life in such a manner as to discharge his indebtedness. There are some debts that can never be repaid, but yet must be honored.

The honorable man also understands what debts are owed to him. Being owed a debt often creates its’ own form of obligation, and so the web grows.

Justice means knowing right from wrong, and of course acting in accordance with that understanding.

Courage is the willingness to act on one’s obligations, and on the requirements of justice, regardless of personal comfort or safety.

Honor, rightly understood then, prevents the warrior from using his power wrongly, but guides him to channel his power to the good of all mankind. In this way, the warrior becomes benefactor of peace and justice, rather than a tyrant or murderer. I have found this a useful paradigm, for although I am not a warrior by profession, I believe the way of a warrior is a good way because a warrior must hold himself to a higher standard. War is not my trade, but the Way of the warrior is my philosophy.

Recently I have been challenged, because I am in a place where I must accept the help of many people to do things that I feel I ought to able to do myself. My wife is suffering from an illness that requires a medication so expensive that there is no way to pay for it. We simply do not have the funds. Putting aside questions of the illness itself (which in and of themselves are very serious) this financially problem is overwhelming. Put simply, I believe that I should be in a very different position financially. I ought to be able to pay for this. Yet in such times, the words should and ought have very little meaning, for they merely become signals that one is engaging in wishful thinking rather than useful action. Yet my action has not been sufficient to turn the tide. It is a battle I have been losing, and now we have come to a place where circumstances have all come against me in such a way that my best striving cannot prevail.

So, we are seeking help. I must look outside myself, and outside my family to find a way to meet this new challenge to the health and safety of my family. We are seeking help first from our church. Some of this help may be financial, but the most valuable will probably be help in terms of advice, guidance, connections and prayer. We are seeking help also from various governmental bodies, social service institutions, private foundations, and businesses. It is too early to tell what shape this help will take.

This moment has been coming for some time, but we had hoped it would not come to this. A few weeks ago we faced a smaller crisis. I was offered help, but did not take it because I believed it was something that, although difficult, we could handle. I was accused of being too proud to take the help offered. Yet, I think that is a misunderstanding of my intent. I do not think it is pride to be reluctant to let someone else do what you truly believe you ought to do yourself, if at all possible. I think it is a matter of honor – accepting one’s obligations and acting justly to fulfill them even in the face of difficulty.

Now I find myself in a place where it is clearly NOT possible for me to meet this obligation by myself. To be clear, an additional $1000 per month is so far beyond our current capacity that it would bankrupt us. We could lose our house and perhaps more. Therefore honor demands that I submit my pride, perhaps even lose face (a different matter than honor) and allow others to help because a higher matter is at stake. If not treated, my wife could lose her sight or worse. I will do my part, but right now at this moment, I have nothing within my reach that would accomplish her safety. I must reach out. I am of two minds on this. Part of me is reluctant because there is the smell of failure about it. I cannot do what I set out to do. On the other hand, I recognize that I must deal with the situation that is, and that I serve One who is more than capable of redeeming any situation. The LORD God Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth is in control, and his good purposes will be fulfilled.

Over a decade ago now, we spent seven months living with my father-in-law while he was dying from brain cancer. We cared for him until the end. He was a proud man, as many men are, and had lived an amazingly productive life in spite of large odds against him. As you might imagine, there were days when he rebelled against the disease as it robbed him of his ability to do even simple things for himself. I remember one particular exchange between us. I was trying to explain to him why we were glad to help him when these words came to me.

It is true, we are giving you a gift by caring for you. What you have to realize, is that by allowing us to care for you, you are offering us a great gift also. If you do not let us care for you, you deprive us of a wonderful give. Let us care for you now. Do not take that gift away from us.

So now, it is time for us to let others care for us. This is not dishonorable. There is a higher principle at stake. Already it has been a wonder to watch the spirit of Christ, incarnated in his people, act in love to care for our needs. The Spirit seems to be at work here on so many levels – individually in us, and the people, at the level of our family, and the families of the church, and in and among the gathered congregation as a living breathing community of Christ. There is a give and take as we see the Spirit flowing in and out of us, filling us and enlivening us.

We did not expect to be the needy ones, yet it is humbling in a very uplifting way. In dancing one leads and one follows. In this case it seems that Christ has given us the part to follow. We look forward to seeing how He will bring glory to Himself through our weakness.

In his letter to the Roman Christians, Paul wrote:
For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man's gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.
Part of using a gift is that it is accepted. To let someone serve is also to be served. To let someone contribute is to accept their contribution.

In conversation last night, my wife asked me if I thought it could be God’s will for us to lose our house and everything we owned. I replied that I did not know for sure what God’s will regarding our finances. It may well be that He does indeed want us to go through that. I think that his concern is not so much for the size of our bank account, as it is for our sanctification. If He chooses to bring us closer to him by means of financial disaster, then I wouldn’t put it past him. He is not really that much concerned with our comfort. He is much more interested in our goodness. He is concerned with making us holy, as He is.

Which brings me back to the quote at the top of this post. I think there are many things Rowan Williams has said or written that I might take issue with, but this quote struck me because I am this day seeing the truth of it working itself out. The theology of the Incarnation does not suggest itself to us only in pictures of the babe in the manger. It surrounds is in the shape of our brothers and sisters in Christ – the Church. It is all those exasperating, delightful, funny looking, aggravating people that surround us on a Sunday, as we lift our cracked parched voices to heaven together. Somehow, in all those people, a greater honor, a greater debt, a greater justice and a greater courage is on display. It surrounds me, it fills me, it instructs me and shapes me and raises me from the dead. It surrounds me in the simple and mundane forms like bread, wine, water, hands, and voices of the redeemed, who like me, struggle to obey, and are being shaped by their own stilted obedience, and mine.

It is a deep mystery. I am watching it unfold. It is quite something to see.

Go Where I send Thee

I shall soon (this week? Next week?) be posting a blogroll along the sidebar. I do have a not too very long list of blogs that I check out when time is available. I'd like to share them around with the few of you who actually read this piece of doody.

But...not waiting for the indefinite hereafter, let me direct you to two.

First, my blogmentor Assistant Village Idiot. This is the guy who, when I found out that he had a blog, I said to myself, "Well I guess if that moron can do it, so can I. It really can't be that hard." AVI consistently puts up posts that are insightful on a variety of topics political, sociological, theological, personal, economical, linguistic and all sorts of other adjectives. It is rare time when I don't finish one of his postings and go "Huh...never thought of it that way." Good stuff and I highly recommend it.

Second, I am just beginning to explore Boars Head Tavern. This blog actually has a long list of contributors, and so acts rather like a forum, but arranged by date, rather than by thread. I have found that it does take a little work to tease out the thread of a discussion, as they are intermingled with all manner of comments and responses on many topics, as well as being arranged in reverse order to the posting so you have to work backwards through the argument. Still, there are enough thoughtful and interesting comments that it is well worth at least an occassional glance.

What caught my eye in particular were these quotes from the sidebar:

"Jesus came to raise the dead. He did not come to teach the teachable; He did not come to improve the improvable; He did not come to reform the reformable. None of those things works." --Robert Farrar Capon

“It is better to think of church in the ale-house than to think of the ale-house in church.” - Martin Luther

Yeah, see these are the kind of guys I like to hang around with. Nothing like beer and good conversation. 'Tis indeed a good gift of a generous God.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Ad Cenam Agni Providi

AD cenam Agni providi,
stolis salutis candidi,
post transitum maris Rubri
Christo canamus principi.

Cuius corpus sanctissimum
in ara crucis torridum,
sed et cruorem roseum
gustando, Dei vivimus.

Protecti paschae vespero
a devastante angelo,
de Pharaonis aspero
sumus erepti imperio.

Iam pascha nostrum Christus est,
agnus occisus innocens;
sinceritatis azyma
qui carnem suam obtulit.

O vera, digna hostia,
per quam franguntur tartara,
captiva plebs redimitur,
redduntur vitae praemia!

Consurgit Christus tumulo,
victor redit de barathro,
tyrannum trudens vinculo
et paradisum reserans.

Esto perenne mentibus
paschale, Iesu, gaudium
et nos renatos gratiae
tuis triumphis aggrega.

Iesu, tibi sit gloria,
qui morte victa praenites,
cum Patre et almo Spiritu,
in sempiterna saecula. Amen.


THE Lamb's high banquet we await
in snow-white robes of royal state:
and now, the Red Sea's channel past,
to Christ our Prince we sing at last.

Upon the Altar of the Cross
His Body hath redeemed our loss:
and tasting of his roseate Blood,
our life is hid with Him in God.

That Paschal Eve God's arm was bared,
the devastating Angel spared:
by strength of hand our hosts went free
from Pharaoh's ruthless tyranny.

Now Christ, our Paschal Lamb, is slain,
the Lamb of God that knows no stain,
the true Oblation offered here,
our own unleavened Bread sincere.

O Thou, from whom hell's monarch flies,
O great, O very Sacrifice,
Thy captive people are set free,
and endless life restored in Thee.

For Christ, arising from the dead,
from conquered hell victorious sped,
and thrust the tyrant down to chains,
and Paradise for man regains.

We pray Thee, King with glory decked,
in this our Paschal joy, protect
from all that death would fain effect
Thy ransomed flock, Thine own elect.

To Thee who, dead, again dost live,
all glory Lord, Thy people give;
all glory, as is ever meet,
to Father and to Paraclete. Amen.

One of the earliest of the Ambrosian hymns, 6th century or earlier, this hymn is used for Vespers from Easter Sunday until Ascension. In the Breviary revision of 1632 by Pope Urban VIII the hymn was so greatly altered that only three lines of the original remained and thus is really a different hymn entirely. The revised hymn can be found under the title of Ad regias Agni dapes.

More Latin Hymns Here.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Frost Heaves

Frost heaves are not a symptom of intestinal illness afflicting snowmen. They are a seasonal affliction on the suspension of our cars, and the bane of town road agents everywhere in NH. Moisture gathers under the pavement, freezes, thaws, refreezes and so on. It buckles the pavement, creates sinkholes, forces gaping cracks and just generally makes a tame country lane into a safari adventure, but without the elephants or the mosquitos. They come later. The mosquitos. Not the elephants.

I had my first major run in with frost heaves this year on my way to pick up something from a friend this evening. Loudon road between Pittsfield Rt 28 and Loudon Rt 129 was something else. I couldn't run the car much over 25 mph without endangering the car or my daughter riding in the back. I told her to buckle her seat belt, as we would be experiencing some turbulence. She said, "I'm already buckled in Dad." The joke was lost on her. It was just as well. I had to clench my teeth to keep them from clattering. It made it hard to laugh.

It's March. It's only going to get worse. By late April or May things will have smoothed out a bit. I love NH.

The photo was borrowed from a blog I found of someone who likes to take pictures of NH. Feel free to visit. She has some nice things.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Town Meeting Observations

A few observations on our recent town meeting:

This was a big meeting. Very important. Literally millions of dollars on the line. The first warrant article took from 9:00 to 1:00 to debate and vote. It was a bond issue for $1.8 million for the construction of a much needed Municipal building. The bond issue was crushingly defeated by a vote of 79 yes to 289 opposed (approximately – I’m sketching from memory here).

It’s not that the buildings aren’t needed. They are. There are three obstacles I see

People are just in NO MOOD to spend money.

We are also facing a bond issue for a new school coming this Saturday at the annual school board meeting. This one is for some $3.3 million.

We have a weird situation with the fire department in this town. It really is too complicated to explain in detail. Suffice it to say that the FD is actually an independent not for profit org that owns the buildings and equipment, although said buildings and equipment are supplied and paid for by the town. Turns out this arrangement is not completely legal. The legal issues involved however, have created a significant level of rancor and distrust among certain factions. Until this situation is rectified and the parties figure out exactly WHO runs the FD, I think the people are not anxious to put money into municipal buildings.

Did I mention that people are in NO MOOD to spend money? A friend of mine put it this way. “I want all of it. But if I vote it all in, I’ll have to work three extra weeks a year to pay for it. I just can’t do that.” He was referring to the fact that we can look at the budget and the bond issues and calculate our property tax increase accordingly. It’s a pretty direct effect. And it makes me aware that when I vote for these things, I am obligating my neighbors as much as myself. On the other hand (particularly when it comes to the school) if I vote against it, I’m may be putting an obstacle in the path of the education for my neighbor’s kids. Since we currently home school, the educational effect is not direct, but the tax bite is. And we may not always home school. It’s a complicated decision.

There were 32 warrant articles. The meeting ran until 5:00 p.m. The Moderator, Bill Gosse, is my hero. Every year I watch him run this meeting with authority, humor and a certain style that is amazing to watch. I have on several occasion complimented him on his skill, and he seems to think that it is nothing much. I know how hard it is to ride heard on a meeting like this as I have had to do it on a smaller scale. The man deserves a medal.

A significant percentage of votes had to go to hand votes because the voice votes were so close. Several times, the hand count registered a big difference that was not apparent at the voice vote. We were admonished by the moderator to speak up. In one specific case, I failed to stand to ask a question of the meeting and regretted that I did not. I think the answer to my question might have turned the vote. It is the habit of a certain group of NO sayers to virtually shout their no vote in a attempt to make their votes seem more than they might actually be. This is a respectable tactic, and I started to learn to use it myself. By gory, if your going to vote, speak up!

The townspeople tend to view every thing recommended by the Selectmen with suspicion, as if these guys are just trying to put something over on the town. The Selectmen, on the other hand, finished the meeting incredibly frustrated by the response of the town to their recommendations. I made a point afterwards of speaking to each Selectmen to thank them for their service. There were several that I definitely did not vote for, but I believe that they have worked very hard for years, and deserved some thanks for it. I believe any differences were largely differences of means, not motives.

There was much more, but I don’t really have time to write everything I observed. Mostly, I just feel privileged to have been part of that process. I’m not sure if our decisions were all for the best. It’s entirely likely that several were not. Nevertheless, there is this feeling that I was part of what our founding fathers fought for – self government, self determination of the community. It was a good day.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Town Meeting Basics

Saturday was Town Meeting day here in Barnstead. For those of you not familiar, a brief primer on the Town Meeting form of self-government is in order. Wikipedia does a pretty good job explaining how the different New England States handle Town Meetings. You will need to page down a bit to get to the NH specifics. Dracutforum has a nice shorter description. It refers specifically to a town in Massachussetts, so it differs from how we do it up here on a few details. Nevertheless, the basics are all in place.

For those of you who are not fortunate enough to participate in direct democracy, and have direct influence on taxation that governs so much of your own economic and social life, I would encourage you to read up. While it certainly has limitations, there is much to recommend this system – not least of all it’s pure entertainment value.

Not that I want you to move here. That would just mean more roads and schools to pay for.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Cultivating Gratitude

This will almost certainly be appearing in the future in my company's blog. But, I have it written and so though I'd put it up here. Don't wanna get too far out of the habit of posting to my own blog. You can check out my company's blog here.


“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.”
Marcus Tullius Cicero

Until recently, I had never really thought of gratitude as a personal discipline. Instead, I have always viewed gratitude as an emotion, something I feel when I am happy, or am glad for some thing or person in my life. I am starting to realize that gratitude is more than mere emotion. It is a virtue which I can cultivate so that it grows into a much larger force for good in my life. Even more, it can transform the barren hard places of my life so that they become peaceful and productive. Life can be hectic and hard, and when it is, the good feelings do not come so easily. Disappointment and frustration can easily overwhelm our gratitude. In such times we must actively and intentionally pursue gratitude as a discipline. If not, then we will allow our defeats and discontents to take up residence in our minds and hearts. Left to themselves they will cripple us, preventing us from obtaining the results we seek. At worst they can cause a heart rot that kills us inside. Even though we may walk and talk as if we were still alive, inside we feel dead, embalmed in bitterness and sorrow over lost possibilities. The antidote is to consciously and purposefully cultivate gratitude. When you carefully plant the seeds of gratitude in your life, and nurture them persistently, you can grow an abundant garden in your heart, the fruit of which will nourish and strengthen you for the rest of your life.
Lately, I have been learning much about the practices and skills of gratitude. I am far from mastering them, but I am beginning to see a few things that I find helpful. Let me share them with you.
Be Extravagant in your Sowing
William Arthur Ward said, “Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” Periodically, I have found it useful to express my gratitude with profligate extravagance. This doesn’t mean that I’m spending lots of money buying gifts for people (although that might not be a bad idea at times). Rather I am consciously coming up with a ridiculously large list of very specific things for which I am thankful. The principle here is simple. What you sow, that you will also reap. So sow a lot of gratitude into the soil of your life.
A few months ago, I listened to Roger Seip, a friend of mine, discussing gratitude on one of our company conference calls. He suggested that we list 25 things that we were thankful for. I thought, “Hey, if 25 is good, 100 is even better.” So, one morning, when I woke up, but before getting out of bed, I spent some time in prayer. My entire prayer consisted of expressing my thanks for 100 things. I actually kept count. I was not particularly picky about the items on my list. If I felt remotely glad that they existed, I would include them on my list. The exercise took about 20 minutes. I repeated this every day for a week. I noticed right away that my perspective on my life was significantly improved by. As James Brown says, “Get on the good foot!”
I don’t think the number 100 is significant except in it’s extravagance. Some days I still do 100. Some days I'll do a quick 25 or 50. I believe that by simply spending an extended length of time focusing on what I am thankful for, I helped my mind to align itself into a more powerful and helpful pattern. It’s a lot like stretching your muscles. If you invest the time, and allow your muscles to relax into the stretch, the will tend to maintain their new shape. Take the time to stretch your gratitude muscle and let it stay for a while. It will reset your gratitude default level.
Plow Deep
When practicing the Gratitude 100, the object is quantity, not quality. The next exercise I call Deep Gratitude. In this exercise, you will select one thing that you are thankful for, and recall as many reasons as possible WHY you are thankful for it. Start with 5 or 10. Then as you get more practiced, increase your target number. Of course, the reasons for your gratitude end up being things you are grateful for in and of themselves. The real value in this exercise is that it forces you to dwell on just one simple area of your life. To make it easy, begin with the parts of your life you love the most.
I suggest doing this in a quiet place, with a pen and paper. Don’t take too long at first. It is better to stop before it gets tedious. Just take 5 or 10 minutes, and focus on one thing (or person, or event) you are grateful for and consider why and what it means to you. You will probably find that once you get in the groove, reasons for being thankful will begin to flow, and you may start bringing things to a conscious level that you were not aware of previously. Deep Gratitude will expand your sense of how gratitude operates, and make you more sensitive and aware of how you can be grateful for so many things.
Reclaim the Barren ground
Now we are going to get radical. This third gratitude exercise involves expressing gratitude for things that are hard, undesirable, or unpleasant. Did you lose your job? Has your business taken a severe downturn? Creditors at the door? Have you or someone you love been struck by serious illness? Are your most important relationships on the rocks? Whatever your personal suffering is, practice letting go of your negative emotions and force yourself to express gratitude for it.
I am fully aware that this is counter-intuitive, and a hard discipline to embrace. It goes against the emotional grain. It is not normal to be thankful for the disasters that come into your life. Most of us are in the habit of sending all our anger, anxiety, worry, and frustration to our trials and tribulations. We pile them up there and allow their poison to turn our suffering into barren ground - seared soil where nothing useful can grow. Yet, if we can begin fertilizing these areas of our lives with thankfulness, we can turn them from places of pain, to places of growth and vitality. The pain may never go away, but we can redeem the pain for greater good.
I will be the first to admit that it is not easy to do. In fact, the first time I practiced this, I had such a severe physical reaction that I broke out into a cold sweat and started shaking. But in the end, I found that it helped me to get through a very difficult time. I can give you two tips I have learned as I have attempted this practice.
First, don’t worry about “feeling” grateful. Especially at the beginning of this exercise, don’t expect to feel happy about it. It is more an exercise of the will than an expression of happy emotion. So don’t be surprised when your mind rebels against it. That’s OK. Just express your thankfulness, in spite of everything, and let it go at that. My first attempt at this was a complete exercise in will and faith. Nevertheless, it was an extremely important and helpful first step. I find it helpful to complete the exercise by picturing myself releasing the problem, letting it go. I picture myself releasing it to God, but I suppose you could release to whoever or whatever you want. I express my gratitude (and my doubts as well, in no uncertain terms) and then say “thank you” for it, and let it rest there. To be honest, that moment feels pretty strange, but it’s an important part of the deal.
Why do this? The fact is, we really don’t ultimately know the meaning of everything that happens to us. Often the things that bring the greatest suffering upon us become the source of our strength. Think of Lance Armstrong, whose battle with cancer was instrumental in making him the kind of person who could win 7 Tour de France races. As hard as it was, he learned to be thankful for that experience. If we can learn to be thankful even before we understand, it puts us in a better place to learn the lesson contained in the experience.
The cultivation of a grateful heart is not accident. Gratitude is very much a skill, and the seed you sow, the depth of your plow, and the reclamation of the barren ground of your life will help to make your heart a beautiful and abundant garden of joy. Start today and you can begin enjoying the fruit almost immediately.

Thursday, March 6, 2008


Cosmo Brown: Talking pictures, that means I'm out of a job. At last I can start suffering and write that symphony.
R.F. Simpson: You're not out of job, we're putting you in as head of our new music department.
Cosmo Brown: Oh, thanks, R.F.! At last I can stop suffering and write that symphony.

From Singing in the Rain

So when times get hectic – when I find that I am just way too behind on my “things that must be completed today” list – blog posting is one of the first optional activities that gets chucked. It’s either write or sleep, and since I tend to run on way too little sleep as it is, choosing the latter would almost certainly result in me getting wretchedly sick, or in a horrible car wreck, or both.
But the ideas just keep coming. I’ll be toodling along through life, minding my own business, when an idea will strike; some interesting juxtaposition of events, a remarkable metaphor, some theological connection. I will then have the urge to write about it. I will often scribble the basic outline in my legal pad that I keep with me for business. Then I look for time to write. Days pass. Other ideas float to the top. More days go by. The ideas pile up but then start to get lost. They end up drifting into the piles on my desk, or to the floor of my car, or into the recycling bin. Then when I do find a half hour that I can justify writing, I sit here and wonder where all those great ideas went.
Ah, the life a great artiste intellectualle is so fraught with hardship. What is a genius to do?
Why, write about himself, of course! The self-referential writer is the most pitiful of all creatures. It's like living in some depression era Mickey Rooney flick, where it's all about the actors having trouble getting their movie made.
So here I am, writing about me writing about me. I keep thinking that if I do this long enough, the fabric of the space-time continuum will open up and I will sucked into the interstitial space between dimensions. Then I should have plenty of time to write my magnum opus.