Discernment: Reading the Signs of Daily Life: a book review

Discernment: Reading the Signs of Daily Life by Henri Nouwen; copyright 2013; Harper One; 256 pp. (audio 7 hr. 14 min.)

Nouwen wastes no time in his story before he defines his conception of discernment. To him, discernment is finding the spiritual answers that help us live our lives from day to day. Even more, he says–and this seems to be his purpose for writing–discernment is listening to the voice of God to find a purpose for our lives.

God speaks to us, he says, directing us as we discover what we’re passionate about. And once we’ve determined what we’re passionate about, God directs us to fulfill our purpose in His Kingdom. Vocation, however, is not the same as passion, according to Nouwen. Work can be anything we do to accomplish tasks. When we’re fulfilling our purpose, the work comes so easily and is so gratifying, we come away not even feeling like it was work. It becomes ministry at its best. Because it’s ministry at its best, it also means it’s service to others. And as we so often say, it’s “not about us.”

In fact, Nouwen makes the case that the attitude of humility helps us discern God’s meaning in things more correctly. Conversely, discerning God’s meaning brings humility.

Henri Nouwen, a Catholic priest who spent nearly twenty years as a professor, also lived the Trappist life for a short time and worked with the poor in South America. But he discovered his purpose according to God’s will at L’arche Daybreak community in Ontario. Here, he worked with individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

So, according to Nouwen, the idea is to listen. To God, to mentors, to those who’ve gone before us, and to the rhythms of our lives. Nouwen often quotes Thomas Merton, apparently a role model for him. It sounded like Nouwen felt kinship with Merton because their pilgrimages were similar. Both struggled with finding where they belonged if they were to serve God the way they hoped to. For me, hearing some of Merton’s ideas was a bonus because I enjoy his works as well.

Nouwen is considered among the mystics; at least I’d put him in that category. He talks a lot about his experiences in learning discernment, and for the most part, the stories are pertinent to the narrative.

Since I was reading an audio book, which he narrated himself, my mind would wander because he tends to ramble as he drops little gems of wisdom. But I want this to be a go-to book so I’m probably going to buy a copy. Then I’ll be able to mark it up and take notes in the margins. There’s meaty content and wisdom here I want to experience a second time.

Happy reading and be a blessing to someone today.

Humilitas: a book review

Humilitas: A Lost Key to Life, Love, and Leadership by John Dickson; copyright 2011; Zondervan; 196 pages

Did I tell you about the time a local service group gave me a medal for my humility? Then someone saw me wearing it in public and I had to give it back. Just kidding. The author of Humilitas sort of makes the same statement, which is one we all know by now: Just about the time you think you have this humility thing nailed, you’ve shown that you probably don’t.

“The most influential and inspiring people are often marked by humility” is Dickson’s thesis for the book, and I believe he proved it well. The book digs into topics like the logic of humility; why the ancients didn’t like the idea of humility; how practicing humility lifts the people around us; why humility can generate abilities; and why humility is better than ‘tolerance.’ His research is nicely balanced with stories, some of them about his own encounters with people who he believes are humble. Dickson cites other literature, other topic experts, and well-known stories, but the research never makes the book unreadable. On the contrary; it’s readability is one of the reason it shines.

Several examples of great people who’ve demonstrated humility (and some who haven’t) give insight into how we respond to leaders as we examine their character. It becomes clear that we all know someone who isn’t necessarily in the public eye or in leadership who makes an excellent impression because of their humility. Those people may not even have great intelligence or great physical resources to draw on. It’s more of a heart issue than a head issue. The author includes a whole chapter, “Cruciform,” about Jesus of Nazareth and how He redefined greatness through humble living and service.

Consider Dickson’s definition for humility: The noble choice to forgo your status, deploy your resources or use your influence for the good of others before yourself. People who give to others seemingly without even thinking about it usually have a positive impression on us. We may not even realize at the time we’re being impressed. But that’s the thing, Dickson is saying. Humble people aren’t trying to impress.

Steps to become (more) humble come at the end. They seem to make good sense. Becoming humble, as with any virtue, comes with practice. As we say, it’s a journey, not a destination. I was pleasantly surprised with Humilitas. That impression began when I read the author’s dedication to his mentors, “who know more about this subject than I do, but would never presume to write about it.”

This one will not only be a ‘repeater’ for me, but a reference book. I mean, after all, they took my medal away. I need all the help I can get.

Happy reading and be a blessing to someone today.

Three Simple Rules: A Wesleyan Way of Living: a Review

by Reuben P. Job, copyright 2007, Abingdon Press, 77pages

This book is based on John Wesley’s three simple rules: Do No Harm, Do Good, Stay in Love With God. The editor, Reuben P. Job, says in his preface that these three rules “have the power to change the world.” I’m a Wesleyan and am familiar with the Discipline, so the book had some attraction for me when I first picked it up.

It’s a book which can be read perhaps in one sitting, but I believe it needs to be read more slowly so the reader may chew on the wisdom of Wesley. For instance:

“When I am determined to do no harm to you, I lose my fear of you; and I am able to see you and hear you more clearly.”

While “Three Simple Rules” is intended for a general audience, I believe the message is especially relevant for leaders. Emphasis, in my opinion, should always be on staying in love with God. When I do that, I’m more likely to remember the greatest commandments. Then it follows that I’ll “do no harm” and “do good.”

This tiny little book includes a Daily Guide to Prayer and sheet music for “Stay in Love With God,” which is adapted from words by John Wesley. Epigraphs for each of the three chapters are taken from Psalms and the New Testament.

I keep reading this book over and over again because it’s like a guidebook. There’s so much to learn and apply. Certainly it will take a lifetime for me to be true to its principles.

Conduits of God’s Love

Come Empty

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Matthew 11:28, 29

Get Filled

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” Matthew 5:6

Go, Pour Out to the Worldfrenchpitcherw-bread

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in. I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” Matthew 25:35, 36

Reasons Good King Wenceslas Stays Relevant: Media Monday

During this year’s Christmas season, social media seems to be crowded with the hashtag #NotAChristmasSong. People, come on…

I remember singing, as a tradition, so many of the songs they’re talking about. Singing them makes me happy and nostalgic. No matter what people think, I’ll continue to sing them. Perhaps for most people, it’s just a joke and they’re not really slamming these songs. They may be trying to make fun of the social media hashtal using their own hashtags. But, in my opinion, some of those folks are a little too serious about what is and isn’t a Christmas song.

A song I remember singing is “Good King Wenceslas.” In reality, it’s not a Christmas song, but a song mentioning the Feast of Stephen. That particular feast is to honor the first Christian martyr, the apostle Stephen. Celebrating that feast is also a way to remember that Christ offers eternal life. Stephen, after all, saw Christ standing at God’s right hand. That gives a whole new meaning to “it’s a wonderful life.”

The song is also a nice story about how a king looked after a poor and probably oppressed man. Now how much more can that be about Jesus?

In the lyrics to the song, the good king welcomes his page to follow in the footsteps he makes in the deep snow.

“Mark my footsteps, my good page, tread thou in them boldly”

How much more could that be about Jesus’ offer to us, “Follow me”?

The page obeys, knowing his King will guide him in safety and security. Even in hardships.

“In his master’s steps he trod, where the snow lay dinted”

The word dinted means “with force or power.” How much more could that be about Jesus’ character?

Eventually, the story sends a message to everyone, no matter their worldly status, that blessing the poor brings a blessing. How much more could that be about God’s favor?

I invite you to click to see the musical score for Good King Wenceslas, which has all the verses of the song’s music and lyrics. Put yourself in the poor man’s place, receiving gifts from a King. Put yourself in the page’s place, following your Master. (If I was a betting sort of person, I’d wager you can’t read it without singing along.)

Oh, my King and Master, thank you for the position you give me as I follow you. I am lowly as a page, and not deserving of your grace, yet you’ve chosen me to stand with you. May I follow, every day, in your powerful steps and remember to provide justice to the poor and oppressed. Help me to remember how much you love us all. Amen

Thanksliving

Last year on each day of November, I tried to post something I’m grateful for. Didn’t want to mess with that this year. Basically, I’m grateful every day.

This jar sits on the windowsill by my desk. It’s getting filled with little slips of paper that have expressions of gratitude for, oh, just a lot of little and big stuff with which God blesses me. I take them out every once in a while and read them to remind myself of how faithful He’s been. When it gets full, I toss them.

This week I put in a piece of paper expressing gratitude for a thoughtful friend who invited me to join her family for Thanksgiving dinner. “What are you doing Thursday? Got any plans?” Well, no, as a matter of fact, I didn’t except maybe to go to a local spot that is serving a traditional meal for free. Figured I’d see lots of people there that I know.

When you’re single and your family lives far away, the holidays can be hard. I’ve spent many of them alone. Not complaining, but I surely am grateful for people who recognize a small need and respond.

I suppose this jar reminds me that we can practice thanksliving all year long.

Be a blessing to someone today.

 

God Uses Ordinary People

“When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled , ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” Acts 4:13

“Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things o the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world…” 1 Corinthians 1:26-28

We all can be used by God if we belong to Him. Young, old, man, woman, child, educated, without education. No matter who we are (or what we have done), we’re the people who fulfill God’s purpose.

Be glad He chose you and be a blessing to someone today.

Helping Hands

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them.” ~ Jesus Christ

“No one is useless in this world who lightens the burden of another.” ~ Charles Dickens

“Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” ~ Paul, the Apostle

“You have not lived today unless you have done something for someone who can never repay you.” ~ John Bunyan

“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow.” ~ King Solomon

“We are all here on earth to help others; what on earth the others are here for I don’t know.” ~ W. H. Auden

People struggle. You do, I do. Everyone experiences hard times. People are grieving. Others are weary. People face health issues to the point of death. Some struggle with a crisis concerning their child. That child may be one with “special needs.” Adults are caregivers to an elderly parent or guardian to an individual who can’t help themselves.

Since we’ll all struggle at some time, remember how difficult it can be. Some people, for whatever reason, find it hard to ask for help. Don’t go through it alone and don’t let someone else. Pray for that person, but put feet to your prayers. Platitudes will not help. A helping hand will.

Be a blessing to someone today.

I Can Only Imagine

This past Sunday, the Church behaved as a church should. Well, my church did anyway.

Lately, I’ve been experiencing the downward spiral that naturally and always follows mania. My diagnosis is complicated and it took years for me to understand it. True depression can be inexplicable. If someone asked me, “What’s wrong?” I could say, “Nothing” or I could say, “Everything” and both answers would be correct.

Having manic-depressive illness is something I’ve accepted, but being mentally ill sometimes always stinks.

Now about the Church being what they’re supposed to be…

I went to church under the influence of a medication I took for anxiety the night before. Sleep was eluding me, so I took the med the doctor prescribes “as needed.” It was surely needed. The anxiety was crippling and I only got about three hours of sleep because I was so agitated. I drove to church seeing double. It helped if I closed one eye, but driving one-eyed has its limitations. All through the sermon, Pastor kept splitting in two as he moved about the stage.

Between services I told our spiritual growth pastor I probably wouldn’t be able to write the sermon study because I hadn’t been able to concentrate and I had scanty notes. I gave her the lowdown. She must have moved into action right then. Brothers and Sisters began to approach me to let me know they would make sure I got home safely.

Imagine a church body that in a crisis acts like Jesus. I felt no judgements on me for being sick. The people involved treated me as if I had a “respectable” illness. They touched me just like Jesus was willing to touch the man with leprosy. They spoke to me without condescension. I was given time to just be comfortable until church was over and they could help me get home. I could almost hear them saying, “(Let’s) Go in peace.”

I wish every church body could understand––or at least try to accept––mental illness as a real sickness. Too many times we hear people tell us we could be healed if we had more faith. People suggest we pray more. I’ve been told I’m possessed.

Listen. I have faith in the healing power of Jesus. I pray. I trust God will get me through the tough times because he already has on numerous occasions. But Jesus didn’t heal every sick person he came into contact with while he lived here, walking around preaching the Good News. Maybe I’m one of the people God has decided to not heal. He hasn’t healed my good friend who’s been insulin dependent for over 30 years either and I know she prays and has faith in God.

It’s okay I’m still manic-depressive, even though, as I said, it stinks. Because I’ve experienced peace when I should have been crawling the walls. I’ve been able to read my Bible and know the words are meant for me right then, in the scattered state I’m in. Or in a funk so deep I’m reminded of King David’s “pit.” Those are the times when nothing can make me leave the house except maybe firefighters insisting upon it.

Helen Keller was an amazing woman. Read her autobiography some day. For the most part, she had a good attitude about life and didn’t let being disabled hold her back from what she wanted to accomplish. My disability isn’t the same as hers. But I find these words of hers something I relate to and am grateful for.

“I thank God for my handicaps for through them I have found myself, my work and my God.”

What will it take for God’s people to be more accepting of the poor, the uneducated, the ‘sinners,’ the foreigners, the criminals, and anyone who’s just plain different from them? I’m not sure, but I experienced on Sunday what I believe Jesus had in mind.

Love.

Help Them “Do the Most Good”

Did you see the folks standing outside the stores ringing bells next to a Salvation Army Red Kettle? Did you help the organization out by chucking in a few coins or a bill or two? If not, I have an opportunity for you to help them right now. In fact, even if you did, you can participate in this challenge.

As of this moment and until December 31, 2017, I’ll make a donation to The Salvation Army for every new follower or every “Like” I get from someone. The Salvation Army is one of my favorite non-profit organizations. Not only have I served in a local soup kitchen (Sally’s Kitchen) for almost 15 years, I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know many of the people who come there to eat because I join them on many days to get a hot meal too.

The Salvation Army impresses me as a non-profit also because I got a look at their pie chart which shows how their funds are spent. Every year, between 80-82% of the monies taken in (completely through donations) go directly to programs to serve people in various programs. That takes in the soup kitchens, after school programs for kids, summer camp, addiction recovery programs, emergency assistance and disaster assistance. The rest of the money pays for staff and marketing.

I get shivers even thinking about that.

So, here’s what you do. If you already follow my blog, find the “reblog” button (it should be there at the bottom) and then all the people who follow you have a chance to see this and consider following me. And let me set the record straight on followers: that’s never been a big deal to me. I honestly hope to be able to make a respectable donation to TSA. I do anyway, but wouldn’t it be cool to make it even bigger?

If you’re one of my followers, hit the “like” thingy. If this came up in your reader because of a search, you can “like” it as well. That counts too. Neat, huh?

I’m also posting this on Twitter so if you want to upload the URL to your Twitter feed, great. My challenge will be to do that in 140 characters.

Thanks so much; you guys rock. Be a blessing to someone today. Whether you decide to reblog this, like it, or do nothing.