Preparing for Winter Break 2013

Since I haven’t blogged much this year, it seemed appropriate to me to write a bit of a catch-up post. I’ve also been planning on writing Christmas Letters to send to people, but here we are on the last day of work before Winter Break, and just five days from Christmas, and it seems increasingly unlikely that I will do so.

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My first real go

Time: 1:03:16
Distance: 3.67 miles
Music: The Crane Wife by The Decemberists
Runkeeper Report

I rolled out of bed a little after 7 this morning (don’t have to go to work thanks to Memorial Day) and got out the door shortly thereafter. Between getting dressed and stretching, though, I realized that my pre-exercise routine is going to take longer than I had anticipated, so instead of getting up at 6 a.m. on weekdays, I’ll need to be up at 5:45 to stretch and get ready. I also took along my iPhone so I could use Runkeeper.

My left shoe wasn’t settling right, which was frustrating–it felt like it was twisted, so the heel was a bit too far to the left, and I worried that this would cause problems down the road. I made it just over half a mile before I finally paused to take that shoe off and put it back on, which took care of the problem.

If you don’t find that terribly exciting, I won’t blame you. As things go, it wasn’t an exciting time, but let me share a couple of memorable moments:

1) I saw two men walking down the street or sidewalk during my hour long excursion. I don’t know if they were homeless or just walking, but I overcame my natural inclination to shy away, cross the road, and generally act like I don’t know the other person exists. Encountering people out in the world always makes me feel awkward and uncomfortable, and I hide that by withdrawing–I get away, either mentally or physically. But I smiled and nodded as I passed, greeting them as another human being. It wasn’t much, but I know that it makes me feel warm and happy when people accord me the same, so I hope it was a positive thing for them.

2) I dodged around some refuse on the sidewalk at one point. This wasn’t hard because I’d seen it coming, just some mud and leaves and the litter that gets stuck in such places. It was near a greener place–not a forest, not here, but an overgrown part that is still a little wild. During a rain the soil had eroded and washed onto the sidewalk, but it didn’t cover it completely.

I was on the street and looked down at it, for a flash of white had caught my attention. On closer inspection, it was the bared spine of an opossum, lying belly up–or at least, it would have been had its belly remained. Instead there was just spine and a supine head, gaping mouth and damp fur caked in mud.

***

I look forward to getting into the routine of the exercise. I want it to become everyday, humdrum, and methodical. I don’t want to have to think about it. When that day comes, I can turn my mind to more interesting things while my body goes through the process of burning calories and strengthening bones and muscles and joints. I seriously considered turning on an audio recorder on my iPhone so I could talk to myself while I walked–take some notes, record my thoughts, etc. Maybe I’ll do that sometime, who knows. With the way iPhones work now, though, I don’t think it’ll run more than music and Runkeeper, and I really want to use Runkeeper so I think audio recording is out until later this summer (when OS 4 comes out for the iPhone).

20 pushups and 20 crunches when I got home. Going to try and increase those counts by 10 a week throughout this.

Oh, and I have a blister on the inside of my right foot. Pain is just the body’s way of communicating with the mind, telling it that something isn’t right, or that it doesn’t want to do something. The body tends to be lazy, though, and doesn’t know what’s good for it. I hear you loud and clear, good buddy–message received. Now shut up and keep going.

Stewing and Simmering

Tellers of stories with ink on paper, not that they matter anymore, have been either swoopers or bashers. Swoopers write a story quickly, higgledly-piggledy, crinkum-crankum, any which way. Then they go over it again painstakingly, fixing everything that is just plain awkful or doesn’t work. Bashers go one sentence at a time, getting it exactly right before they go on to the next one. When they’re done they’re done. I am a basher. Most men are bashers, and most women are swoopers….

Writers who are swoopers, it seems to me, find it wonderful that people are funny or tragic or whatever, worth reporting, without wondering why or how people are alive in the first place.

Bashers, while ostensibly making sentence after sentence as efficient as possible, may actually be breaking down seeming doors and fences, cutting their ways through seeming barbed-wire entanglements, under fire and in an atmosphere of mustard gas, in search of answers to these eternal questions: “What in heck should we be doing? What in heck is really going on?”

— Kurt Vonnegut. Timequake

I have a problem committing to a story. I don’t necessarily consider this a bad quality, because a lot of my ideas are terrible. I get an idea, get excited about it, get a few pages in and realize that all I had was an idea. I’ve got no plot, and after a month or so of chewing on it, I’ve still got no plot. There’s no sense in pushing it any further.

Put there are some, a rare few, of my ideas that do start to work out. Right now, I have 3 new ideas for which I’m lacking a plot, and I’m hopeful on those. But I’ve got two others that are really beginning to feel solid. One of those I’ve been sitting on for about 5 years. The other, about 12.

It’s weird, this growing sense of rightness and security. In general, I feel very insecure because I haven’t been producing my work. I haven’t been writing. But I have been doing a lot of thinking, and a bit of note taking, and a lot of crossing out and throwing away. Some of the water is boiling over the edge, and I’m worried because I’m losing the water… but the truth is that you’ve got to boil some to make the stew. It needs to thicken up a bit. That is, so I am told, how these things work.

So, I’m getting closer. It’s not happening on the time line I want it to, but I’m coping with that. I’m also coping with the sometimes depression of not meeting goals I’d set and of not being the person/writer I want to be. Let it simmer, let it stew… hopefully something good will come of it.

I wish I had a niche

While out of town at a technology conference, I’ve been tweeting about the different sessions I’m attending using our work Twitter account. It’s been a lot of fun, and it’s been especially neat to connect online with others who are doing the same thing. Being focused on this subject has let me easily find others interested in the same things, and true social networks are quickly built as we share information and comment on the same content.

An online community and network (just in general) is something I’ve been wanting to take part in for years, but I don’t know how to do that within my context. The problem is one of specificity, and more to the point, that I have none. This blog has book reviews, fictional stories, comments on games, how-to articles about technology, long-winded essays about theological topics… If I were to focus solely on one of those, I could easily find a community to plug into. There is no techno-theological-writing-reading-reviewing community. SilverPen and my own interests are just too broad.

Or so I have always thought. After learning a bit more in the last week about the wonder of Google Alerts and setting up Twitter searches in Tweetdeck columns, I think I might be able to start branching out a bit socially. To use the analogy of the pool, I have been hesitant to dip my toes in because I’m not committed to any one topic. I assume that it won’t go anywhere and no one will be interested in connecting with me because I don’t go too deep into any one thing. Somewhat similarly, I’m a bit afraid that I will go too deep into one thing and lose my other interests. Just as writing for work has hurt my fiction writing (which was already painful to begin with), diving completely into theology at the exclusion of everything else would cause me to lose a lot of interests and pastimes that are valuable to me.

I think if I set up the tools well enough, though, I can quickly browse through these subjects and engage them and their communities in an efficient enough way to not burden me over much. I’m excited to start setting all this up tomorrow afternoon and throughout the rest of the weekend, so we’ll see.

A Change in Direction

When I broke my collarbone, I pretty much stopped doing the online Bible study (OBS). Studying the Bible isn’t something that comes naturally to me, so this whole scheme to read, write, and podcast about what I was reading was there to keep me motivated and moving forward. I elected to organize the study by book, digging into the verses and pressing through, with the goal of researching even verses that seem mundane to find out what they really mean.

Unfortunately, I never had the time to do this. Even the barest research on a few verses would take 2-3 hours, and then add an hour or so for writing plus half an hour for recording the podcast… that wasn’t so bad during the summer before I broke my collarbone. For a month and a half I had a sling on that prevented me from moving much, and once I took it off it still hurt too much to type more than fifteen minutes. Once I could type regularly, the school year had started and my weekly schedule exploded.

All this to say, I haven’t done the OBS in a while (in case you hadn’t noticed), and I’m not going to pick up where I left off. 1 John, as it turns out, was incredibly repetitive and somewhat boring, and while there is most certainly value there, there isn’t value in the way I was doing it. More importantly, it needed way more time and research than I could give it. The last OBS I wrote, which I never published, I spent quite a bit of time on only to discover I was completely wrong. I hadn’t done enough research, and when I realized how wrong I was and how much more I needed to learn, I begged off. It’s not really fair to the text or to you, but those are the circumstances in which I find myself.

In addition, I feel like my focus needs to shift from a general idea of, “Let’s read the Bible and write about it,” to a more specific topical study. Namely, I need to start focusing in on what the Bible has to say in regards to spiritual warfare, and I’m shifting my writing to that topic as well. Rather than picking a book and pushing straight through it, I’ll be reading for this topic and sharing what I find.

For those who are curious, the OBS won’t be the only place for information about spiritual warfare. When I was seeing what other people on the ‘Net had to say on the topic, all I found were platitudes, ambiguous or vainglorious statements, and long lists of Bible verses. I don’t think any of that is particularly helpful in regards to fighting demons and defending against Satan. So while I’m studying the Bible and podcasting about it, I’ll separately be sharing stories about my past experiences, suggestions for what to do, and some how-to guides (some written, some video).

I don’t know why these resources don’t exist on the ‘Net yet, but maybe it’s like Samson told me about worship. He said that when someone dances, raises their hands, and sings loud in worship, they give everyone else permission to do the same. Maybe someone’s too scared to step out on their own and raise their hands, or they want to sing but are afraid of what others might think. When they see someone else doing it, they’ll be less scared and maybe they’ll join in.

Maybe the reason no one talks or writes about this stuff is because everyone feels the same way I do: a bit silly, a bit scared, and that it’s easier to either go it alone or just ignore it. Hopefully by studying the Bible with this topic in mind, sharing my stories, and giving suggestions, others will be inspired to join in and share their words, thoughts, hearts, and strength.

I’ve got no timetable for the OBS, in regards to how often it’ll happen. Hopefully once a week again, and my plan is to start reading Isaiah and write when I come to something. I don’t recall what all is in Isaiah (though expect a follow-up to this article later this week), but something’s telling me to check it out. Maybe that urge is unfounded, in which case I’ll quickly end up in another book, but it’s worth following to see what happens.

Rediscovering Reading

With the state of my clavicle, my options for how I spend my free time are rather limited. I started to play World of Warcraft last night but realized it would keep me up too late, and I desperately need my rest while healing. I can’t get heavy dishes down from tall shelves, nor can I mow the lawn or clean with the exuberance I once did. Instead, I am spending most of my time sunk into the SumoSac, reading.

I haven’t read much in the last couple of years due to my rather busy schedule coupled with my pursuit of other past times. Between work and school, I’m pretty busy during the semester, and I’ve been trying to go to the gym, and trying to spend time with my wife, and trying to keep housework under control, etc. The kid who used to read 200-300+ books a year is long gone, his time filled to the brim with other activities.

The last few weeks though, I’ve been rediscovering the nature of reading. This has had two interesting affects on me.

First, I’m learning new things, which is always fun. April has me reading a lot of Diana Wynn Jones, who has a very different writing style from me, and especially the latest book I’m reading from her is quite intriguing. She almost completely ignores description, be they of setting, scenery, or characters, instead relying on plot and what the characters say to give you an idea. She uses very basic colours, images, and shape, and lets the dialogue and internal monologue drive your imagination. It’s a concept I’m excited to learn more about, but without sitting down and reading other authors, it wouldn’t happen.

Second, it really seems to slow down the passage of time for me. Before my accident, it seemed like every day, week, and month flew by. Weekends rushed up and shot by, months flew off the calendar, and every day passed quickly. Since I began spending my evenings just sitting and reading, every day seems to take forever to go… but not in a monotonous, dull way. I’m still fairly busy at work and I’m not bored, but I find myself thinking, “My goodness, it’s only Tuesday…” Two days seem to take the same amount of time as an entire week did before, and I attribute this perceived slowness to my attention.

By slowing down, reading, thinking more, and examining the world around me more due to my surplus of free time, things aren’t going by so quickly. I’m not skimming the surface of life as much, but instead resting and really taking things in. April feels like our communication has improved, and I’ve likewise begun praying and spending time in God’s presence more. Two hours goes by quickly when I’m making dinner, running to the gym, coming home and showering, and trying to get 20-30 minutes of World of Warcraft in. Two hours is a lot of time to read or pray though, and I subsequently have more time to notice things and just be.

It’s remarkable, and I’m not entirely certain how I feel about it. After I’m healed and able to return to my old schedule, will I? I suspect I probably will, because I prefer to be doing things, instead of having to leave almost all of the housework to April. I want to contribute more. But I somehow need to hold onto the lessons of this break, to slow down more often and not let life rush by. We have so little time on this world, I don’t want it to fly by and never take the time to do more than skim the surface. I want to slow down and learn a little more about… everything.

Interview with Springfield Vineyard Church

April and I have been considering changing churches for several months now, long before the announcement in January that they were cutting the college minister’s position to part-time. We already had some issues with the worship and preaching at First & Calvary, so the stuff with the college ministry just highlighted how some of our priorities differed from those of the church leadership. Subsequently, over the last few months we have been visiting other churches and asking around to see if there might be a better fit for us here in Springfield.

I had been invited to the Vineyard numerous times over the last six years, but I had never managed to visit. Now that we were shopping around, though, it seemed like an ideal opportunity to check it out. As I have since learned, Vineyard is more of a movement of affiliated churches rather than its own denomination, though labeling it as the latter wouldn’t take too great a stretch of the imagination. We didn’t know much about Vineyard as either a movement or a church, though, and beyond knowing a few of the members we were pretty hazy on what this congregation was like. Though we are going to participate in some of the community events they have coming up, we had a few topics we wanted to discuss specifically with Tim, the pastor of the Springfield Vineyard Church.

Spiritual Gifts

This was the biggest topic of the night and the one on which we spent the most time. In general, I have never felt particularly free to practice or express giftings of the Spirit in church, but that freedom is something I am desperately seeking now. I wanted to know how the Vineyard approached spiritual gifts and what they did about/with them.

Tim’s response was a bit of a surprise because he began by telling us how the Vineyard first came to be. In short, the man who eventually founded the denomination was on mission in Africa and he noted how certain ministries’ mesages were received. Those who embraced the gifts of the Spirit, performing healings or prophesying in the name of God, were well-received by the natives and took root. The more conservative missionaries who performed no such acts were largely ignored. After all, if a man can go down to the witch doctor and be healed, why listen to someone who cannot heal you?

If God is ready and willing to act in such a manner (such as healing), why should we avoid it? Therefore, the Vineyard embraces spiritual giftings and seeks to employ them, but it attempts to do so in a method that leaves room for… disbelief and error, I suppose. They don’t want non-believers to feel particularly uncomfortable, so if a person is prophesying, that person will phrase it in a way that allows the recipient to say, “No, I don’t think that’s for me.” Likewise, humility is essential in the exercise of the gifts, because it is entirely possible for us to misunderstand God or God’s intent.

The conversation on this point was rather lengthy, so I’ll leave it at this: I appreciated his response, and while I don’t particularly agree with always phrasing things in non-committal terms (I think that when God reveals himself, or commands us to do/say something, that’s unequivocal and shouldn’t necessarily be couched in terms that could imply relativity), the openness and acceptance towards those giftings was encouraging. I was satisfied with Tim’s response.

Missions

The Vineyard is a church planting movement, which is to say that one of their primary focuses as a denomination is to start more churches. They believe this is the most effective way to spread the Gospel, and so the job of a Vineyard missionary is to enter an area, start a church, train indigenous leadership, and after a few years hand that church over to the new leadership.

The Springfield Vineyard church supports three missionaries and also supports a team on short-term missions. In addition, they regularly schedule community service projects in local neighbourhoods, including the one in which April and I live. Their priorities seem pretty solid here.

Finances

Tim admitted that their church is struggling, just like every other, and this is due to a combination of different factors. Their budget, originally made three years ago, assumed a congregation of 150 members (at the time, they had 115). However, they recently bought a church building and moved. At this time, a number of the families that had previously attended the Springfield Vineyard stopped attending (presumably due to the longer drive). The Vineyard is now around 90/150 members, has a building to pay for, and all this in the context of an economic downturn.

Despite that, Tim shared the algorithm for judging church financial health with us: a financially average/healthy church receives $20 per person per week. The Springfield Vineyard is around $30 per person per week.

So, while they have less money than they need to meet their budget, less members, and specifically less affluent members, the numbers are encouraging. I’m glad to know that people are giving. I also appreciate the way the church goes about collecting money (it’s pretty understated, but also very transparent–Tim lets everyone know what’s going on along the way, and the weekly email sent out includes a budgetary summary). Tim told us that the Vineyard has always had an emphasis on serving the poor, and their previous location in an upscale strip mall in the nicest part of town was incongruent. He feels they are truer to themselves now and better able to serve God’s vision for them, and that’s what is important. I am confident the finances will work themselves out, and appreciate the transparency on the matter.

Church Leadership

Over the last three years, I have become accustomed to the somewhat democratic organization of the Presbyterian denomination. There are committees and subcommittees and voting sessions and nothing takes less than six months to get done. This system has its strengths and weaknesses, as you might well imagine,

The Vineyard is almost completely opposite, and Tim wanted to be very up front about that. The denomination believes in local control, so there isn’t really a hierarchy or strict set of codes by which local congregations must abide. There are no dues that I know of. And there is no congregational voting or even appeal. The only restrictions placed on Tim, as he put it, are ones he places on himself. That being said, there is a body of elders that leads the church and makes the decisions. The number of elders is currently… two. And Tim’s one of them.

This doesn’t particularly bother me, as I’m personally fairly oligarchical. I don’t think running an organization by referendum really works, so I think the key is getting good people in leadership and letting them do their job. If you don’t approve of the job they’re doing, you kick them out or go elsewhere, problem solved. But you can’t have ninety people with their hands at the tiller. I do hope the number of elders increases soon, but apparently there are more people involved than just those two, so that’s something. There are also the spiritual leaders and the Board of Trustees.

Sermons

After the frustrations April and I have both encountered with the sermons at First & Calvary, I was curious what Tim’s sermon prep was like. He told us that he knows what he’s preaching every Sunday through the end of the year and that average weekly sermon prep is about twenty hours. After hearing him preach twice, I was already sold though: he can manage 30-45 minutes sermons without notes, pausing, losing his place (except once, briefly), or repetition (unless such repetition is called for). As someone who has to do a decent amount of public speaking, I found his oration skills particularly impressive. Tim said that he has been doing this since he was thirteen years old.

Final Thoughts

We met for about two hours and left feeling better about the Springfield Vineyard Church than when we sat down. I was already pretty positive, and I’m even more so now. I think April is more satisfied with the church as well now.

We are attending a communal dinner with six other people on Saturday night, and we’re going to volunteer to contribute food for the upcoming church painting. After we’ve spent some more time with the community of the church, we’ll know better which direction we’re going.

Until we make a final decision, we will continue tithing to First & Calvary, but I’m definitely leaning towards the Vineyard. We’ll see.