Technology Needs Poetry

bookAmy and I had just entered the biblio-pilgrims destination in Portland Oregon this past Tuesday. Even though the temple was under construction Powell’s Books was busy with life. Grabbing a facilities map as we entered we chose to divide and conquer each of us heading toward our favorite areas of erudite worship.

It wasn’t long before Amy shot me a text. She had found a really intriguing and really old book of poetry on the top floor near the rare books section.

She showed me her rare find.

The book was small and had the familiar smell of dust mixed with age; its pages darkened with time.

Compiled in 1929, the title was utilitarian: “One Hundred and One Famous Poems, with a prose supplement.”

Many of the writers were familiar, but the selected works were like a newly found  picture of an old friend. Quickly I scanned the poems and noted some that I would need to read.  What struck me immediately, though,  was the preface penned by the editor Roy J. Cook. It reads as follows:

“This is the age of science, of steel-of speed and the cement road. The age of hard faces and hard highways. Science and steel demand the medium of prose. Speed requires only the look-the gesture What need then of poetry?

Great need!

There are souls, in these noise-tired times, that turn aside into unfrequented lanes, where the deep woods have harbored the fragrances of many a blossoming season. Here the light, filtering through perfect forms, arranges itself in lovely patterns for those who perceive beauty.

It is the purpose of this little volume to enrich, enable, encourage. And for man, who has learned to love convenience, it is hardly larger than his concealing pocket.”

How timely for us today. The age of science and speed, and I would add technology. As technology continues to increase at an exponential rate, the need to slow, and read prose, practice meditation and find balance in solitude and silence with God also rises.

The very advances that were supposed to bring us more time to enjoy life, seem to absorb any spare moment we might otherwise have.

Noise-tired and technologically-saturated lives have great need of words that remind of what matters most.

hamletsblackberry385-01A book I have read in the past couple years titled Hamlet’s Blackberry (which I highly recommend) looks at our current “screen addiction” offering  some hope for our souls in a culture that is obsessive about connectivity. Hamlet’s Blackberry  illustrates how our technological advances over the centuries have eroded  much more than we realize, and the author gives great advice on how to regain what we have lost. Check it out here.

So, yes, our data-filled, noise-filled, and growth-oriented world need prose, poetry and verse to bring balance and beauty back to us. To that end, allow me to reveal some prose from my new little book. The title is “A Psalm of Life.”  The author is Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

I know you are busy. There are more things in your inbox than in your completed box. You don’t have time to slow and read something that doesn’t help your current end-game…but hold on.

Maybe reading this will be a tipping point for your soul…

Perhaps in the next few moments your soul will be stirred and offer a different direction for your future…

Maybe, just maybe, you will breathe deeper and feel the joy of life return to your bones. So relax, and absorb Longfellow’s words. May they be a dessert for your busy-soul.

A Psalm of Life

Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but empty dreams!–
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.

Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way;
But to act, that each tomorrow
Find us farther than today.

Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like a muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.

In the world’s broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
Be a hero in the strife!

Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant!
Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act,—act in the living Present!
Heart within, and God o’erhead!

Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time.

Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.

Let us then be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.

I agree with the editors premise…our world of science, steel and speed need poetry.

The Lord Is My Pace-setter

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We are a stressed-out nation. Very often, we wear our stressed-out, over busy, crazy lifestyles like a badge of honor, all the while knowing that we are losing something very important in the chronic insanity of our culture…our sanity and soul.

There are many reasons that stress is so prevalent, but according to the American Psychological Association, the following are the key issues at hand:

* Money, work and the economy continue to be the most
frequently cited causes of stress for Americans, as they
have every year for the past 5 years. In addition, a growing
number of Americans are citing personal health and their
family’s health as a source of stress.

* Significant sources of stress include money (75 percent),
work (70 percent), the economy (67 percent), relationships
(58 percent), family responsibilities (57 percent), family
health problems (53 percent), personal health concerns
(53 percent), job stability (49 percent), housing costs
(49 percent) and personal safety (32 percent).

* The percentage of adults reporting that family health
problems are causing them stress (53 percent) increased
in 2011 compared to the last 2 years (47 percent for both
2009 and 2010).

An unhealthy pace of life has become an addiction in our country, and is something we desperately need to address if we are to regain our soul, and most importantly, listen to the voice of God. When our lives and minds are drenched in over-stimulation, over-communication, and excessive busyness, the voice of God becomes a distant memory, and we begin to justify why God is no longer speaking. No matter the theological gymnastics and/or other reasons we create to comfort our unease concerning the seeming silence of God, the truth is that He is still speaking, all around us, all the time, but our minds are too full to discern His still small voice in the storm of noise.

I love how Toki Miyashina re-wrote the 23rd Psalm and reminds us that the Lord needs to be our pace-setter:

The Lord is my Pace Setter, I shall not rush,
He makes me stop and rest for quiet intervals,
He provides me with images of stillness,
Which restore my serenity.
He leads me in ways of efficiency,
through calmness of mind; and his guidance is peace.
Even though I have a great many things to accomplish each day,
I will not fret, for his presence is here.
His timelessness, his all-importance will keep me in balance.
He prepares refreshment and renewal in the midst of my activity,
by anointing my head with his oils of tranquility,
My cup of joyous energy overflows.
Surely harmony and effectiveness shall be the fruit of my hours,
For I shall walk in the pace of my Lord,
and dwell in his house for ever.

It’s okay to live with balance…

It’s okay to have moments in your week that are not crammed with rushing around…

It’s okay to still, slow, and even stop in order to breathe more deeply and practice divine awareness…

It’s okay to say “no” to the requests that don’t align with your purpose in life, for if you don’t, you will miss your purpose in life…

It’s okay to be healthy and unable to “one-up” your friends who are trying to impress you with their busy schedules…

It’s okay to have joy in your soul, hope in your heart and serenity in your mind because you choose to allow God to determine your pace, and not the culture or the people around you.

May you have a life that responds to God’s grace with energy, His voice with delight, and His love with service.

Jesus and Religion

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Christianity was never intended to be an “ethical system” with Jesus Christ at the head. Our Lord did not come into the world 2,000 years ago to launch Christianity as a new religion or a new system. He came with eternal purpose. He came as the center of all things. Actually, he came to be our religion. He came in person, in the flesh, to be God’s salvation to the very ends of the earth. He did not come just to delegate powers to others to heal or cure or bless. He came to be the blessings and the full glory of God are to be found in His person.”  ~A.W. Tozer
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I came across this quote by Tozer and I was again reminded of the centrality of Jesus and the decentralizing of religious institutions. It seems the more we succeed in the church, the more we create something that competes with Jesus. Jesus came to be our faith, our religion, not to compete against what we have created.

As churches grow and initiatives progress, we tend to pat ourselves on the back for what we have accomplished. Yet the community of faith is supposed to be something different, the measuring metrics are different, the outcomes are different.

The larger a church grows the more complex the machinery needed to maintain it. Expansion moves towards the ever elusive dollar, and soon a congregation might find itself serving their structures and initiatives and programs rather than the God who inspired the movement.

When the church moves in this fashion, the teachings become more about behavioral modifications and sinning less because we are so busy “doing” religious stuff that we forget that Jesus -is- our religion.

For the follower of the Rabbi, there is no substitute for who He is…There is no to do list that trumps His presence…There is no self-improvement program that transcends His power.

Jesus is the center. Jesus is the personal revelation of the Father. Jesus is our religion. In becoming our religion, He has demolished the machine that has been created in His name yet lacks the power of His presence.

Monty

Maintaining Leadership Passion in 2012

As we launch into another new year, I have noticed there seems to be at least two types of leaders. One leader looks at the opportunity a new year brings to hit the reset button…to try something new…to experience the energy that comes from stepping out by faith into the unknown realm of potentiality.

Another leader takes a deep breath and with a massive sigh breathes out a quiet prayer hoping that the next year will be better than the previous year, or perhaps maybe this year I should change jobs and get off of the leadership treadmill.

Leadership is hard work. It requires a high level of self awareness and the courage to allow God to do some work in the soul to bring about an increasing level of integrity and honesty.

Yet most leaders are so busy they seldom take the necessary time to pause, slow down and listen to their soul and to what God is saying in the quiet spaces. It is easy to justify why there is no time to deal with these things, after all, we are important, we have things to get done, people to lead, objectives to accomplish for the common good and corporate vision right?

One key trait that I have observed in the lives of great leaders that last is that they take the time to engage in healthy self-examination. I’m not talking about becoming a comatose navel-gazer, but rather becoming a person that is self-aware and deals with the shadow side of their personality in order to grow in a holistic fashion (body-soul-spirit). This also grows the organizations that they lead.

Take a moment and read through Gordon MacDonald’s piece on what he calls “The Seven Deadly Siphons.” While he wrote this for pastors specifically, I think you will easily be able to make the connections to whatever area of leadership you are in.  Evaluate where you need to invest some energy this year so that you lead well with integrity and continue to finish strong!

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The Seven Deadly Siphons

Loss of Spiritual passion seems to be the inevitable result of:

1. Words without action. We are tempted to think that saying something actualizes it. We have a momentary feeling of spirituality when we talk about wanting to pray more or “have more time in the Word.”

2. Busyness without purpose. Ministry produces activities, programs, conversations. If our choices of time-use are not disciplined by call and purpose, our energies become like a lazy, shallow river.

3. Calendars without a Sabbath. A datebook filled with appointments but absent of significant hours (days) of quiet and reflection-written in first-is an abomination (an old and harsh word) to the God of the Bible, who said, “Six days you shall labor…the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.”

4. Relationships without mutual nourishment. Pastors tend to be acquainted with too many people but know too few people. The spiritual masters have told us for centuries that without soul-friends, we won’t gain spiritual momentum.

5. Pastoral personality without self-examination. Too much ministry is built on unresolved anger, unhealthy needs for approval, and the instinct to control. Failing to explore our soul for un-wholeness ultimately takes it toll.

6. Natural giftedness without spiritual power. A pastor can go a considerable distance in ministry with catchy words, people skills, political savvy, and a facility for organizational dynamics. But kingdom work demands qualities that only a filled-up soul can offer.

7. An enormous theology without an adequate spirituality. A pastor cannot represent a view of reality that includes Creation, evil, reconciliation and conversion, sacrificial service, and eternity-a mind-boggling expanse of conviction-and have a spiritual-exercise regimen that is pea-sized in contrast. A great theology demands a great spirituality.

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These are some powerful areas to consider, ruminate upon and take action. The power of your public ministry will only be as great as your private world. If you are not investing in the private world of your soul you are choosing to cap your level of leadership and growth. Each of the areas that MacDonald mentions are worthy of spending some time unpacking, and I would encourage you to do exactly that.

Make it a great year!

Monty