Monday, December 29, 2014

Four Ideas to Help Keep New Year's Resolutions

So, you’ve been contemplating a new year’s resolution with the rest of the known world, am I right?

I make these new year’s resolutions every year, but I’ve gotten a little jaded about them. About the middle of February is about as long as any of them has ever lasted. I hear I’m in good company on that.

So here’s what I’m thinking - we’re all of us making the wrong kind of resolutions. We’re resolving to do things every day for a whole year all by ourselves, and that’s really hard.

Really, really hard.

But every year we all do it, and if we're being honest, we all expect that we will disappoint ourselves. Why not take a couple of steps to help ourselves stand a fighting chance of making it through the end of the year (or at least through the end of Lent).

(1) Resolve to pray about it first.
    How often have we made a new year's resolution without talking to God about what he wants us to work on in the next year? How many times have we just made a crazy resolution to do something like read the whole bible? Did we even stop to consider the possibility that God may really prefer that instead of zipping through the whole bible (and remembering next to nothing) that we read only, say, the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles - slowly?
    So, before you go resolving to take on some crazy volume of work, pray for God's guidance. A new year's resolution with a mission behind it is more likely to be kept. 
(2) Resolve to do it once.
    If you have trouble keeping those "every day until forever" kinds of resolutions, try resolving to do something only once, or twice. Unfortunate tendency to overwork yourself? Resolve to go on a cruise. Well aware that you are out of shape? Resolve to do the 100 pushups challenge. Had to get a root canal this year? Resolve to make an extra maintenance visit to the dentist. 
    Resolving to do something once gives you the opportunity to get a quick payoff, but they do have the unfortunate drawback of not feeling like a "good resolution".
(3) Give yourself a fresh start periodically, at least once a month.
    This will mean that for big resolutions, you get to start counting again every month (or every week, if you need to). This is hard because half the fun of those enormous resolutions is the drama of it all.
    This thought always goes through my head: "I resolved to take on this huge amount of work and won't it be epic if I actually finish it all!" 
    But once I've missed about a week or so, it's all over. It's no fun any more. I never want to come back to it. I rather doubt that I'm alone in this feeling.
    While giving ourselves a fresh start each month may not feel dramatic we would definitely make more real progress than if we stopped all together for the year and never came back to it at all. 
(4) Find or make an accountability partner.
    For a lot of people - myself included - accountability is everything. If there's nobody out there expecting to hear a positive update, I am unlikely to stick with anything. So, for anything I really want to do, I better have somebody expecting to hear that I did it. 
    Sometimes, a resolution is embarrassing, or finding an accountability partner feels kind of prideful. Try a journal or a chart to mark your progress. This way, you can tell if you're keeping up with your resolution, but you can also keep it to yourself.

Here are some of my resolutions.
(1) Read scripture more regularly.
(2) Do the 100 pushups challenge.
(3) Get into a regular writing routine.
(4) Try jogging again.

What are your resolutions? Do you have any tricks for keeping them that worked for you in the past?

Friday, December 26, 2014

Be Subordinate? Really?

The Feast of the Holy Family

For the Feast of the Holy Family, the church allows pastors to choose between Colossians 3:12-21 And Hebrews 11:8, 11-12, 17-19 for the second reading. I decided to look at Colossians only because it was listed first.

What kind of misogynist was this Paul character, anyway? I mean “be subordinate”? Really? Anyone who really thinks that any one among us owes obedience to anybody at all is obviously either backward or extremist. Obviously! (I mean, you knew that, too, right?)

Verses dealing with the model of the family are difficult for our modern ears to accept. God does have a plan for the family unit, and has imprinted his perfect design on our hearts. Femininity is naturally inclined to the nurturing of others. Masculinity is naturally inclined toward the provision for and protection of families. Children are naturally inclined toward emptying cabinets of Tupperware the imitation of their parents.

Paul is not telling wives that they should be subservient to their husbands. He is rather telling them to listen to the impulse planted deep within themselves to nurture. Women are the ones who bear children, who carry them around, nurturing them for nine long months, and usually who care for them after they were born. Wives are called to nurture and build up their husbands. Husbands need this, though it is, perhaps, uncommon for them to let this need be known.

Likewise, Paul is not giving husbands license to be domineering. In another place where this family structure is discussed (Ephesians 5:21 and following), husbands are commanded to love their wives “as Christ loves the church”. Christ loves the church to his very death, and seeks nothing so fiercely as for her to be more closely conformed to the image and likeness of God, that she might be perfect, as her heavenly father is perfect. Men are the ones who guard, protect, and provide for their wives and children. A husband must love his wife in the same way, with this perfect charity, that seeks her spiritual perfection as much as his own - if not more.

The full truth of the matter is that Christians are called to a kind of self-giving love for each other that all of these roles will follow naturally from that love. And it will flow in all directions. Wives need nurturing and building up, and husbands need someone to desire their spiritual perfection.

Christ embodies this love perfectly, and husbands and wives are called to participate in that love that Christ has for us to the extent that the grace to do so has been given to us.

This is not always an easy thing to do. As much as we are fallen creatures, so are our husbands. Making sacrifices for one another isn’t easy, but it is the kind of love that we, as Christians, are called to.

Let us pray that God will increase his grace in us, to enable us to love our families more perfectly. Let us ask that he help us to see the places where that love is weakest and how we can best express our love for each member of our family.

Monday, December 22, 2014

It's Almost Time to Stop...

Well, it's finally here, the fourth week of Advent. Have you finished doing everything Pinterest told you to do?

No? Me neither.

Wow. Advent has really been crazy in our house this year. We've been passing one nasty cold after another among the members of my immediate family - not to mention that due to a comedy of errors, my root canal happened a week later than it was supposed to, so, needless to say we haven't been going crazy with decorating this year.

We're having my family come over for Christmas morning, and so I'm starting to really feel the stress that comes with suddenly realizing that I'm hosting a party that has to have two meals served in one day, when the house is nowhere near clean, and I haven't actually done any Christmas shopping.

Okay, maybe it isn't as bad as all that. Not anymore, but when I started drafting this post, it was all true.

I know I'm not the only one in this situation, and I think we could all stand to take a lesson from one Daniel Tiger. The jingles in Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood are very useful - I especially like the ones that make things like babysitters and diaper changes easier, and make fits suddenly stop. (The fact that I say this is how you know I have a toddler in the house!)

In episode 129, Daniel learns that we have to stop what we're doing when it's time to go do something else, in his case, "something else" was "go to bed".  I spent several minutes looking for a clip of the episode I wanted on their website. It is there, so you can go look through their list of episodes, if you need a new earworm. Unfortunately, I couldn't figure out how to link to the individual episode, so you will have to get along without the catchy tune, unless you're willing to go hunting for it. The words to the song are,
"It's almost time to stop, so choose one more thing to do...
...That was fun but now, it's done!"
Advent is a season of preparation for Christmas. For the last three-ish weeks, that's what we've all been doing like crazy people. We've been preparing for family parties. We've been preparing food, searching for perfect presents, preparing and sending Christmas cards. We have been going and going and going, and it's almost time to stop. We need to slow down, so that when Christmas gets here, we are ready to change gears.

As Lacy at Catholic Icing pointed out, Advent is a time of nesting in some ways - nesting for baby Jesus, so all of this preparation is important, but we also need to maintain our focus in the midst of it.

One of her very insightful commenters also asked another important question that we should think about:
What would we really do if we were eight months pregnant?

Between now and Christmas, I invite you to take up this challenge with me:
Choose one thing to do each day, but otherwise, try to slow down and just wait.

Also, just a quick announcement:
My reflection on the epistle for next Sunday will be posted on Friday this week, so that I can spend time on Christmas with my family.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Beauty of the Plan

Fourth Sunday of Advent

This Sunday, the second reading will be from Romans 16:25-27.

One thing you might not notice at first about this reading is that it's all one sentence: “To him who can strengthen you…be glory for ever and ever!” If we were taking out all of the modifying clauses, that’s what this sentence would say. That’s right – all once sentence. Apparently our ways of writing about theology haven’t changed much in twenty centuries.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Getting Ready for Christmas

It seems like every year, around November 28th, Pinterest fills me with big ideas for Christmas.

Obviously, this is not just Pinterest. I got in on Pinterest kind of late, but over the years, I have found myself wanting very much to make large impressive portions of my Christmas decorations. I want to trim the tree and the mantle with beautiful things that I have made with my own hands.

Somehow, all of these ideas are gradually abandoned as I realize exactly how short Advent is - usually right about... now.

Perhaps one of these years, I will learn my lesson: hand made Christmases rarely begin during Advent. In much the same way, we cannot allow ourselves to fall into the trap of only working to trim our hearts for Christ’s return during times of concentrated preparation.

I think that the reason I seem to disappoint myself is because I set my expectations too high, and I’m often not willing to accept a lesser goal. For example,
  • I have a Bible reading calendar that I have not looked at, let alone kept up with, for a long time. I got a few days behind and gave up.
  • I realize I no longer have time to crochet and block forty snowflake ornaments, so I just conclude to use the ornaments we’ve used for the last five years.
 If I was willing to either set a lower goal - like only reading the new testament, or only making a few snowflake ornaments for our tree - I might not disappoint myself so easily.

It is important to allow ourselves to keep trying, even if it is no longer realistic to succeed in our original goal.
  • To allow that even though I won’t finish in a year, I keep reading scripture regularly. 
  • To allow that I still make a few snowflake ornaments, even if they won’t be the only thing on the tree. 
We must keep trying to live as faithful Christians, in spite of the sins in our past.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Rejoice! We are an Easter People

Third Sunday of Advent

This Sunday, the second reading will be from 1 thes 5:16-24.

Pope Francis observes in his apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium that, “There are Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter.” (EG, 6)  If this is true, then it is no wonder that people think that the Catholic faithful (and indeed faithful Christians on the whole) are oppressed, repressed, and unhappy people. If we go around moping like somebody is about to die, we look like a church that is perpetually in mourning. Who wants to belong to a religion like that?

Who wants to go to church where people act every week as though they all ate bad sushi the night before and still feel a little green around the gills. These are people who are there because of an unwanted feeling of obligation.

Now, don’t misunderstand – this is not a complaint against the obligation to attend Mass each Sunday. It is rather a complaint against the attitude with which some people choose to do it.

We must not take lightly what takes place during the Mass. The Eucharist is a beautiful union between heaven and earth. Angels sing and rejoice with us that God has accomplished the salvation of the world. We experience the bodily, physical presence of Jesus Christ made manifest in the world. The Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith.  And people claim that they “don’t get anything out of it.” Objective grace is happening whether you feel it or not. (NB: I cannot claim most of the observations in this paragraph as my own – I am repeating things I heard in the homilies of many, many excellent homilists.)

Now, I understand that there may be times when you’ve ACTUALLY had bad sushi the night before, but just the same, Paul exhorts us to rejoice always.

What about -

Always. And in all circumstances give thanks.

What is the reason for this rejoicing? There are a few.

First: it is the will of God for us. God desires us to be happy in this life. We are commanded to rejoice in the Lord.

Second: In this concluding prayer for this letter, Paul prays that the members of that community will be made holy and be preserved blameless for the coming of Jesus Christ. He reminds us thereafter that God is faithful – and speaks of God’s fidelity regularly in his letters, as do many of the Old Testament prophets. God's faithfulness to his promises is something to rejoice in, as we are the beneficiaries of those promises.

Third: What’s not to rejoice in about the Eucharist?

And a hundred other reasons besides!

Let’s pray that God increase our joy in our faith. Let us ask him to increase our joy in the blessings that we have already received, and in those that have been promised to us, for he is faithful and will accomplish what he has promised.  Let us also ask that our joy might be a light to the world that others may see the joy of the Christian life, and be converted.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Dentistry and Forgiveness

So, I'm having a root canal on Wednesday.

Please, PLEASE don't tell me your root canal horror story. I've heard enough of them in the last seven days to last me a lifetime.

So - if you're even remotely human, when you go to the dentist, what you hear sounds something like this:

"You've got some plaque building up on these teeth."
"You don't get this part of your mouth very well when you brush."
"You need to floss more."
"Try not to eat so much sticky food. We'll need to replace this filling if you aren't careful."

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Evangelization 101

Second Week of Advent

This Sunday, the second reading will be from 2 Peter 3:8-14.

Somewhat paradoxically, the readings for Advent not only reflect on Christ’s coming at Christmas, but also on his coming back. I remember noticing this for the first time only a few years ago.

We know that Christ is coming back, and we have been told that it will be soon. It is still difficult to reconcile this promise of “soon” with the 2,000 years that have passed since that promise of “soon” was made.

It seems important to me to notice that the remark about delay is immediately followed by, “he is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” Can it be that what we cannot help but understand as a long delay is actually for OUR benefit? So that the human race might have hope of being ready to meet him when he comes again?

What then must we do?

Monday, December 1, 2014

Maintaining my Spiritual House

Most of the year, this is about the best my kitchen table ever looks.

Now, let me stress that this is what my kitchen table looks like three days after effectively having a dinner party at my house for which the table has to be beautiful, clear, and clean - so, really, this is pretty close to my best foot forward. Usually, there is a much larger stack of mail, several more grocery bags and empty drink cans, no beautiful candle centerpiece, and about half the time, a laundry basket - sometimes clean, sometimes dirty.