Saturday, January 27, 2007

Procrastination and Me

The beauty (and horror) of procrastination lies in the fact that an onerous task or project, if delayed long enough, will no longer be possible to complete, at least with any reasonable hope of success. With rationalization and excuses as my close companions, I continually deferred the work necessary to prepare for graduate school to some later time. While I achieved an A+ in my first course in introductory Greek, I give myself a D for my lacklustre efforts in planning school for next year. As a student, I generally succeeded in the battle against procrastination, at least in the realm of academics. But as I consider my poor performance in this area, I am gaining new insight into myself.
Why is it that I have always had an easier time accepting Jesus' words "Without me you can do nothing", than appropriating Paul's assertion "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me"? Why is it I can be relatively content in repetitive, mind-numbing work, and fear any venture into the unknown? Can it be I really did not want to succeed in my efforts at planning and applications, and really I wanted to try and ultimately fail, proving to myself that this endeavour was not for me? Because I am afraid, afraid of the unknown, afraid of failure, afraid that I don't have what it takes. I am afraid of being far from home, afraid of illness, of debt, and ultimate futility. I am afraid that I can't even succeed at what God is calling me to in my life, whatever that may be.
At one point in my life, I began to narrow the area where I demanded competency and excellence from myself. Many things I haven't even attempted to do. My mother was frustrated at my attempts to prove that I could not sew a button onto my pants. But I see this as a picture of the many skills I have decided I can't master. My area where I demanded mastery, competence, and excellence was the realm of academic achievement, but other endeavours, for example, in the realm of friendships and social life, I accepted, even expected, failure. In all honesty, I can understand the servant in the parable who buried his talent in the ground.
I need to find out what God is calling me to do with the gifts and interests he has given to me, my area of service and my specific vocation (which may or may not be connected to a specific career). I need to realize that I can do whatever God has called me to, the "all things" Paul speaks of, and I can succeed at many other life skills as well. I need to replace my fears with faith and confidence in Christ who strengthens me, and I need to work hard at any true vision God gives me for my life. I need to realize the true failure is not trying, is burying the gold talent deep in the ground, of living a life of safe and shallow selfishness. And with all this emphasis on doing, maybe I need to balance that with a realization of being, my identity in Christ as a child of God, who I am created and redeemed to be.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Meeting My Nephew Owen

Here is a picture of me with my nephew Owen who I met for the first time last week. I just took it from my sister's blog where there are more pictures of this adorable child with his many doting relatives, but I wanted something on my blog to commemorate the joy of meeting Owen. Owen is the little son of my sister Karen and brother-in-law Clint, a definite answer to prayer. He was born on October 17, 2006, so he is nearly three months old. The first time I held Owen, he screamed in protest and I couldn't calm him, but later I got to hold him when he was content and smiling. He has the sweetest smile, so big and all gums. I especially liked to see him smile at my sister and calm right down in her arms. He is happiest after his feeding and unhappiest when he is tired or when held or passed in a way he doesn't like. Owen is now on his way to Ottawa on the train with his parents and then will be returning to Saskatchewan Tuesday on a four hour flight that will first go to Calgary. Prayers for the flight home would be appreciated as Owen generally needs a car seat or a bed to sleep and doesn't sleep in people's arms very often. The time with Owen was too brief and I hope I can visit Saskatchewan sometime before he starts walking. It was so good to see Karen and Clint again, but seeing Owen was extra special.

Monday, January 08, 2007

My Education in Hindsight

My friend laughed at me recently when I told her that while I had appreciated the book she had lent to me and been moved to tears numerous times and had recognized the profundity of the truths so clearly laid out, I had resisted the way they were quoting Scriptures without references to original context. I explained that there were several steps to take before applying the passage to women in the church today, since the passage was using feminine imagery to speak of the nation of Israel. "Yes, she said, "But what is said of Israel applies to the church today and so to women in the church." I insisted that the original context and these steps in between should be acknowledged by the authors, as responsible biblical interpretation. I could make the leap, I knew the original context and the steps in between (moving from Israel to the church to women today) but what about other readers? I still think this is a valid point, although it would have interrupted the flow of the argument quite a bit and diminished the beauty of the book. But I got to thinking that along with the knowledge I gleaned from my professors, I also picked up quite a few prejudices. Some of them may be more like convictions, but others are definite prejudices. I picked them up because I respect my professors and their opinions. From my upper level seminar course in Christian worship, taught by a long-time Doctor in Music, I picked up a complete aversion and disgust with the name for God Jehovah. He explained that this was an ignorant translation from the Hebrew name YHWH (written ofcourse in Hebrew characters without vowels). This name was not even pronounced by the Jews, it was so sacred and holy. So this name was badly phonetically mangled with vowels placed in and became the name Jehovah. Now any song, whether contemporary or an old version of a hymn, that uses the name Jehovah, sets my teeth on edge, even if I like the other words or messages in the song.
A short list of some other prejudices (or perhaps convictions, as some may be valid) some gleaned from my Church History classes and others from my Philosophy of Religion course include:
1) A firm belief that the national anthem should not be sung in a church service unless it follows the benediction, hence technically not being in the service.
2) A belief Canada's, the United State's, and/or Israel's flag should not be in a church sanctuary. A grudging permission for the nations of the world's flags to be all displayed.
3) A sense of anger at the sight of Canada's flag drapped over the cross, all but obscuring the religious symbol. A vague feeling these symbols should not mix.
4) A belief that baptism should only happen once. I have since let this one go a little. Most in my immediate family have been rebaptized. When pressured by a pastor as a young adult, I refused on the principle that my baptism as an infant was equally valid, I had professed my faith already, and no other baptism was needed.
5) A sense that worship, if not completely orderly, should at least be dignified. I guess I wouldn't get along with King David too well.

I recognize that most of these are minor things, not worth getting upset over and really it would be better to not let these things annoy me, particularly if it hinders my unity with other brothers and sisters in Christ. None of them are things I would nail on a church door to demand reformation. What is important is a heart of worship, to worship in spirit and in truth, and this can be done in a sanctuary with a flag of Canada or the US in it as well as in a church bare of national symbols.

One belief, held by some of my professors, that women should not be ordained, I never did pick up. Some may call it rebellion, which is probably one of the reasons I said as a young girl that I would some day like to be a pastor (an ordained one). (This was not then possible in my denomination, hence its attraction.) Now I think a lot of it is simply respect for some women who I know through personal connections or by books or magazines I've read or speakers I've heard, who personally feel a call to pastoral or preaching ministry. Anne Graham Lotz at a conference I recently attended something like that if people have a problem with a women (in preaching or pastoral role or spiritual leadership role), then they need to take it up with Jesus, because he called them. At university I did a paper on the difficult passage in II Timothy, often cited as evidence of a universal prohibitation against women teaching or having authority over a man in the church. At the time I concluded that I hadn't found compelling evidence in the sources I had come across that the passage could be responsibly interpreted in a way to support my rather faint belief that some women are called to spiritual authority in a church along with men, though all Christians are called to both submission to the spiritual authorities God has placed over them and to mutual submission as believers. In my mind, the spiritual headship of a husband, clearly taught in the Bible, was distinct from the relationship of men and women in the church; that is simply because a person was male he was not qualified to command and control a woman in the church; he needed to be in a position of authority himself and that authority should never be exercised in a domineering way regardless of anyone's gender. My friend recently wrote a paper on the same topic, and found different, more scholarly and convincing sources, and came to the conclusion that this could be responsibly and faithfully argued.

I also lost some prejudices, most notably my sense of outrage at the apostle Paul who I was convinced was a sexist apostle, rather full of himself even. I based this on three passages in particular that angered me. I guess they angered me more because of how they have been used and interpreted by others. My Church History and History of Eastern Orthodoxy courses took away a lot of my prejudices, opened my eyes to the beauty of other traditions and the wisdom of the Church Fathers, and instilled in me a passion for ecumenicalism and unity among brothers and sisters in Christ from all traditions and varieties holding to the essential creeds we share. Thanks to my church history professor, I started distrusting the NIV slightly, though I have always enjoyed its beautiful cadences and clear translation, and have since decided that in some cases the translators were hindered by evangelical or male prejudice that coloured their translation. In fact any translation must necessarily be an interpretation as well, because often the ambiguity that may be in the Greek cannot remain in the English translation.