Socked in With Good Books and Sore Legs

We’ve hiked ourselves silly. Today, a cool rain began about 10:30 a.m. and is continuing, slow and steady. It started just as we were talking about where to hike today. My legs are begging for mercy so the rain is welcomed, at least for a while. I’ll start getting antsy in a few hours if we’re still stuck in the condo, but I’m gorging on good books while my legs recover. A few photos from our hikes:

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I always make sure I’m “overbooked” on vacation. The last thing I want to do is run out of books to read in a town with no bookstore. And yes, I have my iPad and have already downloaded two books to be safe. So, just in case you care to see the Colorado reading list, here ’tis:

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Finished this one on the drive here. Highly recommend.
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Reading now. So good.
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I wear the shoes and he is my friend’s cousin so I thought it deserved a read. Very inspiring.
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Buechner is always good for spiritual sustenance.

So now, I think I’ll bundle up, gather my books, and hobble to the patio where I will read to the background music of the rain.  Ah, vacation.

We Said Goodbye Today

I’ve said in earlier posts that I do not like goodbyes. But on this rainy Friday we said one at a funeral home, and then the final goodbye at the cemetery in the middle of wheat field country in western Oklahoma. I have come to expect, and often welcome rain when it accompanies a funeral because it seems that nature is agreeing with the human sorrow of loss. We cry, and the sky concurs with our grief by pouring out its own tears.

I met Calvin Miller through my father. Calvin’s friendship with Dad centered around the pastoral role, but in those early years, my relationship with him was simply a novice writer looking up to an accomplished and published author. I was young and hungry to have my name on the cover of a book, so I sent him pieces of a manuscript and bothered him with questions about agents, publishers, technique, book proposals and odds. By this time he had a least a dozen books published, several of them bestsellers. He should have brushed me off, but he never did. He read my writing and would mail back comments, ideas, and honest evaluations. If I was able to get published, he agreed to write a foreword. What grace he showed to a writer who had mostly selfish ambitions.

I never got that book published. The manuscript is still hanging around in my heart and on my hard drive. It was about faith, old hymns, and working out what it means to be on a spiritual journey. Back when I wrote it, I thought I had quite a few answers to life’s questions and that those answers were fairly simple. But Calvin taught me that if we talk about the spiritual journey, we should never be content to scratch the surface. “Don’t be afraid to go deep,” he said. But I was. It was easier to churn out trite phrases, spiritual cliches, and feel-good stories. So I took his suggestions and reworked it – but I only went so far. Honestly, I hadn’t lived long enough to discover God in the dark, frightening places. I hadn’t plunged into depths that caused me to ask hard questions or shake my fist at God for a really long time. But Calvin wasn’t afraid of these things. He had been walking this journey a long time and he had long since gotten over the idea that in the end, God wraps things up for us with a tidy bow.

Calvin’s memoir is titled Life is Mostly EdgesI love this book for so many reasons. Calvin exuded joy, cherished humor, and wasn’t afraid to rock the boat when it came to the stilted world of church life. He loved the edges because he believed that we are not people who should ever be content to live in the middle. Calvin says this in his memoir:

“We all like the middle. The middle is safe. You can’t fall off the middle. Only the edges are dangerous. The great lessons, the deep tragedies, the storms of unbearable heart-quakes happen along the edges. We don’t cry much in the middle, but then we don’t laugh much there either – at least with any belly-deep laughter. Still, every day, nine to five, we suit up for the only contest that can be played along the unsafe edges of our years. Brinkmanship is the name of the game.”

I am learning that living on the brink – the edges- is the only place to live. We lost a friend this week who taught us just how beautiful the edges can be. I’m going to do my best to live along those unsafe edges without fear, and with much joy. I will do this in honor of my friend. Goodbye for now Calvin.

A Good Read: “7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess”

Sometimes I wonder why I bother with a blog. Blogs seem narcissistic, you can’t hold them in your hand and smell the pages, and you are never sure who is actually reading what you write. For writers, two of these three things are way out of our comfort zone. But I do it anyway. Every third day I sit down and write something in story form, even if I think I have nothing to say. Lucky you.

But I did find another plus about blogging: if I ever write a book, someone might pick the book up simply because they read my blog (I’m not writing a book, lest you think I have ulterior motives). This is how I was introduced to Jen Hatmaker. Her blog and books have been on my radar screen for the past year, and recently I realized that we share two tribes: we are both graduates of Oklahoma Baptist University and have both adopted internationally, two tightly woven networks. But I was hesitant about reading her new book because I’ve been hearing the drumbeat of rage against Western consumerism and consumption of the earth’s resources for a while. We get quite a few submissions for the magazine about the subject, and I have two college-aged children who are in the midst of bucking the system for what I am now considering very good reason. So I’m coming around to this, but I’m still a horrible slacker when it comes to curbing the excess. I can always use the inspiration and I am drawn to Jen’s honesty, so for those reasons I decided to read the book even though I felt it might be a little redundant.

It wasn’t.

Here’s a trending subject: the sin of excess that runs rampant in our Christianized American culture is being perpetuated by those who of us who claim adherence to Jesus, who never owned anything. You can disagree with the above statement, but it’s hard to argue if you turn your own head to the left and right and take in the mounds of stuff you own. Jen (like you and me) is one of those people, which is why I’m listing her book as a “good read.” Scratch that. It’s a “must-read.” She begins by admitting who she and her husband have been: privileged people (he: evangelical minister, she: Bible study leader) who have spent years “blessing the blessed.” How their overconsumption affected the poor was not on their radar screen. And yes, our overconsumption trickles straight down to affect those who have little. Go ahead and cringe, I’m right with you.

So Jen decided to do a seven-month experiment: Seven months, seven areas, reduced to seven simple choices. It was a project to learn what “less” means in a culture that screams “More!” every second of every day. Her seven areas: Food, Clothes, Possessions, Media, Waste, Spending, Stress. What a surprise – those are my areas! Hey, I’m thinking think they might be yours also. These are seven areas that grip every one of us, and if you’re like me, you long to find ways to crawl out from under their rubble. From the first pages of her book, I recognized myself in Jen: someone who admits the problem of excess in her life, has a desire to do something about it, but has absolutely no idea where to start. So we started together, she and I. And that’s why I love this book. It’s a journey with someone who walks beside her reader instead of standing on a lofty, I-have-arrived-let-me-help-you pillar. She’s like so many of us when it comes to curbing the excess in our lives: closet full of clothes, never gardened, a sloppy recycler, chained to the screens, a full calendar, and a house full of junk purchased on a whim. I read too many blogs and books by people who make me feel defeated before I can even begin to think about starting. Jen’s humble, humorous, and honest writing gave me a starting place. She pulled no punches but was never self-righteous. Her month of wearing seven articles of clothing knocked me to my knees, since this has been an area of weakness for me. If it was the only chapter in the book, it would still be worth the price. But the chapter on media was written for me also, because like the older brother in Napoleon Dynamite, I love technology. Confession: I think I might be addicted. I’m edgy if my fingers aren’t scrolling across a screen or clicking a keyboard, and to my husband’s horror I actually slapped a demure, white Apple sticker in the back window of my brand new Kia. Fortunately, every chapter knocked me to my knees in some way. And it was a good place to be.

But here is the bigger picture of this book…and this issue. It’s not about what we do. It’s about who we are. Unless something changes within us, we’ll eventually replace over and over again all the excesses that we purge. And we’ll listen to the voices that tell us that the small things we do will make no difference in the enormous scheme of things. But there is another voice within us that offers something different. I heard that voice as I read every page of this book. It’s the gentle whisper that tries to get our attention in the midst of our shopping, spending, gorging, wasting, and stressing to offer us something more infinitely beautiful and satisfying. It’s something that those of us who are smack in the middle of the Christian culture truly need. And it’s something I’m determined to find as I continue to peel back the self-serving layers of my life. For me, 7, is a resource on that journey, and it’s one that I want to share. Want a copy? I have an extra, so if you sign up for my blog I’ll randomly choose one of my subscribers to receive a free copy of the book in the next two weeks.

I’ll leave you with an excerpt from 7  that I have underlined…twice:

What if we tried together? What if a bunch of Christians wrote a new story, becoming consumers the earth is groaning for? I suspect we’d find that elusive contentment, storing up treasures in heaven like Jesus told us to. I’m betting our stuff would lose its grip and we’d discover riches contained in a simpler life, a communal responsibility. Money is the most frequent theme in Scripture; perhaps the secret to happiness is right under our noses.