James 1: Quick to Listen, Slow to Speak, Slow to Wrath

My favorite book of the Bible is James, so it is fitting that when I am trying for the first time in nearly ten years to begin a daily habit of reading Scripture, contemplating it, and spending some time thinking and praying, that I would begin back with James. James, the doer of the word, not just the contemplator. I like doing and being active and employing what I am learning. I certainly wouldn’t classify myself as a navel gazer, only, though I do a fair bit of that as I try to figure out how to act or use what I am learning. From an article by Saint Andrew’s Abbey, about the relationship between practice and contemplation: “Practice and contemplation were understood as the two poles of our underlying, ongoing spiritual rhythm: a gentle oscillation back and forth between spiritual ‘activity’ with regard to God and ‘receptivity.'”

Today I read the first chapter of James in the Lectio Divina style of reading. In short, in Lectio Divina, the reader quiets her mind, then asks God to guide her through her reading, then reads slowly and meditatively in order to parse out what God wants to show her that day. Then the reader has a prayer dialogue with God about that verse, then finally she rests or meditates in the meaning of the Scripture.

The verses that called out to me as I read this first chapter this morning were verses 19 and 20: “So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” I spend a lot of time listening to other people, particularly my students, so the beginning of verse 19 that says, be swift to hear and slow to speak reminds me how I should receive people, being real and present with the person who is directly across from you at any given moment.

The goal is to be intent about your interaction with the other person, focusing on the moment and hearing what that person is saying. It’s been one of my goals for the past two years to speak less and listen more deeply and intently. Sometimes I do it, sometimes I don’t, and when I don’t, I find that I later regret that I wasn’t more intent on hearing the ideas, dreams, and concerns of the person with whom I was talking.

The second part, really the third point of verse 19 is to be slow to wrath. Generally speaking, for me, I find that I am more able to be slow to wrath if I have listened well and if I converse with a person to understand who they are, why they think like they do, and how I fit into their world if I do. I think being slow to wrath comes from really taking time to interact with people and to have difficult conversation and in depth sharing from ideas and thoughts, no matter diverse or distinct those ideas may be.

Further, I believe the reason that verse 20 says, “for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God,” is that when we don’t listen to others and when we don’t engage others in discussion, we tend to act rashly and with an anger that is superficial and dangerous. However, if we do take that time to listen to both our fellow humans and to God, and when we engage in that heavy conversation and that deep interaction, we don’t get angry quickly.

Instead, we save our anger for things that anger God, like systemic problems that result in disenfranchised groups being further pushed aside, or like domestic problems where people are put into dangerous situations simply because our laws are archaic, or monetary difficulties because churches and government programs are overwhelmed with people who need help.

In short, I think verse 20 is telling us not to avoid anger in every situation, like I was taught when I was younger, but it’s telling us to not waste our anger on human concerns that can be resolved by listening and talking through those concerns. The last few words of verse 20 say that our anger “does not produce the righteousness of God.” This end phrase leaves room for Christians to be angry, but not about human trivialities. We are to reserve anger for those things, which God perceives as unrighteous, unholy, then our anger can produce the righteousness of God.

It’s especially important to notice that these verses are sandwiched between a verse about being birthed in the word of truth, and two other verses about getting rid of wickedness and becoming meek in order to be doers of the word and not just hearers. Part of the appeal of the book of James for me, as I said at the beginning, is that James wants us to act. We are to use our quick listening and slow speaking in order to avoid wrath, but not in order to avoid acting; we’re just not supposed to act rashly and in human wrath.

This morning was a beautiful time of considering Scripture, which I haven’t done seriously in quite some time. Now to employ what I’ve learned and to continue this practice each day.

Potawatomi Revelation

Few things clear my mind like living in my van in the woods for a few days with my wife. Two Octobers ago, as I was eating a Belgian sausage and a beautiful deer ran through our campsite, I stopped eating animals products then and there. To say it was a spiritual moment in my life is a huge understatement, and I can’t imagine ever going back to using animals for food, clothes, or work again.

This October for Bec’s birthday, we went to Potawatomi State Park in Sturgeon Bay, WI. Before I left Indiana, I got poison ivy on my eye, and by the time I arrived in WI, my eye warranted a trip to the Urgent Care. After we left Urgent Care, I took my pharmaceuticals, which if you know me is a huge deal, because I hate prescription drugs, but I felt so much better that we went for a hike.

I always feel so much better after physical activity and some time meditating in nature and hugging trees. Yes, I quite literally hugged a cedar tree; I am not allergic to those. I decided as we came back to our campsite from the Eastern Terminus of the Ice Age Trail that I want to try to hike the whole Ice Age Trial with Bec when we retire; we should probably practice small bits over time, so we know what to do. She also learned that if we walk to opposite way from our campsite, we can get into town and find a pretty cool hiker bar, so we’re going to do that next time.

In order to move back toward health—don’t get me wrong, I am feeling really good these days, but my friend Sarah just posted about the merits of doing hard things, and I haven’t done any hard things for just myself in a good, long while—I set myself some new goals for 2022. I plan to run four days a week: Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday. On the days I don’t run, I plan to ride my bike to school, starting tomorrow. All of this has the eventual goal of running a 50K, hopefully in October or November of next year. I also plan to be sober from alcohol, which is a depressant anyway, and lots of extra empty calories., which I hope to avoid by eating better food too.

Anyway, I’m getting old, so I should probably take better care of my mental and physical health. Prayer meditation, running, biking, and good wholesome caloric intake will get me far in feeling fine.

Sunrise on Ash Wednesday

Lent is my favorite church season, followed closely by Advent, which is weird because I hate to wait. I am a really bad wait-er. The reason these are my two favorite seasons of the church calendar isn’t that Lent or Advent are particularly happy, because Lent certainly is not happy. I am also not a masochist, so I don’t love these two seasons because of my intense need for self-punishment at waiting. My love for Lent and Advent probably has more to do with the fact that I know how long I will be waiting, and I know the outcome of the wait. I know that at the end of the 40-ish days, there will be a big event that makes the wait worthwhile. At the end there is a birth, there is resurrection. There is hope.

Another of my favorite things is the day when I realize that the sun is rising again on my way to work, when I am not driving the entire hour-ish in the dark. Driving out of the darkness into a sunrise is the best way to start a day of work, or of travel, or even of play. Especially if that sunrise is filled with purple deepness and yellow brightness and red intensity. The sunrise brings with it a sense of a new beginning; there is hope; the beauty of the earth is a forever thing.

The most beautiful day right now in my life is the day when Ash Wednesday and the sunrise morning happen to coincide. In other words, today is my most beautiful day.

On my way to school this morning, I listened to a podcast called “Everything Happens” featuring Kate Bowler and Nadia Bolz-Weber. In the conversation, they talk about how things happen and about how we frame the bad things that happen: “I think that those kinds of ideas, you know, the reason it hurts is because it’s painful, not like, the reason this thing in your life is hard is because hard things in life are hard. It’s not a spiritual failing of yours that this feels bad. Hard things feel hard. Period” (Bolz-Weber). My take away is that we try to make difficult things seem like they are our fault, but we always think the beautiful things are someone else’s fault. Maybe just take away fault. Bad things are bad. Good things are good. Beautiful things are beautiful. Things are.

The sunrise morning, and the beginning of my favorite season of the church calendar, happening on the same day makes me joy filled and helps me to recognize how beautiful God is and how amazing [Their] work in this world is.

Down to the Church and Back to Grace (Street)

I wrote most of this as a caption for a post on my Instagram: fatvegantrailrunner.

One SOUL-filling mile: down to the church and back to Grace (Street). No, seriously, that’s my one-mile route in my neighborhood: down to a church and back to Grace Street, which is a block away from my house, my brother’s house really. 

I’ve been fucking up a lot lately: being angry for no really valid reason, crying over things that are out of my control, feeling displaced when my place is wherever I am, and generally feeling sorry for myself when there’s really nothing to feel sorry for. This is a combination of not living with my wife, being a teacher during COVID-19, and simply reaching middle age.

I’m trying, really trying, to give people the benefit of the doubt, assuming positive intent and believing that people are doing the best they can. I’m trying really hard to extricate myself from family things and friend groups whose “best they can” still feels wrong or bad to me. I want for myself a healthy and fulfilling life, so sometimes someone else’s best and my boundaries don’t work together.

I never wish them ill, but I want the best for myself in this life. And at this point I am not willing to sacrifice my best I can for their best they can. Is this selfish? Maybe.

So, I guess this is to say that I don’t want to hurt people, but I also don’t want to be hurt. 

This is to say that I am trying with each new day to make a new me. To make good choices that don’t hurt people, to say I am sorry when I have hurt people.

Down to the church and back to grace. I have a few I am sorries to say.

46 Years and 48 Days

In July, I wrapped up my 46th revolution around the sun and began my 47th. The first 48 days of this revolution have been some of my best days as an adult, even though the last time I wrote about how hot it was in my van with my dog.

The week after my birthday was spent in leisure on our Washington Island property. I spent the days with my wife reading, lying in the hammock or sitting around the fire, cooking food outdoors, eating delicious carry out, drinking coffee, walking to the lake and wading in the water, and being with each other.

During that week and for the past month and a half, I was able to contemplate a few things in my life. I want this year to be governed by three things—to filter every decision through them, like guiding principles—and I am trying to say yes to things that bring me joy,

The first guiding principle is this meditation, which I read in a book, but I don’t remember which one: “What did you do today to make this world a better place? What difference did you make in someone’s life today? How did you let someone make a difference in your life today?” When I end my days in this manner, I get the opportunity to reflect and think about how I am reacting and responding to the events in my life. Sometimes I love what I see. Other times I don’t love what I see. But either way, I have thought deeply about how my day went.

The second guiding principle is a quote from Brother David Vryhof, who is a monastic at the Society of Saint John the Evangelist: “Complaining, or murmuring, as St. Benedict calls it, can have a toxic effect on human communities. Suppose you gave up complaining. Suppose you made it your practice to express what you desire and to work constructively toward achieving it, rather than complaining about the things you don’t like. Could becoming “murmur-free” make a difference in your quality of life and in the quality of life of those around you?” Not complaining about things is challenging, but when I can adhere to the spirit of this quote, my life feels more peaceful and more loving.

Lastly, this poem by Mary Anne Perrone sums up a lot of what I am feeling these days:

Life at Midlife

I am no longer waiting for a special occasion; I burn the best candles on ordinary days.
I am no longer waiting for the house to be clean; I fill it with people who understand that even dust is Sacred.
I am no longer waiting for everyone to understand me; It’s just not their task
I am no longer waiting for the perfect children; my children have their own names that burn as brightly as any star.
I am no longer waiting for the other shoe to drop; It already did, and I survived.
I am no longer waiting for the time to be right; the time is always now.
I am no longer waiting for the mate who will complete me; I am grateful to be so warmly, tenderly held.
I am no longer waiting for a quiet moment; my heart can be stilled whenever it is called.
I am no longer waiting for the world to be at peace; I unclench my grasp and breathe peace in and out.
I am no longer waiting to do something great; being awake to carry my grain of sand is enough.
I am no longer waiting to be recognized; I know that I dance in a holy circle.
I am no longer waiting for Forgiveness.
I believe, I Believe.

In addition to living by these principles, I have begun accomplishing some tangible goals. I started reading a few chapters of the Bible each day. I am attempting to read a leisure book each month. I’m running every day, which is always something that makes my life better. And, I am fully embracing veganism for all of the reasons!

These guiding principles, living into my goals, and a job that makes me feel alive again are making these days beautiful.

They aren’t easy, but they are beautiful.