Tag Archives: John Wesley

2016: Dream Casting and Goal Setting

Every year at this time I start thinking about how I can make the world a better place in the coming year. I reflect on the last year, both my accomplishments and shortcomings, and I envision the coming year and the possibilities it holds. For 2016, I am dream casting and goal setting in similar, but more realistic ways.

My biggest goal is to become an Expert at Apple and to help my store continue to be the best with an eye toward becoming better. This goal is certainly attainable, and I feel as if I am well on way toward it. I know what my strengths are, and I’ve named for myself a few areas of opportunity. I’ve begun working on those areas with the help and support of my colleageus, and I am confident that some time within the year, I’ll attain this goal.

I have five other goals that I will be focusing on for this year. Seeing as how I overshot my goals last year and fulfilled a grand total of none of them, I’m being a bit more realistic this year. And, quite frankly, some of my goals are the same as last year, because they are things I really need to do in my life, but I didn’t succeed at last year.

Goal: I will be vegan in my own kitchen this year. For my friends’ convenience, I am going to simply be vegetarian when it comes to going to other folk’s houses or out for dinner. I continue to desire to leave a less violent footprint on our world, and I continue to be pro-life in all regards. One way I can live out a peaceful and life-fostering ethic is to minimize my consumption of animal products. If you want to know more about why I am chosing this lifestyle, here’s a well-written article about ethical veganism.

Goal: I will volunteer one day a week. Going along with the focus on life and peace, I have requested to switch my availability at Apple to have Thursdays off, so I can volunteer at 360 Communties after I work at Caribou. I filled out my application for volunteerism on their website yesterday, and now I am just waiting to hear back from them about where they can use me, or whether they can use me at all given my limited availability. I plan to participate in some other volunteering opportunities with my colleagues from Apple, and I’ll still raise money for other causes like Polar Plunging for the Special Olympics and dedicating some of my bigger sports events I’ll be participating in to causes like St. Jude’s Children’s Hospitals or Mile in My Shoes.

Goal: I will to continue with prayer and meditation as an integral part of my spiritual life. These two practices center me and enable me to practice peace, grace, and love in a way that I can’t do without slowing down my brain to focus on my breathing or to focus on God. By doing either of these practices, I am allowed the time I need to be away from this world, transported to another place where I can just be.

Goal: I will exercise my body. I have two main goals in regards to this goal: Big Shoulders 5K Open Water Swim (September) and Afton 50K Trail Run (July). I enjoy swimming, biking, and running, and I’ve previously killed that joy by making an unattainable goal for myself of exercising every day or of trying to get in my two or three workouts of each type each week. This year my goal is simply to keep the joy in moving my body. I want to do each sport enough to be in shape, and I want to pepper my weeks with hiking with my love. I don’t want training to become a chore. Incidentally, my far-reaching goal is to finish Ironman Wisconsin in 2017.

Goal: I will abstain from alcohol and caffeine. This will perhaps be my most difficult goal. I’ve (nearly) succussfully abstained from alcohol and caffeine since October 10, drinking caffeine three times and having a couple of beers in that time. Those beers showed me, though, and I ended up hives both times. I am attempting this abstinence for no other reason than both alcohol and caffeine are powerful drugs. I’ve noticed in the time that I’ve been abstaining from them that my moods are more even, and that my sleep isn’t nearly as messed up. I can get on board with all of that.

Finally, though I don’t consider it a measurable goal, I want 2016 to be the year I live with grace, peace, love, joy, and kindness in all situations, in all ways. This year I will be more Christian, and more specifically more Wesleyan.

John Wesley said that Christianity could be boiled down to three simple rules:

  1. Do no harm.
  2. Do good.
  3. Stay in love with God.

 

Cultivate Joy: Part One (John Wesley and Mother Teresa)

My first goal of 2013 is to cultivate joy. In my last blog post, I wrote that in order to cultivate joy, I would “do things which me bring me joy. Embrace the random. Enjoy the mediocre. Don’t stress over things I can’t control. Live in the moment and revel in those I spend my time with. Put down my phone or my other distractions and really love and live the moment.” For me those are the beginning steps to cultivating what I perceive to be pure joy. Because I am not the most joyful person, I decided to learn from what others have written about joy. What is joy? How does joy work? Is joy the same thing as happiness? Is joy what some mystics call ecstasy? Is joy something that one must experience every day in order to be considered joyful? I suppose I had (maybe still have) many, many questions about a theological, psychological, and behavioral characteristic I claim I am going to cultivate this year.

I intentionally used the word cultivate for what I intend to do with joy. There are really three types of cultivation. One type is more like refinement, which would require that I already possess some amount of joy that I simply plan to nurture and shape into much more mature, refined joy. This is not the type of cultivation I will be accomplishing. I will be using a combination of the second two types of cultivation: improving by the care or study of joy and fostering the growth of joy.

Much like a farmer cultivates crops in a field or a scientist cultivates specimens in petri dishes, I plan to plant, encourage, maintain, and harvest this joy. I plan to do the backbreaking work of starting from the ground up, digging little holes, planting little joy seeds, growing little joy plants, and then harvesting whatever little joy flowers or fruits grow from those plants. This is a whole new endeavor, and I didn’t even buy crop insurance. I’m not sure this is the sort of thing that can be insured. I’ll either come away with a bouquet of flowers or a peck of fruits from this year of cultivation, or I won’t. The pursuit of joy is mostly up to me and my willingness to work for it. Sounds weird: work for, cultivate joy.

Similarly, much like I have studied for the past few years to cultivate my knowledge of literature, I hope to study to cultivate my understanding of joy. I started by reading four articles, which is of course where I would start with this damn rational mind I’ve been given, but I plan to pay more attention to those people in my life who seem to be joyful. How is it that they can experience joy, when there is so much sadness, so much angst, and so much depravity in this world? Do they maintain certain habits? Do they hold certain attitudes? Do they rely on their spiritual lives, whatever religion or non-religion they may be? How do they seem to be so filled with joy?

Naturally, I first turned to John Wesley for thoughts about joy. Not because he was necessarily a joy-filled man, but precisely because he strove toward joy and sometimes fell short, did I turn to Wesley for wise words about the topic. In the article titled “John Wesley’s Moral Pneumatology: The Fruits of the Spirit as Theological Virtues,” Joseph William Cunningham writes: “The cultivation of spiritual virtue is abstract from community. Believers develop the holy tempers of righteousness, love and peace in relation to their neighbour. The fruits of the Spirit, though inward dispositions of the soul, are always socially oriented” (284). When I read these lines, I had three thoughts. First, I was elated that he used the word cultivated because that’s my word! (:)) Second, I was thrilled that he used the virtue, because when I was writing my goals for this year, I had in the back of my mind Ben Franklin’s thirteen virtues. Third, all theological concepts work best, and are meant to work best, when practiced in community. We are not designed to be solitary beings.

This photo was taken from http://anglicanhistory.org/wesley/.

This photo was taken from http://anglicanhistory.org/wesley/.

On a more serious note, I really was elated when I saw these lines, but it was more because it has always seemed that joy is an inwardly focused theological concept; joy is about how I feel, right? The above quote made me think of the many ways in which joy is much more outwardly focused. Though Cunningham doesn’t list joy here in this passage, I can’t help but think joy comes in community, that joy is an “inward disposition” that should be “socially oriented.” I’ve experienced joy in my life, and usually that joy was felt in community. I have been in love, which was joyful. I have won competitions, which was joyful. I have experienced God, which was joyful. I’ve sung spirituals and released my pain and suffering, which was joyful. In every situation, while I was the person experiencing the joy, there were others experiencing it with me. I am not sure I have ever experienced joy alone. And if I have, my first inclination was likely to share that joy.

One reason I may not be the most joyful person is that I abhor those shiny, happy Christians I grew up with. Seriously, you can’t possibly be that happy all the time. Joyful? Maybe. Shiny happy? I doubt it. I was thrilled when I was reminded that Wesley struggled with the concept of continuous joy. Later in the same article, Cunningham quotes Wesley: “A will steadily and uniformly devoted to God is essential to a state of sanctification, but not an uniformity of joy or peace or happy communion with God. They may rise and fall in various degrees; nay an may be affected either by the body or by diabolical agency, in a manner which all our wisdom can never understand or present” (285). In other words, all of those people who told me I had to be happy to show my Christian faith were wrong. My will has been constantly (or nearly so) devoted to God. Only the outward signs of the fruit of the spirit have wavered. We, in this lifetime, cannot be filled with “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). We are human, yes? Perfection is something to be attained.

My quest for an understanding of joy was likely fueled by reading An Unquenchable Thirst. Much like the author Mary Johnson, I fell in love with Mother Teresa when I was young. A drawing of Mother Teresa with the words Living Saints in large, bold letters graced the cover of time magazine when I was about 18 months old. There is no way that image could have impacted me like it did Johnson, but I grew up having a knowledge of saints (likely from my mom’s Orthodox family) and having a certain reverence for Mother Teresa. I read everything I could about her, and I believed I had been a nun in a former life (okay, really I still believe it). There is simply something that appeals to me about living with other women whose thoughts are directed toward God and others; there is something that strikes a chord within me when I think about regulating my day with service and prayer. I have always thought that I might experience more joy in a place that was filled with Christ’s love.

This photo was taken from http://topics.time.com/mother-teresa/.

This photo was taken from http://topics.time.com/mother-teresa/.

When I read Johnson’s book, I learned what I knew deep down: sometimes things aren’t what they seem. I had always assumed, until the August 2007 Time Magazine article,  that Mother Teresa was the most joyful woman on earth, and if I believed what Cunningham writes about Wesley’s thoughts of joy she might be: “Joy is a theological virtue implying habitual self-sacrifice and service of neighbour, even in the midst of sorrow and despair. The desire to love and serve is animated by true joy in the Spirit, and cultivated through commitment and practice” (286). Half-heartedly I agree with this. Before I read Johnson’s story, I (maybe) would have whole-heartedly agreed with it. Joy seems to be fed by giving to others, but I worry, now, if giving everything to others renders us not joyful but broken. Theologically, I suppose that very brokenness is where some folks would say that God works when we can’t. You know, the “Jesus works through our brokenness” idea? I am not sure I can buy that line of reasoning anymore, not the brokenness reasoning, but the idea that if we sacrifice and serve, we’ll be joyful. In fact, Wesley himself writes: “Yet it cannot be denied that many times joy is withheld even from them that walk uprightly” (Cunningham 286). Does pouring one’s whole self out into others and loving and serving provide joy? Yes, but not always. No, but sometimes. Maybe.

So, here I am at the end of my first consideration of the cultivation of joy, and I have studied and learned what one person thinks about joy. After thinking about how to cultivate joy, do I feel more joyful? Not yet, but I am hopeful.

I Still Have a Long Way to Go

“Dissimulation, half answers, vindictive attitudes, a false presentation of self are all barbs in the soul of the monastic. Holiness, this ancient rule says to a culture that has made crafty packaging high art, has something to do with being who we say we are, claiming our truths, opening our hearts, giving ourselves to the other pure and unglossed.” —Joan Chittister from The Rule of Benedict

Just when I think I am moving in a good direction with my life and my attitudes, I get this reminder that I am really just clay, water, and some divine breath. There are a few things that set me off in a really bad, fast, almost flashpoint-anger way. Being called out about things in front of other people is one of those things that sets me off, and there is nothing worse than my unrighteous anger. There is no dignity in responding with the same behavior that angers me to start with.

Yesterday during our faculty meeting, there were several things said that I took personally. Whether they were personally directed at me, or whether they simply felt directed at me, I will never know, but what I do know is that I got angry enough to raise my voice at a colleague and then leave the room. All of this after I just had a conversation with Andy about how I felt that this Lent, studying and writing and making big decisions, had really changed me. I was as angry with myself as I was with my colleagues.

I know that people have bad days, and I know my Wesleyan theology well enough to know that I must keep striving for perfection/sanctification. I know that’s why it’s called sanctifying grace, because it isn’t something that just happens—of course the grace to long for sanctification is a gift—but actually getting there is something that we must strive toward, giving ourself opportunities to learn along the way. Sometimes the learning of these lessons is hard, though, and I end up eating a lot of crow.

I feel like that at some point, I should be able to put away my childlike things and behave like an adult. If you’ve read any other posts in this blog, you’ll know that I don’t really want to be an adult, and I covet those moments when I can recapture some bits of childlike innocence in play or thought. Maybe, in fact, this “dissimulation, half answers, vindictive attitudes, a false presentation of self” is really adult behavior. Maybe this is what happens to us when we become adults: we get mean. I don’t know many children who behave as badly as many of the adults I know.

I want to be one of those people I love to be around. I want to bring peace and light to every conversation. I want people to leave being with me, like I feel when I leave being with some of my friends. I want people to leave a conversation with me feeling like both of us were changed by the encounter, like we were real and present with each other, paying attention only to the moment between us. Right now, I feel really self-absorbed, distracted, aloof. I want my life to look like this: “being who we say we are, claiming our truths, opening our hearts, giving ourselves to the other pure and unglossed.” I want to exude Christ and him crucified and raised from the dead. I want to offer grace, not condemnation. Basically, I want to live in the image of God, so that I can forget I am simply clay and water, by focusing more and more on the divine breath and the way it breathes through me.