Saturday, January 16, 2016

learning to see

Two events, miles apart and so very different, linked hands in plain view, inviting me to consider them side by side.

The first, a memorial service. I had only met the man once in church before a dreadful disease took hold of his mind and dragged him on a downward spiral that ended this New Year's Day. I knew only the severity of his illness and saw the sorrow and courage of his wife as she came alone on Sundays. We connected briefly, the day I learned of his condition, and I held her in my heart for the ensuing weeks. When I heard of his death, I had to be there. For Char.

... for Dear Life (Photo: C Imes)
In that hour I learned volumes about the man whose rich life was cut short. An optometrist by profession, Don spent decades helping others to see. And on weekends? He explored the outdoors — camping, fishing, hunting, hiking — toting heavy camera lenses everywhere he went. Before the service started we were treated to a sampling of his award-winning work. He had such an eye for beauty! Butterflies up close, wildebeests crossing muddy rivers, birds in flight. Anyone can whip out a cell phone and snap a picture of nice scenery. It takes a special "eye" (and sophisticated equipment) to get the angle and the lighting and the aperture just right so that the picture comes alive. Don possessed that special sight.

From the service I headed directly to Newberg to teach my class on Wisdom Literature. The order of the day was understanding how Hebrew poetry works, especially proverbs. We began by discussing a chapter from Leland Ryken's Words of Delight: A Literary Introduction to the Bible. One student spoke up, "I really like how he related proverbs to photography. That's such an interesting way of thinking about it." Aha! Indeed, Ryken refers to these "wisdom teachers" as "the photographers of the Bible" (316, paraphrasing Robert Short, A Time to Be Born—A Time to Die).

And it's true, isn't it? The writers of proverbs have an extraordinary eye for ordinary things. They look at the same ship, the same busy street, the same plants, but they see beyond the surface, making connections that enlighten our minds and dazzle our ears. Here's a glimpse through the eyes of a sage:
"The LORD tears down the house of the proud,
but he sets the widow's boundary stones in place." (Proverbs 15:25)
The images evoked by this proverb, chosen at random, are so vivid! See Yahweh himself, muscles gleaming in the hot Mediterranean sun, as he demolishes a stone house. See him cross the field with stone after plaster-crusted stone and place each deliberately as a boundary, while the grateful widow looks on, tears streaming down her face. See the proud man with arms crossed and furrowed brow, sputtering frustration, but unable to defend himself.

The sage could have said, "It is inadvisable to be proud" and "You should not take advantage of the poor." But here instead we have a living image, painted in words, that joins both ideas. Yahweh himself takes action. We watch him at work. We stand at the sidelines feeling chastened or grateful or energized -- depending on the state of our own hearts.

Captured Alive (Photo: C Imes)
And as we seek to understand this picture in words, we begin to see what the wise one sees. We are overtaken by wonder.

More than one person at the memorial service told us that they had one of Don's stunning pictures on display at home. They were grateful to have been given his eyes, to experience his love of creation, and to have had their own wonder awakened. Don, a modern sage, helped others to see the wisdom and beauty of God's handiwork.

Ironically, in the final months of his life, Don's eyesight faded until he was completely blind. His caregiver spoke about the doctor's blindness. As he lost physical sight, he began to experience vivid visions of glory. He would take the hands of those around him and ask, "Do you see it? Do you see Jesus in all of his glory?" Don was learning to see in other dimensions, and his faith grew in leaps and bounds over those dark weeks and months. The eye doctor who possessed such extraordinary vision in this life far preferred his new-found spiritual sight.

May we, too, learn to see.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

leaning in

I had heard about the book a while back. All good things. It seemed like the kind of book that could illuminate my journey as a woman in academia. But the dissertation didn't leave much time for extra reading, so I tucked away the idea for a rainy day.

Months elapsed. A year or two, maybe.

In December, after turning in another revised draft of my dissertation, I decided it was time. Thanks to its popularity, it was easy to find Lean In at the public library. Some of you will chuckle that I found time to read a book by the COO of Facebook before I found time to actually join Facebook. I know. That's so like me. (However, I did finally join Facebook last week, so feel free to send me a friend request if you'd like!)

It's not supposed to be a self-help book, but I found it tremendously helpful. It's not exactly Sandberg's autobiography either, but she opens up the windows of her life and lets us all look in. How does a woman lead well? How can she balance family and career? How can she navigate a man's world without losing her femininity? (It turns out that Evangelicals are not the only ones wondering about this!) Sandberg's big idea, the one she comes back to again and again, is that women need to lean in to the opportunities in front of them. Yes, sometimes women are overlooked, at a disadvantage because of our gender, hitting glass ceilings. But Sandberg says women often sabotage our own success by holding back. We are hesitant to walk through an open door because we aren't sure how we'll manage everything on the other side. Women regularly turn down opportunities well before it's necessary (e.g., a single woman avoiding a promotion because she imagines it will interfere with her future role as wife and mother). At Google and Facebook, Sandberg has observed this time and again.

There is certainly a time for "no." But saying "no" enables us to say "yes" when the time is right.

That time came for me sooner than we expected. I was ready to lean inActively praying about how God would have me serve now that I'm coming to the end of my PhD. Circling that topic in prayer. But my spring semester was still relatively open. On a fluke, Multnomah didn't need me. Aside from putting the finishing touches on my dissertation and defending it, I thought I might try to publish an article or two. Maybe paint some interior trim or catch up on the family scrapbook.

Then the phone rang.

The department chair from George Fox. Wondering if I could possibly teach a class . . . immediately. One of their adjunct instructors had backed out at the last minute, leaving him with a slot to fill. School starts next week. It's not an accident that he thought of me. I've been in touch with him for over 2 years, hoping that someday something like this would develop. It didn't take us long to decide. Danny and I had both been feeling that now was the time for "yes." I was eager to lean in. For four long days I crafted a syllabus, putting on the finishing touches yesterday.

Then, this morning in church, we sang a song that harnessed Sandberg's thesis in service of our ultimate purpose as believers: worship. The lyrics jumped off the screen. Written just for me. Exquisitely timed.

Spirit of the Living God
Spirit of the Living God
We only want to hear your voice
We're hanging on every word. 

Spirit of the Living God
Spirit of the Living God
We're leaning in to who you are
Everything else can wait.

After all, it's possible to lean in to the wrong thing, at the wrong time, for the wrong reasons. Leaning in will only bring life when our deepest desires are shaped by worship.

Yes, lean in. But not just in any direction. Lean in to HIM. Let him transform your desires until the thing you want is the thing He wants.
"Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart." (Psalm 37:4)
The song continues . . .
When you come in the room
When you do what only you can do
It changes what we see and what we seek.*

This week I'm soaking in the grace of fulfilled desires. The "thing" itself pales in comparison to the presence of the Living God who has acted, and continues to act, on my behalf. 

May 2016 be a year of leaning in. Not to earthly success. But leaning in to the presence of God and embracing all He has planned. Everything else can wait.

*Vertical Church Band c.2015