Thursday, September 27, 2012

Unpacking and Practicing “Turning it over to God”

"Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything."
James 1:2-4
“Commit your life to the Lord, Trust in Him and He will act” Psalm 37
It is funny, if there is ever an hour I wonder about what I am going to write about the following week in this blog, circumstance seems to put something right in front of me the next hour.
As many of you know, I took the LSAT this past June. The 6 months before the LSAT I spent a lot of time thinking, worrying, talking about and studying for this test. I received some promising scores on practice tests hinting that I was improving- yet alas when it came to test time I (in my personal opinion) utterly failed to perform. So now, after taking some time off this summer I am at the test again striving to improve my score in order to get into a top Law school.
This week I took my first practice sections again. For an observer it probably would have been comic to watch my personal tragedy unfold. I utterly failed the sections, getting barely half the questions right. Although I had promised myself this summer I wouldn’t take the test as seriously as I did last spring- all of my doubts and frustrations resurfaced immediately. I bemoaned my lack of intelligence, skill; worried I wouldn’t get into school ever, etc. etc. Driving home from my study spot I was quickly in tears under the weight of imminent failure. The test loomed once again as a monster I could not seem to conquer no matter what mental or emotional strategy I threw at it.
At the end of the night in bed after I had calmed down I asked myself “Where is God in all of this?” After a bit of thought about how the past spring had gone, I realized he wasn’t involved at all. Why? Because I had consistently taken the attitude that the test was my struggle and mine alone. And I was the only one who had the power to deal with it, learn it, and preform it. The test and God were two very separate things in my mind.
I think I was afraid to let God into this one, because I have been scared all along he doesn’t want me to go to Law school. He would rather I did something else. I was afraid taking the test was actually defying him. So now in the face of these fears surfacing, how do I let him into my LSAT experience? How do I listen and be guided by God in this situation? Do I give up on the test? Do I keep going? How in all of this do I best follow him? How do I listen, trust and ultimately let him make the call rather than my ego?
The phrase many Christians (and perhaps those of other faiths) would use in this situation is: “Turn it over to God”. Now, I think if someone had told me to do this last night amidst my upset, I would have freaked. Not only is the statement cliché but it is very loaded with undefined action and significance.
I did discover that this is the third step to the “twelve steps of AA” which my Aunt Linda sited in a previous comment. Check out the link for the steps below:
This reminded me that “turning something over to God” is indeed an well-tested and important practice- even if initially hard to understand. I think it ties in pretty closely to the theme of humility I explored earlier in the blog.
Here is another individual’s blog post on the internet I found which does a fantastic job of unpacking the concept of “turning something over to God” and rooting it in experience, check it out:
I have taken the three steps from the blog of following through with “turning something over to God” and attempting to apply my own example to it:
1.      Follow the path of peace:

Pray to God about the LSAT and be willing to include him in the process. Listen to what about taking or not taking the test gives me peace. Be open to seeing the situation in a different way. Be mindful of what makes me uneasy, but don’t assume too much about what God wants and/or how things are supposed to work out.

2.      Stop pursuing paths that unnecessarily distract from living my vocation to the best of my ability:
(Aka stop banging your head against the wall). Let go of my old way of dealing with the LSAT: which is drawing vast conclusions every time I receive a score. Stop letting the scores and what they mean consume my mind, and stop walking around grouchy and irritated because I feel like the weight of the world is on my shoulders with this test. Trust that the time to study and the proper results will come if they are supposed to; but will ultimately stay in balance with the rest of my life.
3.      Keep the ultimate goal in mind:
Keep in perspective what I am ultimately committed to and why I am taking the test. Originally all I saw the test as was to “get into law school and succeed in life as I should”. Now, to turn it over to God is to focus on taking the test is only worthwhile if it helps fulfill the goal of “knowing, loving and serving God and humanity”. I see law school as a way to help me develop certain skills that can ultimately contribute and give to others. If God is behind me on contributing to others in this way, then he will support me in succeeding on the test.
So in conclusion- I am going to use this test and channel the adversity/frustration it ensues into an opportunity to persevere and develop my relationship with God through trust. And I am going to keep this trial of mine in perspective, as although it is a big deal to me it hardly compares to many other trials people around the world are enduring right now. It is a luxury to be able to worry about continuing education in the grand scheme of things.
And we will see how things turn out with the test- maybe I will not perform well again and I need to listen to that message. Maybe by including God I will do better than I currently think is possible. I think the trick is continuing on while being open to both of those possible results and not giving into fear and expectation. I hope those in my life will hold me to this- and if anyone hears me worrying or griping about the test out loud will remind me of this post.
For those interested in responding, do you have an example of “turning something over to God” in your life? What does this phrase mean to you and how does it play out in your experience? I would be very curious to hear and know myself and others could benefit greatly by learning from your experience.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Religion is Cliche

“God responds to faith, not Cliché’s” –Larry Ollison
My senior year, I took a great English class at St. Olaf- “creative non-fiction writing”. I remember going into the class unenthused; as I had wanted to take creative fiction writing instead. However, this class turned out to be the perfect misfortune as I learned so much about my writing. I think I could study and work on creative non-fiction for the rest of my life given the option.
One of the major take-aways from this class was a lesson on Cliché’s. "It is lazy and ineffective to use Cliché’s in your speech and writing!" My professor proclaimed. We then proceeded into an exercise of coming up with creative new ways to say: “Tears streamed down her face.” It was tough! There were some really creative and refreshing answers however such as: "Drops ballooned in her eyes" or "Her eyelashes dripped at every blink." This lesson opened a whole new world of writing and listening to me. It forced me to strive to say things in a unique and meaningful way, rather than revert to the easy but overused expression of something.
For those who don’t know what a cliché is exactly, here is the Wiki definition:
A cliché or cliche (UK /ˈklʃ/ or US /klɪˈʃ/) is an expression, idea, or element of an artistic work which has been overused to the point of losing its original meaning or effect, especially when at some earlier time it was considered meaningful or novel. (
I challenge you for one day count/tally all the clichés you see and hear, whether in your own speech or others.
I have become increasingly aware that this same lesson in many ways should be brought to the church and religious individuals. As sports, hobbies and different fields of study- Christianity has its own jargon and language.  There is nothing wrong with this, as a ‘jargon’ usually communicates unique meanings in a given field that other words cannot. However, I think a jargon can go too far when a) its users are not aware of how foreign it sounds to others and b) the jargon isolates and pushes away those outside of the community.
Here are some jargon/clichés from other major faith groups that are held by believers to get at the root of God’s/Allah’s/Buddha’s nature:
Shalom- Peace
Mazel Tov- “good destiny”
"Bismillahir Rahmanir Raheem." - In the Name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful
Insha'llah- If Allah wills
Life is Illusion
Karma- it is fate
Do these speak to you? Do they make you uncomfortable? Do you see how each one points deeply to the meaning of God in those religions?
I did some research on the web, when going to several Christian websites, here is some of the language I encountered:
The Spirit Moved in Me
Jesus is the one
Lord have mercy
He is coming back and it won’t be long
Jesus is alive now, and He has saved me.
Jesus rose from the dead, ascended into heaven, and His spirit lives in me
God is Love
I have Jesus in my heart
We are all saved
keep the faith
 I’ll pray for you
 just give it to God
 Trust in the Lord
 God loves you
God has a plan
Do certain ones speak to you more than others? Do you regularly use any of these/know people who do? How many of these do you recognize from your upbringing/past?
These sayings hold a lot of truth in them, which I think makes their regular use even more intimidating. Imagine this situation. Tommy is walking down the street, and is curious about Christianity. He walks into a church and begins to dialogue with one of the members about Christian faith. The member is very excited to share his faith with Tommy, and in his enthusiasm exclaims: “you see, We are all saved In him! For Jesus died for your sins and mine, and now we are free of the devil and God has triumphed! This brings joy to my heart.”
If I were Tommy, I think this would make me very uncomfortable. One the one hand I might recognize the member’s sincere enthusiasm, but on the other it would be as if he/she was speaking a foreign language to me.
Some churches are starting to pick up on this alienating nature of 'religion' -and I think it has something to do with the use of clichés. Below is an advertisement for a church nearby that I drive by on my way home from work every day. Why would this church appeal to people? Why does this work as an advertisement?
I think it is partially because "religion" these days signifies to people a structure and a group they cannot relate to. It means being muddled in a conversation people do not understand, rather than becoming better connected to the source- God.
I guess my main point is that if we really want to share our spirituality with others, I think it is important to do so responsibly and compassionately. And one way we do so irresponsibly is through our go-to phrases and clichés. As evident with this blog, I believe conversations about faith are very important, and can contribute so much to others. Sharing faith can bring genuine peace, healing, guidance, joy and thankfulness to people. It allows people to experience relief, community and purpose. And I think a lot of well-intentioned believers go out to share these gifts with others. But then unknowingly they alienate others through their dialogue, and come away feeling misunderstood. Faith is so much about community, and how we express ourselves to even those within our faith communities is so important.
We must speak to those in our lives in a language they understand if we want to truly share God and faith with them. We must root our dialogue in personal experience and original language. If we don’t, we risk becoming nothing more than a club- an in and out group that isolates us from humanity and even from other Christians. We risk suffocating the message of the truths of a faith we hold dear.
My challenge for this week is this: Try writing down a faith statement in 50 words or less for yourself that you can share. Eliminate all cliché’s, and make your diction as accessible as possible. It would be wonderful if people would post what they come up with as comments to this post; as I know I and others would greatly benefit from your genuine expression of your beliefs.
      “The artist must summon all his energy, his sincerity, and the greatest modesty in order to shatter the old cliches that come so easily to hand while working, which can suffocate the little flower that does not come, ever, the way one expects.”
- Henri Matisse

Friday, September 14, 2012

Embracing Humility

Humility: modesty or respectfulness: the quality of being modest or respectful
This past weekend I spent up in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area with 5 wonderful friends. In my personal experience, there truly is no place like this borealis wilderness; with the mist of the lake, the bright bright stars, the eerie loon songs and the smell of the regal pines. There are few experiences richer than being in the heart of nature with good company.
The boundary waters are a place that inspires contemplation of the spiritual. It is a thin space where God and wonder are closer at hand than usual. One time our group was paddling across a small lake in the pouring rain, and it was if a spell in the hiss of the silver rain had been cast on our surroundings. I feel God spoke at multiple times during the trip to each of us in separate ways- bringing tears, laughter, wonder, peace and revelation.

First night in the BWCA on lake Tuscarora. I have wanted to
go back to this lake since I was about ten and finally got to!
Well worth the long portages

During the trip I received a fresh lesson on humility. I went into the trip assuming the role of leader, guide and camping expert. Quickly I learned however that not only was the group much more competent then I originally thought, but also that one of my fellow campers experience and wilderness knowledge far surpassed mine. When it came to camping I was fully outdone- Nate knew more about navigating, canoeing, setting up camp and how to use the wilderness itself. I did eventually get over myself and did my best to give him the lead (Im sure succeeding sometimes more than others). When I did succeed it was a treat to learn from him more about the wilderness I loved, and different methods of camping that were altogether more efficient and effective than the ones I knew. Furthermore, I was especially grateful for Nate’s leadership and encouragement after I became ill at the end of the trip - as his energy made a big difference to everyone’s morale and well-being.
Ironically enough Nate is a champion for genuine humility and respecting others. His recent campaign platform was all founded on the idea of true respect in politics. We need more leaders in the world like him today- sticking to values of how to treat others and fundamentally get along amidst severe differences in opinion.
I think I learned that humility is directly linked to active respect and appreciation of the people and things around us. It is letting God and others in instead of operating under the pretense you have it all figured out. I was so lucky to be with a group of people that not only were so easy to respect, but were also skilled at respecting and appreciating others. The amount of hugs amidst all trip members throughout our journey seemed to be a good indicator of abundant mutual respect and appreciation.
And I was truly humbled by my contemporaries, each one exhibiting profound attributes and attitudes surpassing my own. One girl Elena got tipped into the water twice by her canoe-mate, and still managed to keep a positive attitude without exhibiting anger towards either canoe partner. Lydia, our smallest team member was the fastest on the trail always willing to carry the heaviest pack- even if it brought her to tears. Her inner strength was often evident through the different parts of the trail. Nathaniel’s openness to newness was astounding, as he flew up from Chicago never being to this area before and was game for whatever the experience brought him. His loyalty as a friend and willingness to give his time to us was also a humbling and appreciated sacrifice. Finally John also was impressive in his positivity and support throughout the trip. When I was sick he wordlessly began taking a pack and a canoe on the trail so that I would not have to carry anything.
The boundary waters in its mix of trials (cold, hunger, fatigue, wetness) sometimes brings out the less pleasant in people (complaining, grumpiness etc.). With this group, it somehow brought out the opposite, and it was fun to see a little adversity bring out the better face of humanity. Here is a photo of the groups reaction to the sun coming out after a full day of paddling in the cold September rain:

When I returned home reality slammed into me and right away new concerns have clouded my mind into a foggy darkness of tunnel vision. Realities at work, home, in relationships and regarding my health all bombarded me from different angles. It was if I was in a canoe that I was gently paddling and without warning suddenly vaulted me overboard into a cold and windy lake.
Today I re-centered, and did my best to remain thankful and humble. Writing this helped me remember my friends and their strengths and how lucky I was to recently spend several days with them in the wilderness. I was also reminded of an article Nate wrote on faith in the wilderness recently published in the Huffington post. I will paste the link below:
I think this peace beautifully articulates one of the real-world intersections of spirituality and religion. My favorite quote from this article is:
“Spirituality is a big part of my life. I go to church every Sunday, I wear a silver cross around my neck, and I pray before every meal. But these actions are not what it means for me to be spiritual, they simply remind me of my faith. My faith comes from the wilderness.”
 I count myself very lucky to have learned from Nate and my other friends in skill and in spirit, and have newly realized the blessings humility can open up to us if we let it in. As the ups and downs of life continue, I hope I can endeavor to practice true humility and let it be a guide to living life intentionally and in tune with God.
Our intrepid group- from left to right Elena, John,
Lydia, myself, Nathaniel and Nate

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Humility and Humiliation

One of the greatest virtues of Christianity and of society is that of being humble, and generally exemplifying humility. Recently the idea of being humble and what it is to be humble has been on my mind. There is a lot to unpack in this age-old concept. My go-to vision for humility is an image something like this:
I will note that most everything in my ego does not want to identify with this picture. I would rather be perceived like something more along these lines:

What is it to experience genuine humility and why is it so important in faith?
I looked up the concept of humility and below is a great Wikipedia article on the idea. Here is the link:
What I learned from this article is:
1)      Humility is a major theme played out in every major world religion. In most every religion humility is linked with being close to God
2)      Humility is not self-deprecating
3)      Truth without Humility is Doomed
 Here also is one of the major sections the bible points to on Humility in Philipians 2:
My recent personal definition of Humility
Humility- to admit what has control over you and recognize how it limits you

I think knowing true humility for me often requires an experience of being humiliated. Being humiliated is that gut realization of “shoot, I do not have it all figured out” and then being embarrassed for it. I think sometimes it takes full blown humiliation sometimes for my pride to be truly shaken.
I am still exploring this concept and hope to write again on it in a couple of weeks. For now, I would love individuals who are inspiring to share- what does humility mean to you? How does it tie to faith? Genuity? Truth? Humiliation?