Monthly Archives: August 2011

Merton on Books…

Somebody told me yesterday a quote I had heard a long time ago:

Leaders are learners.

Today I read Thomas Merton’s thoughts on reading.  I thought they were great:

“Reading ought to be an act of hommage to the God of all truth.  We open our hearts to words that reflect the reality He has created or the greater Reality which He is.  It is also an act of humility and reverence towards other men who are the instruments by which God communicated His truth to us…

“Books can speak to us like God, like men, or like the noise of the city we live in.  They speak to us like God when they bring us light and peace and fill us with silence.  They speak to us like God when we desire never to leave them.  They speak to us like men when we desire to hear them again.  They speak to us like the noise of the city when they hold us captive by a weariness that tells us nothing, give us no peace, and no support, nothing to remember, and yet will not let us escape.

“Books that speak like God speak with too much authority to entertain us.  Those that speak like good men hold us by their human charm; we grow by finding ourselves in them.  They teach us to know ourselves better by recognizing ourselves in another.

“Books that speak like the noise of multitudes reduce us to despair by the sheer weight of their emptiness.  They entertain us like the lights of the city streets at night, by hopes they cannot fulfill…

“Great though they may be, friends though they may be to us, they are no substitute for persons, they are only means of contact with great persons, with men who had more than their own share of humanity, men who were persons for the whole world and not for themselves alone…

“Christ, the Incarnate Word, is the Book of Life in Whom we read God.”

– Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude

5 Days of Bike Riding

This has been a big week at our house.

Our six year old is learning to ride the bike with no training wheels.  (I’ve been pushing for no hands or standing on the seat or something cool that all the other kids can’t do, but we’re starting slow.)  Here’s the recap:

Day 1 – We started on the short little sidewalk outside our front door.  It was the first time I saw her actually start to “get it”.  The concept of balance was starting to register.  After a few tries and smiles we moved to the long, dirt driveway.  This was a little shakier but she was still doing well.  At least until “the crash”.  After a few moments of good balance, she steered the bike into the grass.  Trying to recover, she bounced the bike off the ground and found some blood on her elbow.  Tears.  One more ride because, as dad says, “You always get back on.”  Day 1 came to an end.

Day 2 – “I don’t waaaaant to do it.”  Poking and prodding.  A good 30 minutes outside practicing with constant reassurances of no falls and daddy always staying close.  Smiles.  “Daddy, I kind of like riding with no training wheels.  Can we do this tomorrow?”  Victory.

Day 3 – Female hormones.  “No, I don’t want to today.”  No riding.

Day 4 – A quick few minutes of riding to show mommy the progress.  Good success.  One brief fall and minor scrape.  2 tears.

Day 5 is today.

Today we go to the big parking lot.  I’m calling it B-Day.  The B is for bike.  We will triumph.

Yesterday I had breakfast with a great leader whose teenage son was in a very serious car accident recently.  He showed me pictures of the wreckage.  Thankfully, the son is okay.  The passenger with him is recovering–slowly.  The pictures were vicious… twisted metal and crushed glass.  All I could think was what if my daughters had been in that car?
As I’ve taught our six year old to ride this bike I’ve learned as well.  Initially, I was running everywhere with her.  The minute she wobbled I scooped her off of the bike and out of the “fall zone”.  Slowly, I realized she needed to learn to recover.  She needed me not to save her.  I have learned to let go of the bike and not keep running beside her.

I hate when she falls.  I hate when she cries.  But she needs to experience these elements as much as she experiences the joy of victory.
In three weeks, our six year old starts Kindergarten.  (Kind-y-garten if you’re from Michigan.)  In my mind she is moments away from climbing in a car with other teenagers.  I am terrified.

But I am also like a kid on Christmas with anticipation.  Great things lie ahead.  She will have hundreds of moments of joy and pride as she learns to “ride the bike” over and over and over again.
We are scared for our children.  We want to protect them.  And we should–when it is appropriate.  But our primary job is not protection, but a teaching to fly.  At some point, perfect love casts out fear and we let go of the bike.  They may fall.  They may fail.  And we will pick them up and dust them off.  And they will get back on.

Merton on Monday – Poverty and Soil

I’ve been reading “Thoughts in Solitude” by Thomas Merton.  It is loaded with great wisdom and insight.  Today I read these two statements:

“Poverty is the door to freedom, not because we remain imprisoned in the anxiety and constraint which poverty of itself implies, but because, finding nothing in ourselves that is a source of hope, we know there is nothing special in ourselves worth defending.”

“The value of our weakness and of our poverty is that they are the earth in which God sows the seed of desire.”

This is a deep tension, especially for modern, Western culture Americans.

Poverty, whether spiritual or economic is not something we ever see as a “door to freedom.”
We do not see our own lacking nature (again, spiritual or economic) as a soil for God to plant in.

Poverty, for our eyes and hearts, is a curse.
Our culture is driven forward in momentum by a need for more.
More resources.
More money.
More time.
More information.
More connections.
More stuff.

Our response is not, “If I had less God could do more…”
It is instead:

“If God would give me more I could do more.”
“If I didn’t have to worry about money I could give more.”
“If I fix this part of my life then I’ll serve.”
“I just need to change these things, then I’ll give my all.”

These are lies.  You will never have enough.  Never.  Your heart is wired to desire more.  In the right light, in the purest form, this creates a desire for more of God.  In the twisted nature I find myself it beats for more of whatever the sexiest, coolest thing close to me looks like.

Poverty, in the sense Thomas Merton is talking about, is the realization of our own incompleteness (utter resource-less-ness) before God.  It is the fragile infant kicking new legs in the air and crying out for its mother to pick it up.  Poverty, for Merton, is the awakening of our souls to something beyond our circumstances.  It is joy in the face of seeing our own nothingness.

It is the villager I met in Kenya–ravaged by AIDS and poverty–and sharing more joy than I’ve ever seen.
It is the single mother at the end of her rope laughing with her children as they play in the yard.
It is the broken father walking through divorce and trying to hold it all together.
It is the church in the country with nothing to give mustering one last breath to serve the community around them.

The soil of our poverty is the richest in our heart.  It is the place where our realized needs meet God’s most satisfying grace.