Saturday, February 25, 2012

Meditation XV -- Wanting

"and whenever you want, you can do good for them."

Let us set the scene for this verse. While Jesus was having dinner at the house of a leper (one who was expected to be shunned), a women came and gave Our Lord the honor of anointing Him with nard. She, most likely, should not -- based on social convention -- have been touching a man. And the men there scoffed and scolded, claiming that the ointment could have been sold and money given to the poor.

Several times in Christ's earthly ministry, His friends and disciples tried to keep others from him. Always it was with the excuse of something "more important." Once they tried to keep children from being blessed by Him because presumably Jesus was too busy. Here they exploited the poor. Sounds good on the surface. Jesus the VIP. Jesus the defender of the lowly.

But Jesus is not interested in the logic of businessmen-followers. He wasn't Jesus the politician. He answers that we will always have the poor to give to. Whenever we want. Of course, because The Lord has demonstrated His Love and Holy Concern for the poor, we should too. But His words cut deep, because the implication here is that His disciples really did not want to do good to the poor. They had another agenda.

Perhaps worse than ignoring the children of God, be they the poor, sick, or incarcerated, is using those children as an excuse to keep Christ (or what we expect Christ is) to ourselves. For loving God is not a matter of acting in a particular way or avoiding certain things or people. Loving God wholly means also loving good, wanting to do good.

Lord, test and turn my will, that my desire to serve you will be pure, free from selfishness or agenda, except the agenda to love You more. Amen in Christ.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Bookmarks -- The Shallows

As I began to read this book, I have to confess that I use the Internet so much, I was scared to find out how bad it is for me. Not only do I use the Net for as a writer (research, writing, keeping track of submissions, not the mention to submissions themselves), but it is an integral part of my teaching. My students essentially do every assignment online, and I do all my grading online via a course management system. I keep track of my family and friends via the web, including arguments and prayer requests. I even follow my favorite soccer teams by watching them as much online as I do on television.

I mean, I already kind of knew something was amiss, but I was not ready for what I found out in Nicholas Carr's The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing To Our Brains.

This is a fascinating book about the way the Internet has not only revolutionized the way we do things, but the way we think. Carr lays out a strong argument that the brain's plasticity allows it to physically change due to a variety of stimuli, and that what is inherent in the Internet makes those changes rapidly. Where we gain in some processes (and Carr is quite fair about the value of the Internet), we lose in such necessary elements as meditative or deep or critical thinking. The is the type of thinking is as important as the type of quick thinking the Internet encourages, as it needed for creativity and problem solving among other things. The book also exposes the shift in thinking since the first computers were created from a sense that knowledge encompasses many elements to the idea that knowledge is merely a matter of getting data (any data) as quickly as possible.

Carr includes a great deal of history and science to develop his ideas, including details about more than how the first computers were invented and put to use, but the ideas behind those who built and used them. Where controversy might occur, he includes plenty of information from those who are not likely to side with him, so the naysayers have their say. And the book includes a number lighthearted moments, such as the "digression" chapters and Carr's awareness of the ironies inherent in writing a book as this.

I like that Carr does not take an alarmist tone, but I must comment on two chapters that have me thinking I should do some re-thinking about how and how much I use the web. One chapter is "The Church of Google," where Carr present the history of the search engine/company, but also explains the frightening rationale used to make us believe that data and information is the same as knowledge. The other chaper is the one that follows, "Search, Memory," in which Carr persuasively argues against the metaphor that the brain is like a computer, particularly in how it stores information and memories.

The book is a bit difficult to read, but that is because it is filled with research and scholarly inquiry. I think every teacher should read The Shallows, at the very least, because it addresses the very nature of how we learn. Students should read it too, but ironically, many, having grown up in a world where the Internet was always in existence, may find it tough sledding.

Years ago, when I started teaching, and students were nervous about using a word processing program to compose their papers, I remember telling them that within a month they would wonder how they got along with it. I have said this about a number of technological innovations since then. Now, I'm convinced we better find a way to get along without the Internet, at least for longer periods of time, to give our brains the other stimuli, nourishment, or whatever you want to call it to bring us back into the balance we need.

Kudos to Nicholas Carr for his very important, honest, and even response to a growing, if unacknowledged, crisis.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Meditation XIV -- Salted

"For everyone will be salted with fire."

Salt is a preservative. Salt alters the taste of food. Even the salt on our skin can sting an open wound.

In popular culture, we may think of people who are "salty," not so much as seasoned, which they most likely are, but as course, as altogether too earthy. These are people who have been changed, perhaps, not by a single experience, but by a lifetime of experience living in the world.

Salt changes the food it touches irrevocably. Over-salt something, and it might be ruined. You can wash the salt with much water, but it won't ever go back to its original form. So it takes practice and great care for us to salt properly,even to our own taste.

God does take great care with us, but that salt is necessary. Otherwise we are not only bland, but do not last, and are useless.

Lord, help me to accept the fire you salt me with. Change me to your taste, for in such actions you prove I belong to You. Amen.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Meditation XIII -- Leaven

And they began discussing with one another the fact that they had no bread.

Leaven and bread are two different things. Leaven is put in bread to make it rise. It is an agent of change. Bread is what we eat. The disciples were so focused on their bellies, on their immediate needs, that they were unable to comprehend the spiritual needs -- the eternal needs -- Jesus was addressing when he said, "beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod."

How often are we so focused on the temporal, the literal, that we miss the metaphor, the greater teaching? So like Martha running after the work of the kitchen instead of like Mary, setting ourselves to the work of the soul.

We see the immediate need to fix our hunger, and so neglect that our souls are in immediate need as well. It is when we are hungry that the leaven of the Pharisees can take root, and spoil the loaves that are our lives.

Lord, help us to remember you always meet our bodily needs, so that we may focus our minds and hearts on You. Let Your leaven work in us that we may always work in You. Amen.