Thursday, June 28, 2012

"by His grace, in this part of His vineyard, I grow."

It occurred to me that I've had this blog for about a year now. That means we've been living in St. Louis for two whole years—longer than we'd lived in Berkeley. We've already spent more than half our marriage here.

I've been reflecting lately on how St. Louis truly feels like home to me. I don't just mean in a sentimental way, or that I feel like I've lived there all my life. It's also not true that Western Pennsylvania and Southern California aren't "home"; they probably always will be, no matter where we end up. But there is a real sense in which it's home, and I think there are two pieces of that:

First, the fact that we decided it was home before we even moved in. As we made our decision about where I would begin a doctoral program, Kevin and I were very intentional about choosing a place that would not only allow me to thrive academically, but where we could establish a home. I want to be careful not to make this sound like a diss on Berkeley; there are people in Berkeley I deeply miss, and even a few other things...there will always be a certain sweetness about the first place we lived as a married couple. But I'm not sure we ever felt settled there. It was rocky ground for us. Nevertheless, I know that the Lord put us there for specific reasons, and in time I trust I'll better understand them. (...I hope so. I have questions!)

It quickly became evident that St. Louis had the potential to be home for us in a way that Northern California was not. There were many practical aspects of this, affordability being only one. The bigger reason was that we immediately found a church we loved and said, "This is our church." (Admittedly, this is made easier by the fact that we aren't seminarians—no matter how often we're mistaken for them!—and we don't have a home church elsewhere.) We took the attitude that St. Louis was where we meant to put down roots for a good long while. I, especially, have clung to the belief that my school is only one reason we're here, and it isn't the only or most important part of our lives here. It could be that I'm reacting strongly against a decade of being labeled as a transient student and refuse to be defined by that any longer. Whatever the wisdom of that, it's felt rather crucial to my sanity at times, and apparently it's effective, as I often forget that we technically still fall under that "just-passing-through" category.

The second, more important reason that St. Louis is home is because God has made it that for us. He knew what we needed far better than we did, and he has provided for our every need. I've continually been humbled by his providence—materially, spiritually, relationally—during our short time in St. Louis. He picked out the apartment we would move into, the neighbors we would have, the church we would attend, the small groups we would join, long before we ever thought about them. He planned the classes we would take, the sermons we would hear, the conversations we'd cherish, the months we'd just scrape by, and the joyfully routine days and weeks. All of these things—both the things that make me glad and the things that, as of this moment, make no sense to me—are part of a story God has already written. However it unfolds, God is glorifying himself in it, and teaching me that I am found in him.

Though we anticipate being in St. Louis for two or three more years (I truly can't begin to picture what our lives will look like at that point, or where we'll be headed next), we know very well how things can change. No matter what, it is highly likely that we won't be here forever. That doesn't take away from the fact that St. Louis has truly been, and is, our home. It's my prayer that my home and heart will be as open as possible during whatever remaining time the Lord has for us here.

Friday, June 22, 2012

The unopinionated blogger?

Lately I've been noticing that I'm not a very opinionated person. No doubt this realization was brought on by the fact that I'm wrestling with my dissertation topic, trying to identify a niche in the scholarship that's all mine. This exercise is all about stating and defending an opinion nobody has made before. Occasionally, I wonder if I'm cut out for this. But I remember all the people who've invested in helping me reach this level, and I trust their judgment. They are not dumb people, and let's face it, I'm not a good enough actress to convince them I'm something I'm not.

Still, I've noticed that, in general, I much more readily acquiesce to others' opinions than argue for my own. It's more comfortable for me. I've wondered if it's connected to my aversion to speaking up in general. Some of the time, it's not just that I'm afraid to state my opinion; it's that I don't have one, or don't want to dig deeply enough to figure it out what it might be. It's almost as if I don't let myself think, for fear of developing an opinion. Because if I have an opinion, I might be called upon to share it, and not only would that mean having to assert myself, it could mean disagreeing painfully with someone I care about. Much easier to just not think about whatever it is, and assume that the people around me are smarter and better informed.

It might be that being "opinionated," or a particularly original thinker, is just not in my makeup. I think that's okay. And I suppose it's not an inherently bad trait to be disposed to take other people's word for things. I would like, however, to know my own mind a bit better, and be less afraid to share it as appropriate. Not only for my sake, but for the sake of anyone the Lord might give me the opportunity to train and teach, and who might read what I write. As much as I sometimes shrink from believing it, the Lord has given me a good mind, and I'm commanded to use its full powers (along with the rest of me) to love and honor him.

Even while seeking to become more discerning about some things, I take comfort in knowing that I am held fast in the Truth. In that I'm immovable, and not because I reasoned my way into it. And I know that when it's called for, He'll give me the boldness to speak about what is truly important.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Hymn that's in my heart right now

I was first introduced to this hymn via Red Mountain Church's album "The Gadsby Project" over three years ago. It's been among my favorite "old hymns" since that time, but it took on renewed meaning when I listened to it a couple of days ago. I hope you'll hear God's promises for you in these words the way I do. Be sure to read the scripture reference, too.

"Pensive, Doubting, Fearful Heart"
Gadsby's Hymns #273
Text by John Newton
"To the afflicted"Isaiah 54:4-11

Pensive, doubting, fearful heart, 
Hear what Christ the Saviour says;
Every word should joy impart,
Change thy mourning into praise.
Yes, he speaks, and speaks to thee,
May he help thee to believe;
Then thou presently wilt see
Thou hast little cause to grieve.

"Fear thou not, nor be ashamed;
All thy sorrows soon shall end,
I, who heaven and earth have framed,
Am thy Husband and thy Friend;
I, the High and Holy One,
Israel's God, by all adored,
As thy Saviour will be known,
Thy Redeemer and thy Lord.

"For a moment I withdrew,
And thy heart was filled with pain;
But my mercies I'll renew;
Thou shalt soon rejoice again;
Though I seem to hide my face,
Very soon my wrath shall cease;
'Tis but for a moment's space,
Ending in eternal peace.

Though afflicted, tempest-tossed,
Comfortless awhile thou art,
Do not think thou canst be lost,
Thou art graven on my heart;
All thy wastes I will repair;
Thou shalt be rebuilt anew;
And in thee it shall appear
What the God of love can do."

Monday, June 4, 2012

Worship & emotion -- concluding (?) thoughts

Back in April, before the semester got really overwhelming, I wrote a couple of posts (here and here) asking questions about worship and emotion. I was considering a third post on the "objectivity" of worship and even of joy.

I still think these are questions worth asking, but I don't know that I've come to any strong conclusions about them. I do believe that we are commanded to rejoice, and that rejoicing may or may not correspond to our subjective feelings at a given moment. And on one hand, I don't think it matters whether we're "feeling it." It's right to rejoice because God is, objectively and unchangingly, who He is, whether or not our broken affections can bear that, can rightly display it. As I learned from the Eucharistic prayers back in my Anglican days, "It is right, and a good and joyful thing, always and everywhere to give thanks to you, Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth." (Better yet: "It is very meet, right, and our bounden duty, that we should at all times, and in all places, give thanks unto thee...")

On the other hand, if we are being increasingly "renewed in the whole man after the image of God," then I would think that includes our emotions, just like the rest of us. If we are truly being fitted for heaven -- growing by grace into the eternal worshipers we were created to be -- then does it make sense to say that, even though it will always be marred by sin in this life, the subjective side will increasingly come to match the "objective" joy of our worship? Even if not always in a warm and happy way, then in a deeper, more abiding way that makes much of God and less of ourselves? I don't know. But I find it fascinating to think of, and hopeful to trust that someday, my affect will be healed and whole and rightly oriented all of the time

I do hope to spend more time studying what Scripture says about worship and emotion (in whatever senses the Bible speaks of emotion, an intriguing question in itself). But what I've felt convicted of lately is not so much that my disposition in worship is joyless, but that it's slothful: I don't make study of God's Word a priority, and in practice, I don't think that preparing my heart for worship is all that necessary. If I'm honest, I don't believe that we really have to keep the Sabbath holy nowadays. I love the Reformed theology of the sacraments with its emphasis on preparation for receiving the Lord's Supper -- but the truth is that I don't love it enough, because if I did, I would follow it. It seems the change my heart needs is even more fundamental than I'd realized.

I don't think my blog is necessarily the place to continue working all of this out. Except to say that I'm thankful for the gracious work of the Holy Spirit, who teaches us how to rejoice and how to worship, all for God's own glory.