Sunday, August 24, 2014

Rooting out the Rats

I suffer from musophobia, the fear of mice and rats, although I am only afraid of the later.  I have been for almost 25 years.  Aside from the pet rat my friend Matt had when I was a kid, I don't think I even saw a real city rat until I moved to Baltimore, so my fear did not develop from any actual encounters with rats.  Instead there are two people to blame for my phobia: George Lucas and Stephen Spielberg.

The scene from Indiana Jones: The Last Crusade in which Indy swims through a sewer teeming with rats as he explores the catacombs beneath the streets of Venice permanently scarred me with rat fear as child.  Mom, when you read this post please don't blame yourself for letting me watch the movie.  I think the fear was destined to eventually develop.  I couldn't find the entire scene on YouTube, but if you go to 9:46 in this video you should get the gist of it.

Since moving to Baltimore, my rat phobia has improved significantly.  It turns out that they are afraid of me and are not going to crawl up on me and gnaw my eyeballs out or give me the Bubonic Plague.  I used to recoil in fear even if I just saw a rat even a block away.  Now, I would just rather avoid taking the trash to the back alley at night, but I don't freak out every time I see a rat.

A few weeks ago, I had a large rat problem (in both the size of the rats and the scope of the problem) that I needed to deal with.  There are rats in our neighborhood, that is just a fact of living in most areas of Baltimore.  The piles of construction materials from the renovation occurring next door and the trash in the yard of the house owned by a negligent landlord two houses down haven't aided the situation. Unfortunately, I had also been making my own contribution.

It all started a few years ago when I built a 12 foot by 4 foot raised garden bed out of cinder blocks in our backyard.  We filled the bed with about a foot of rich soil from Baltimore County.  Unfortunately, our yard ended up being too shady for crop production and the garden bed went unused, except as a place for our chickens to take their dust baths.  Last year, I wanted to move our rabbit hutch from its location near the back of our house to the fenced back half of the yard where the chickens reside.  The only place to set the hutch was on top of the garden bed.  I knew that I would need to rat proof this area, but the school year started and the project slid off the to-do list.

As a result, the rats found a lovely home for themselves in the dirt beneath and behind the rabbit hutch.  Summer finally provided some time to tackle this problem.  I asked my parents for birthday money to fund the supplies (anyone else asking for rat proofing supplies for their birthday?) and set to the task.  As I worked, I reflected upon how the inhabitance of rats in my rabbit hutch parallels the presence of rats in our lives.

Before I share my reflections, I want to preface them with a couple of points.  First, we all have rats in our lives, by which I mean attitudes of the heart, thoughts of the mind, or habitual actions that are not pleasing to God.  The Bible says there is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:22-23).  No matter how saintly we may appear on the outside, we all have rats that lurk hidden within.  Second, I am writing this first as an examination and exhortation to myself.  Jesus warns, "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?  How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?" (Matthew 7:3-4).  This could be paraphrased as do not point out the rats in others' lives and pay no attention to the ROUS in your own life (ROUS = Rodent of Unusual Size...sorry to the readers not in a generation influenced by Princess Bride references.  You can see a ROUS for yourself in this clip if you like).

As a result, I am primarily going to speak vaguely about specific types of rats that appear in our lives, except when it is necessary to be more explicit to communicate effectively.  I will speak directly about some of the rats in my life, most notably anxiety and pride.  Mostly, I will allow the Holy Spirit to speak to each person about the rats they want to expunge from their own lives.  With those preliminaries aside, let's talk about how to get rid of some rats!

1) Don't invite rats in

Let's be honest.  I basically rolled out the red carpet leading to a rat honeymoon suite: a foot of loose soil perfect for burrowing, cover and protection provided by the hutch, and bits of rabbit feed falling from the cages.  It's no wonder there were rat tunnels all through the garden bed.  Luckily, I saved myself some embarrassment by forgetting to take a before picture to share with you.  When I went out to start the project, I told Becky, "Don't be alarmed if you hear screams."  I knew what I had brought on myself.

Unfortunately, we sometimes invite rats into our lives by the movies or TV that we watch, the music we listen to, or the situations that we place ourselves in.  Anxiety burrows into my life when I invite it in by dwelling on a situation or obsessively searching the internet for some nugget of information or development that might help improve the current state of affairs.  I also struggle with pride.  I love documentaries about current issues that I am passionate about, however, if I am not careful, watching them can lead me to think that I am superior to anyone who does not share my views.

I am not saying that we should all retreat to a monastic lifestyle and live as hermits.  Jesus prayed that Father God would not take [his disciples] out of the world but he also said that they are not of the world (John 17:15-16).  We can not consume everything that the world has to offer and expect to not digest the things the world values.

2) To force out the rats, you need to dig deep

The first step in my rat proofing strategy was to excavate all the soil from the garden bed.  In order to get rid of the rats, I had to remove the medium for their digging and all the trash they brought along with them.  I needed to dig down to remove the root cause of the rodent invasion and get down to a solid foundation.

In the same way, we need to dig down into the inner workings of our heart, soul, and mind to determine what is attracting rats into our lives.  At its root, I am anxious because I do not trust the promises of God or the goodness of God.  Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.  If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith!  And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them.  But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.  Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom (Luke 12:27-32).

At its root, I am prideful because I would rather exalt in my achievements and greatness than the achievements and greatness of God.  I would rather receive praise from men than give all glory to God.  I forget the words of the psalmist:  Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked (Psalm 84:10).

Rooting out rats in our lives is not easy.  It requires honest introspection and faith that God will beneficially prune these dead branches in our lives if we willingly draw near to him.  Jesus said, "I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.  He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful." (John 15:1-2).

3) Protect against future invasions

During our first summer in our house, we started keeping chickens, our first venture into urban livestock.  I read a couple of books in preparation and extensively researched chicken coop designs.  I spent weeks building a rat proof chicken fortress, preventing burrowing by burying hardware cloth one foot deep all around the perimeter of the coop.  For the most part, rats have not been able to penetrate my defenses.

The original rabbit hutch had no such protections, but rabbit hutch 2.0 does.  I laid hardware cloth over the bottom surface of the garden bed and sealed every possible seam with concrete.  I also fortified sections of the hutch with the same treatment.  Afterwards, I only returned a few inches of soil back to the hutch so that there would not be enough dirt for burrowing.  After several weeks, I have not seen any evidence of rats burrowing under the hutch.  I plan to construct a hardware cloth reinforced covering for the front of the hutch to add even more protection.

Hardware cloth along the foundation of the hutch and any possible opening, along with concrete on every seam, should hopefully keep my furry little friends at bay.

To prevent rats from invading our lives, we must likewise plan and construct defenses.  Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it (Proverbs 4:23).  I want to share a few ways to proactively deter rats.

A) Claim the superior promises of God

A lot of people view Christianity as just a bunch of rules that you need to follow to be a good person.  Often, these "rules" are viewed as restrictive and basically a drag on enjoying life.  Given the way that the church has often legalistically fought against rats, it is easy to understand how this perception developed.  However, as the Apostle Paul shared with the Colossians, these rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence (Colossians 3:22-23).

I am not promoting licentiousness or saying that God does not call us to pursue holiness, but I believe the best way to fight rats is not by trying to follow a set of rules, an effort that is often in vain, but by pursuing that which is superior and infinitely more satisfying, namely pursing the presence of God.  I am indebted to Kevin DeYoung, my college pastor, for giving me a weapon that has repeatedly triumphed over the rat of lust: Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God (Matthew 5:8).  I flee from lustful thoughts because I want to see God - something better and more beautiful than any fleeting glance or thought.

B) Worship God

When we worship God, whether singing praise to his name, reading his word, or simply living in a worshipful state throughout ordinary daily tasks, we receive two benefits.  First, we are drawn into God's presence in which we are transformed.  And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:18).  Second, in worshiping God we experience the greatness of God and recognize that being with God is better than any pleasure a rat may offer.

C) Seek accountability

We need each other.  As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another (Proverbs 27:17).  Find someone in your life who you can honestly share the rats that your are struggling with.  When anxiety creeps into my life, openly sharing this struggle with Becky or members of our small group from church makes it much easier to take next steps to strengthen my faith and kick the rat out of my life.

Unfortunately, rats are persistent little buggers and they reproduce at a remarkable rate.  We won't be able to eliminate rats from the physical world.  I am pretty sure they would survive the apocalypse without any problem.  However, we can take actionable steps to remove them from our lives.  My hutch is better without them.  Our lives our better without them.

Monday, August 18, 2014

A Camping State of Mind

I’m at a stage in my life where my concept of “camping” has required a bit of adaptation.  If I had my choice, I would camp in the most remote location possible.  Somewhere that can only be reached by backpacking is preferable, but even when “car camping” I gravitate towards small, hidden state forest campgrounds with outhouses over large state park campgrounds with all the amenities.  Of course, by “amenities” I mean flush toilets and a place to wash your hands.

However, now when I think of camping there is one question on my mind: Does the park have a swim area?  Evelyn, who is approaching her second birthday in October, loves to be active, loves to be outside, and absolutely loves to go play in the water or “waka” as she calls it.  In mid-July, Becky and I were interested in escaping the urban jungle for a short family camping trip.  We only had two days and one night to spare so we wanted to stay fairly close to Baltimore.  We ended up finding a gem in Greenbrier State Park, a place that I am sure that we will become well acquainted with over the next decade.
The beautiful swim area at Greenbrier State Park
Greenbrier State Park is nestled into the South Mountain range a little bit west of Frederick, Maryland and only an hour from our house.  While no one will mistake South Mountain for the Yosemite Valley, the park features beautiful wooded areas and views of nearby summits and ridges.  We could see Greenbrier Lake from our spacious campsite and could follow a hiking trail to the nearby beach area.  Aside from the campground host, we essentially had the entire campground loop to ourselves as no one was camping on a Thursday night.
A view of Greenbrier Lake from nearby Annapolis Rock.  A month before Evelyn was born, some friends and I hiked to this popular ridge on the Appalachian Trail as fatherhood's equivalent to a bachelor party. 

We enjoyed a lovely afternoon of playing with Evelyn in the water, lounging around our campsite in the afternoon, and strolling on the well-maintained hiking trails, although our hike was cut short by Evelyn’s pleas to go back to the swim area.  At this age, we can barely squeeze out a mile with her in our hiking backpack, yet another reason why backpacking would be completely illogical for the moment.  Throughout these activities, I reflected on the peace of mind and restful state that I enjoyed.  During this part of the summer, I had been focusing on trying to raise funds for Whitelock Community Farm, the urban farm that we help to run with other neighbors to address the lack of access to affordable, healthy food in our neighborhood.  Along with some roadblocks and resistance the farm was facing as we attempted to expand to two additional vacant lots, my fundraising efforts had been the source of a lot of anxiety.  Becky jokes that I will always find something to be anxious about, but cold calling local businesses seeking financial support definitely forces me out of my comfort zone, only amplifying my fretfulness.  I found myself trying to avoid the task with all sorts of excuses, yet still worrying about the financial future of Whitelock Community Farm.

My reflections led me to compare my mindset during our day at Greenbrier State Park to my mindset over days that preceded it.  I think the difference in my anxiety level goes deeper than the fact that I love swimming with my daughter, puttering around our campsite, and hiking in the woods while I hate calling unknown people to ask for money.  I think at its root, my anxiety is not the product of the level at which I enjoy an activity, but instead is directly correlated to what I perceive to be the certainty of the activity's outcome.

When we are camping, I know with fairly high certainty that the activities that I am engaged in will lead to successful results.  I will play with my daughter at the beach.  No problem.  I will go on a hike and enjoy it whether the sun is shining or the heavens open.  Got it.  I will start a fire so that we can cook our pizza sandwiches and roast marshmallows for S’mores.  Actually, that one is a bit uncertain but that is why lighter fluid regularly appears in our camping supplies. 
Evelyn is ready for S'mores if Mommy and Daddy can start the fire!
However, when I am serving on the board of a non-profit organization, attempting to inspire and educate middle school students, or even trying to share the love of God, the potential for positive results seems much less assured.  Let’s look more closely at my trepidation over fundraising.  Yes, it makes me nervous to ask people for money, but that is not the root of my anxiety.  Ultimately, I fear that if I am not able to raise enough money the farm will dissolve and if the farm folds then the farm board members will be scorned and derided in the neighborhood and city.  At its root, my anxiety stems from the pleasure that I take in receiving the approval of other people and my dread at the thought of catching their disapproval.  This reflects a lack of faith in the goodness and power of God and misplaced hope in the glory of man as opposed to the treasure of knowing Christ.

These reflections led to a resolve to adopt a continual “camping state of mind,” which I have coined to mean a state of purposeful activity without fretful anxiety over the unknown.  This term does not refer to a state of relaxation that is achieved through self-indulgence or pursuing the “easy life.”  I believe that the Lord created us for more than this.  God’s word contains many paradoxes such as whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it (Matthew 16:25) and whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant (Matthew 20:26).  We do not find lasting joy and peace by building our own personal empires, but by pouring ourselves out for God’s kingdom and for his people.  Seeing and then responding to the real problems in the world, whether it be a lack of access to healthy food, inadequate health care, child sex trafficking, or extreme poverty is the right action for a follower of Christ.

The camping state of mind also goes deeper than embracing the common mantra “Let go and let God.”  Let me preface this by saying that there is nothing we can do to earn our salvation or God’s favor.  We are saved by the gift of God’s grace not the work of our hands.  We also do not work in our own power or strength, but in God's power and strength.  Yet, in another one of the gospel’s paradoxes, we are also called to work out our salvation (Philippians 2:12).  We are called to an active faith.  Paul instructed the Thessalonians to respect those who work hard among you and to follow their example as they help the weak, encourage the timid, and pray continually (1 Thessalonians 5:14-17).  When faced with a throng of hungry followers, Jesus told his disciples, “You give them something to eat.” (Matthew 14:16).   After initial protests, that is exactly what Christ’s disciples did with a mere five loaves of bread and a couple fish.  In fact, God's miraculous provision yielded twelve full baskets of food when they were finished.

Later, the disciples only remembered to bring one loaf of bread as their crew boarded a boat to cross the Sea of Galilee and discussed this fact among themselves after Jesus warned them to beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Herod.  Christ’s response to their whispers cuts to the heart of my anxiety issue and clarifies what it means to maintain a camping state of mind:  “Why are you talking about having no bread?  Do you still not see or understand?  Are your hearts hardened?  Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear?  And don’t you remember?  When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?” (Mark 8:17-19).

Often, I fall into talking about having no bread.  I see the challenges, I focus on the worst case scenario, and the waves begin to rise higher than they looked when I took my first enthusiastic step into the water.  The camping state of mind is not about ignoring the problems of the world nor is it about passively trusting that God will work everything out.  Instead, it is a call to roll up our sleeves and start building, knowing that God will provide the bread we need to accomplish the good works to which we have been called.  Consider the scope of his promises.  His power that works for us is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 1:20).  If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31).

When we are camping we are active.  Living the camping state of mind calls us to actively live out our faith in Christ - to love, to strive, to seek, to pray, and to respond to the things that break our heart knowing that God is for us, he has called us to this work, and he will provide all that we need to do it.  When I set up our campsite, I do not fret whether the task will be a success or failure.  I am making a resolve to keep that camping state of mind so that whether I am promoting healthy food in our neighborhood, teaching Baltimore’s youth, or seeking to build God’s kingdom in this city I will not look at my single loaf of bread and worry about the outcome.  Instead, I will live with confidence that he who has promised is faithful and able to provide and that he will not let my foot slip.  Please join me in taking up the camping state of mind.  Don’t be afraid to ask me about my anxiety level and when the waves seem to be crashing in remind me that God’s bread box is never empty.  

Saturday, August 9, 2014

What's in a Name?

Nothing beats a good campfire.  The warmth and light coming from the burning embers immediately melts all stress and anxiety.  I wish I could bottle the feeling of gathering around the campfire after a day of outdoor activities to share stories and laughter with friends and family.  Even mere acquaintances seem to be transformed into trusted friends in the campfire's glow.

It was this quality of the campfire that led The Rend Collective to record an album, entitled Campfire, around, well, a campfire.  One of the band members articulates their motivation in this video.

If you haven't heard The Rend Collective yet, I highly recommend turning it up while doing household chores and letting the lively music add a pep to your step.

When I told Becky that I was titling my blog "Tales from Around the the Campfire" she replied, "That's perfect!"  She was likely thinking about my love of nature and summer nights spent around the campfire, as previously described.  That affinity no doubt factored into the name, but there is a deeper spiritual meaning as well.  When I explained this to Becky she said, "Oh, does it have to do with the passage you like from John?"

At the end of the gospel of John, Jesus has risen from the dead and appeared to his disciples a couple of times.  Nonetheless, his disciples still appear to be unsure of the next step in their lives and are out for an afternoon of fishing.  John describes what happens next.

Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.

He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”

“No,” they answered.

He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” 

When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.  Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards.  When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.

Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.”  So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn.  Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord.  Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.  This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead. (John 21:4-14)

I love the image of Jesus standing on the beach as Peter scrambles to shore, a broad smile on his face, ready to throw some fresh fish over the hot coals.  In the current age of relativism, I think it is important to explain that I don't gravitate towards this passage because it presents Jesus in the way that I like to see him.  I'm not trying to say, "You can have your sweet baby Jesus, others may like to see Jesus as a good moral teacher, yet others as the justice seeking Jesus, but I'll take my campy, outdoorsy Jesus."  We can't just picture Jesus in the way that we want to view him.  He has revealed that he is the Good Shepherd, the Living Water, the Son of God, the Son of Man, the Son of God, the Way and the Truth and the Life, the Bread of Life, the Alpha and Omega.  He said, "Very truly I tell you, before Abraham was born, I am!" (John 8:58).  

Who Jesus is stands outside of how we would like to picture him in our minds.  It is true that due to my personal preferences, I would love to gather with Jesus around a campfire.  However, beyond this enthusiasm for burning logs, I cherish this passage for three elements of the gospel that it reveals: God takes initiative in showing his grace, invites us into a relationship with him and others, and calls us to follow him in showing his love to others.

1) God takes initiative in showing us his grace

Before this meeting, the disciples, especially Peter, may still have been questioning their standing with Christ.  They deserted Jesus in the hour of his suffering and Peter openly denied the Lord three times.  Yet, Jesus calls to his disciples while they are still far from shore, inviting the restoration of their relationship.  After sharing a meal, Jesus asks Peter three times, "Do you love me?"  His question implies that he still loves Peter despite his lack of faith in the court of the high priest and symbolically forgives Peter of his three acts of denial.  In the same way, Christ graciously forgives the times when we have denied him by our words, thoughts and actions and asks us, "Do you love me?"  His love is free to all who accept him.

2) God invites us into a relationship with him and others

Becky enjoys reading a series on the blog A Cup of Jo that chronicles the experiences of American mothers in different countries around the world.  I admit that I enjoy reading that series too, just like I used to like browsing through the recipes in Real Simple when Becky used to receive that magazine.  I am not ashamed.  All joking aside, in one entry a mother living in England describes how hard it was to get to know English mothers and that it would take double-digit interactions before you would even consider inviting someone to your house for dinner.  Dinner? Whoa! That is just too much, too fast.

Similarly, in the ancient world it was considered to be a big deal to share a meal with someone.  Throughout his ministry, the religious leaders of the time chastised Jesus for breaking bread with sinners, prostitutes,and tax collectors.  Those meals demonstrated that he was willing to enter into relationship with those who were viewed as unholy and unclean.  On the night that he would be betrayed, Jesus told his disciples that he was eager to share the Passover supper with them.  This meal, with its lasting symbols of sacrifice and forgiveness, also signified his relationship with his closest followers.

On that beach, we see Jesus once again inviting his friends to share a meal with him.  If any doubt of the status of their relationship lingers, it is not coming from his end.  We have received the same invitation.  Jesus invites us to bring our fish ashore and take a seat around the fire.

3) God calls us to follow him in showing his love to others

The passage does not end with the fish fry.  After the meal, three times Jesus asks Peter, "Do you love me?" and three times Peter confirms his love for Christ.  Jesus counters with these commands: feed my lambs, take care of my sheep, feed my sheep.  He follows up these commands with these words:

Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”  (John 21:18-19)

I wonder what thoughts floated through Peter's head as he left that beach.  His relationship with Jesus had just been restored and he had been entrusted with the responsibility of caring for Christ's followers, yet his martyrdom had also been prophesied.  Was he relieved to know that Jesus still considered him a friend?  Was he anxious about the responsibilities that lie ahead?  Was he fearful of his ultimate fate?

Hopefully, Jesus last words were the most resounding.  "Follow me!"  Most of us will not face a martyr's death.  We will not carry the responsibility of being tagged the rock of the early church.  However, like Peter we are called to feed and take care of Christ's flock.  I have to admit, this sometimes makes me a little bit anxious...actually more than just a little bit.  The responsibility of living a life that glorifies God by making a difference in the lives of others can sometimes seem crushing.  It seems like it would be a lot easier to just focus on myself and building my personal kingdom.  These moments come when I forget Jesus last words to Peter..."Follow me!"

Peter didn't have it all figured out when he left that campfire.  He would go on and make mistakes as the leader of the early church (See Galatians 2:11-14).  We will similarly sometimes stumble as we try to care for others and demonstrate the love of Christ.  Yet, we must remember that God has already taken the initiative in showing us his grace and inviting us into a relationship with him.  He who has already done all of that will certainly give us all that we need to follow him and to share his love with others.  When the darkness looks overwhelming and we begin to fear, let's remind ourselves exactly who it is who has called us to join him at the campfire.

Hopefully this entry sheds a little more light, emanating from the campfire of course, on the thoughts that went into naming my blog.  Hopefully the stories and reflections that I share will be seasoned with God's grace, deepen our relationship with Christ, and provide exhortations to love others and follow Jesus.  Now, someone throw another log on the fire!

Saturday, August 2, 2014

The Joy of Blogging

I have decided to start a blog.  I actually made this decision at the beginning of the summer.  Since the calendar flipped to August yesterday, I figured it was time to follow through on my decision.  What led to this decision?  Did I believe that the blogosphere was missing my insights and opinions?  Certainly not.  This may sound completely selfish, but I am starting this blog for me.  Now don’t get me wrong, I am not starting the blog for my own fame, fortune, or ego, but I am starting it for my own joy. 

Is this a right motive?  The great mathematician Blaise Pascal reasoned, “All men seek happiness.  This is without exception.  Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end.  The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended from different views.  The will never takes the least step but to this object.  This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.”  Mathematicians are brilliant, aren't they?  If Pascal is correct, then the pursuit of pleasure is not a selfish motive, depending on where that pleasure is found.

If seeking joy is a right motive, how will writing a blog accomplish that end?  I believe that true joy is found when I am using the gifts that God has given me to bring glory to His Name.  The Apostle Paul encouraged the church in Corinth with the following words: “We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.” (Romans 12:6-8).  Last summer, I completed an online course on incorporating writing into math instruction and I created a series of blog posts on the topic for my final project.  The facilitator of the course suggested that I should consider publishing the posts and maintaining a blog, a thought that simmered in my mind throughout a busy school year.  I thought that I would launch this blog earlier in the summer, but procrastination reared its ugly head and a playful one year old with a propensity for not wanting to go to sleep commandeered many an evening.  However, this is it.  I am taking the plunge.  It is as if Paul is saying to me, “If your gift is writing, then write for the glory of God.”

Even if writing is a gift that I can use to glorify God, why should I demonstrate that gift in a blog?  Why not a journal or something more private?  A couple months ago, I had the opportunity to share part of my personal testimony at church, something that for a variety of reasons I had not had the opportunity to do for several years.  The process of verbally sharing my faith and exhorting others reminded me of the words of Paul to his friend Philemon: “I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ.” (Philemon 6).  This circles back to my primary motive of writing this blog in pursuit of joy.  When I share my faith, in this case through writing, I have a greater understanding of the grace that God has shown me in my life through Jesus Christ.  The redemption, forgiveness, and freedom that I have as a result of Christ’s all sufficient sacrifice on the cross seeps deep into my bones and results in joy unending (My friend Courtney would probably say that I am sounding very Presbyterian now!).  Sharing God’s faithfulness through trials gives me courage that his provision and future grace will continue to sustain me no matter what challenges lie ahead.  Sharing my faith through writing increases my joy because it ultimately reminds me of the source of my joy.  I hope that my writing will point to Christ and not to me, so that while I may be starting this blog for myself, I won’t be glorying in myself.  I hope that my reflections are an encouragement to others as well.  

As the name of the blog suggests, I will attempt to incorporate my love of the great outdoors into some of my tales.  However, I have to admit, it is hard to venture too deeply into the wild with a toddler.  I am not planning to hike the Appalachian Trail anytime soon.  Nonetheless, there have been a couple camping trips this summer and Baltimore offers the prospect of many urban adventures.  Did I mention that I am a middle school teacher? Now that's an adventure!  Most of my future posts will be tied to a story, hence the name "Tales from Around the Campfire."  The full meaning behind the naming of this blog is the subject of my next post.  Feel free to write back with any comments that you have.  God Bless!  Justin.