Daring A Little Bit

Photo by Gene Bakner on Unsplash

I’ve been reading Brené Brown recently–specifically, Rising Strong. But if you know her work, you know about the idea of “daring greatly”, an idea from Teddy Roosevelt:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Teddy Roosevelt, as cited on GoodReads

Brown, from her work on vulnerability, identifies being vulnerable with “daring greatly”: bringing your self, not some illusion of your self, to the arena, knowing that it’s the only real path forward. And knowing that if you do that often enough, you’re eventually going to find yourself, bloody and dirty, on the ground.

I’m not ready to dare greatly, especially in the capricious sadism of the online arena–but perhaps I can dare a little bit.

I like to process things for myself, considering them thoroughly–sometimes for minutes, sometimes for years, sometimes for decades–before bringing them out for others to inspect. Or, sometimes, leaving them locked in a storage room. I might, after all, be wrong about something. Others might disagree with me, whether I’m wrong or not. Or I might not have the appropriate caveats and nuances in places. Or I might leave out an important corollary that I’ll wish later I’d mentioned. And if I’d show others a piece of my work, of myself, that is flawed, that is not the finest it could be…how sad that would be; how embarrassing, and how damaging to my future prestige and influence!

Or, perhaps, not. Or maybe it doesn’t matter.

I love words. I love learning. I love thought. I love reading those writers who, with razor pens or evocative poetry, beautifully express powerful thoughts and change the world thereby. And in the meantime, I’m at best a journeyman writer, and probably still an apprentice. I love learning and wisdom, but I’m often intellectually lazy. I love the transcendent paths of faith and philosophy, and I often betray them. I marvel at the insights of scholars and philosophers…and realize I have nothing original of my own to offer. I delight in the beautiful ways others present timeless truths…and realize that any art of mine has already been far surpassed.

And yet…those who went before weren’t demigods. They sometimes saw more clearly than most, offering apocalypses of scientific or mystical insight. But all were humans. People who, universally, began their lives unable to write or think well. Scared people, arrogant people, brilliant people, people of deep common wisdom, people with impostor syndrome and people with god complexes. Prodigies, people who came late to the table, people from the best universities and from no university at all. And each, whatever their giftings of intellect or environment, worked to develop their craft. And along the way, they produced a lot of garbage, whether it’s been preserved for our eyes or not. And, if everything else was aligned and they worked well, they improved over time in their thought and expression.

So maybe there’s hope. And maybe it’s OK if I don’t change the world with my writing. And if I don’t get everything said that should be said. And if I’m wrong sometimes. And if I produce a lot of embarrassing, unoriginal, pedestrian garbage…as long as I’m thinking, processing, learning, and growing, and perhaps occasionally writing something worth reading. Maybe there is nothing new under the sun, but maybe my re-mixes aren’t worse than everyone else’s. Maybe, even if I’m not now an especially remarkable thinker or writer, I should think, and I should write.

If I can’t now “dare greatly” in heroic effort to change the world, perhaps I can dare a little, dare to drop what occasional pennies I may have into the temple offering.

The Singer

Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.

G. K. Chesterton, “Tremendous Trifles”.

I recently stumbled upon a book that was on my parents’ shelves as I grew up: The Singer Trilogy:  The Mythic Retelling of the Story of the New Testament, by Calvin Miller. It’s an allegory of Christianity, written by a Southern Baptist, published in 1975 . Veeerry promising, right?

Actually, the book’s beautiful: a classic that seems undeservedly forgotten. There are parts, admittedly, that make me wince a bit, for one reason or another–and I haven’t even finished the trilogy in my current reading (the last one was in my teen years or earlier). But Miller knows the language of myth*, the power of story. In transposing into poetry and an alternate Earth the stories that have come to us from Palestine and the Roman Empire a couple of millennia ago, he brings alive the stories followers of Jesus believe: echoing them, reflecting them, illuminating them from new angles.

For a follower of the Singer, one who echoes the ancient star-song, there’s determination, there’s weariness, there’s grimness and tragedy, there’s death. But there’s awe, there’s warm affection, there’s meaning, there’s transcendence. In his allegory, Miller seems to catch, and to play for his readers, some true phrases from the song heard when “the morning stars sang together, and all the angels/[sons of God] shouted for joy”.

I found the audiobook a terrific way to experience this telling. Print would presumably be decent as well (Kindle seems less than optimal), but audio is superb.

* Regarding “myth”: the word as used here refers to the foundational stories by which a group of people define themselves. It includes nothing of the often-assumed “false story” connotation. See Wikipedia for an intro to the subject.

Embracing Advent

Pater noster qui es in caelis, sanctificetur nomen tuum. Adveniat regnum tuum…

“Our father in heaven, may your name be honored. May your kingdom come…”

We’re entering the season of Advent, a reminder of a world waiting in anticipation, in desperation. Our world was, and is, one that waits for the coming–for the “advent” of a Savior, for the coming of a reign of light, of peace, of justice, of joy.

As far as I can remember, I didn’t grow up experiencing the “church season” of Advent; my closest encounter was an Advent calendar, with cardboard doors we opened each day as Christmas approached. I’m now in the process of learning to embrace the season, as ritual, as commemoration, as anticipation. I thought I’d share a few resources I’ve come across; explore as you wish.

  • I expect the daily-office and liturgical resources in my “Inner space” post to begin engaging Advent-related scripture in this season, part of the magic of a lectionary.
  • The Jesuits in Ireland apparently produce print versions of their resources. An Advent-specific prayer book for 2017-2018 is available here (and, of course, for Kindle).
  • I recently stumbled upon the intriguing Rookie Anglican site. They have a print-ready PDF (using the Anglican Church in North America’s lectionary, not the Revised Common Lectionary) of a booklet of daily offices for the Advent season.
  • Last year, Pray As You Go produced a lovely series of articles on the “O Antiphons”, the ancient worship meditations that have come to us as “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”. They produced an audio “Advent retreat” to go with it, available on SoundCloud.
  • Forward Movement, from the Episcopal Church, provides another option for the daily offices–together with a nice (paid) Android app.
  • If you’re thus inclined, MennoMedia produces two prayer books as well, for the seasons of the church year. You’ll need the corresponding hymnals. The prayers are also available on Google Play. I may be wrong, but my impression is that they don’t include as deep a cycle of Scripture as I’d wish.
  • And…dive down the rabbit hole of lovely resources that Sarah Bessey has provided here.

Inner space

I live in a world different from the one I was born into, in a a vibrant, bursting-at-the-seams Asian megacity. On my way to work, I weave my way among buses and motorcycles in a cacophony of horns and pollution, or I negotiate a rickshaw fare and let someone else take me.

As fulfilling as life in an “adopted” world can be, it takes a lot of energy–especially for a strong introvert without a lot of energy to spare. As I’ve moved into this life, I’ve increasingly found the importance of building an inner scaffold, a connection with meaning, rest, and contemplation. In this post, I’m mentioning just a few of the tools I’ve found useful:

  • The daily offices from The Trinity Mission offer a daily way to engage with the spiritual aspect of existence. I didn’t grow up in a liturgical tradition, but have found the offices to be deeply nourishing. I love the ancient hymns, the well-considered prayers, the Psalmic worship and the simple, matter-of-fact presentation of portions of Scriptural text. And even more, I love the sense of participation with a Church that transcends time and space. It’s also been interesting to find the beautiful Orthodox chanted settings of some of these hymns.
  • It’s been occasional thus far, but engagement with the Ignatian spiritual practices has been quite enriching as well. Sacred Space is a lovely text-based guide through prayer and engagement with a Scriptural text; 3-Minute Retreats offers brief guided prayers around short excerpts of Scripture; Pray As You Go does the same in audio, with lovely contemplative music. Each of these comes in website or in app flavors. The Ignatian Examen is a practice I haven’t yet explored substantially, but one that looks valuable. (Note that for this non-Catholic, the occasional Marian-leaning meditation doesn’t do much for me, but they actually seem comparatively rare.) Pray As You Go also offers some audio retreats and archives on Soundcloud.
  • In a more secular vein, the Headspace app offers an education in building inner quietness. Each guided meditation offers a short experience of quietness, while over time building the tools and reflexes to live from a position of cognitive and emotional calmness.