Friday, August 22, 2008

Conference, Day One

It was time to enjoy the journey this afternoon, so I did. What seemed to me to be beautiful greenery turned out to be western Kentucky in the midst of a drought. Silly Californian.

In perfect timing, atypical for me, we arrived at our destination: a hotel just north of the Murray State University campus. We had plenty of time to settle in before heading to the student center, where a small Christian homeschooling conference was convening. This was a different venue for our family, which has generally attended such events only in our home state. Fortunately, through internet connections, we had met several other attendees before the event commenced, so it was fun matching known names with unfamiliar faces.

The Shema Conference took its name from the Deuteronomy 6:4 verse which, in Hebrew, starts with the word, “Shema” (often also written sh’ma), meaning “hear.” The interesting thing about this Hebrew word is that it not only signifies “hear,” but “obey.” The expected response for an Israeli, hearing such a command or warning, was for him to respond appropriately.

“Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one!” is the rallying call not only for an ancient nation, but for the modern Psalms One family whose delight is in His word to us. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.”

Appropriate words for homeschoolers.

The conference opened with a time of worship, led by David Huston, a pastor from Carlisle, Pennsylvania, accompanied at the keyboard by Tom Ryerson, as participants joined in singing uplifting choruses.

Conference organizer Steve Ryerson of Murray welcomed us to the campus, and introduced the fellow principles of the Apostolic Home School Network: in addition to Steve’s wife, Carol, these included Steve and Sue Ann Stevens, and David and Barbara Huston. Since a main thrust of the gathering was for participants to get to know each other, his brief comments were appropriately followed by a time of dinner and fellowship, after which followed his keynote address, “The New Family.”

This conference is a time to share ideas and learn from each other, encourage each other. The keynote reminded us that none of us can really grow unless we are willing to change, to stretch: “Spiritual chiropractics.” If we are not ready to make the adjustments, we may find ourselves upset when God moves in our life.

In the course of the presentation, a powerpoint display took us through many statistics of the current “look” of families in our culture. Statistics show we as a nation are changing our outlook on what a family should look like, but the most telling statistic demonstrates that not only is there change, but the change is more readily accepted not only by the younger and newer members of our society, but by more and more of those in older segments of our culture’s strata, who remember adhering to different values only a few decades ago.

Staying on course, to some people, may mean living in a rut. If we are following the will of God, we are not in a rut. We have commands from scripture to be reaching out to others.

An interesting question was posed: Why do young people today not understand what marriage is all about? The speaker maintained that marriage needs to be demonstrated through day to day life experiences to our own young people—to get clear messages to our young people about the value we place on marriage and family. The average young person doesn’t understand without experiencing a consistent, ongoing demonstration.

When you don’t know what to do, God will be faithful to bring the answer. Biblical marriage is definitely possible. The husband, as head of the home, is not oppressive, but needs to emulate the relationship between Christ and the church. God does so much more than give us a list of things to do. God is there for us, to bless, admonish, guide, and teach relationship. Correspondingly, the wife has her part in a blessed relationship. For both parties, this takes work.

Referring to teaching by Robert Lewis, “Core Callings” for parents include:
  • Deep Companionship: Genesis 2:24
  • Raising and launching Healthy Children: Genesis 1:28

  • Advancing God’s Kingdom: Genesis 1:28

God’s new family commits to hearing the voice of God. Seek first the Kingdom, honor God’s Word over our opinion, receive correction when needed, be joyful over the things of God.

If we’re not ready for God to “rearrange” us, God may let us hang around and pray the same prayer over and over again for a while, before He comes back to try us again to see if we are ready for a change. Sometimes we need a little time on our own to fall flat on our faces, so we’ll be ready to change.

Traveling Through My Gap

We’re one day into advancing through our goal of discovering (and discussing) the shape, content, and perspective of our gaps. In plain English, right now that means we are in Tennessee, traveling to a small homeschooling conference of like-minded “True Believers.” I’ve been looking forward to this event, not because of what the speakers have in store for their audience, but for what the attendees have in store for each other. I want to network. I need some fellowship.

For anyone logging on to this site for the first time, specifically to join us on this journey, Welcome. Hopefully, the brief notes of the proceedings will help you feel a little closer to “Being There.”

Travel is not my strong suit, nor does our daughter appreciate being away from home. We value our sleep too much. Chris, however, doesn’t act as if he minds; he gave credence last night to the sales pitch, “Pillowtop.” I, on the other hand, spent a wide-awake night, regretting succumbing to copywriting tactics while shopping for the place to stay tonight, and wondering about the gall of businesses which steal proprietary terminology. Calls to mind Madison Avenue’s self-portrait—the classic, award-winning ad campaign, “Where’s the Beef?” (With apologies to bil—I know it’s not really that way.)

The ordeal of travel, this time, honestly wasn’t that bad. In reality, it actually was smoother than most trips. Keep in mind, in my former life as a starving student, flying United signaled the agent to slap a sign on my back the minute I walked away from the check-in counter: “Must lose one bag.” I never made it home on vacation breaks without losing one bag, albeit for only 24 hours. (One time, my dog, Ego, made it to Albuquerque while I ended up in Columbus. Go figure. The cabbie who delivered him to our doorstep at midnight probably didn’t expect his passenger that night to be a tipping customer.) (OK…credit where credit is due: that wasn’t United; it was American that time.)

It got to be a such a family joke that I would show up one bag down, that I found myself on the receiving end of all sorts of euphemisms for players in the airline industry. The predictable “Southworst” was topped by my personal favorite, Don’t Expect your Luggage To Arrive.” Thankfully, my life’s script has never included that story.

I must have outgrown that stage long ago. This time, everything arrived when the passengers did. Everything else went smoothly, too. This trip, the flying honors went to Southwest, whose flight crew for each segment of our itinerary was super, albeit with two sets of cockpit pros who somehow couldn’t rope in their beasts until the second bounce off the runways upon arrival.

Even the TSA agents were cordial. (Aside to Marty: Aloha!) Go figure. It seemed nothing was destined to go wrong on this journey. No, wait. Had to change the light bulb in LA. Down 45 minutes. How many flight technicians does it take to change a light bulb?

Enjoyed a wonderful evening reunion with friends Kevin and Laura, who moved far from our home turf to follow their music (well, that’s Laura, who insists Kevin can’t carry a tune in a bucket; I wasn’t sure I agreed with that, but what do I know? Besides, I’m too prone to encourage.)

Once settling down for the night’s stayover, perhaps I owed the privilege of a riveted night to the anticipation of a good conference. My mind was certainly omnidirectional at warp speed. Perhaps I was vibrating in sync with the high tension wires outside our window. Perhaps I am now glowing in the dark. Or not. My mind, at least, is still bouncing along its runway. It was certainly not ready to be roped in at second bounce, either. Too much anticipation of a good thing makes it hard to keep one tied down.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Futility of Being Pointless

Our culture gives lip service to the cliché, “It’s the journey, not the destination,” but drives its definition of success via “points.” There are Good Points and there are Bad Points. There is the Point of Departure—as long as it gracefully digresses from the linear parameters of “From Point A to Point B.” There is even the forbidden Point of No Return.

I have a lot of trouble dealing with Points. On the one hand, I am very goal-oriented, so I’m the one everyone has to shake and remind to enjoy the journey; I’m too concerned that we get to Point B by the appointed time. On the other hand, too many points stacked up nicely in a row define a line, and four of those, tied together just right form a box, and I never like to be put in a box, so why doom myself to self-containment by having the ingredients lying handily nearby? (Look, if I’m in a box—maybe even if I know I’m in a box—don’t be the first to tell me; I really resent it.) (On the other hand, do tell me; I need to know, so I can plan my escape.)

So, OK, that convinces me: Points are Good. And how does that convince me? Points define gaps. If there were no Points, there would be no Gaps to define. And, evidently, I need to be in a Gap right now, not a box. I need to find a way to immerse myself in my fear, my moment of being lost in The Gap. I can’t discover The Gap if I can’t find the points that outline it. I can’t define which gap I’m in until I know it’s the one between Point A and Point B.

There’s something more than definition, though. Point A and Point B actually lend flavor to their own gap. In other words, the gap between Point A and Point B is incredibly different than the gap between Point X and Point Y might be. The Points lend their influence to their in-between places.

One of my favorite artists, Georges-Pierre Seurat, gained his ranking in my personal world through a technique he worked to perfect: pointillism. Think of it: the challenge to create an image through the use of nothing other than specks of color. While we, in our techno-savvy age, think nothing of computer-graphics-generated pixels or the wonders of electron-microscopy, for a late 19th century thinker, this was a creative challenge.

I used to think Seurat did this owing to his artistic genius. Just recently I discovered that he drew upon scientific theory in formulating the basis for his approach. The idea was that, rather than buy pre-blended paints, or even blend primary-colored pigments to create the desired image, the artist could achieve the same effect by juxtaposing various spurts of vibrant color on the canvas. There was one thing needed, though, to complete the equation: a gap between the object (the painting) and the beholder (me, standing about ten feet away from the display at the Art Institute of Chicago).

Demonstrating the effect by including a thumbnail sketch here would be impossible, because it would be only a photograph seen up close, defeating the purpose of the missing element, The Gap. But I’ll show it anyway. Here, you see a less-than-subtle demonstration of the technique in La Parade. Every speck of color is readily visible—though you can still allow that, though the discreet daubs of paint are obvious, the intended image is also clearly represented.

My favorite piece, Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, displays a more subtle application of the technique. I look at that and stand amazed that someone could achieve an entire snapshot of life in 1880s France using only dots of paint.

And that’s the point about Points: you can’t really have a point without a gap. And you can’t really know your Gap without its orienting points. Life is really about what’s happening in the spaces between the points. More than that, it’s what’s happening in the eye of the beholder that influences what’s happening in the spaces between the points. In other words, The Gap is really what I do with the Points I’ve been given in life. If I understand how that works—the relationships, the conferring of natures upon adjacent spaces, the blending of efforts and influences—then I can achieve something of worth in my Gap.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Gap

In a society that values goal-oriented, time-managed living, one of the most fearsome circumstances to find ourselves in is The Place Between—between projects, between assignments, between jobs. A professor once mentioned to me that, soon after students receive their research assignments, they experience the stage of “milling about,” an aimless, listless time before the “Aha!” light bulb ignites to lift imagination out of the doldrums. Without the energy of discovery propelling us forward, The Place Between, the place of The Gap—that undefined element—can risk morphing into the mind’s bottomless pit.

While our natural tendency is to shun gaps, face it: gaps are where the action really happens. On the surface, The Place Between may suggest a listless existence, but under the placid surface, multiple possibilities are churning, strands of thought flying off in every direction.

A gap can be the space between two points where energy flows from the negatively-charged bottom of the clouds to the positively-charged segment of earth about to receive a brilliant lightning strike. It mimics that miniscule cleft between two communicating links in the nervous system that provides our bodies the ability to function in miraculous ways. In short, The Gap becomes the frontier between what we’re leaving behind and the possibilities we hope to achieve. That frontier is where the action whips up.

How scary can that be?

A gap can be an icon of connectivity…or at least the potential of relationship. The uncertainty really becomes what we make of it. And it’s driven by what we understand of the Point we’ve left behind, and what we perceive of the Point we hope to find.

In one of the most poignant visual representations of the crucial aspect of The Gap, Michelangelo encapsulated the whole of the relationship potential between God and Man in one simple gesture. In the artist’s Sistine Chapel ceiling fresco, “Creation of Adam,” the now-famous space between the finger of Adam and the finger of God holds the captivating potential of mystery. Why aren’t the fingers touching? What is going on in the in-between place?

Connectivity sometimes puzzles me. Two people can have a relationship—can even be in the same room—yet be in completely different worlds. We can reach out and touch somebody, but did we really connect? What allows the connection to take hold?

The other day, Chris and I went to the hospital to visit a fellow homeschooling mom who suddenly and seriously found herself engulfed with cancer. She looked so different, so small, lying on the bed in her darkened room, undergoing chemo as we spoke. The pain of nights without sleep showed in the deep blues encircling her eyes. We came there, theoretically, to pray for her and encourage her. But can any of those mere words uttered make the connection that matters? She was in a bed not two steps away from me, but even if I reached to take her hand, could I really bridge The Gap? The Point A vignettes I knew her in for so many years now gave way to a gap between the Nice-Life known and an unknown Point B. How does one really speak to Point B when one hasn’t yet negotiated The Gap?

Crossing The Gap means making a difference. The Gap is outlined by Point A, sometimes also by Point B—but we can never, really, actually define The Gap as we move into it. We can point it out, demonstrate it, feel real feelings as we cross it, but we can’t explain the frontier. If we could, it would stop being a frontier. We would then have made the difference, have converted the potential into the knowable. Until it is known, it is fearsome. It represents a crisis, yet, it becomes our challenge.

What to make of The Gap?

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Getting to Go: The Three Year Challenge, Minus One

Starting another homeschooling year (junior year of high school this time) brought to mind our challenge last August: to discern our student’s purpose in life. In the past year’s process, however, we hit a snag: how can the student discover Life Purpose when the teachers still haven’t? I’m old enough to be a grandmother now, and I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up! We may be the leaders, going around the game board of education once again, but we haven’t seemed to pass “Go” yet, ourselves.

For those who’ve been around since PC was a new thing (personal computers, not “politically correct”), you probably remember the advice to pick the software before purchasing the hardware; launching a student from high school calls for application of the same advice. The traditional route everyone has been programmed to follow, borrowed from public schools, demands that college should be the next step after high school. Students should be cashing in their game chips for great college recruitment hits long before the college application season starts in earnest in the junior year. Last August, it occurred to us that 2007 was the year to get busy. It would be only three years until graduation.

On first impulse, it seemed the natural start was to choose which college to attend. Like buying the proverbial computer, though, that decision required some additional input—like, “What is the purpose of attending college?” And, “What do I want to accomplish by receiving further education?” In other words, what “software” would guide us through this task best? Which hardware (college or other option) would then best run the software we selected?

That’s where the process broke down….

It seems there is a world of space between Now and Getting To Go.

Most of it has to do with examining weighty things like Life Purpose. How to decide that in 3 Easy Steps? Or even 48 Days? These are questions that the “normal” school doesn’t put on their exit exams.

So, last August, in a family conference, our challenge was for Claire (then the lucky sophomore) to pursue the quest to find her Life Purpose in three simple years or less.

And then, the thought hit us: in three years, Chris would be eligible for early retirement. And because of Claire’s graduation, in three years, I would be facing a whole new world of possibilities, too. Then what?

Last August, the challenge became: take these three years to explore what God has for each of us, as individuals and as a family, for future service—whether work or ministry. And the inevitable result was, one year out, we realized that—like so many software programs hawking the same benefits to the unsuspecting, naïve customer—future possibilities can be overwhelming. A lot of thinking has mired us in Analysis Paralysis. The time gap is now two years and counting. The task gap is still three years. Welcome to Phase Two of the Process: thinking (blogging) out loud as we explore the possibilities.

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