Thursday, July 12, 2012

My Writing Muscles Are Out of Shape!

Last March I set a goal of blogging five times per week, a goal which I started right before Easter, and then which I quickly forgot about when school started again.

It took me two days to write that last post.  I started it yesterday morning, and I worked on it most of the afternoon.  My writing muscles are definitely out of shape.

The thing is, if I want to write, then I have to write.  I have to make it a priority, even when I have other things that seem like they might be more urgent.  

I have four classes starting on Monday.  Yes, four classes.  Two last for three weeks, and the other two last for ten weeks.  I had a lot of fear last spring when I started teaching at two new schools, but I'm not scared this time.  That's kind of awesome.

I need to finish up a few things, and I need to continue some of the things I've started this summer.  Eating at home.  Eating healthy.  And writing.

I need to write these goals--and some other ones down--so I can keep them in mind, so that I can continue moving forward.

Sometimes the steps are small, and sometimes I panic, but I am compelled to keep moving.

It does seem like I am always learning to move.  

Hearing God's Voice

Some twenty years ago I discovered the Bible.

Oh, I knew about it before that.  I think I got my first white leatherette King James Version with red letters and gold edge pages when I was in first grade, and I diligently sounded out the words in an attempt to learn the stories.  Before that I had gargantuan picture Bibles that illustrated the stories.  By the time I discovered the Bible, I owned at least two King James Bibles, a couple of New International Versions, a Good News for the Modern Man, a Living Bible, a Message, and a tattered French New Testament held together with a rubber band.  It just seems wrong to throw away a Bible.

By the time I discovered the Bible, I had memorized more than one hundred verses.  I could explain doctrines and  identify major characters.  I had read most of the New Testament and key parts of the Old Testament.

Owning a Bible, quoting Bible verses, and summarizing key events and characters is not the same thing as knowing the Bible. At least not the way it should be known.

Cognitive recognition of Scripture may have some value, but not eternally.

Until we read closely, engage the words, wrestle with them, ask questions, and respond, we haven't really heard God's voice in Scripture, and that is the point, I think.  If it doesn't speak to us, at least sometimes, we haven't really discovered the Bible as it was meant to be discovered.

It's filled with crazy and scary and sad and exciting stories that talk to us about people who loved God and people who didn't love God and how God interacted with them and how they responded, and by telling these stories we learn who God is and how he wants to interact with us.

And he does want to interact with us.  He wants to know us, and He wants us to know Him.  That's why he sent Jesus.  Through Jesus, we have "access to the Father" so that we are no longer "outcasts and wanderers but citizens with God's people, members of God's holy family" (Ephesians 2:18-19).

When I discovered the Bible, when I actively sought God's voice in the printed word and began asking questions, applying it to my life, it came alive.  After all those years of memorization, how could I have missed the excitement? the passion? the wisdom?

The thing is that sometimes the Bible can be overwhelming and confusing.  The stories, the lessons, the names, the places, the lessons, the genealogies, the laws.  The language.

Sometimes we get bored.  Sometimes we don't understand.  And sometimes God's voice through Scripture is just inaccessible.  

It helps to read with the Bible with somebody, somebody who talks with us about it and helps us figure out how it applies to us.  

It also helps to read a good translation that makes sense to us.  

A long time ago when I studied French, I took a class in translation.  The thing about translation is that there's more than one right answer.  You have to consider what the author meant to say and how the audience would understand it.  For example, Psalm 23.  Most of us don't really know a lot about shepherds--or sheep.  Or when Jesus talks about sowing and harvests.  We've planted flowers, but we've never lived on farms.  These passages speak to the people of that time in a way that they don't speak to us.

How does the Bible, written at various times by multiple authors to different cultures, speak to us today?

The translators of the King James Version used the language of the seventeenth century--translating Hebrew and Greek words with language specific to that time period.  That's the reason why it uses words like "thee" and "thou" and why it adds "-est" the end of some verbs.  People talked that way in the seventeenth century. We don't know use those kinds of words today, and so the King James can be a little confusing.

And sometimes it's good to read more than one translation because every translation has a different purpose.  

Language has rhythm.  Language has sound.  All of these matter, but these can be lost in a word for word translation.  For that reason, translators often want to add something that other translations miss.

Duane likes to read The Message in his devotions. The stories and the ideas come alive for him in this modern translation that takes some .  A lot of people like this translation because the language "pops."  It sounds current.  I'm not a huge fan for a variety of reasons that are mostly irrelevant to this discussion, but I know a lot of people really love The Message.   

For years I've preferred the New International Version, academically strong, but more formal than The Message.  I don't mind formal.  

Lately, however, I'm reading The Voice, a new translation.  In this version, the translators wanted to make sure that the text read like a story.  They added transitions to lead the reader from one idea to the next.  They inserted contextual details that might be lost to contemporary readers.  Anything added is printed in italics so that readers know that wasn't in the original text.  The original readers (or listeners) would have understood these things, and now contemporary readers can understand them too--even if they don't already have a background in Bible history.  

The translators changed some words, like "Christ," to "the Anointed," which explains what "Christ" or Messiah means.  Since "Christ" isn't a common word in our culture--it's actually a Greek word--it makes sense to use an English translation.  

The goal is to tell the story of the Bible in a cohesive way.  Each story leads to the next.  They aren't isolated events.  God had a purpose, and he included those stories for a purpose.  

I find myself caught up in the stories.  Reading a new translation catches me off guard, and I read the words in new ways.  They are fresh and new as they share ancient truths.  

I love the Bible.  When I discovered it, when I began hearing God's voice, I began to change.  That's the goal really.  

Whenever I lead small groups or Bible studies, my goal is that the people in my group discover the Bible, that they hear God's voice and that it changes them.  I don't actually care which version they read, but I do love this one.  That's one of the reasons I keep telling people about it.  

I want everybody to wrestle with Scripture, to discover the Bible, to hear God's voice.  

A free download of The New Testament in The Voice translation is available online, and you purchase a complete version from Amazon or from other retailers.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Summer Time Musing

Ah summer.  My favorite season.

I love leisurely summer evenings, dining al fresco. Concerts in the park.  Feeling sunshine on my shoulders.  (And yes, I know that's a song, but I don't think the song influenced my emotions.)  I don't mind the heat.  Usually.  In fact, we go to Palm Springs every summer for vacation.  Because we like it.  

Between finishing my thesis, working five days a week as a tutor, and worrying about income in the fall, I completely missed summer 2011.

This summer is different.  May 17 was my last day of work, and I finished grading a few days later.  I went from feeling like my life was a runaway train to having no deadlines.  None.

Well, I had created a rather substantial reading list, and I had three classes to plan for.  That turned into five with summer school classes.  It's fine though because I like reading and I like developing lesson plans.

As I settled into a life of leisure, reading and planning, meeting with friends, making dinner nearly every evening, I began to appreciate little things.  Like the smell of jasmine.  Lingering over coffee in the morning, sitting at the table in front of my house, looking out into the San Diego River reserve and listening to birds.  Gazing at butterflies when the swirl around the flowers in the green space.  Listening to Mozart.  Laughing with friends.

Most of the time I live life on the edge, and not in a good way.  I'm frantically trying to do everything, and not doing anything well.  I've lose touch with important friends.  I never get caught up with lesson plans or grading papers.  And then when I have some time, I'm too tired to enjoy life so I watch something mindless on T.V.

And so I began to ask God to help me live wisely this summer, to prepare for the busy time ahead, because classes are approaching rapidly.  I want to be prepared so that I can have margins when life hits full force.  And I want to recognize the importance of allowing time for friends as well as the value of looking beyond today, of allowing myself to dream about the future and then setting long-term goals and moving toward my dreams.              

Oddly enough, I read about the importance of setting goals in The Circlemaker, by Mark Batterson, a book  I read with my life group last winter.  At the end of the session, we started setting some goals.  I wrote mine in the back of my journal, which I filled up yesterday.

And so yesterday, I sat in Balboa Park, surrounded by majestic architecture, feeling summer breezes and sunlight, and I turned the page.  My first thought was, what are these random ideas and why did I write them down?  And then I remembered.  These were things I wanted to make important.

  • Go on a mission trip with Duane. 
  • Travel to Europe.
  • Resume blogging five times per week.
  • Submit articles for publication.  
  • Get published. 
  • Write a book.
  • Exercise.
  • Lose 20 pounds this year.
  • Eat at home a minimum of four nights per week.
Of course some of these are long-term goals, but some of them are immediate, short-term goals.  I'm eating at home at least four nights per week--that's what unemployment will do for you--but I can honestly say I am no closer to meeting any of the other goals than I was when I wrote them down last March.  In fact, I've gained weight.

I suppose that's the thing with goals--if you don't think about them, and if you don't create a plan, then nothing will happen.  Or you move away from those goals.  

I've always been a "life happens" type of person.  Things come my way most of the time.  That's lovely, but it's also rather limiting.  And I think that's one of the reasons I end up living frenetically.  I want to live purposefully, making space for the important things instead of allowing urgent things to rule my days.  

Today I'm grateful for leisurely mornings with my books spread out in front of me.  I'm grateful for the last page of my journal that reminded me of something I learned months ago.  I'm grateful that God reminds me of things I forget.  

I'm also grateful for the women I learned this with, the women in my life group.  I wonder how they're doing on their goals.  

Okay.  I'm off.  Off to enjoy lunch with one of my beautiful daughters.  Off to live life.