Saturday, June 7, 2008

I Feel Carbonated

Last time I posted about some of the woes of being a parent of an infant. Funnily, my mom called me not long after and asked me if I was doing alright. Which I am. I told her that I was fine and that I was just trying to be honest about what was going on. I added that I thought my experiences were probably not too out of the ordinary and that many new parents surely understood where I was coming from. She agreed, but added that most of them don't post their feelings on the internet. I had no argument. I guess I don't mind airing my dirty laundry.

So, in response to the many concerned and suspiciously encouraging responses (which I genuinely appreciated and probably needed), I have decided to post about a more positive element of my life as a new dad. Selah is beginning to smile.

I had a friend jokingly say that evolution taught babies to smile early so their parents wouldn't chuck them out. While that's a very crude way of saying it, I understand. Taking care of a baby that only communicates by crying gets old quick. So this is why I'm so ecstatic that Selah has begun to curl her beautiful lips up into a smile every now and again. Although, it's pretty cute when she sticks her lower lip out in a pout, too.

The other day I was changing her diaper in the morning and she was looking very content. Wiggling and kicking her legs, she then broke into this outrageous smile. Not a little grin, but she gave the kind of baby-smile where she is showing off her gums. And what happened next was so unexpected that I have been brewing on it for days. When she smiled at me, I transformed. It was liquid joy filling me like drink. If you'll allow a rather masculine guy to use this word, I felt sort of "bubbly."

Her joy was my joy. Her laughter transferred to me. I wanted to dance and spin and kiss her forever. As I leaned over her, I talked to her through my chuckles and my eyes even began to water. The sun was coming through the window just right and her eyes (which haven't decided what color they want to be) sparkled. It was like a Disney cartoon. At that moment, she was a princess. And through this experience I have learned two things: 1) what the joy of fatherhood truly means, and 2) that I'm in big trouble when she finally realizes what her smiles do to me. She could ask for Canada and I would spend the rest of my life scooping the country into my pockets.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Big Changes

Okay, so I knew that having a kid was a big change, but I just never stopped to think about all the ramifications of this "single" change. This completely dependent human being obviously changes things like sleep at night, budgeting for diapers, and learning how to properly hold an infant. But I just never thought about the smorgousboard of other little changes: 1) laundry - seriously, Selah has more clothes than me. And she somehow makes them dirty on a rather regular basis. 2) Cabin Fever - I've never spent this much time in my place of dwelling ever. But when leaving home requires as much planning as it does now, I'm pleased that we even get to go to church. 3) Marriage - not only did the sex switch get turned off for six weeks, but now I'm married to a mom. Loving a mother, I'm finding out, is totally different than loving a wife. Support takes on a whole new meaning, and a meaning that I'm not to great at interpreting at the moment. 4) Fatigue - So Selah not only needs holding, shooshing, swaying, rocking, bathing, feeding, and diaper changing 15x a day, but she has had this annoying infection in the skin-fold of her neck which is causing her to cry a lot. So we put ointment and powder on it 3-5 x a day. A friend of ours gave the whole new birth experience the perfect word -- "relentless".

I heard someone say that when you get married, a little part of you dies. And when you add kids, the dying process keeps on a' working. And it's so true. My family is not just Rachel and me getting to do whatever we want whenever we want. We can't move to the Philippines to take courses at an Asian seminary anymore. We are living for more than our own desires and wishes. We have voluntarily invited another human into our fold and now that human is affecting the way we live. Like I said, it was somewhat expected, but who can truly predict the far-reaching consequences of adding another person into your most private spaces. 

Welcome to our family Selah.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Joel = Dad

It's a bit surreal, I must say. Like most newborns, she mostly just eats, poops, sleeps, and cries. But every now and again she just looks around like a curious human being, checking out her surroundings and trying to identify the source of the deep voice singing songs to her. I don't know how to communicate the feelings that I'm feeling -- feelings of responsibility, of joy, of circumspection, and of relief. It's like trying to explain the emotions I felt when I visited some city to someone who's never been there. You just can't quite help them understand. Well, now I understand you dads out there. I know the happy knot in my stomach, the flutter in my chest, and the smile on my face which is Selah Eden Triska. She is my girl. My daughter.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Almost a Monk, Pt. 3

I’ve already done an all out blog about a previous walk through the woods. So I’m just going to include photos and stuff with perhaps a few comments here and there.

This was my favorite station of the cross this time around. They fixed the spelling this time, and I loved the image of the broken cross leaning against two other trees.

Someone that went on the trip with us mentioned afterwards that this cross caused them to reflect on Christ’s understanding of falling multiple times...not in the way of sin or anything, but moreso an understanding of getting knocked down and having to get up again.

Most of us tend to criticize Catholics for ending their stations of the cross at 14 with the burial. "Where’s the resurrection!?" we demand. Well, the stations of the cross is a tool to help a believer focus on tha passion -- which is the story of Good Friday for Jesus. However, a Norwegian guy named Daniel noticed while he was walking through the woods that this muddy creek came directly after the last cross. He interpreted this as a symbol for the leap of faith. Many do not have a problem reflecting on Jesus’ death -- that is the death of a good man or good teacher. However, to take youself to the 15th cross of the resurrection requires some uncomfortable work and some determined faith.

This is Daniel. On with the walk through the woods.

The path eventually became less and less clear. I actually walked until it evaporated into "the nothing" (Warning: obscure reference to 80’s movie). It was then that I turned around so that I would not become utterly lost in the Ozarkian woods.

What? I think fungus is interesting. Don’t you.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Almost a Monk, Pt. 2

In general, icons are a difficult thing for Protestants. It all goes back to the Iconoclast controversy in the 8th and 9th century. One side condemned icons as idols that people inappropriately venerated -- and they had a point. The other side laid out theological arguments advocating the paintings as mere wnidows or tools to help the worshiper to focus on the true realities of God behind or beyond the image -- they had a point, too.

While I avoid venerating objects, I have no problem honoring works of art which help people reflect or express their devotion to God. I use songs and hymns in the same way. We Protestants just come from a tradtion that is very weary of the arts, and that's too bad. It is said that the first Reformed churches often had blank white walls in their sanctuaries with only the pulpit and the proclamation of the Gospel as decoration. That sounds nice, but also boring. And I personally don't think that Gospel is boring. Therefore, as long as one utilizes the icon/image for appropriate purposes and keeps Christ at his rightful place of Lordship, I see no problem in enjoying works of art for what they are -- paintings and sculptures expressing the mysterious attributes God.

Here are several examples at the modest monastery I stayed at:

A really tiny depiction of the Lord's Supper hung in my room.

This was a wood carving hanging in the library.

This is a well known icon that I personally love.

Brother Francis mentioned this small statue as portraying that the monk's life is centered around the Word of God.

Of course, this is where Protestants get fussy -- Mary and the Pope. Sure, I obviously disagree with some of their doctrines (Ex Cathedra, Mary as Co-Redemptrix, etc.), but I don't think the Pope is the anti-Christ and I think Scripture portrays Mary as an extraordinary woman.

I liked the colors on this one.

Not really an icon, but come on, these are totally cute. They're like ascetic Cabbage Patch dolls.

This statue of Mary was just hanging out in the middle of the woods.


This was another statue of Mary outside the Abbey.

These little cherubs were on the base of the statue.

It had just rained, but I thought this was pretty.

There you go. My trip to the monastery proved more than just bland silence and solitude. The monks also gave me some colorful stuff to look at while I walked around. Coming walk through the woods.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Almost a Monk, Pt. 1

So, I returned to Assumption Abbey for the third time. My first two experiences can be seen here: first time, and second time. This time, I think I'll break up the experience into smaller bite-size blogs as opposed to my usual overview experience. Today, we'll take a look at the main purpose of the trip -- connecting with God through solitude/silence.

This is Bro. Francis. I've introduced him in my previous two blogs, but I have to bring him up again because he is so vital to my experience at the monastery. He' s a monk of 38 years, and unlike most stereotypes he has quite the pesonality. Clever and humorous, he tells stories of his life in multiple monastic settings including the monastery where he was in active ministry as an athlectic director of a school while coaching baseball, basketball, and the like. He told this great story of a monastery he started out at where everyone observed silence to the extreme. This led to some rather unique ways of communicating -- primarily invented sign language. One night, the monastery caught fire. Bro. Francis told us how the monks then ran around trying to communicate by holding their fingers up like candles and blowing on them frantically. Finally, an elder monk just yelled "Fire!" Despite the seriousness of the situation, everyone was scandalized by the monk's break of silence. Everyone had a good laugh. Bro. Francis proves that even monks have found we can't take ourselves too seriously.

He also talked to us about how silence is not just of the mouth, but we should seek silence of the mind. This proved extremely difficult. If you never have tried it, just imagine not talking for 30 hours and see what your brain will start doing. Bro. Francis calls solitude and silence a mirror for your soul and I found this to be true. A person's thoughts will reveal anger and resentment, their obsession with being in control, or even their deep-rooted fear of being alone. The goal is simple: don't run away. Face those thoughts, own them, learn to be accept the ugliness that we often hide under our busy lives. Only then can we surrender them to God. Brennan Manning says that in order to be free, we must be able to name our cage.

Historically, monasteries and nunnaries call their rooms "cells". And there is this old saying that Bro. Francis told us. Apparently, the olden monastics would encourage the younger monks: "Stay in your cells, and your cell will teach you all things." The wisdom of this is to doggedly face the solitude and silence and not to try and relieve yourself by walking around and distracting yourself. I tried to face this more on this trip, even though I still made it out for a long walk on Saturday.

I brought 5 books with me: my Bible, my journal, John Stott's Basic Christianity, Thomas A Kempis' The Imatation of Christ, and Thomas Merton's No Man is an Island. While I read from all of them, I primarily spent time in the Psalms (Bible) and portions of No Man is an Island. I didn't know this before, but Thomas Merton is actually a Trappist monk, which is the same tradition of Assumption Abbey. Merton is sort of the celebrity in their camp. So I read a bunch about the difference between doing and being. As an American and a Pentecostal, I tend to focus on doing. In fact, if I'm not careful I can allow what I do to define me. "I am what I accomplish" sort of nonsense. God does not think this way. Thomas Merton says, "We are warmed by fire, not by the smoke of the fire...So too, what we are is to be sought in the invisible depths of our own being, not in our outward reflection in our own acts." So, this discipline of silence and solitude sort of force me down an uncomfortable path: 1) by sitting and reflecting on God and his love, I can no longer define myself by what I do, 2) I begin to wonder who I am underneath all of my striving and attempts to impress people, 3) I realize I have no clue who I am without distorting my self-image with pride or fear, 4) and finally, I am forced to ask God who I am. And I get back to the purpose, letting God define me. I am who I am supposed to be in Christ, a message that usually gets drowned out in our bustling world of technology and information overload. And who am I? I am broken, yet I am loved. I wander away, yet I still am his child.

I mostly sat in this chair, sipped on tea with honey, and thought about Jesus. Honestly, I slipped into naps quite often (but this is also due to the many services I attended including Vigils at 3:30 am). But for the first time I felt completely guiltless for falling asleep. Sleeping is good for me. I'm not just a brain or a spirit, but I have a body. And there is something quite spiritual about falling asleep while I think about the Psalms or my identity in Christ.

In the end, my time was wonderful. I feel rejuvinated and closer to God. Keep an eye open for my upcoming posts. I will be posting about my walk out in the woods and also the use of images/icons around the monastery and my thoughts on that.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Recently Published Article

This was recently picked up by


When I first entered the ministry, my church staff traveled to Willow Creek’s “Prevailing Church” conference. Fresh out of a biblical studies degree, I had only recently begun to interact with much of the church-growth literature. I had marked up my copy of Purpose-Driven Church and kept John Maxwell tapes in my car at all times. So you can imagine the wonder and awe I experienced when I first gazed upon the glory of Willow Creek’s Disneyland-size parking lot.

During this brief phase of my life, I soaked in the 'Willow-Back' philosophy like a sponge. Coming from a slightly traditional background, I became fascinated with the seeker-sensitive approach. I felt intoxicated by words like “strategy” and “excellence”, and I pretty much read whatever books “those guys” told me to read.

But the honeymoon quickly ended. Not only did I soak in church-growth literature, but I occasionally ran across harsh criticisms of the seeker-sensitive movement. Some people threw around names like “sell-outs” and used descriptions like “watering down the Gospel.” These disparagements did not compute with my experience at Willow Creek (where their passion for Jesus overruled their passion for excellence), but the seed of doubt was planted nonetheless. All that I had eaten at the table of leadership soon began to churn within my soul.

I then entered my “dark night of the soul.” My wife and I call this my “postmodern crisis.” While I wrestled with one “why” question after another, she prayed that I would still be a Christian on the other side. I felt like my superiors and peers had betrayed me—which they had not—and I found myself struggling with increasing resentment and a judgmental attitude.

It took me a while to find equilibrium. But when I did, I discovered something strange. The negative emotions that I had experienced did not stem from the so-called sins of the church-growth movement. The real issues revolved around my personal incompatibility with the philosophies of another generation. In other words, the Saddleback Sam I had come to embrace just could not satisfy my internal Postmodern Pete. Therefore, while I learned to plunder the business world for truth and virtually lived and died by numbers, I had neglected my authentic desire for community, mystery, and social justice. Of course, these are like the trifecta-force radiating from all emergent literature.

This leads me to discussing more recent voices in American Christianity. It seems that a philosophical shift is taking/has taken place regarding cultural relevance: the Lee Strobels are being replaced by Donald Miller’s and the Rick Warren’s are being replaced by Brian McLarens. I know that I should write about a thousand disclaimers here, but please allow me to bypass that necessity of drawing distinctions in order to get to the point.

My point is that despite the stylistic differences between these two camps (Sam vs. Pete), most of their leaders are striving for the same thing—cultural relevance. Whether the poster-child is Bill Hybels or Doug Pagitt, I tend to see their efforts flowing out of their similar desires to connect the message of Jesus to non-Christians—Willow’s auditorium is just a super-sized version of Solomon’s Porch.

Boomer churches strove to understand their audience in the same way many emerging churches do—a sermon about “Seven Steps to a Healthy Marriage” was just as contextual as “Deconstructing Little Miss Sunshine”. In Velvet Elvis, Rob Bell complains about the abominable phrase “Christian Marketing”. I understand this complaint to be rooted in a distrust of institutions and power-manipulating the masses, but let’s be honest. Driscoll and Bell (the Mars Hill Bros.) are not popular because they portray a cultureless Gospel, they are popular for one primary reason—they’re wicked cool. In other words, they are marketable because they are connecting with the new postmodern niche. They’ve found a way to make sense to people. Purpose-driven nooma.