Monday, January 30, 2012

"The spiritual life does not remove us from the world but leads us deeper into it," and other Henri Nouwen Quotes (Part 1)

Internationally renowned priest and author, respected professor and beloved pastor Henri Nouwen (1932-1996) wrote over 40 books on the spiritual life. His books have sold over 2 million copies and been published in over 22 languages.

Nouwen felt called to the priesthood at a very young age. He was ordained in 1957 as a diocesan priest and studied psychology at the Catholic University of Nijmegen in his native Netherlands. In 1964 he moved to the United States to study at the Menninger Clinic. He went on to teach at the University of Notre Dame, and the Divinity Schools of Yale and Harvard. For several months during the 1970s, Nouwen lived and worked with the Trappist monks in the Abbey of the Genesee, and in the early 1980s he lived with the poor in Peru. In 1985 he was called to join L’Arche in Trosly, France, where people with developmental disabilities live with assistants. A year later Nouwen came to make his home at L’Arche Daybreak near Toronto, Canada for the final ten years of his life.

Here are some of my favorite quotes from Henri. Let me know which ones resonate with you:

You don't think your way into a new kind of living. You live your way into a new kind of thinking.

Ministry means the ongoing attempt to put one's own search for God, with all the moments of pain and joy, despair and hope, at the disposal of those who want to join this search but do not know how.

Much violence is based on the illusion that life is a property to be defended and not to be shared.

God loved you before you were born, and God will love you after you die.

When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.

One of the tragedies of our life is that we keep forgetting who we are.

When we are securely rooted in personal intimacy with the source of life, it will be possible to remain flexible without being relativistic, convinced without being rigid, willing to confront without being offensive, gentle and forgiving without being soft, and true witnesses without being manipulative.

Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day.

In the past I always thought of gratitude as a spontaneous response to the awareness of gifts received, but now I realize that gratitude can also be lived as a discipline. The discipline of gratitude is the explicit effort to acknowledge that all I am and have is given to me as a gift of love, a gift to be celebrated with joy.

Resentment and gratitude cannot coexist, since resentment blocks the perception and experience of life as a gift. My resentment tells me that I don't receive what I deserve. It always manifests itself in envy.

The real question is: how can I live so that my death will be fruitful for others?

Christian life is not a life divided between times for action and times for contemplation. No. Real social action is a way of contemplation, and real contemplation is the core of social action.

The soul of the artist cannot remain hidden.

His (Christ's) appearance in our midst has made it undeniably clear that changing the human heart and changing human society are not separate tasks, but are as interconnected as the two beams of the cross.

Christians should put survival of the planet ahead of national security...Here is the mystery of our global responsibility: that we are in communion with Christ- and we are in communion with all people...The fact that the people of Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador, Russia, Afghanistan, and Ethiopia are our brothers and sisters is not obvious. People kill each other by the thousands and do not see themselves as brothers and sisters. If we want to be real peacemakers, national security cannot be our primary concern. Our primary concern should be survival of humanity, the survival of the planet, and the health of all people. Whether we are Russians, Iraqis, Ethiopians, or North Americans, we belong to the same human family that God loves. And we have to start taking some risks- not just individually, but risks of a more global quality, risks to let other people develop their own independence, risks to share our wealth with others and invite refugees to our country, risks to offer sanctuary- because we are people of God.”

The spiritual life does not remove us from the world but leads us deeper into it.

Let us not underestimate how hard it is to be compassionate. Compassion is hard because it requires the inner disposition to go with others to place where they are weak, vulnerable, lonely, and broken. But this is not our spontaneous response to suffering. What we desire most is to do away with suffering by fleeing from it or finding a quick cure for it.

Here we glimpse the mystery of God’s incarnation. God became human not only to act among us but also to be the recipient of our responses.

The great spiritual task facing me is to so fully trust that I belong to God that I can be free in the world--free to speak even when my words are not received; free to act even when my actions are criticized, ridiculed, or considered useless.... I am convinced that I will truly be able to love the world when I fully believe that I am loved far beyond its boundaries.

While my friend always spoke about the sun, I kept speaking about the clouds, until one day I realized that it was the sun that allowed me to see the clouds.

In this crazy world, there's an enormous distinction between good times and bad, between sorrow and joy. But in the eyes of God, they're never separated. Where there is pain, there is healing. Where there is mourning, there is dancing. Where there is poverty, there is the kingdom.

The world is waiting ... for new saints, ecstatic men and women who are so deeply rooted in the love of God that they are free to imagine a new international order.

As long as I keep running about asking: "Do you love me? Do you really love me?" I give all power to the voices of the world and put myself in bondage because the world is filled with "ifs." The world says: "Yes, I love you if you are good-looking, intelligent, and wealthy. I love you if you have a good education, a good job, and good connections. I love you if you produce much, sell much, and buy much." There are endless "ifs" hidden in the world's love. These "ifs" enslave me, since it is impossible to respond adequately to all of them. The world's love is and always will be conditional. As long as I keep looking for my true self in the world of conditional love, I will remain "hooked" to the world-trying, failing, and trying again. It is a world that fosters addictions because what it offers cannot satisfy the deepest craving of my heart.

When we become aware that we do not have to escape our pains, but that we can mobilize them into a common search for life, those very pains are transformed from expressions of despair into signs of hope.

More to come...


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Spaniards and Mexicans Motel

While managing Petra, I contracted to have several thousand large posters manufactured in Indianapolis. In order to get them to the band in time for an important Chicago gig, I decided to drive to Indy from Nashville one evening so I could get them early the following morning, then deliver them to Chitown for the merch set-up the following afternoon.

Due to some delays getting out of Tennessee, and then construction slow-downs cutting through Louisville, I ended up in Indiana’s capitol much later than I had intended. I drove around to several motels in the downtown area with “No Vacancy” signs glaring into my bleary eyes.

Finally, while trolling the backstreets and bowels of the warehouse district where the print company was located, I found a Best Western with dozens of eighteen-wheelers parked outside. That was kind of curious, since most long-haul drivers don’t use motels, opting to snooze in the bunks inside their cabs at rest areas and truck stops. But it was a fleeting thought, and sensing fortunate in being able to grab the last remaining room, I settled-in my second floor unit. It was replete with expected sundry cigarette burns, wheezing AC wall unit, stained carpeting, and that funky odor-blend of stale tobacco, B.O., and cheap disinfectant that I have come to expect of flea bag lodges like these over the years. None of this mattered for I was exhausted, and crawled into the concave queen size bed at 1:30 AM, looking forward to five hours of sleep before rising for my 7:30 pick-up time at the manufacturer. I descended into deep R.E.M. sleep within just minutes.

I’m guessing it was about half an hour later when a muffled sequence of screams from several doors down awoke me out of my slumber. At first, I was so disoriented that I wasn’t sure if this was some element of a nightmare that had startled me into consciousness…but within moments, I realized a man was in some sort of pain. I sat up on my elbows, running my hand through my hair, and blinking myself awake as I tried to gather my thoughts. What should I do? This sounds pretty serious. Had someone broken their leg in the shower and was agonizingly trying to crawl across their floor to dial for an ambulance? Were they having an appendicitis attack? The commotion subsided for about a minute, and I began to feel that things were working themselves out.

Suddenly, the shrieks began again. I sat up on the edge of the frayed bedspread, feeling some sort response was in order. Pulling on my jeans and a shirt, I opened the door and peered down the balcony towards the anguish about two addresses away. Another painful yelp convinced me to walk down and see if I could be of assistance. Upon reaching the door, I heard a muffled second voice involved---perhaps it was a wife or girlfriend trying to lift the fallen loved one. I knocked on the door. All activity got quiet for about ten seconds. I knocked again, tentatively asking, “Is everything alright?” and then was reprimanded firmly with a, “Leave us the hell alone! Go away!”

I continued to stand there, breathing-in the thick, nocturnal summer heat mixed with diesel fumes and some unidentified factory stench. Feeling like a doofus, I decided I was not needed, and returned to my room, and hunkered-down under the sheets.

Only a minute had passed when the commotion began again. But it was eclipsed by new agitated howling which began in the room right next to mine on the other side. I could distinctly hear a man being struck by something blunt, and he was grunting and shuddering under the blows. Had I registered into brawl central for the Hoosier State? Were they handing out fightin’ whisky with every room key? More bellowing, and accompanying punches. Once again, I left the bed, this time going to the wall and banging it. “Hey! Keep it down in there, or I’ll call the front desk!”

There was silence for a moment, then more calamity with the accusation, “See what you have brought on us? You will pay for this!” followed with more bashing, and even the sound of a piece of furniture breaking amidst miserable howls.

I grabbed the phone and dialed zero. As the unheeded rings piled one on top of the other, yet another round of storm trooping began in the room immediately above mine! Now there was a trio of imbroglios happening simultaneously, and the upstairs event definitely featured a woman wailing. Finally, on about the fifteenth ring, the phone was answered.

“I’m in room 217 and I want to report some crazy crap going on in 215, 221, and I think in 317 right above me!” I hollered.

There was an awkward pause.

“Do you hear me?” I roared…only to get a perturbed, “Well, you checked into this place, you should’ve known what to expect!” then *click* *bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz*

Incredulous, I slammed the receiver down. “What kind of whacked joint is this?” I mumbled under my breath.

The first group was back in full throat now. The group next door now featured some harsh accusations and crying along with the continued pounding. And then I heard something very strange beginning overhead—the cracking of a whip, along with agitated squeals.

Just as it was beginning to dawn on me that I had checked-in to Licentious Lodge, a fourth oppression began in the room right next to my headboard. This was the most audible of the bunch. More berating language, the sound of flesh being struck repeatedly, followed by a series of ,“Stop! Don’t!....Don’t!.....Stop!.....*shrill scream*….Don’t stop!...Don’t stop! Oh….yes! Don’t stop!!”

I laid back sideways on my bed, pulled the pillow over my face. “I am in a freakin’ S&M mad house!” I lamented to anyone who might hear my plight.

In the cacophony of corporeal punishment going on around me, I decided to call the police. Upon finally getting a grumpy officer on the line, I told him where I was and what was transpiring. Battling to hear him over the auditory agony in surround-sound, I was, once again, to my dismay, told with a disdained chuckle, “Buddy, you should know what that place is all about.”

“Well, isn’t there a slight possibility that amongst all of this torture and woe that just something might be a tad illegal?” I countered.

“As long as they are in their rooms, there ain’t a thing we can do about it. Good night,” and I was dispatched with a hang-up a second time.

I then pulled out the phone book and called every hotel listing for that area I could find. In the midst of distressed squawks during blissful beatings, jubilant genital injuries, rapturous penitent pillaging, and various other deviant delights, I was repeatedly told there was a huge convention at the RCA Dome, and every hotel within 30 miles was booked solid.

I’m no prude, but these aberrations on the bumping of the uglies was a bit more than this Presbyterian pastor’s kid could handle. I mean, I’ve put up with wall mates in apartment complexes banging the gong and vibrating the rafters. I’ve seen (as well as partaken in) rockin’ of the proverbial back seat of a Chevy and steamin’ the windows—but that was just good ol’ coitus between a lovin’couple. What was going on here was oppressive. I felt I had fallen deep into Abaddon’s abyss, hearing the tormented misery of those so self-loathing and shamed that they had given themselves over completely to this libidinous lunacy. For all I knew, there could’ve been a snuff film being produced there that night, that’s how morbid it all sounded.

With the management and law enforcement turning a blind eye, I knew there was little I could do. These folks had given themselves over to their perverted explorations in affliction. Unfortunately, they were impinging on my ability to rest.

For the next hour I attempted to acclimate myself to the strange blend of delirious debauchery surrounding me. A few times I chuckled at the sheer absurdity of it. But mostly, I wavered between prayer and repugnance. I mean, sweet fancy Moses, how screwed up do you have to be--how dissatisfied with your life—to want to suffer through what should be such a caring, pleasure-giving partnership? How can it somehow be euphoric to have your testicles in a clamp? How can it be intoxicating to have your nipples nearly pulled out of their sockets? How are repeated punches to the groin or allowing your pubic hair to be set aflame deemed some sort of hanky-panky hobby? Since when is scorn combined with anal chafing considered an aphrodisiac?

When a fifth escapade began in the room below me, I had reached my fill. I gathered my belongings, walking down the balcony to the stairwell. As I passed each room, I heard some other scatological version of choking, humiliation, and euphoric abasement featuring guys and gals in various combo platters…maybe even some critters thrown-in for good measure. I believe my ears even discerned an invertebrate screeching.

Requests for a refund were summarily dismissed by the night manager. I was too weary to even try and fight it. Besides, there was enough guilt-ridden acrimony going on in that square block to fuel nine levels of Hell—no need for me to add any more.

I shuffled out to my dusty AMC Hornet that was sandwiched between two hulking semi’s. Apparently, this was the main gathering point in Indiana of all sexually frustrated drivers who needed to be scourged or felt obliged to inflict some sexual rage upon someone else. I couldn’t get off that property fast enough.

Locating the warehouse where my pick-up was to take place in a few hours, I pulled into the loading dock and dozed inside the cramped back deck of my hatchback before sunrise. Once it became light, and industry began to lurch into motion, I couldn’t entertain slumber any further. So I found an Awful House and pacified my plight with all twenty-seven essential starches and loads of maple syrup.

As I downed my final flapjack, I began to chuckle about a Steve Martin routine from his Let’s Get Small album. As a na├»ve comic, he was approached by some sexually “liberated” sickos and asked if he enjoyed S & M. He blurted out, “Why, sure…I LOVE Spaniards and Mexicans, and all Latino peoples.” I bowed my head, feeling an odd mixture of shame and amusement with it all. If I could’ve found a cathedral I think I would’ve gone to a confessional and asked forgiveness for laughing at these poor saps. But I would also plead for some sort of penance to perform to eradicate these raw, warped images from my mind.

Decades have passed, and I can still hear that frenzied freak-fest. One of the men kept yelling out that quaint epithet “Who’s your daddy?!” Whenever I hear it now, I still visualize it as “Hoosier Daddy!”

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

I Just Wanna Get Warm

Such an honest prayer from Mark Heard on a cold and clammy January day such as this...

The mouths of the best poets

Speak but a few words

And then lay down

Stone cold in forgotten fields

Life goes on in this ant farm town

Cold to the lifeblood underfoot

All talk and no touch

And I just wanna be real

I just wanna be real

The colors here are monochrome

Studies in one shade of grey

The good times and the hard times

Cut from the same grey cloth

And all the fires that crackle here

Consume but do not burn

All light and no heat

And I just wanna get warm

I just wanna get warm

The days they rattle past me

Like a tunnel round a train

Landscapes and heartaches

I don't know what I feel

All I know is my condition

Is worse than I can tell

The small talk and the slow burn

And I just wanna be healed

I just wanna get well

There are things I should remember

But I have forgotten how

I'm all tied up with no time

Trying do too much

And the thoughts that I've avoided

Are the ones I need right now

Like a warm wind and love's hand

And I just wanna be touched

And I just wanna be real

And I just wanna be well

And I just wanna be healed

And I just wanna be warm

Written by Mark Heard
© 1991 Ideola Music/ASCAP

Saturday, January 7, 2012

God Reveals Himself On His Own Schedule

From one of my favorite columnists in today's Nashville Tennessean:

It lasts only a few days, maybe just a few minutes — the still point of the new year, a moment for getting some perspective on past and future before the slam of routine returns. Where will spiritual conditions take us next in a year of election politics and apocalyptic dreams?

Popular images of God shift with alarming speed. I remember the excitement around The Prayer of Jabez back in 2000, a book about an Old Testament prayer that hopes to bring results (spiritual, material) to those who pray it. It met an ancient yearning for a formula to harness divine power.

Then 9/11 changed the subject. Prayers to a domestic deity who always says yes fell out of sync with an era of mass killing and savage war.

In 2003, the fictional Da Vinci Code hit the scene with a new challenge. It was going to blow the lid off Christianity, revealing church history as a conspiracy of lies. It would prepare the way for a liberating esoteric spirituality, beholding a gnostic Creator alien and superior to the all-too-human God of the Bible.

It had a good run. Yet nearly a decade later, in the real world of recession and suffering, there’s no surge in gnostic churches.

This year’s presidential election will push conversation about God in other directions. It will focus arguments on American exceptionalism — the belief that we are uniquely blessed as a nation, which God sponsors if we remain God-fearing.

Or our policy debates could awaken images of a darker god, one who presides over dreams of violence and deep distrust of other people, other Americans, in a society armed to the teeth.

We’re already hearing references (and jokes) about yet another scenario — the end of history as we know it, come this December, which marks the termination point of an ancient Mesoamerican calendar, allegedly set to trigger global upheaval. This sounds exciting — or terrifying — to millions. It all depends on one’s own temperament, how one already feels about the future, the cosmos and God.

Whether ignored or not, sober arguments all year long will say Mayan time calculations are harmless, irrelevant and mean nothing about the end of anything.

Then there’s another viewpoint — a biblical idea that won’t get airtime, political sponsorship or super PAC money. But it will get the last word: God remains hidden for God’s own reasons. God won’t be teased out or figured out or outguessed.

Franz Kafka once remarked: “God dwells in darkness, and that is a good thing, because without the protecting darkness we should try to overcome God. That is our nature.”

Another fateful year rises, bringing fevers and revelations, with human nature balancing between dread and grace.

Columnist Ray Waddle, a former Tennessean religion editor, now lives in Connecticut. He can be reached

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Nashville Predators Go For 7th Straight Sellout

Since local ownership really took hold of the Predators three seasons ago, the attendance patterns have climbed steadily from 14,854 per game to the current robust 16,572 per game. Here are some stats to put it all in perspective:

1) With the Predators’ sellout last Sunday vs. Calgary, they attained their sixth sellout in a row, only the second time they have done that in a regular season (in the first year from March 16 thru April 17, 1999).

2) If they sellout this Thursday night, Jan. 5th, when they take on the Dallas Stars, that will set a new record for consecutive sellouts in the regular season. There is plenty of reasons to make this game attractive: The Preds are battling Dallas in the points standings of the Western Conference; the hated Mark Fistric, who concussed our Captain, Shea Weber, with a cheap elbow to the head 12 days ago, will be playing for Dallas; and it’s College Night, meaning that all university students with an I.D. can get in the game at half price and receive big discounts on food and drinks.

3) With the last sellout vs. Calgary on Sunday, they now have 11 on the season, which sets a new record for the most through 20 home games. (breaking the old record from Season Two).

4) If they continue on the pace they are, they will eclipse their all-time average attendance record of 16,599 established in Season 2. They are currently averaging 16,572 after 20 games, and we know that attendance always gets even better after the holidays going down the second half stretch.

5) The Preds are currently filling Bridgestone Arena capacity at an average of 96.8%

6) The all-time record for Predators sellouts in a regular season is 20 in Season 2. It looks like they have a good shot of reaching 22 or 23 this season. There is actually the potential to make it 25 which would be more than the previous 3 seasons combined.

7) The Predators have not had a crowd under 14,000 since Dec. 5th of '09 (two years ago).

8) 16 out of 20 games so far this season have been 16,000+

9) The Preds are currently ranked 20th in the NHL in attendance. But if they were to sellout every single game, they could only go up one position to 19th (due to Bridgestone being relatively small capacity-wise by NHL standards).

10) Nashville is substantially ahead in avg. attendance over franchises in markets double, triple, and even five times as large like Colorado, Florida, Anaheim, New Jersey, Long Island, Dallas, and Phoenix.

Things are looking good from a fiscal perspective at 5th and Broadway in Smashville!