March 31, 2016

UN Thinking the Past

It is a good day today. I am home (PTL!) and at rest. I slept well for most of the night, but woke to my boys playing in my room around 5 am. I struggled to keep them quiet, so rather than getting up and staying up, I played "shush the cat" until about 6:30. Finally, they found something else to interest them, and I fell back asleep until almost 9:30. Needless to say, I have that "I'm hungover" feeling right now. Sigh!

After I got up (finally), and made my way to the kitchen for coffee, I realized that during the many attack sessions last night, the boys had knocked over my coffee cup on my desk. It was my fault for leaving my thermos mug with some coffee still in it. My mousepad took the majority of the liquid (thank you, Lord), and the floor the rest. It was a sticky mess, but at the least, nothing valuable was lost. Perhaps this was why Winston was trying to get me up. Perhaps he was trying to tell me, "Hey Mom! Look what Ike did!" Yeah, they play rough, and typically it is Ike who is the lesser of the two when it comes to graceful moves. At 17 pounds it is no wonder he doesn't move as quickly as his brother does! LOL!

It is 9:45 and my mouse pad has been freshly scrubbed, the floor mopped, and generally, my desk cleaned. I guess you could say I am ready to start my day. Let this be a good day, Lord, a really good day!


Thanking the Lord for His Goodness

It is March 31st, the last day of the month, and I am home enjoying the blessed warm spring weather. Our forecast today is for cooler temps, and for that, I am thankful. It is normal for us to start seeing 90 degree days at the turn of the month, and yet, we have had mostly 70s-80s all month long. I am loving this weather pattern, but I know that come summer, the cool spring could send us very hot and dry summers. Let us pray for a wet monsoon this year!

Yesterday was a really good day for me. I wasn't so tired (as I was on Monday), and my classes went really, really well. I felt energized and ready to tackle the day, and for the most part, my classes seemed to enjoy the content. I felt so good leaving the school yesterday, and I thought, "Yes, this is why I teach." Furthermore, I ran into several students who stopped to say hello (from former semesters), and even spent time meeting with three who needed help with assignments. I love it when I can help students personally. Unfortunately, very few came to see me this semester, and their grades have reflected that fact. Still, it is always good when I can help, and I love to help them see what they are doing wrong. I love to sit with them to go over their papers whenever I can do it.

As I left campus, I was praying to the Lord. I simply thanked Him for His provision of good practical work. I thanked Him for the jobs I have, for my contracts for fall, and for the opportunities for applying to new schools that are either in process or yet to take place. In all, I rested in my work. I simply gave Him thanks for where I am at, and I placed my faith and my trust for my future in His hands. I gave Him the praise for all His good works, and then I let go. I just let it go. I said, "Lord, you have this planned, and you know what is to be. I thank you for what has come to pass, but now I let all that go, and I trust you for all my tomorrows." Yes, in many ways, I prayed through Matthew 6:34, where we read Jesus' words to His disciples, "So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."

In all my worry, my fear, and my doubt, I realized that too often I focus on what either has been or what has yet to become -- all without really focusing on the power and authority (Jesus) -- who is able to change my tomorrows in an instant. Yes, when we focus on the One who is in control of our days, we can easily let go of what we have experienced or are experiencing, and rest in the unknown future.

This morning, as I was coming out of sleep, I heard the Lord speak into my spirit. I often have these dreams (sort of dreamlike) where I hear the Lord speaking to me. I am not sure if this is what is really happening to me or not, but I hear His voice, and I hear myself responding -- yet I am still asleep. Sometimes, I will wake up and write down what I have heard. Other times, I am just left with an impression, like a fleeting memory of having a conversation without really remembering all the details or content. This is how I felt today.  I mean, I was poked and prodded by my cats for nearly an hour and half, and in between, I did try to fall back to sleep. Still, I recall having a conversation about my future with the Lord.

Whenever I experience this type of conversation, I rarely get details like "this will happen" or "do this." No, rather it is mostly reminders to heed His word, to obey His teaching, to stay focused on the Lord, etc. I will be asleep and I will hear Him call to me. He normally will say something like "Listen!" When I do, the advice I receive always directs me to the word, to something in the word, and serves as a reminder that in the coming days I need to remember to do something -- like stay fast, do not move, keep faithful, etc.

This morning the reminder was simply this: I am to obey His word. I am to follow all that He has commanded me to do. I am to remain steadfast. He will take care of the rest, but it is imperative for me to stay focused on His word.

Yes, not earth shattering news by any stretch of the imagination, but still vitally important advice that the word addresses to all believers in Jesus Christ. Give heed -- pay attention -- stay alert. I am not sure what is going to happen over the next few weeks, but whatever is to come, the Lord apparently wants me to be ready for it. His word, thus, is critical to help me see my way through whatever is next up on the agenda.

It is funny, really, how this happens. I mean, I just get these messages, and then usually I forget them as soon as they come to me. Sometimes I have lingering memories of the conversation, but mostly, I simply remember the "heeding" part -- the pay attention part. I remember that the Lord wants me to pay attention to Him, to His word, and to what He is doing in my life. I am to "look up" to Him, to stay focused on Him. In doing so, whatever comes my way is sure to pass without a hitch -- so long as I remember to do my part. Stay in the game, Carol. Keep your head in control, and remain calm, steadfast, and ready to jump into action.

Okay, Lord. I got it. I will do as you ask me to do. I will remember to be faithful, obedient, and trusting as you lead and guide me over the next couple weeks. Selah!


Unthinking the Past

What does it mean to unthink? It is a curious term, but one that is defined in many dictionaries. Collins says that unthinking means "not thinking" or not "able to think". The Free Dictionary defines unthinking as "Not taking due thought" or acting "thoughtless or heedless." The idea being that the unthinking person acts in such as way as to not give careful consideration to their actions. The person who unthinks rarely gives themselves time to reflect, to think deeply about a decision (for example). Often the unthinking person engages in careless thought or careless behavior. Thus to unthink really means that time spent in reflection is reduced to such an extent that decisions or actions are made in the moment, instantaneously, and often without consideration for outcomes or effects.

Therefore, to unthink the past, one must look at their past with careless abandon, and they must fail to recognize that choices, decisions, and actions precipitated one another. In short, when we treat the past carelessly, we do not take careful consideration of how the past leads us to the present. We jump to conclusions about how one event triggered another or even we reject ideas that suggest a particular choice served as a primary cause or motivating agent that in turn led us to the path we are on today.

It is a curious turn of phrase, one that is found mostly in physics (Quantum Physics), mathematics, and cultural studies. The idea behind the concept is simply this -- how we see the past will determine our future vision. In Quantum Physics Theory there is the suggestion that all of existence is predicated on various dimensions of reality. In this way, individuals exist within multiple frames of time, with each time containing the past, present, and the future. The individual in dimension 1 is observed by themselves in dimension 2, which in turn is observed by a next level dimension. The mind-picture is one of ever expanding dimensions (almost like boxes) that exist inside of one another. This suggests that time is relative to the dimension containing it. I am not a physicist, and I don't necessarily buy this theory, but I do think of time as expanding, and I do think of the universe as multidimensional space. Moreover, I do believe God exists outside the dimension in which we inhabit. Subsequently, my life, while not being observed by another version of "me" simply functions within the time-space dimension where I exist. God is outside this time-space, but He breaks through the time-space to interact and to intervene as He determines best. He is ever present because He is able to see into time-space from His perspective outside of it.

When I say that it is time to unthink the past, I am simply suggesting that once you have spent considerable time reflecting on the past, considering it carefully, and drawing inference from it, then a time comes to let it go. I mean, once you have drawn all the necessary information from analysis of the past, a decision must be made as to what to do with all that data. Does it get stored somewhere for future use or do you discard it as not worthy of wasting memory space? In my case, I have spent the past 12 years rethinking the past, reflecting on it, analyzing it, and determining how the past helped to shape my future (or my present state). I am now ready to discharge it all, to unthink, so to speak. My memories have been recorded on my blog, and they will remain here for as long as the Lord desires them to be here. But, going forward, my emphasis will not be on the past, but rather on the present. On events that are happening today, and on forward thinking, thinking that looks to the future instead of the past. 

Linguistics, Semiotics and Pragmatics

The Lord placed this idea of future thinking on my heart a couple weeks ago. He had directed me to look into Semiotics, which is the study of signs and symbols and how signs, symbols and systems of symbols function to communication ideas. In semiotics, there are a number of schools of thought, mostly focusing on language structure and use. But there is also emphasis on pragmatics, which seeks to understand how signs and symbols are used in context to convey meaning. Pragmatics studies the relationship between words, ideas, symbols, etc. as they relate to making meaning. It is a sub-discipline of linguistics and semiotics, and ever since I studied English for my Masters program, I have been keenly interested in this discipline. The problem, however, is that no one teaches pragmatics in the US anymore. Most of the work is being taught in the UK and in Europe. So short of me picking up stakes and moving to the UK, the likelihood that I could study it seems difficult or impossible. Yet, I desire to study it, at the least, to understand it more, and for whatever reason the Lord has graciously suggested it to me. 

I looked at one program here in the US, but it is on Future Studies only. This is a branch of theology that studies the second return of our Lord. This interests me as well, but the program is only open to students with Mdiv degrees, and frankly, I don't see myself taking a longer degree than my PhD at this point in time. Thus, I am not sure how I can study semiotics, linguistics or pragmatics unless there are online programs that do not require substantial residency requirements.

Why Pragmatics?

I am interested in relationships, and I think this is why I enjoy teaching causal analysis to my students. I really enjoy understanding relationships between events, to see how events trigger other events, and how these events determine specific outcomes. In language use, I am interested in how words, really ideas (the thoughts behind the words) function to convey meaning (personally or interpersonally). With communication as my focus rather than language study, I am keening interested in how we use words to communicate ideas about God, His word, and His desire for mankind redemption. Thus, I would like to study pragmatics in order to be better equipped to minister to the Church, and to help individuals (pastors, teachers, and others in leadership) learn how to use language more effectively. I feel the Lord calling me to study this branch of language use so that the Church can develop better systems of thought, predicated on His word, but systems of thought that will break through the clutter, the confusion, that is the result of postmodern/enlightenment thinking. I see this as vitally necessary as we move forward in time, and as we draw near to the Lord's future return.

Language is vitally important for communication. I love rhetoric, which is the study of how we use language to persuade or convince others, but linguistics and the various disciplines associated with it give me the greatest interest because these areas of study allow me to look at how thoughts, ideas, and words are used relationally and within context to convey a message. Communication requires both a sender and a receiver along with a message, and since the goal of any communication effort is to convey meaning, understanding how to create messages that will be received is paramount for success. In Christian context, this simply means that as our culture's language systems change due to postmodern thought, we must adapt how we speak in order to communicate successfully with our friends, family, and others who need to hear the message we speak. In communication study, Kierkegaard believed that the best way to communicate the message of Christ was through indirect means, suggesting that the best way to communication was not with direct words, but with stories that conveyed meaning but that required the listener to interpret for themselves the meaning of the story. I love indirect communication, but I see this approach as a method that no longer has the power to persuade, to change minds, simply because with postmodern thought predicated on relativism, we see that the interpretation by the many can easily be distorted. Thus, in my view, we need a new system, a new way of communicating whereby we can shift the message, transform it to such an extent, so that the listener receives it directly.

Why is the current way (historical way) not good enough?

This really is the $64M question. Hasn't the Word gone forth successfully for thousands of years? Yes, this is true. The Holy Spirit is able to transform the hearts and minds of the listener to receive the word of God as it is spoken by preachers, teachers, pastors, and others. However, the postmodern mind has changed to such an extent that certain "universals" are no longer accepted. One of the biggest universals is the belief that God exists. It is difficult to preach the gospel to a world that no longer believes that God exists (thank you, Nietzsche).  Furthermore, since relativism reared its ugly head and became the predominate thought system in the world, we have seen a decline in the rational belief in God. Yes, I say rational because whether you want to believe it or not, for the majority of the modern era, rational man believed that God existed in nature or in person or in combination. The majority of ancient minds accepted the reality of a God at work or present within the dimension of universal understanding. It has only been since the Enlightenment that thinking on this matter shifted to a belief that man was and is the center of all knowledge. God was moved to the periphery and in time, has been replaced by thought that suggests He is either dead or no longer necessary to the survival of humanity. Relativism, thus is a moral philosophy that states, "that all points of view are equally valid" (IEP.org). According to Slick (2016), relativism asserts "that all moral positions, all religious systems, all art forms, all political movements, etc., are truths that are relative to the individual" (para. 1). Relativism is one of the strongest systems of thought in the world today, and coupled with atheism, which is defined as "anything from a lack of belief in God to a total denial of His existence" (Slick, 2016, para. 1), the average person's frame of reference is in complete dissonance (or disharmony) with Christian teaching and philosophy. In short, with the rise in these postmodern lines of thought, the work of the evangelist, apologist, and preacher has become difficult, if not, impossible to carry out. Therefore, I believe that the Lord is calling me, in particular, to study ways in which we can use language (words, ideas, etc.) more effectively to break through these strongholds. Yes, this effort will be only partially effective because we no that no one is converted without the active agency of the Holy Spirit. However, learning how to teach, preach, and reach this postmodern generation could have valuable and necessary consequences on the success of ministering to a lost and dying world. It is my hope that as the Lord leads and guides me, He will help me to do this work without failing to consider the efficacy of His spirit in and through it. 

Future Thinking Requires Letting Go of the Past

Yes, as I consider my future, I realize that to accept what God is calling me to do, I must let go of my past, my reliance upon past thinking. I must accept it as finished, and I must move on to what He has in mind for me next. I must take up this mantle of service, of ministry, and I must look to the future, realizing that everything that has happened to me in the past served in part to create the desires and the interests I have today. Everything that has happened to me, happened for a reason, and that reason is to prepare me to do this particular, this very specific, and this very difficult work. Selah! 

Some Thoughts for Now

For the near term, the foreseeable future, my focus is on finishing my dissertation and graduating from Regent University. I am also dependent upon the Lord for His placement in a full-time position. I know that the time will pass, and He will provide so I am letting this go for now. He knows my needs, and He knows where He wants me to work. I let this be so He can move as He needs to move. I also need to take care of my parents and my son, so my life is very structured around home right now. In time, the Lord will open the door for me to go, and I believe He will remove all barriers and obstacles so that I can go easily or with ease. I don't need to fixate on the how or when, I just need to be ready to do as He asks me. I am ready, Lord. I am ready.

Several options do come to mind, so I am prayerfully considering them now. The first is to move closer to my good friend, with whom I believe the Lord has knitted our hearts together. If this is the Lord's will, then so be it. The second, of course, is to go to the place the Lord has in mind for ministry or where He intends for me to begin this ministry effort. The two may be intwined (as I hope they are), but until I know for certain, I am to wait and to watch as the Lord leads. He will make a way, and the I will go the way of His direction.

Lastly, as I think about all of this today, I marvel at His goodness. I marvel at the way He opens doors, and also the way He closes them. I marvel at His provision, His timing, and most of all, His protection. I marvel at what He does in my life, and how He leads me onward. I marvel most of all at His love, His mercy, and His grace because without these I would be lost forever. He has made all this possible, from start to finish. He has made my life turn into something beautiful, and for that, I am eternally thankful and grateful. He is good, so very good to me! Selah!

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