Tuesday, August 29, 2006

"Praying the Ordinary"


I recently ran across an interesting passage in Richard Foster's book Prayer: Finding the Heart's True Home. My eye fell on Chapter 15's title, and I began reading. Here's what Foster has to say in his chapter, "Praying the Ordinary."

Many of us today live in a kind of inner apartheid. We segregate out a small corner of pious activities and then can make no spiritual sense out of the rest of our lives. We have become so accustomed to this way of living that we fail to see the contradiction in it. The scandal of Christianity in our day is the heresy of a 5 percent spirituality.

We overcome this modern heresy by Praying the Ordinary. We pray the ordinary in three ways: first, by turning ordinary experiences of life into prayer; second, by seeing God in the ordinary experience of life; and third, by praying throughout the ordinary experiences of life (169).

And later Foster gives an example drawn from the hard work (prayer) that he did during a summer spent in Alaska working with Eskimo Christians:

I had come to Kotzebue on the adventure of helping to "build the first high school above the Arctic Circle." But the work itself was far from an adventure. It was hard, back-breaking labor. Once day I was trying to dig a trench for a sewer line--no small task in a world of frozen tundra. An Eskimo man whose face and hands displayed the leathery toughness of many winters came by and watched me for a while. Finally he said simply and profoundly, "You are digging a ditch to the glory of God." He said it to encourage me, I know, and I have never forgotten his words. Beyond my Eskimo friend no human being ever knew or cared whether I dug that ditch well or poorly. In time it was to be covered up and forgotten. But because of my friend's words, I dug with all my might, for every shovelful of dirt was a prayer to God. Even though I did not know it at the time, I was attempting in my small and unsophisticated way to do what the great artisans in the Middle Ages did when they carved the backside of a piece of art, knowing that God alone would see it (172).

These times and many more are lived prayer. Ignatius of Loyola notes, "Everything that one turns in the direction of God is prayer" (174).

I often feel like I spend most of my time digging ditches above the Arctic Circle. Wouldn't it be interesting if in some way my ditches also are dug to the Glory of God.

Best wishes,
Mason Smith

Monday, August 28, 2006

"Christ At Work" T-shirt


A few days ago I noticed an interesting T-shirt while visiting a playground with my 3-year-old daughter. The other child's shirt had an orange construction sign on the front--much like you'd see along a highway--with the words "Christ at work" instead of "men at work."

I really liked that idea--Christ at work in each of us. He's here with us. We are under his care and part of what my Presbyterian mother used to call "the Plan."

But yesterday morning, my family and I woke up to the news of the Comair crash just outside of Bluegrass Field in Lexington, Kentucky, and I thought again about that T-shirt I'd noticed. In times of tragedy, it's difficult, perhaps impossible, to see how Christ could be at work there.

I have to believe that in some mystrious way, Chirst was on board that Comair flight with those 49 men and women. It was part of the Plan. Christ was at work. But how? I'm sure to a God who stands outside of time, an early death is not the tragedy is appears to us. Still . . . .

Psalm 90, the one that says, "From everlasting to everlasting you are God," also says:

For a thousand years in your sight
are like a day that has just gone by,
or like a watch n the night.
You sweep men away in the sleep of death,
They are like the new grass of the morning--
though in the morning it spring up new
by evening it is dry and withered. . . .

Teach us to number our days aright,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom. (NIV)

I certanly feel the need of wisom today.

Best wishes,
Mason Smith

Saturday, August 26, 2006


Hello Everyone,

This is a two fold-post. I know that it has been a while since I posted, but I have been quite busy writing and teaching.

First, to Andy, I heard about June getting hurt. I hope she is alright and am looking forward to seeing you soon in the choiir. I'll make sure that I pray for June, as I trust everyone elese will do the same.

Second, I would like to ask for everyone's prayers for me because I have been actively promoting the cartoon witnessing ministry that God has given me. I have shown Pastor Strange the text of these lessons from www.toonspirit.net (all 25 lessons with their combined 42 parts). At his request, I have given him 5 of the 25 lessons in video (DVD). My prayer is that he will be able to view them soon and use them. Any use of the secular work involved will need to probably be given permission by the companies that made the cartoons. We are talking about Disney and Turner and probably a couple of others like News Corp. (Fox) and Hasbro. I want everyone on this blog to pray that this ministry touches lots of lives for our Lord Jesus Christ. Pastor Gene already has said that he likes the text content at his first impression. Pray that any liscensing for the secular work used goes smoothly. If anyone has any thoughts on how to get liscensing and copyright permission information like this, I would be grateful.

I have been up all night writing a lesson called "The Honorable Martyr". This will be on-line soon as I have finished it, so I retiring for a while.

God Bless You. Be Safe.


Wednesday, August 23, 2006

A couple of interesting web sites


I ran into a couple of interesting things on the web recently.

The first is www.getreligion.org, which is a site operated by two reporters who cover religion for national media. They point out that many times a story is covered by the media as if religion were not part of the it, when in fact the faith of the participants is the story. They are attempting, in this blog, to discuss the subtext of religion when it comes up in the news--something that CNN and the other networks don't always have the expertise to do.

The other site is Ben Witherington III's blog www.benwitherington.blogspot.com. The post I was particularly interested in dealt with whether a biblical scholar can be too skeptical. Isn't skepticism a faith stance itself? Dr. Witherington is a professor at Asbury and a noted New Testament scholar--and a good writer generally. His site includes book and movie reviews, along with comments on current news stories, among many other things. If you're looking around the web, you might want to stop in there and see what's new with BW3, as his blogging friends call him.

Best wishes,
Mason Smith

Monday, August 07, 2006

Some Comments on Smith's Who's Afraid of Postmodernism? Chapter 2: Nothing Outside the Text?

I apologize for not posting since the end of July. Things are hectic here at the lakehouse in Georgia (see www.yourfamilyblog.blogspot.com), and the only time I have for reading and reflection right now is between supper at 6 and bedtime at 9:00. This round of outside hard work will go on for another week, and then, mercifully, the deck project will be over. I do, however, want to keep up the posts regarding Smith's book on postmodernism and our advantage as Christians in understanding the movement. Part of what I'll post tonight are simply notes on (mostly a summary) of what I think I've read in Chapter 2, an extended discussion on Derrida.

But first some personal history: I first ran into Derrida at The Johns Hopkins University in the early 1980s while attending an NEH seminar under the in/famous Stanley Fish. It was a wonderful summer of disorientation as I began to see what Derrida’s “deconstructive” posturings were all about. Quite frankly, I found Derrida’s vision of language, writing, and speech not only upsetting, but interesting and challenging. In fact, I somehow managed to get some essays published as I explicated some seventeenth-century texts deconstructively. It was fun.

Now back to Chapter Two. I'm not going to suggest a discussion of the whole chapter; rather tonight I'd like to see if I can paraphrase pages 31-35. After another day or two I'll share what I think Smith is saying in pages 35-42.

The well-known post-modernist Jacques Derrida is famous for this dictum: “There is nothing outside the text.”

As prelude to our understanding of Derrida, Smith asks to consider Memento, a movie I’ve not seen, but one which I think I’ll try to get through Netflix real soon. The gist of movie’s plot and theme is something like this: Because of an accident, Lenny’s got no short term memory. To make or muddle his way through life Lenny relies on little pieces of self-written notes that give him clues as to who he is, where he is, what he needs to do, why he lives and so on. Having learned to trust these self-written texts, he’s eventually had important texts tattooed on his body so that he can stand in front of a mirror and read himself and so function in the world. Without his texts, Lenny isn’t Lenny.

But Lenny also has a problem. Obviously, he functions only when he’s got pens and pencils. More of a problem is that Lenny sometimes confuses his a laundry list with his grocery list. He’s in danger of eating his underwear for breakfast! However, most disconcerting is Lenny’s quandary: how does he know that the texts actually refer to some outside world? To keep himself alert to the possible of an outside world, Lenny keeps telling himself: “I have to believe in a world outside my own mind. I have to believe that my actions still have meaning, even if I can’t remember it.”

It’s clear that Lenny’s got problems. Lenny’s relationship to his texts is one we also have. Language, spoken or written, is the necessary filter through which the world comes to us! “All of us,” Derrida observes, “interpret out world on the basis of language (broadly understood).” All of us, Smith reiterates, “need crib notes and cheat sheets to make our way in the world” (34). It’s for this reason that Derrida contends that “there is nothing outside the text.”

Please don’t misunderstand Derrida. He is not saying that the world is a book and that we don’t have things. We Christians ought not to think that Derrida is so outrageous as to deny there are real things in the world. That would be to seriously misunderstand Derrida.

What then is Derrida saying with his “provocative claim that there is nothing outside the text”? In Grammatology (a daunting book I read years ago), Derrida takes a hard look at Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s notion that "language is an obstacle to the world" (36). Rousseau thought we ought to take in the world just by experiencing it; if we try to take in the world by using language, we get a distorted vision of things. Language corrupts our knowledge and reception of the world. Rousseau longs for "the good old days" when we lived with language in the "state of Nature," as he calls it. Rousseau wants somehow to eliminate the distorting lens of language so that we don't have to interpret the world. "Give us the world unmediated and raw!" Rousseau says. Go directly to the world and take it in! See the cup! See my wife! Don't interpret! "For Rousseau, Leonard--with his condition--is a freak, literally un-natural."

Well, is my summary of Smith's presentation okay so far? Would someone like to summarize the next several pages?

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