Garden or Circus?

I’m reading The Cultivated Life: From Ceaseless Striving to Receiving Joy and it has been a very helpful and reflective read for me these last few months. I had the privilege of taking a class from Dr. Susan Phillips at Fuller when I first moved to the Bay Area. That class was so rich and fed my soul in the midst of massive transition of geography, ministry teams, and community.  So I was really excited to see that she had written a new book (published by IVP, too!).

One of the main paradigms she discusses that has really shaped my thinking is whether we want our lives to be like gardens or like circuses. I haven’t been to the circus in years and years (clowns still scare me!), and this is nothing against the actual entertainment of the circus. But as a life metaphor, she describes the circus as just that, entertainment – we don’t participate there, but watch. She describes the 3 ring circus of marketplace, workplace, and cyberspace (consumerism, workaholism, and entertainment/consumerism of another sort). We live in a circus-like culture and it takes intentionality to be a cultivated garden in the midst of this. She points to John 15 and other passages showing us what it is for our lives to be in God’s garden. We can be cultivated by many things in life – whether it’s the 3 ring circus or being connected to the true vine and receiving God’s cultivation.

The reflection exercises ask what helps us get to the more ‘garden’ type of life and what things lend themselves to ‘circus’ life. In response, I’ve made some changes in the ways I use my phone in the last month: I’m checking facebook less and using the reading app more (it connects to my public library). Kevin and I set a time aside for reading at night, and have been going to bed earlier. I am trying to spend more time in nature and listening prayer, and to single-task at work. All these things combined have been so life-giving. I feel less frenetic and more grounded.

What helps you have more of a ‘garden’ type of life in the midst of our 3 ring circus culture?

PS – I cannot do justice to the book in a few paragraphs. I encourage you to read it for yourself!


Power and Tiananmen Square

Residents and soldiers on the street in Beijing on June 6, 1989 after the crackdown on protesters. Credit LIU Heung Shing/Associated Press

Residents and soldiers on the street in Beijing on June 6, 1989 after the crackdown on protesters. Credit LIU Heung Shing/Associated Press

This year marks 25 years since the Tiananmen Square Massacre – or 6-4 as it’s called in Chinese.  It was a very formative event for me as a child, which I’ve written about before.  It always weighs heavy on my heart this time of year, and I am always intrigued to see how journalists will cover the anniversary, or how the Communist government will try and keep people from remembering this year.

I was surprised last night to read this NY Times article – Tales of Army Discord Show Tiananmen in a New Light. It relates new information about a high-ranking general who refused to attack the protesters saying, “I’d rather be beheaded than be a criminal in the eyes of history.”  In fact, there were other officers too who expressed dissent.

The whole article is definitely worth reading, but the thing that has been sticking with me is that the party leaders did not seem to stop and consider his dissent.  Instead, as the NYTimes reports:

Although General Xu was soon arrested, his defiance sent shudders through the party establishment, fueling speculation of a military revolt and heightening the leadership’s belief that the student-led protests were nothing less than a mortal threat to the Communist Party.

It strikes me because it the general’s dissent may have had the unintended effect of causing the government to crackdown even more strongly.  All this because of fear:  fear of losing power, of losing control,  What kind of power is driven by fear?

I think about this also because I am reading Andy Crouch’s book Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power for a discussion next week.  It has prompted all sorts of thoughts about power and the use and misuse of power in our world.  But closer to home, it has forced me to think about my own relationship with power in my own spheres of influence.  You and I don’t control armies, but each of us has our own complex relationship to power.  We need to own how we use our power.

I am even more convinced that I can’t let fear of losing power or control be the driver of my decisions.  Lord, have mercy.


Practice Resurrection

wildflowers in the abandoned field near our house

wildflowers in the abandoned field near our house

Like every year, I spent some time this morning meditating on “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front” by Wendell Berry.  For several years, it was my job to read it aloud at our Easter service at Mosaic.  Coming back to it every year is like hanging out with an old friend – and the poem speaks a little differently each year.

This season is about the unexpected – about God making all things new.  Perhaps at first there is fear for us – like there was fear for the women and other disciples.  But we choose hope. Not hope in the absence of despair, but in the face of it.  This is not the cheesy, superficial hope that quotes Bible verses like a tiny band-aid on a gaping wound – but the deep abiding hope that in honesty and anguish continues to seek the God who makes all things new.

We choose to practice resurrection.

Manifesto: Mad Farmer Liberation Front 

by Wendell Berry

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.

So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.

Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion – put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.


Lenten reflections

Lent colors
The first Ash Wednesday service I ever attended was pretty sad. Not just sad because we were  thinking about mortality and repentance – sad in the sense of a failure. I was helping to plant a church and while we’d had an exciting public launch – 5 months into it our numbers had dwindled.

I was leading music that night and was setting up the slideshow for projection in our 4th floor attic room. But just before we were to start, some folks from our host church came to take the projector for their own event. So there we were – the 6 of us singing while crowded around an old, donated laptop. We read some prayers and reflected on our mortality and our need for repentance.  We received ashes.

Lent that year was so challenging.  I was fasting weekly and gave up music in the car so that I could pray instead.  It was probably too much all at once, but it made me very aware of my need for God. Take away a little food and my music and I was keenly aware of my how much they were coping mechanisms for me.  At church, Lent was hard too – our numbers were low and we wondered if we would ‘make it’ as a plant.

But that Lent season ten years ago became a powerful time both in my life and in the life of Mosaic.   Something outside of ourselves was at work. Our Holy Week services were incredibly powerful for our small crew.  With Resurrection Sunday there was new light.  Literally.  There was an incident where a candle caught the tablecloth on fire…

Once, my 3 year old niece was upset at being given a time-out saying “This is terrible! I don’t know what’s going to happen next, this is terrible!”  In that, she captured the human condition.  We don’t know what will happen next and we can’t control it.  Lent reminds us of this – time in the wilderness.  Coming face to face with our limits.  Dealing with our dependence on food, caffeine, music, or whatever it is.  Waiting longer than we want to for a dating relationship.  Losing a loved one.  Facing transitions.  Hoping for children.  And we can’t know when the light will come until it does. As Florence + the machine says, “It’s always darkest before the dawn.”

The season of Lent reminds me that wilderness seasons are a part of life.

So as I sit with Lent this year, I come up against my limits and I am at the same time grateful and impatient.  Grateful because I am reminded that I am but dust – I am limited.  I have little control over circumstances.  I can choose to be grateful.  But I am impatient also for the dawn.


I am using the website as a guide for my Lenten prayer times.  It has audio of a prayer and reflection time that I have found very helpful in ‘holding the space’ for meditation and prayer.  

Celebrating 1 year and Marriage Reflection Questions

ImageKevin and I recently celebrated our first anniversary of marriage!  It’s been such a great year.  We celebrated by going to SF for a few days – exploring the city and eating yummy food. When I get around to it, I’ll post some more pictures of our time there.

One thing that’s been a staple of our relationship has been discussion questions.  When we had been dating for about six or seven months, we worked through the book 101 Questions to Ask Before You Get Engaged.  Some of the questions were really obvious and we already knew each other’s answers, but others were very helpful and allowed us to have more deep, intentional conversations.  It was helpful to have the structure and we got to cover a lot of different topics.

Recently, one of my friends passed along some reflection questions that he and his wife talk through twice a year (once a few weeks before their anniversary, and again about 6 months later).  The idea is to have an extended check-up and conversation about how marriage is going, but to NOT try and discuss them while on an anniversary trip or celebration.

We’ve been working through them over several nights, and found them really worthwhile – so I post them here for others as a resource.  You don’t have to wait for your anniversary or 6 months after your anniversary, maybe you can talk through them before Valentine’s Day.  We’re still relatively new to this marriage thing, but I’m looking forward to years and years of getting to talk through these questions.

Reflections on our Life Together….

As Growing People

  1. What signs of growth or change can I see in myself as a person? What am I moving toward? What am I leaving behind?
  2. What growth or change do I see in my spouse, and how is that affecting me/us?
  3. Where do I see God present and at work in my life?
  4. Where is God at work in us as a couple?

As a Couple

  1. What are some “blocked” areas between us, that we find hard to talk about or deal with?
  2. How do we have fun together? When do we laugh together? What do we enjoy doing together?
  3. How do I feel about the time and energy we have to be together and for one another?

As a Family

  1. What do I see happening in each child at this time?
  2. How do I feel about our life together as a family?
  3. What are some decisions that we need to make about our children and our family?

Outside the Home

  1. How do I feel about my job/work? (satisfactions, frustrations, hopes, fears)
  2. What is happening in my/our involvement in the Church?
  3. How are our/my friendships with others?
  4. What is happening in our extended family? How is this affecting us?

gratitude vs. resentment

A follow-up to my previous post on gratitude – I’m finishing up an ‘Ethics of Bonhoeffer’ class.  We’re reading his Letters and Papers from Prison. (He was imprisoned for being a part of a conspiracy to bring down Hitler, and was executed just two weeks before the Allies reached his location.)  It’s been a very thought-provoking read – him writing to his family, friends, and fiancee.  He writes of life in prison, theological musings, and how much he misses them.

In a lecture, Dr. Stassen mentioned the work of Melanie Klein.  She said: we have in ourselves both gratitude and resentment.  The more gratitude we have, the less resentment.  Bonhoeffer certainly had a lot of gratitude and was able to keep the resentment at bay.  I’ve really enjoyed reading his work, and after the class is over I want to read a biography of him.  Anyone got suggestions of which one?

gratitude brings her own gifts.


I checked back in on my blog recently and got the ‘wordpress annual report’ which is meant to be encouraging, but showed me how little I wrote last year.  Yikes!  

I thought today was just an ‘ok’ or ‘meh’ day – and thought I would write this first post ironically about what a glamorous workday I had.  But as I was thinking, I realized that today was actually a great in terms of ministry – and while maybe not glamorous, I need to be grateful for what it was.

So for those who have wondered what I do…

  • Yesterday we had a staff team meeting with 12 of my staff to debrief Urbana, and start thinking about this winter quarter. Today I followed up on some of yesterday’s content, and also got back to some staff on important planning items in terms of campus strategies.  God did great things at Urbana, and there is more to come.
  • I spent an hour on the phone with a colleague debriefing some leadership lessons and brainstorming ways to grow the partnership team for our ministry in the Silicon Valley.  My leadership got sharpened!
  • On another phone call, I did some work on big-picture themes for our entire region.  My vision was expanded as I started to dream about what God might do in our region.
  • I wrote up our proposed plant at De Anza College and highlighted my staff’s strengths and the excitement we have about starting an InterVarsity fellowship there.  As I wrote, my heart got excited to love students we haven’t even met yet.
  • And tonight, I translated ten verses of Romans for my Greek exegesis class that just started.  My brain is tired – my Greek is pretty rusty since I took Greek over a year ago. But I feel so grateful to have the tools and ability to study.  


Yes, there are lots of other things that had to be done today, and still many more that await.    But taking the time to reflect even just briefly has changed the way I feel about the day.  I hope that in a moment of reflection that you find hidden (or not so hidden) gifts that were in your day too!