a paycheck

How much do we really need in order to “make a living”?

For three pay cycles toward the end of summer, the accounting department at my work overpaid me by about a third.  When we all realized the error, I took a 1/3 cut for the next three checks (which worked out to more like 1/2 of what I’d been making for the previous six weeks).

Because clergy are in a strange tax situation, we took the extra and put it away in our account for saving to pay our taxes–ours aren’t taken out check-by-check–so we’ll be set a little bit earlier this year.

The wild-and-convicting thing?  My husband and I didn’t much notice the difference.  Sure, we spent less and kept closer track of our spending decisions, but our lives didn’t look or feel significantly different; indeed, now that the first “normal” check arrived in our account, I realize how much more we could (and probably should) be giving away.  Have you ever tried to live on less?  What did you notice–anything?

Since January, I’ve been on a clothing-spending-freeze.  You see, there’s an intentional living community in Durham, NC (the Community of the Franciscan Way) that fostered my adoption and growth in the Anglican tradition; this group reminded me how to be Christian again.  My heart longs for those people and the way God is present in them, but my work is elsewhere now.  To stay invested and connected with them this year, I decided to give to them monthly, and since money doesn’t grow on trees, I looked at my budget (and my closet) and decided I really didn’t need any more clothes.  I’ve been sending them my clothing budget this year, and though I’ve missed the numbing sensation of retail therapy (I hadn’t realized till this commitment what a “therapy”–perhaps in a bad sense–it really is!), my closet is plenty stocked to accommodate my fashion whims.

Full disclosure: after ripping my one set of jeans on a recent grocery store trip, I did buy a new pair.

What sorts of habits have we fallen into with our money, mindlessly spending rather than intentionally enjoying, and sharing with others?

this morning

as I spent Monday morning sleeping the weekend off (in a facilitating-a-junior-high-retreat way, not in a Duke-girl-socialite way), my dear husband ran to CVS to buy more Allegra-D (the only way to survive autumn in South Carolina) and then sat in the next room, reading “his friend” (we use this phrase very liberally in the Hylden household) Rod Dreher’s blog.  When I awoke at noon (maybe I’m becoming the junior-highers with whom I spent the weekend…), I checked my email and found this excerpt:

“I started it on Sunday September 3. Here’s why I bring it up now: I found that after doing without wheat, corn, rice, and potatoes, the mono symptoms had dramatically declined. Not gone away, but gotten a lot better. Normally I have constant inflammation in my nasal passages, and feel worn down, as if my body were doing all it could to fight off an invader. That still happens, but not nearly as often. Every day I was having to take a nap several hours long, in the middle of the day. I’ve only had to do that once since I began this diet. I even noticed that symptoms of Raynaud’s Syndrome, an autoimmune condition with which I was diagnosed six or seven years ago, have become milder.”

While his wife was starting up the seasonal sudafed regimen and sleeping several hours in the middle of the day (of course, those two alone are probably related), Jordan stumbled upon the witness that broke the camel’s back.

IMG_0203I’ve been wondering about the relationship between gluten and autoimmune diseases for years (having activated my Rheumatoid Arthritis about this time of year 13 years ago), and toyed with going gluten-free two or three years ago.  In the end, my passion for baked goods, pasta, pizza, and all the good things in life (even a burgeoning affinity for beer) won out over trying a lifestyle without wheat.

The voices in my head of my doctor-father and my common-sense-filled (child-of-a-farmer) Midwestern husband, had helped my rationalization, along with colloquial witnesses that attested at least a six-month cleanse period before any effect was noticeable.

With the shift of Jordan’s vote and my generally-antsy feeling at this seasonal shift, I’m ready to try it.  Maybe not for six months, but if changes are noticed in a mere 5 days (as in Rod’s case), surely a few weeks is a reasonable goal.  Starting today (for better or worse, I didn’t have a croissant or any gluten this morning before my resolution), till the end of October (coincidentally, the anniversary of the day my RA went full tilt), I’m giving up gluten.

IMG_0204

As last November dawned, I remember thinking to myself, “Good lord, where did September and October go?!”  Trinity had hosted the former Archbishop, Lord Carey, I’d started up with the Canterbury College Ministry at USC, launched a monthly Drinks & Discussion, and I turned around, and autumn was gone almost without a mention or moment of reflection.

May this intentional and somewhat terrifying commitment demand a bit more attention to the present this season.

How are you mindful about what you eat and how it affects your general well-being?

Being Present – On Which to Chew

“The humans live in time but our Enemy destines them for eternity.  He therefore, I believe, wants them to attend chiefly to two things, to eternity itself, and to that point of time which they call the Present.  For the Present is the point at which time touches eternity.”

– The Screwtape Letters

Screwtape goes on to talk about the various pros and cons of trapping a given “patient” in either the Past, or the Future; the Past, while distracting, is of limited use, he says, because there isn’t much unknown–it’s been experienced, it can draw one off a good path, but it doesn’t take them much of anywhere else.  The Future, however, is very fruitful for despair’s handmaids, as tempters may suggest all sorts of fearful, disastrous, unknown, untested events, possibilities, and thoughts, all of which come at an alarming speed, producing a scurrying mind with little connection to reality.

Mindfulness, a practice I suspect our dear mystical brothers and sisters knew well, is fantastically useful in combating the mind’s susceptibility to darting around anywhere except This Moment.  Reality, which can sometimes burn us with its brightness, might make us want to run behind the dark shadow of the Past, or to find tasty unreality in the Future, but it is only in living in the bright reality of the present moment that its healing heat can transform us (in this Church season of Epiphany, the bright truth of God’s love shines hot on humanity through the person of Jesus Christ).

More by me on The Screwtape Letters: here & here.

To Be, Rather Than to Study

A few weeks ago, there was a mindfulness retreat in Asheville, led by the yoga teacher who made it all click for me last summer, and though I desperately wanted to learn more from her, I couldn’t go (you know, occupational responsibilities, like, Sunday morning).

After the retreat, she posted about the weekend on facebook, commending mindfulness as “where it’s at.”  I lay in bed with my phone very early Sunday morning, wishing I could have been there and learned something with that community, and I commented, “what should I read to learn more?”  I could almost see my teacher smiling compassionately as her comment appeared, “find a quiet place, sit comfortably, breathe, let go!”  I rolled my eyes–of course!–I wanted to study the practice of meditation and to learn about mindfulness, but doing the actual thing?  Learning by practicing?  No, no, that was too hard.  It was much easier to let my mind just run about while I dove into a book, or let my thoughts wander around while I discussed the theory.

That’s what Paul’s telling us this afternoon about the cross (1 Corinthians 1:10-18).  For many reasons, we’ve become a people who believe that knowledge is power.  We’ve seen how our medical advances save, or at least prolong, life.  We pay lots of money for diplomas on our walls that symbolize years of reading, writing, and testing.  Our obsession with study and learning, while they are goods, can begin to blind us to the Gospel.  I do not believe that being a “thinking church” or the “church where you don’t have to check your brain at the door” is a badge of honor; it is a condemnation.

God did not come into the world as a scholar, though he has all knowledge.  When God the Father sent his Son to be among humanity, and to be human himself, he did not set his kid up in the hotbed of intellectualism, or in the most prestigious city in the world.  God showed by his example in Jesus’ life that knowledge is not the core of our faith.

A former rector of mine always used to say that, “the Episcopal Church is David dancing before the Lord.”  We understand grace; we depend on it–we dance because of it!  What a beautiful gift for our brothers and sisters in other denominations in Christ’s regrettably divided body.  However, as Paul said elsewhere, though everything is permissible, not everything is beneficial (1 Cor. 10:23); sometimes our deeply-held belief in the grace poured out for us, we think that we decide to believe whatever else we want, because of the grace safety-net.  We can slurp up the newest theories of Jesus’ wife, or find the “real person”-Jesus behind the text, we can obscure the view of Jesus’ death on the cross all together with the more pressing, more important matters of social justice.  Again, Paul says, “while physical training is of some value, godliness is valuable in every way, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:8).

Our first charge as disciples of Jesus is to sit at the foot of the cross.  Jesus’ sacrifice of love through his death on the cross is the foundation of our faith.  “The wisdom of the cross stands against worldly wisdom” (Feasting on the Word Commentary, Year A, Volume 1, pg 282; Timothy F. Sedgwick).  We understand God’s love not by reading about it, or by studying the details of the Gospel accounts; we learn by practicing. We sit, and stand, and bow, and kneel in front of the altar, the most-ancient symbol of sacrifice.  It is at the altar, the table–the cross–where God, through Jesus shows us the Good News.  The Gospel is that we are no longer helpless to evil, there is no longer any reason that we should drown and die in our sins.  The one person in the history of the world who had the power to fight evil from the beginning, the one person who lived a perfect, blameless, sinless life–he died a violent death for each of us.

Jesus taught using words on the Mount, in the Temple, on the road, and on the sea, but we do not spend every Sunday remembering any one of those places or moments.  The most important moment was not when disciples’ minds were being given a work out, the most important moment was when Jesus gave himself up to death, even death on a cross, because of God’s great love.

When the church tries to argue its way into converts, it will always lose.  Our world doesn’t set us up to understand the Gospel as making sense and as the respectable thing to do.  Our world is a place of division and dissension; just as Paul talks about in the Epistle lesson today–how the church in Corinth was prioritizing their spiritual lineage over their identity as Jesus’ disciples.  I wonder how much we prioritize our lineage as Episcopalians, or as Methodists, or as Roman Catholics above our identity as belonging to Jesus Christ because of his life in backwoods-Nazareth, his death on the cross and sacrifice on the altar/table, and because of his resurrection from death, the complete triumph over evil on Easter Day.

Each time we celebrate the Eucharist, we gather together, sitting quietly at the foot of the cross, waiting for God to reveal himself to us again, to enlighten our hearts with his saving grace.  May we be ever-humble, knowing that we do not have the whole picture, eager for the reunion of all the disparate pieces of Jesus’ body, the church, throughout the world, and placing our trust and faith in Jesus Christ alone.