Reality Checks Are Good Things

I am a sucker for a good mystery series. I like the intrigue and figuring out the puzzles, unraveling the knots to find the answers. The thing is, most mysteries these days are of the murder variety. That means I end up watching a lot of violence along the way. And that bugs me.

It used to be that sleuths tracked down more thieves than murderers. Sherlock Holmes only encountered 3 murders in his first 12 adventures. Where have all the other stories gone?

I don’t have an answer.

I do know that watching all that violence takes a toll on my psyche. I get jumpy. I worry about whether we locked the doors before going to bed. I walk down dark streets with a tighter grip on my keys.

The thing is, I live in Emporia, Kansas. We have a below average crime rate. We went 3 years without a single murder, from 2010-2012. Most murders here are like most murders elsewhere–personal. Random violent crime is really rare here and across the nation.

The only news article I could find regarding this trend of exaggerating the crime rate and the incidence of violent crime is from the BBC, How Realistic Is Murder on Television? It gives the actual murder rates for some television series, comparing those to real life locations. They give the statistics in murder rates per million. The highest average total violent crimes per million in the past 10 years in the U.S. is 27. The violent crime rate per million in the same year in Emporia was 21. In the popular television show Murder She Wrote the murder rate alone is 1,290 per million. I sense a little overkill.

AnvilI needed that reality check. Not only are crime rates exaggerated in television series, but violent crime is emphasized on news broadcasts and talked to death in the blogosphere. If we are not careful, it is easy to believe that we are in constant danger. We begin to think that the whole world is a terrible place where things are getting worse every day.

It is not that bad things do not happen, or that injustice is not a problem. There is war. People are killed. Children are kidnapped. Just not as often as we fear.

I am not particularly a big fan of statistics, but they saved my sanity when I realized that my perception is skewed by media input.

Reality checks that bring us peace are so refreshing!

This TED Talk sheds more light on decoding the facts about the global situation.

Boiling it all down

Today I am cooking tomatoes. I had a ton in my fridge from my CSA that were in the use it or loose it stage. So I cut them up and threw them in a pot with some onion. They will serve as the base for pasta and pizza sauces, and more importantly they will not go to waste.

This is making me think about life. There are apparently a lot of life lessons we can learn from our refrigerators (sounds like another post for another day). Today, my fridge is overwhelmingly full. I have okra, cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots, leafy lettuce, apples, more okra, onions, more tomatoes, and that is just the plant-based foods.

Sounds a lot like my life, full of good things, so why does it feel so overwhelming?

With the stuff in my fridge, I am sure I could find gourmet recipes that would accentuate the individual flavors of each ingredient…but I don’t have time for that. I can’t cook like a chef for every meal. If I did, I wouldn’t have time to speak to my husband, play with my kids, work, check homework, keep the family calendar moving. So when my fridge is overflowing, I throw things into a pot and boil them down.

I tend to think that my only options are total attention to everything in my life, or throwing things out because I just can’t juggle it all. Sometimes it is true that things have to go. Our family made a practice this summer of giving away extra produce so it wasn’t wasted. Pairing things down is a good practice, but simplifying does not always mean tossing aside what is important to us.

It doesn’t take a recipe or tons of time to throw things in a pot and let them simmer. Certain aspects of life can actually get better and richer with a little time to sit and stew. There are other ingredients in my fridge that need their own special recipes, that is where I have to prioritize. What needs my time and resources right now? What can I put on the back burner?

Right now on the front burner of my life:
-My Husband
-My Kids
-Local Ministry
-Keeping the Schedule Moving Forward
-Close Friendships
-Running & Training for a Half Marathon

Right now on the back burner of my life:
-Sewing/Crafting Projects
-Performance Singing
-Deep Study of Anything
-Yoga
-Leadership in Broader Organizations

The back burner list is not gone forever, it is simmering. I will come back to those items, and they will taste so much better when I can devote my full attention to them!

Letting our priorities direct our focus, that’s refreshing!

Hitting Refresh on Sabbath Keeping

Life is full of pressure to succeed, to make a difference, to prove our worth. We spend all our time blazing from project to project, activity to activity. There isn’t a moment to lose, not a minute to pause. As a culture, we are overworked, under rested, and over scheduled. We can’t catch a breath.

Most of us get two days off from work each week, but we rarely spend them resting. Even when we try to relax, we feel that we have to DO something. We fill our weekends with hiking, sports, home improvement, church activities, meditation classes. We find it difficult to just sit, to rest, to simply BE.

There is an ancient practice that answers this problem, but it is often misunderstood and gets a bad rap: Sabbath. Growing up, sabbath-keeping was presented as a legalistic practice that often got in the way of people’s needs. If the grass needed cut or the milk was running low, you were obligated to wait until the next day. There were watchdogs keeping score, and sabbath-keeping became another way to prove to God and others that we were good enough. A practice meant to bring refreshment became an obligation filled with anxiety, done without any intentional thought toward its implications.

Today, I have come to see the practice of sabbath-keeping as one of the greatest blessings that God has given to humankind. Through it, the divine screams to our hearts and souls, “You are worth more than all of this.” You are worth more than the balance of your bank account. You are worth more than the things you build, the time on your stopwatch, the number of friends on your contact list. These things are valuable, but you are worth more!

Sabbath rest removes the drive to be productive and reminds us of our value as part of God’s creation. Like the brushstrokes in Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night, our presence in that masterpiece is value enough. We lose sight of this when we spend all of our time trying to justify our existence to the world around us. It bleeds into our relating to God, and we wind up trying to convince Vincent of the value of his own brushstrokes.

God sets the example of taking sabbath rest for us in the story of creation. Working six days, then resting on the seventh. You can argue about what day that is supposed to be, but most likely we have no idea on which day of the week God took the first sabbath. Pick one for yourself. There are all kinds of rules surrounding sabbath-keeping, and they vary from group to group. Don’t get bogged down in the nitty-gritty, Jesus reminds us that God made the sabbath for the benefit of mankind, not mankind to serve the sabbath (Mark 2). Stick to the basics, and allow the Holy Spirit to guide your individual practice.

The principles of sabbath-keeping are these: disengaging from the rat race, setting aside time to cease pursuing both profit and products, resting in a trust that God’s work is bigger than us. Eugene Peterson talks about wasting time with God, and finding the time is not wasted at all. Some of my favorite Bible passages tell us that God is at work when we sleep. Taking a time-out from earning and buying and producing reminds us that the world does not stop spinning when we take a break. It allows us to reset our system of thinking and acting. Instead of acting from a desperation to prove our worth, we begin to live out of a confidence in our worth that goes beyond our market value.

Resting to remind us of our intrinsic worth, how Refreshing!