My New Book Living More Than OK

My New Book Living More Than OK
purchase it at B & N, Amazon or (click on image of cover)

Friday, February 24, 2012

Praying Along Our Life Journey

For sometime I have been slowly trudging through a book on Prayer, A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World, by Paul E. Miller. Paul is the Director of a Christian ministry SeeJesus which focuses in on interactive Bible Studies and presenting teaching workshops. Their website is they have free resources and resources for purchase. As a Christian I believe prayer is an important part of our life journey.

I purposely read the book in a slow manner as I wanted to think through what he was saying. His book had a completely different feel to it in that he is very open about his prayer life and admits that prayer is a difficult thing to do. He is honest about the cynicism that can come into our prayer life as we see nothing happening so why bother. The author points out that Jesus calls us to a journey of faith and prayer is a big part of that journey. We are encouraged to move beyond our cynicism and pride to embrace our neediness, “Don’t be embarrassed by how needy your heart is and how much it needs to cry out for grace. Just start praying.” So the call is to move beyond the distractions and hardships of life and step out in faith.

A couple things that stand out to me is mid way through the book he discusses “Good Asking”. He points out in James 4:2-3 the text reads “You do not have because you do not ask.” And “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” These are problems we have with prayer as if we are honest we can complain God is not doing anything in our life but we are not asking for His help. Then on the other hand sometimes of our prayers are as selfish as a child rattling of a long list of presents on Santa’s lap like God is just our errand boy. We need to strike a balance between not asking or being totally selfish. He sees the answer to both by having a prayer attitude of asking boldly and at the same time surrendering completely to God.

Miller makes a point that ,”All of Jesus’ teaching on prayer in the Gospels can be summarized with one word: ask. Jesus’ greatest concern is that our failure or reluctance to ask keeps us distant from God. God wants to give us good gifts. He loves to give." Miller backs this us by pointing us to the parables of Jesus about the persistent widow who kept pleading with the judge in the story for help. You can read the whole story in Luke 18:1-8 . He also points to the parable of the man bothering a neighbor at night for some bread for his houseguest, see Luke 11:5-8 . These thoughts from Jesus point to the fact that just like people will answer persistent asking; how much more will God answer the prayers of His people.
Another thing I enjoyed about the book is his emphasis on the power of story. This is one important aspect I believe about living more than ok is to understand that each of our stories are important. Paul Miller understands that prayer is part of the story. He shows that those who pray with no thought that God is working a story in them are often bitter, angry, aimless, cynical, controlling, hopeless, thankless, blaming. On the other hand those who are open to God’s story and seeing His story work through them in their prayer life are waiting, watching, wondering, praying, submitting, hoping, thankful and repenting. This concept of prayer as part of God’s story in us relates to near the end of the book the author brings up an idea of a prayer journal or making prayer a part of your journaling. Here are some of his thoughts on prayer journaling, “When life makes sense it becomes a journey, a spiritual adventure. Writing down the adventure as it happens gives us a feel for our place in the story God is weaving in our lives, …Many of us rush around without much conscious knowledge of the pilgrimage God is carving out for us.. So we slog through life, missing the Divine touches.” Life can not be boring and cynical if we are open to seeing God’s moments in our lives. To notice these God moments, we need to be living a life of faith and mindfully aware that He is involved in our journey. Prayer is needed in our distracting world that we wake up to every day.

Reflection: Where are you at in your prayer life with the balance between asking boldly and being submissive to God’s will in your life? Take some time to journal about the concept of prayer being part of God’s story in your life.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Celebrating the Creativity of Beethoven

This past Friday our family enjoyed the music of Ludwig van Beethoven’s 8th and 9th Symphonies performed by the San Antonio Symphony orchestra. Our daughter had joined some former classmates who were attending so my wife and I took the occasion to attend as well. It was a fine evening of music and a time to enjoy the creativity of the musicians and the creativity of Beethoven the composer.

The orchestra started with the Symphony number 8 which was Beethoven’s shortest symphony. During this piece I listened to all the intricate musical details of the movements and began to marvel at Beethoven’s creative mind. This sense of marvel increased during the performing of his Symphony number 9 which was his last symphonic work and his most popular through the ages up to the present. It was the first symphonic work to make use of a human chorus. The chorus joins during the 4th movement. The lyrics that were used came from the Poem “Ode To Joy”, by Friedrich Schiller and selected excerpts by Beethoven:

Ode To Joy
O friends, no more these sounds! Let us sing more cheerful songs, More full of joy!
Joy, bright spark of divinity, Daughter of Elysium, Fire-inspired we tread Thy sanctuary. Thy magic power re-unites All that custom has divided, All men become brothers, Under the sway of thy gentle wings.

Whoever has created An abiding friendship, Or has won A true and loving wife, All who can call at least one soul theirs, Join our song of praise; But those who cannot must creep tearfully Away from our circle.

All creatures drink of joy At natures breast. Just and unjust Alike taste of her gift; She gave us kisses and the fruit of the vine, A tried friend to the end. Even the worm can feel contentment, And the cherub stands before God!

Gladly, like the heavenly bodies Which He sent on their courses Through the splendor of the firmament; Thus, brothers, you should run your race, like a hero going to victory!

You millions, I embrace you. This kiss is for all the world! Brothers, above the starry canopy There must dwell a loving father.

The symphony was completed in 1824 but in his notebooks it is seen that he was working on the piece from 1811. It is also known that he had wanted to write a musical piece that incorporated Schiller’s poem since 1793 when we was 22. The poem celebrates friendships and relationships. There is Joy in strong abiding friendships that we can count on being there with us in our life journey.

Back to my marveling at the creativity of Beethoven, while looking down from the balcony of the Majestic Theater listening to his Symphony number 9. I marveled at the variety in the four movements and how all the lines of music for the different instruments came out of one mind. He had to be able to hear in his mind the differing instrumental voices and the whole of the piece so that it was not just senseless noise. That has always amazed me about composers of orchestra symphonies and choral music. How they can write out the individual parts and when it fits together there is a unified music message expressed.

Another marvel about the piece is, that it is known from history that Beethoven was losing his hearing at this time. Concerning this there is the anecdote that when he was directing the premier of this Symphony number 9 he was completely deaf. So deaf, that when the piece was over he was still directing and a singer had to turn him around to see the crowds cheering as he could not hear them. What is amazing to me about this is his spirit of resilience. He could have given up on this piece by saying, “I can’t hear anymore so my love of music is done! I have written enough music so the masses should be happy with that. Poor, poor me as I really did want to do this piece about Schiller’s poem but it is impossible now!”. Resilience does not give in to impossibilities. This is just conjecture but maybe since he had a desire since age 22 to do a musical number about Schiller’s poem that helped as a driving force of inspiration, when otherwise it would have been natural to just give up composing. Listening to the San Antonio Symphony perform the Symphony number 9 I am glad he did not give up but continued with his creativity.

Reflection: Click on the these words - Beethoven’s Symphony number 9 and listen to the short video except of the symphony. Then read over the poem lyrics that I have above that inspired his musical piece. Write down in your journal the thoughts and feelings that come to mind.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Tapping Into Your Creative Brain

In our pursuit of Living More Than OK, which is moving beyond mere boring existence, creativity is important to build into our lives. We tend to think of creativity only in the realm of the Arts: music, painting, poetry, theater and dance. These are important and I encourage people to grow their talents in one or more of these. Yet it is important to remember that creativity has a greater impact in all areas of life. Creativity can be used in solving problems, coming up with new ways to keep relationships fresh and alive, or discovering new ways to enjoy life. It is up to each of us to choose to tap into our creative side.

This brings me to a book I highly recommend to help you tap into your creativity. The book is Your Creative Brain , by Dr. Shelley Carson, a professor and researcher at Harvard University. In the opening chapter she states, “We are all creative. Creativity is the hallmark human capacity that has allowed us to survive thus far. Our brains are wired to be creative,…” This reminds me of the words of creative writing professor, Brenda Euland, “…you are all original and talented and need to let it out of yourselves; that is to say you have the creative impulse.” We are all creative. I like how Dr. Carson mentions it is the hallmark human capacity. When I visit the zoo I do not see turtles and bears painting murals on their habitat walls. As I visit the monkey area I have never seen one typing out a new fiction novel on its laptop. Creativity is one of the things that separate us from the rest of the animal kingdom.

Dr. Carson in her book helps us to see how expansive creativity can be into all areas of our lives if we are open to tapping into what she calls the CREATES brainsets. Her hypothesis she sets forth is what I see as 7 thought patterns we have that relate to creativity in our thinking. Her seven brainsets are:
Connect – Looking for connections between items and ideas to come up with new ideas and solutions.

Reason – Making use of the information you have and analyze and organize it for problem solving.
Envision – Using your imagination to explore the possibilities and answer the “What ifs” that come to mind. This reminds me of possibility thinking.
Absorb - This is opening your mind to new ideas and experiences and savor how these new ideas can shape and form something new and creative.
Transform – Dr. Carson says of this, that it is our tapping into our negative energy and distress we may be feeling. We can then transform the pains of life to solutions for future situations. For me it is reminder that we can choose to remain bitter over pain and hurt or transform and learn to be more empathetic to others going through pain.
Evaluate - This is the critiquing phase of looking at creative ideas and seeing which is best to follow.
Stream – This relates to Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of flow where creativity seems to be in oneness with our activity and thinking.

Her book goes into detail of her seven brainsets and gives practical exercises at the end of each chapter you can try out to improve your creativity. That is the important help in this book as she shows we are each wired for creativity and that we each can improve our level of creativity.

I want to just share a couple of important helps from the book to help you in your quest to improve your creativity. Then also this may encourage you to seek out this book at your local library or local bookstore. The first item is that a way to being more creative is to continue in lifelong learning. Be open to studying new topics and ideas. This helps build a broad based foundation of general knowledge for the Connect brainset. Don’t be narrowly focused in just one area. Dr. Carson provides examples of great people with broad based life experience. Benjamin Franklin was a writer, philosopher and inventor, John Grisham was a lawyer and now a writer, Leonardo Da Vinci was an inventor and an artist. I remember I had a physics teacher who brought in his cello to class and played for us students. Just recently I heard a jazz combo with a killer upright bass player. I found out his day job was that of a math teacher. So be open to adding variety to your ideas and skills.

Then also here are some of her ideas to help improve your creative mood of the absorb brainset: Make a playlist of inspirational songs that help encourage creativity, find a relaxing spot that quiets your mind, (hopefully this is a place linked to nature), Take a walk in a favorite natural setting like a park or beach, or carry a notepad or digital recorder to capture creative ideas you may have.
I hope by now if you started with a “But I am not creative” mindset you have changed your mind. This can be a first step to improve your creativity and help you in Living More Than OK.

Reflection: I want for this reflection to use one of Dr. Carson’s exercises from chapter 10.
Feelings: Describe Your Feelings
Aim of exercise: To better understand and describe your feelings. You will need a blank sheet of paper and a writing utensil. This exercise will take around 12 minutes.

Procedure: Sit in a quiet place and try to step outside your current feeling state and observe it objectively:
Write down a description of your feeling state. What emotions, moods, or affect are you feeling right now? Try to write at least 3 sentences that describe how you feel.
Now write what physical feelings you are experiencing right now. Scan your body for any area that might feel tense, painful, or constricted. Write down these physical feelings. Do you think they are related to your feelings? If so, write down how your think your current physical and emotional states are connected.
Now think about your mental state. Are you having trouble concentrating due to your feelings?
Finally think about your action tendencies. Are you feeling the urge to act in a certain way? Run away or escape, lash out at someone or something, disappear into the floor, put your arms around someone?
The goal of this exercise is to write a detailed and precise a description of your feeling state as possible. When you’ve finished, read over what you wrote. Does it adequately describe what you are feeling?
Try to do this exercise at least once a week. It will provide insight into your feelings and also develop your skills for self expression. This exercise will also help you develop emotional intelligence, a quality that will enhance your creative work.