Here's how I'm trying to do the most with 2017. I turn thirty in June and three decades have thoroughly proven to me the foolishness of biting off more than you can chew. Bold resolutions can be especially naive when they come at the end of the year and aim at living some way for a year that you've never been able to do for even a week. Real change, in my experience (and I'm one who struggles with neurotic self-improvement), comes through slow and incremental discipline, not bold January promises. But there are some things I've been nurturing resolve toward for some time now and have already begun to put into place.
1. Seminary. I start online courses in January through Western Seminary in an attempt to get a Masters in Biblical Theology as quickly and efficiently as possible. Hopefully that means about two years, which will be the minimum required to learn Greek and Hebrew via three semesters of each. I'll be starting with the first course of Greek and a theology elective on the Psalms in the spring. 2016 was already a year of grandiose transition into parenthood. Figuring out how to add school to the work/family/life balance will be another challenging addition.
2. Intensive Discipleship Cohort. Also beginning in January I will be launching and leading an intensive year-long discipleship group. In the desperate attempts to describe the vision for this projects I've used words like intense, experimental, seminary-level, radical, and fun. We'll see. I've been waiting to try something like this for awhile and in many senses in feels like a necessary release valve that will allow me a positive outlet to channel some of my idealism, alternative vision, and teaching skills. It will be a space for me to teach, organize, fellowship, listen, learn, train, supervise, encourage and (hopefully) truly equip a group of amazing young men and women in the work of ministering to the world on Christ's behalf.
3. Poetry. In her poem on poetry, I Happened to be Standing, Mary Oliver describes her most ordinary and distracted mode of being "a condition I can't really call being alive". In Upstream she juxtaposes this dismal pseudo-living with the poet's artistic devotion to the extraordinary - the realm of attentive existence synced not to efficiency or pragmatism or even this evening's meal but to transcendent presence and radical awareness, to meaning and eternity. "A poem is a temple - or a green field - a place to enter, and in which to feel." My poetry is less than extraordinary. However, poetry is for me indeed a sacred temple that houses and enthrones an extraordinary life force. My poems are just bread crumbs giving proof to the existence of such a temple and to my own (usually) early morning pilgrimages. If the poems succeed extraordinarily then they may also serve as windows offering glimpses into the temple itself. In 2016 I spent very little time at the temple. At first life with a newborn didn't afford it and then I simply couldn't get myself back to church in a sense. But in December I got some time back and rekindled my connection to the realm of the extraordinary. In 2017 I'll have even less time for creative writing than this year. I won't be able to work on a novel or write many essays. But my commitment is to step regularly into the poetic stream (again referencing Oliver here) which runs against the ordinary flow of life as a kind of preventative balm for my soul. Sometimes all it takes is a 15-minute walk to the beach and back early in the morning to get me noticing once again life's extraordinary sounds and rhythms that are to me a poem.
4. Garden and beach time. If you haven't noticed, these resolutions are connected. I need poetry to maintain transcendent peace in what will be a full year. Our backyard garden and the beach, a block from our new home, are now the primary locations where for us the extraordinary can happen. These are the places we can slow down, play, delight, laugh, lose track of time, learn how the world works, and feel the real state of the air. Sometimes, however, parenting seems easier indoors. My fourth resolution to maintain the prior three is simply to regularly locate myself in these two places. They are simply too close and too life-giving to ignore for days at a time.
5. Sacrificial Presence. To Monique and Camden firstly. But to the moments of life, nature, others, words, poetry, God and anything else that I happen to come into contact with. This is again connected to everything else. I'm starting seminary and a brand new ministry endeavor next year on top of my current job and life as a husband and dad. 2017 will be a kind of wilderness temptation toward busy-ness. Presence is already hard enough. In San Francisco, in the 21st century, in a big church, in general. It requires determination. Being present was one of our primary goals this year and I am pleased to say that, looking back, I was very present to Camden and Monique this year. But it was hard. I wanted at so many times to distract, to disengage, to just get alone by myself with a book for heaven's sake! Rather than move on to a new practice this year, I feel a need to double down on being attentively present. Life, we all say, only seems to get busier and being present therefore only more difficult. 2017 won't be any different. Camden will be a one year-old next year. Only. And then never again. Lord, help me be simply to be here for this, to be around and engaged. Grant me the strength of patience and love to sacrifice whatever it takes to be alive and awake attuned to all the moments of this beautiful life you've given me.
Happy new year!