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Ok, so I admit I suck at blogging.  I don’t think I’d have enough time even if I wasn’t in school to get achieve what I was hoping to accomplish on this blog.  That much introspection is just too daunting.  Besides, it doesn’t make sense to force profundity and I’m a firm believer in not writing anything that doesn’t deserve the immortality of written word.  But yes, one may disagree with me as to what exactly deserves that immortality — my definition is often quite broad!

Now most people around this time of year start asking that question, “What am I thankful for?”  And certainly that is a decent enough question; it is a fundamentally good thing to be thankful.  But it is also inescapably self-centered: invariably what we are thankful for generally consists of those things that benefit us.  And our nation has done an excellent job at supplanting pure and sincere thankfulness by creating Black Friday, a false capitalistic holiday to immediately follow Thanksgiving, assuming the guise of being others-centered.  “What?  I’m not being selfish.  I’m waking up at 2 a.m. to buy presents for other people.  How is that selfish?”

Well, the goal of such soporific asceticism is to save yourself some money in your attempt at materialistically proving to your loved ones that you care about them.  Yeah, I know, that’s a little harsh.  Let me be clear: I am not against buying presents as a way of showing love. And to all my friends who were out shopping this morning, I hope this doesn’t sound like a moral condemnation, I too was seriously considering camping out at Walmart to get my 32-in LCD TV for $250!!  It’s just that I have been increasingly concerned by the way we jump right from being conscientiously thankful one day, to relegating that pursuit to memory as we train our materialistic gaze upon December 25th.  So my question is this: if you can be conscientiously thankful one day out of the year, what things keep you from being conscientiously thankful the other 364 days?

I asked myself that question, because I realized I was just as guilty of it as I’m sure most of us are.  And here is what I came up with: fear, worry, uncertainty, pride, anger, discontent, cowardice, pain, fatigue, and gluttony (I’m sure the list could continue).  There is one thing that is common among all these things: idolatry.  Let me define “idolatry” as anything that illegitimately commands our obsessive gaze and worship.  It is an insidious thing, and often takes the form of innocuous and even admirable things.  Even serving others can be idolatrous if the motive is ill-directed.  It is profoundly a expression of the heart.  The only path to authentic thankfulness (and authentic existence) every day of my life is to daily allow the Lord to remain enthroned over my life.  Once I let other things take the throne, I open the floodgates to every seed of malcontent known to man.  Ironically, it is only by realizing my servitude that I can be thankful toward the One I serve.  It is not possible to have nothing on that throne.  It will either be the true Lord, or an impostor.  May the true Lord reign in your life and mine during this Advent season and every day of our lives.

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Perhaps this isn’t the cheeriest of subjects about which I could reinstate my blog, but it is, without doubt, the most universally applicable.  Viktor Frankl, John Donne, Qoheleth (the writer of Ecclesiastes), and Randy Pausch (the late author of “The Last Lecture”) — What do these men have in common?  They all confronted head-on the most ultimate of subjects: death.  Each man highlights a different aspect of death and gives it a color that only extensive personal experience can do.  Being a nurse-in-training, going to class or clinical is a daily reminder of that which shall one day claim us all.  But it is my desire to show that this is not an exercise in futility; indeed thinking clearly about death serves to affirm its antithesis.

We don’t like to think about death.  In the United States, so much of our popular culture seems hell-bent on ignoring this inevitability, as if by doing so one could make his present circumstances more bearable; as if the only path to happiness were paved in whatever can distract us from that ultimate destination.  On the other hand, focusing too much on death can lead to a denial of the present and philosophical fatalism.  I’m reminded of the classic conversation between Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal in “When Harry Met Sally”:

Harry: …Do you think about death?

Sally: Yes.

Harry: Sure you do, a fleeting thought that drifts in and out of the transom of your mind.  I spend hours, I spend days —

Sally:  — and you think this makes you a better person?

Harry: Look, when the shit comes down, I’m gonna be ready, and you’re not.  That’s all I’m saying.

Sally:  And in the meantime you’re going to ruin your whole life waiting for it.

True.  We find it easy to see this one extreme: ruining one’s life by obsessing about death.  But too often we ignore the other extreme: ruining one’s life by ignoring it.  This is the truth Frankl, Donne, Qoheleth and Pausch were grappling with.  If I were to try to incorporate the thoughts of all these men in a single blog, I don’t think even I would want to read it, so let me go in phases.

First I want to look at some thoughts of Viktor Frankl, a psychotherapist in the Vienna tradition of Freud and Adler, but much less obsessed with his mother.  He developed his theories of psychotherapy as a prisoner in German concentration camps as he observed who survived those atrocities, those who didn’t, and why.

Then I’ll be looking at the Holy Sonnets of John Donne — make no mistake, this will be no scholarly endeavor.  I intend to only extrapolate what speaks to me and I’ll probably comment on the movie “Wit” with Emma Thompson which utilizes Donne’s poetry as a platform from which to portray a woman’s bout with ovarian cancer.

Thirdly I hope to do justice to Qoheleth, the mysterious author of Ecclesiastes…no small task.  And finally I’d like to take a modern look at death from the point of view of Randy Pausch, author of “The Last Lecture” who, in light of his diagnosis of terminal cancer (with 3-4 months to live), wrote a book of what he considered to be life’s greatest lessons.

I hope you’ll stay tuned for these installments.  Being a full-time student it may take some time to get these out; still none are meant to be exhaustive and all I hope will spawn positive discussion and introspection.

For anyone who used to read my blogs back in 2007 (when I last posted) and who for some serendipitous reason is checking my blog now, much has happened in the last 2 years.  I graduated Westminster with a Masters in Religion and have subsequently begun another degree, a 2nd bachelors in nursing at Villanova University.  I claim this will be my last degree for a while, and indeed I don’t think the American Education Service will be willing to fund any more of my academic endeavors until I pay them back for the last 5 years!  To some it may seem I’m merely delaying the inevitable with all this study; but I am convinced it will pay a return ten-fold when all is said and done.  I am on track to graduate in August of 2010, take the nursing boards that September and hopefully have a job lined up that will allow me to pay off my loans…or at least fix my Saturn and buy something other than ramen for dinner (I only slightly exaggerate).

This is merely a reintroduction to what will hopefully be a fruitful blogging season.  In it I intend to reflect on life, faith, books, movies, art, medicine, and anything else that might be tinkering around in my noggin.  I do not expect it to be exceptionally profound, but I do hope it will be received as profoundly sincere.  And so begins a new chapter in the life of this blog, a new path in my (in our) endeavor to constantly be seeking Canaan.