Christ Abhors Vagueness

June 27, 2022

It is easy enough to write and talk about God while remaining comfortable within the contemporary intellectual climate. Even people who would call themselves unbelievers often use the word gesturally, as a ready-made synonym for mystery. But if nature abhors a vacuum, Christ abhors a vagueness. If God is love, Christ is love for this one person, this one place, this one time-bound and time-ravaged self.

Christian Wiman

I read this thought and loved a couple of things in it. It’s easy for anyone to use the term God. Christ abhors vagueness.

It reminds me of an old Peanuts cartoon where Linus proclaims, “I love mankind.” But then he adds, “I can’t stand people.”

We can see this in general society. We see it in evangelical churches. Probably other churches as well.

I hope we don’t see it within us.

Jesus taught us that love is specific. His stories told of specific people loving specific people. He healed specific individual people. He taught us to do the same.

When I leave this desk to go out into the community around me, can I show some act, however small, of love toward each person I meet?

That is the test.

Motives

June 24, 2022

People who lived prior to 1890 or so described emotional/psychological issues as caused by spirits. Or demons. In “Discernment of the Spirits,” the anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing describes someone driven by the spirits of wrath, malice, and wickedness.

“For that wicked accursed wretch will sometimes change his likeness into that of an angel of light, in order that, under the color of virtue, he may do more mischief. He leads them on…always under the pretext of devotion and charity, not because he takes any delight in works of devotion or of charity, but because he loves dissension and scandal.”

Does that describe anyone you know? Church leader? Politician? Neighbor? Yourself?

Discern carefully the spirit of those you meet. Some will be genuinely full of the spirits of love (charity) or devotion. Others may be masking anger, anxiety, fear, or just plain wickedness.

Always be aware.

Put Your Mask On First

June 23, 2022

In case of sudden loss of cabin pressure, oxygen masks will drop from above your head. Pull to activate. Put your mask on before helping others.

Have you flown in a commercial airliner in the past 30 years? If you’ve flown at least as much as I have, you may have the entire performance memorized. Whether you are trying to or not.

We live in an era of anxiety and fear and anger (one breeds the next breeding the next). Not just in America where it plays out second by second on social media and TV. This is a global phenomenon. Millions, well billions, of people falling into those despairing emotions. Self-serving politicians also globally are always poised to exploit those emotions in order to gain or maintain power.

What can someone trying to live the life that Jesus pointed to (or Buddha, if you are so oriented) do to survive and help.

Put your mask on first.

The next thing you should do after reading and thinking on this is to pause and reflect. Where am I? How can I be assured of connecting to the source of oxygen (to continue the metaphor)? And I take myself out of the circle of anxiety and fear.

Thich Nhat Hahn told the story of Vietnamese refugee boats in troubled waters. If everyone on the boat was filled with anxiety and fear, all was lost. If even just one person remained calm, that calming influence spread and the boat was saved.

Thus only by putting on our own “mask” of calm can we help those around us. Don’t be a perpetrator of fear. Be a spreader of peace.

Chipping Away At The Block That Binds Us

June 22, 2022

The carpenter takes a block of wood. She chips away at it until she uncovers the shape that he needs for the project.

The anonymous author of the 14th century work The Cloud of Unknowing in another work commenting on the 12th century monk St. Denis, takes this illustration from Denis applying it to us.

We travel through life accumulating ideas, thoughts, emotions, scars. These accumulate and harden like that block of wood.

We have all met probably far too many people who are stuck in this hardened state of the spirit. This seems also to lead to physical manifestations of hardening.

We need not be condemned to be stuck in this block for the rest of our lives. We devote ourselves to meditation, study, prayer, service to others. God, seeing our right attitude, will assist us with our task of chipping away those hardened detritus of life to uncover the whole person that was there all the time.

We become free.

Teaching

June 21, 2022

An adult robin pecked and clawed energetically at a spot in the flower bed. Quickly it jumped away. An adolescent robin with mottled breast not grown yet into the resplendent burnt orange had been watching. It went to the spot, repeated what it saw, spotted a bug or a worm, grabbed the meal and ate.

Similarly, when someone asks me for help with a computing device, I put the mouse, keyboard, or other input into their hands and guide them toward a solution. They develop the muscle memory for the solution. They will know what to do the next time.

Thus we learn.

Maybe our teacher/mentor sits in the same room. Maybe the teacher lived 2,000 or even 3,000 years ago. We see, we listen, we read. Then we repeat. Sometimes we repeat many times until we have thoroughly brought it into our life.

Awareness helps. Many times in my life I didn’t realize I had a mentor until much later. Often I didn’t know how to ask for more. Other times I have sought out mentors both in the room and in a book. They have taught much and deeply.

I appreciate each and every one. My life is richer. Both for the teaching and the practice.

Opportunity Lost

June 20, 2022

They were driving through a number of states on vacation. He visited a small group Bible class on a Sunday stopover. The teacher commented on what he surely thought was common geographic knowledge of ancient Egypt introducing the class. He thought the teacher was wrong. Rising, he told the teacher he was wrong and leading the class astray. He left.

Actually, this man was most likely in error espousing a popular, but misleading, translation from the Hebrew. Understanding what those ancient writers meant in their ancient language is not as straightforward as some think.

Perhaps he could have asked, “Beg your pardon, but where do you get that idea?” And the teacher could have explained the translation as he had been taught. Perhaps then both could use the opportunity to explore the idea and come to a deeper understanding of the story the class was studying. Everyone could have learned something, even if they agreed to disagree.

These opportunities are rare. Missing the opportunity is unfortunate. A good discussion enlightens everyone. Now it is only a story of a disagreement that most likely ruined the day for everyone in the class.

Opportunity lost. Where are you (we) losing opportunities to learn and relate?

Do The Work Upfront

June 17, 2022

We so easily take the path of least resistance. Sometimes with intention we can make that work for us. Usually it takes us away from spiritual and personal growth and healing.

This is a sub topic in this Tim Ferriss interview with Jason Portnoy on addiction. Portnoy found himself taking that path with an addiction to porn and sex. He advises 12-step programs. His 10-year work with a life coach was invaluable. “If you can in any way afford it, working with a life coach or therapist will pay you back richly.” Do the work upfront, he said. Climb that mountain.

Seth Godin recently wrote about Carrying Benefits “Pay once, but come out ahead over and over again,” he advises. “There are habits, assets and learnings that seem too expensive right now. And so we simply stick with our status quo.”

That’s why I have risen early and exercised every week day even often while traveling. It’s why I meditate and study and reflect daily. Pay upfront. Do the work upfront.

Benefits follow.

What Fills Your Mind?

June 16, 2022

A recent survey of people in western Europe and the US revealed that a majority of those surveyed have been intentionally reading and listening to less news than before. Perhaps, like me, they have discovered that thinking often about news and opinions leads to feelings of depression, grumpiness, even anger. We become people that other people avoid.

Filling out mind with negativity and letting those thoughts constantly simmer leads to an unhappy life both for us and those we impact.

While we find it useful to know something about what is going on in the world, little of that helps us through today.

Beginning our day with attention to our spiritual life sets leads us to see people and events through a different lens. It is an extension of the apostle Paul’s suggestion to pray without ceasing. That is a form of attention to things that boost us positively.

Full of Fear

June 15, 2022

“My God, the Ukraine is closer to travel to than Spain. What is going on there…” My friend from The Netherlands was discussing his feelings on what’s happening in Europe over coffee at last week’s tech conference.

“Gary, people are full of fear,” an old friend told me as we were discussing my investments.

I could take that approach of the evangelicals and tell them (and you and me) to “just trust Jesus and it’ll all be OK.”

But it doesn’t feel OK. It feels like other people are out to get us. The economy is out to get us. We’re surrounded by evil forces.

That trust part…it doesn’t come easily. It takes work. Persistence. Not daily prayer and meditation. Perhaps even hourly isn’t often enough. Paul told us once to pray without ceasing. The hero of the book The Way of the Pilgrim centered his life on trying that. Perhaps a good model for us.

Like a Tennis Match

June 13, 2022

I like lifting quotes from writers or scriptures to use as thought starters. It works.

Some people enjoy picking a quote often out of context for the sake of argument. Some writers have played off that in novels or plays where two such people bounce quotes back and forth as if it were some sort of verbal tennis match.

I liked the way John Steinbeck in East of Eden goes on a search for meaning about good and evil going to a passage in the Bible. The idea was to think deeply about the idea.

A good quote comes along to meet you. It’s appealing, but you wonder what was the context of the thought. Where does it fit in a longer line of thinking? What do those words and phrases really mean? Perhaps that leads to a search on the words, their etymology, usage in the original language (if a translation).

Reflection. Deep thinking. These bring awareness. And calm.