Be Mindful of Your Focus

September 30, 2022

I wrote yesterday of becoming aware of what is surrounding us that we may never notice. These were some thoughts on David Foster Wallace’s commencement address “This Is Water.”

Then I began to think more on this subject.

I once taught people how to become soccer referees. You will begin by focusing on the ball, I’d tell them. You’ll see the player with the ball and the player challenging, but your focus will be on the ball and the feet. Gradually you’ll learn to watch all of both players–elbows, shoulders, hips, feet, ball. Learn, I would say, to broaden your vision. See the play developing. Where players are running from and to. Anticipate the coming collision. Anticipate where the ball will go if the player kicks it.

Perhaps we do this when studying scriptural or spiritual writing. We focus on individual words or phrases. We lift a phrase and make it a rule of life. We should, as we grow in experience and maturity, learn to see vast sweeps of the writing. That sentence in context of the audience the writer was reaching. The letter in context of what had been written before and in context of the lives of those referred to. See the “water.”

We can become trapped with people. We see one act in a narrow context. But we broaden our vision. We see what kind of day it’s been. We see the forces of family or job working on the person putting them in a certain frame of mind. We broaden our view. We see their long-term frustrations and struggles. Eventually we see the “water.”

Some may call this gaining perspective. Or it may be wisdom. Perhaps compassion.

Whatever you call it–work to acquire it.

Learning to See What’s Around Us

September 29, 2022

Two fish swim together across the pond. They meet an older, wiser fish. He says, “Hello, boys, how’s the water?”

The two swim for a bit, then one asks the other, “What’s water?”

This story is from a commencement speech given at Kenyon College in 2005 by David Foster Wallace.

He began with the common advice that college’s role is to teach you to think. The real point is knowing what to think about. Even more, to become aware of what surrounds you.

You’re tired and grumpy after work. Then you realize you are out of food at home and must go to the supermarket. It’s rush hour. Someone in a gas-hog SUV drives aggressively trying to pass everyone. You arrive at the store. You manage to find what you need. The check out line is long. There’s an overly made-up chubby woman screaming at her kid. The cashier says have a good day with the voice of death.

You think–perhaps that SUV was driven by a dad trying to get a sick kid to the hospital. Perhaps the woman at the store was tired after nursing a husband sick at home with cancer. Perhaps the cashier is caught in a dead-end job with many pressures at home.

Perhaps we don’t see the “water” around us. Perhaps we blame other people for things when we don’t understand their problem. Perhaps we think people are purposely out to get us when in reality they are just trying to get by. Just like us.

Perhaps by seeing the water, we can live a more compassionate life. And that would be good.

Take a Walk

September 28, 2022

Perhaps the truth depends on a walk around the lake. — Wallace Stevens

Wallace Stevens is one of my favorite poets. He was both insurance executive and poet. I tend toward people who exhibit both sides of the brain.

Perhaps you have experienced this truth. Many people whom I’ve read recently discuss how they come to insight after taking a walk in nature. I’ve done that. Many times. 

You walk for a while. Your mind is churning over your latest problem or setback. Gradually nature takes over. You hear a bird calling its mate. Or perhaps geese flying overhead squawking directions of flight to each other. You begin to notice the pond or trees or grasslands. Nature settles in pushing the churning aside. Now you are able, if you listen, to hear the whisper of God. Perhaps the answer is stillness. Or a more specific answer penetrates your awareness. You now have a direction and the calm to pursue it.

Yes, sometimes a walk around the lake provides healing medicine.

Rejoice For What You Have

September 27, 2022

“He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.” Epictetus

Following on to yesterday’s thought about celebrating having enough. Let us ponder gratitude versus unfulfilled desire.

Explore in our lives where our wants exceed our ability to acquire them. What uneasiness we feel in our gut. Like a perpetually unsettled stomach. I had a friend as a youth whose phrase was “don’t get your bowels in an uproar.”

We look at what we have. We choose to compare to our neighbor and despair of having more than them. Or, we choose to look at what we have. We are grateful to have shelter from storms, a bed upon which to lie, a place to welcome family and friends.

I look around and cannot believe I have all this. I am blessed. Thank you Lord.

Enough Is A Feast

September 26, 2022

Enough is a feast.

Everywhere you look or listen, others tell us we Americans must pursue more. This is no doubt true in many other parts of the world. Messages from advertising, TikTok, YouTube, friends tell us we need more clothes, more cosmetics, more money, bigger house, new car. If you are not seeking a promotion at work, you are a failure.

A man came to Jesus and asked him to tell his brother to give him more of an inheritance. Jesus replied with a story. A farmer had a bountiful crop. He had so much that he planned to tear down his barns and build bigger ones to hold all the grain. Then God said to the farmer, “Fool, today your soul will be demanded of you. Now, of what use will the bigger barns be.”

Jesus offered the point of the story. “This is what happens when you fill your barn with Self rather than God.”

When we know where are true priorities are, then striving for more is a waste. Enough is a feast.

Contradictory Advice

September 23, 2022

“They” told you that you need to walk 10,000 steps a day for good health.

Then, we find out that the number 10,000 came about to fit a design in Japanese which looked good with the Kanji character for 10,000.

Then, another study says that 7,000 steps is good.

Followed by another study that the number of steps isn’t as important as how fast you take those steps.

I received a newsletter yesterday that put the number back to 10,000.

I study health, nutrition, exercise and have training and certificates for whatever good that does me.

That’s the trouble. There is some science, but not enough. Some opinion, but way too much.

Sometimes I feel that way about biblical studies and religious advice. Too many opinions; not enough life.

And many of us who try to put spirit to life fall short.

But, we try.

An Invitation or a Threat?

September 22, 2022

Jesus began his public ministry proclaiming, “Repent and believe in the Good News.” Trevor Hudson writes in his new book, Seeking God: Finding Another Kind of Life with St. Ignatius and Dallas Willard, that when Jesus said this it was an invitation not a threat.

I ask of us, everyone who says they are either Christian or Jesus-Follower, how do we sound as we talk to people, post on social media, or write publicly?

What tone lies within our voice?

What does our body posture say? Is it congruent with what we say? Or, is it telling a different story?

I’ve read yet another study revealing further decline in the numbers of people in America who admit to being a Christian. Has the public messaging of some Christians turned off one or more generations?

What can each of us do about it wherever we live?

And, I agree with Hudson that both St. Ignatius and Dallas Willard can be great mentors to us. I have writings from each in my library. And, yes, I’ve read them. Reading is the easy part. Living out their words takes courage and discipline.

Are You Smart?

September 21, 2022

I picked these ideas up from Seth Godin. He is an acknowledged marketing guru. But his thinking is broader than that. An example follows.

Smart is no longer memorization. It’s not worth much.

Smart is no longer access to information. Everyone has that.

Smart is:

• Situational awareness

• Filtering information

• Troubleshooting

• Clarity of goals

• Good taste

• Empathy and compassion for others

• The ability to make decisions that further your goals

The good news is that smart is a choice, and smart is a skill.

This thinking applies broadly. People memorize great amounts of the Bible. Yet, nothing in their lives reflects any awareness of this knowledge. Jesus confronted the Pharisees of his time on this very point.

The question for us today. Where have we stopped with mere memorization? Where have we acted like someone “smart” putting the knowledge into action?

It Is A Practice

September 20, 2022

Vitaliy Katsenelsen emigrated from Soviet Russia with his family when he was 18. He was thoroughly indoctrinated into the Soviet system with a few difficulties because he was Jewish. He is now a successful financial analyst and CEO of an investment firm in Denver called IMA. I follow him because of his financial analysis writing. He also calls himself a “student of life.” I like that phrase. I resemble that remark.

He published a book called Soul in the Game: The Art of a Meaningful Life. He talks of family life and also of his discovery of Stoic philosophy. You may wonder about bringing the Stoics into this blog. I have done it before. Seneca’s writing sounds so much like Paul’s that Christians in the 4th and 5th centuries thought he was a Christian.

Katsenelsen writes, “Stoic philosophy is not an academic distraction; it is a practice.”

Those words should also describe following Jesus.

Christ-followers for a couple of centuries after Jesus were known by how they lived, not by what they said.

Then Christianity became political in the middle ages. Then a proposition to agree with rather than a way of life.

Rebellion to this spurred the “Jesus movement” of the late 60s and early 70s. But the movement was co-opted by commercial interests. This gave us the mega-church movement of the last 40 years with its rock concert followed by a TED Talk.

I’ve always pictured following Jesus as like those scouts in the American West during the 1800s. Pioneers. Out in front of the trail. Showing the way with wisdom and foresight.

Following Jesus is not an academic distraction; it is a practice.

A Humble and Contrite Spirit

September 19, 2022

From Isaiah 66: 

But this is the one to whom I will look:

    he who is humble and contrite in spirit

    and trembles at my word.

We are watching a Scottish (supposedly) police drama series called Rebus. Rebus, a detective inspector, talks with a murder suspect at the end of an episode. The guy killed his father while the father was hitting the guy’s sister who was 9. The killing was never reported. Like most trauma buried in childhood, it came back to bite those involved.

The boy grew up to be successful in business and started a movement to help the poor globally. But the killing haunted his life. He told Rebus the killing was justified, seeking sympathy. Then he got in his expensive car and smirked as he drove away. At that, Rebus pulled out his mobile and called the police station. He gave description and registration of the car telling the duty sergeant to detain the driver for murder of his father.

I wonder if the “up yours” attitude of the killer tipped the scales.

I have done that in soccer matches. I was referee of an “Elite Eight” boys tournament contest one evening years ago. With the first half in its final few minutes, a defender committed a hard foul. I blew my whistle and ran to the spot. Yellow card or talking to debated in my mind. I approached the young man, “That was a hard foul.” He replied with a measure of pride in his voice, “Yes, it was.”

Yellow card / Caution. Or as they would say in England, he was in my book.

Pondering this, this thought from Isaiah entered my mind. A humble and contrite heart may not let you avoid all punishment. But it is a far better response than pride. And God’s grace will follow.