From Whom Can We Learn

December 8, 2017

“Have you read that essay that went viral on the Internet about how women can’t be engineers?” someone asked a radio interviewer, who happens to be a woman who earned a Ph.D. in engineering.

“No,” she replied. “I am careful what I fill my mind with. Thoughts can determine attitudes.”

The other day, before I was distracted, I wrote about keeping our eyes wide open this Advent. That’s called awareness.

Do we go through life unaware of the things around us–the good works of some, the grief and misery of others?

The next step is attention. To what or to whom do we pay attention?

Better, from whom can we learn if we but pay attention?

From a professor? Maybe.

From a child? Probably. Consider that a child with few preconceived ideas, observes things from an entirely new perspective. They are curious. Listen. Pay attention. She may rock your world.

From a person with little education? Often, if we pay attention. It’s still a different perspective.

If you are a specialist in one area, listen to those in another area.

We can be intentionally aware of all the Christmas preparations, but we need to watch what we pay attention to. It determines our attitude.

What About Christmas

December 7, 2017

There was the founder/CEO of a company I would chat with every year who was almost infinitely curious. When Google first came out and was growing in popularity, he said that you really didn’t start learning anything interesting until about the 17th page of results.

I say that because I just did that this morning.

I’m not sure where I started. While meditating the thought arose about how most “Christmas” songs aren’t about Christmas. Well, not about celebrating Jesus’s birth. They are cultural songs about the sentimentality of the season–mostly family gatherings, children getting presents, snow (most of the song writers must have been from New York or something), grandma and reindeer (oops, cute song), and so forth.

I went to Dr. Google. She sent me to her friend Prof. Wikipedia.

“Christmas is celebrated religiously by most Christians and culturally by many people.”

Therefore the angst evangelicals feel about people saying “Happy Holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas.” They prefer an “in-your-face” Merry Christmas greeting. Fine, whatever. Not everyone you meet even in rural America celebrates religiously anymore. It’s more a cultural phenomenon.

Then I wondered where the word christmas even comes from. That word being English comes from a Middle English term from the middle of the 11th century. In today’s words, “Christ’s Mass.”

So, what is the definition and origin of the word “mass”?

Well, it comes from the Latin of the 4th century worship, which has a form of the word missio–sending forth.

I found a rather weird Christian (I guess) site that said actually mass meant death and then took that ball and ran another direction.

Why December 25, when we are pretty sure Jesus was actually born in the spring?

Popularly it is taught that Christians incorporated a Roman pagan holiday because it was already celebrated. Therefore the problem Jehovah’s Witnesses and similar sects have with birthdays and Christmas because of the pagan overtones.

However, some scholars think that actually the Christians had a holiday and a Roman Emperor started a feast day to compete.

Wait a minute? Where did I start all this?

Oh, yeah. Ever notice how so many Christmas songs we hear in December are cultural and not religious?

I suppose we can enjoy both.

And beware Dr. Google. You can get lost in curiosity there as easily as getting lost in the latest opinions expressed on Facebook.

Observing With Your Heart Leads To Seeing

December 6, 2017

This week is the first week of Advent. I have been looking at this as a time of rising awareness of the meaning of the celebration of Jesus’ coming.

We talked of having our eyes open.

I’m reading in the gospel of John. In chapter 20 he describes the events immediately following the crucifixion. Jesus was killed on the day before the Sabbath. Then there was the Sabbath. Then there was the day after, when the Jews could move around again.

Mary goes to the tomb. It’s empty. She runs to Peter and John. They run to the tomb. John looks in. Peter goes in. Then John also goes in.

The words and story change from John’s first looking from the outside to when he goes in and observes.

It is at this point that understanding of the “big picture” begins to sink in.

“Looking, they do not see.” That happens to us all the time. We’ve seen it a hundred times. Or, worse, our mind is diverted. Images come into our eyes but they are not comprehended by our minds and our souls.

This Advent, let us be watchful so that seeing, we believe.

Advent With Eyes Wide Open

December 5, 2017

The attack fizzled. The defending team won the ball, played it forward. The new attack was on. It’s now a 70-yard sprint. The referee had to turn, changing direction from one attack to catching up with the attack going the other way. That is the way it goes for 90 minutes in a competitive soccer match.

We are evaluating the referee. As he sprints, we notice he is looking down at the ground ahead of him. Had there been a challenge for the ball in those crucial seconds, he would have missed it.

He needed his eyes wide open watching the developing positions of the players, anticipating where the attacker was going relative to his teammates. He needed to see potential challenges. All this information while running at full speed.

We find ourselves at Advent changing direction from Thanksgiving to Christmas. We put our heads down and run hard for four weeks. Worrying about presents to buy, parties to attend, places to go, plans to make.

We fail to notice the developing “play” (to carry the analogy).

We fill our minds with the advertising images of delighted children–and increasingly adults–finding presents.

Perhaps our eyes should be open to signs of the celebration of the coming of the Prince of Peace, the one who brings righteousness and justice.

In this time of global xenophobia, fear, and distrust, we really need this bringer of peace, justice, and unity with God.

Curiosity For a Fuller Life

December 4, 2017

Why, if Jesus came as the fulfillment of prophecy about God’s peace and justice, are so many of his followers so violent and have been throughout much of history?

Why did Jesus pray that his followers would be one with him and the Father and one with each other only to have millions of people claiming to follow him yet divide themselves into smaller groups in order to argue and fight with other groups of people claiming his name?

We have a few stories about Jesus entering the world. What was it really like?

Why did I accept certain teachings only to grow up and discover that they really were not in the Bible after all?

Walter Issacson has written a biography of Leonardo Da Vinci. This follows previous biographies of Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein, and Steve Jobs. He discovered his curiosity leading to the research and books was about these unconventional, yet highly creative, men. I’ve heard Issacson speak twice in the last month. These men were all curious–about many things.

He relates how Da Vinci wrote in a journal one morning about thinking about woodpecker’s tongues. He was curious.

How much of these stories about Jesus have I just accepted, placed in a safe memory spot, and then just dusted off each December along with the Christmas tree ornaments?

Where did my curiosity about what it was really like, what did it really mean, how did people really react go?

We are in the season of Advent. The idea is that we are to prepare for the celebration of Jesus coming into our world.

Maybe part of preparation is to ask lots of questions. And seek the deeper answers.

Advent Is Creeping Upon Us

December 1, 2017

Colored lights were strung across streets. Lights were strung in plazas reaching from the ground upward toward a point representing conifer trees. No snow–I’m in Madrid.

Reminders of the season.

Some anticipating the joys of giving.

Others anticipating the joys of receiving.

Some people with no anticipation not having family or friends or sometimes even a place to live.

Some striving to experience once again the reason for the celebration.

How do we balance all of these conflicting emotions, desires, demands?

Isn’t that the real act of sanity for the next three weeks?

That is for disciplines of study, prayer, music to help us stay grounded and balanced.

Looking For Love In All The Wrong Places

November 30, 2017

Apologies to all of you country music fans. But the song title seems to fit the blizzard of headlines from the past couple of months. Thanks to the Internet, even being in Spain this week has not blocked all the news.

Evidently we still need a lesson in New Testament Greek, because people must be misreading the Gospel of John where we are told over and over to love one another.

In English we have one word. In Greek, Jesus talked about Agape rather than Eros. The love that flows from God, rather than the love that flows from hormones and emotions.

I studied a lot of 19th century philosophy at university. Marx, Nietzsche, Bakunin–all thought that Jesus was weak talking about loving enemies and sheep. They misread the human condition.

It is actually stronger to love in the Agape sense. Yielding to the power of hormones and emotions leads us to destroying our lives.

Just look at the many reports of the fatal mixture of money, sex, and power we read about every day.

It takes strength and faith to resist temptation. I’m betting we all realize that at some level.

The Source of Spiritual Energy

November 29, 2017

People may think that a spiritual discipline is something you have to do over many hours a day. Actually, 15 minutes a day can be sufficient for many things. I am learning Spanish through an app called Duolingo. It recommends 15 minutes a day. It will send a reminder that you forgot your 15 minutes.

15 minutes a day reading directly from the Bible or other spiritual text, especially first thing in the morning, can fill your spiritual energy tank for the day. Maybe I need an app for that to send a reminder and then congratulate me for keeping up my discipline.

I love the picture from John about Jesus being the vine and we being the branches. Think of it as a system where energy flows from the root through the vine and then through the branches until fruit grows from the branches.

When I take time in the morning, then I will have better fruit during the day.

Fruit is personal–the way I live, my attitude, my interactions. Fruit is outside–my service to others. I just have to remember the source.

Humble Leadership

November 28, 2017

Last weekend I had the opportunity to worship at Willow Creek Community Church. It’s one of those “mega-churches” I write about often.

There was a great leadership lesson there aside from Bill Hybels’ teaching.

The worship team came on stage. The worship leader was at the side of the line of singers. The light came up on him to welcome everyone.

Then the worship music shifted focus to each of the singers. Even though they are professional quality they have the ability to involve everyone. It never felt like just a performance.

The important symbolic act, though, was that there was no one star. The leader made sure that everyone got some spotlight.

I thought about how that reflected the changes at the entire organization. It used to be a lot of Bill Hybels many years ago. Increasingly over the past 15 years or so he has shifted the spotlight on others. The midweek service features many of the leaders.

A true leader has the strength to allow others to take the spotlight. That’s humble leadership.

I’m Always Amazed

November 27, 2017

It’s 11 am in Madrid. My first trip to Spain. I just checked in to the hotel about 30 minutes ago. Time to walk a little, grab lunch, and then take a power nap.

Once I was shopping in Paris and a store clerk asked me in French if I was Spanish.

Today, even though I was speaking English at the reception desk, the manager who was escorting me to my room to show me the amenities started to ask me something in French.

I told her about the store experience. She said, well you do look Spanish.

My formula, keep your mouth shut as much as possible and smile. In Western Europe, they’ll just assume I’m one of them–at least for a while.

Actually, the same formula works anywhere in the world, even if you don’t look like a local.

Courtesy is a universal language.