There Is This Sowing and Reaping Thing

August 17, 2018

There’s a guy proclaiming some political opinions. Another guy disagrees. OK, so far, normal American discourse.

Then the second guy offers his opinion of the speaker’s IQ number–otherwise known as “flipping the bird” or “giving him the finger.” For sowing his opinion, he reaps a punch in the face.

Not liking that result, he complains. About getting punched. That’s what made it to national news. And I’m going like, “Dude!!! What did you expect? You engage in a vulgar and offensive gesture to a person and expect him to, like, change his mind and love you? I don’t think so.”

We’ve probably all been there. “What were you thinking?”

In my reading this morning, I was reminded of the little book from Brother Lawrence, The Practice of God’s Presence.

What if, instead of these hateful reactions to people’s comments and opinions, we actually practiced God’s presence.

After all, we are taught, if we but have eyes to see and ears to hear, that God is present everywhere.

What if we acted as if we are in the presence of God? What if we practiced bringing the temperature of the situation down–maybe to something like “you have an opinion, I have an opinion, I know yours, you know mine, now let’s go have a beer and discuss higher matters like how are the Red Sox winning so many games or like how do we practice the presence of God”?

Instead of sowing hate, maybe we sow peace?

The Prudent Person Hears What They Don’t Want To

August 16, 2018

I pay attention when several sources of learning come together into a common thread.

Yesterday I was thinking about a couple of articles I’d read about cognitive biases. How sometimes we just don’t see the obvious because we’re predisposed to look for something else.

Last night I was reading through my current notebook looking for themes for today’s business podcast and spotted a recent entry from an Andy Stanley teaching.

He said, “Prudent people hear what they don’t want to hear.” He was thinking of the Proverb, “When the prudent see danger, they take refuge.”

On the other hand, the simple (Proverbs is so blunt about character types!) either don’t see or don’t care to see, “The simple keep going and pay the penalty.”

Pay attention in your leadership roles. Does someone come to you with a disturbing message? How do you react? Brush it off? Or see it as smoke that could be leading to a fire? Maybe you should change directions (“take refuge”).

Perhaps you are on the board of an organization or church council or personnel committee. Are you perceptive to approaching danger? Do you ignore the warning hoping it will go away?

When the same message comes from multiple sources, this should be taken as a signal. Either to sharpen my knowledge or seek discernment to read the danger signs.

Then have the courage to act.

Our Biases Blind Us

August 15, 2018

What’s the most unreliable testimony in a trial? Eyewitness testimony.

We don’t always see what really happened. We “see” what we think happened. In my latest soccer referee recertification we learned of studies that show at the millisecond level how the time from what we see to registering with the consciousness is long enough to distort our understanding. Maybe the player really was not offside.

Sometimes we take in only that information that reinforces what we already believe. Not consciously. Or cynically. It’s within human nature.

Sometimes we have so much invested in an institution or organization that information contrary to the perpetuation of the organization just doesn’t register consciously.

Perhaps that is why Solomon writes in the Proverbs to seek many counselors. Sometimes we need a group of people to help sort out facts and see what’s really going on.

But that group needs to include “outsiders” because a small group can, and will, exhibit those same biases.

In our life in community whether it be church, non-profit, business, or politics, we need to practice detachment, discernment, and diversity of advisors to keep us grounded.

And the courage to face up to disturbing news and take appropriate actions. Don’t think this applies only to those large organizations making news lately. It applies to you and me in our activities, too.

Most of all, it takes courage.

We Want the Dramatic and Spectacular

August 14, 2018

I’m going to take you on a strange journey today. But it will fit.

Detective novels are my recreational reading. Have been most of my life. During my high school years I discovered the Perry Mason series by Earl Stanley Gardner. Through the magic of Kindle, I’ve been reading through them again a few at a time when I want to focus on “whodunit” rather than all the thinking I do for work.

Wow, has the world changed since Gardner first wrote about the attorney/detective in the 1930s. The phrases he used that were common back then had pretty much dropped out by the 60s when he wrote his later works. Reading them today is a trip back to an entirely different era. The stereotypes of people with dark skin, or Asian people, or women–they are all in the past. Or maybe not checking last week’s news.

Recently, I ran across this quote from 1935 that is so current it could have been written yesterday. See if it fits you and the people around you. It refers to Americans, but I think too many people from other cultures have been adopting these American values.

We’re a dramatic people. We’re not like the English. The English want dignity and order. We want the dramatic and spectacular. It’s a national craving. We’re geared to a rapid rate of thought. We want to have things move in a spectacular manner.

Doesn’t that fit TV news today? Or even for the past 40 years?

We go to church–we want the dramatic and spectacular.

The hard work of spiritual formation through the practice of the disciplines–meditation, prayer, study, worship, service–those are for other people at another time.

Or, are they?

Signs Of Your Inner Health

August 13, 2018

Observe what comes out of your body. These things signal your health. When there is a change take notice.

James, the brother of Jesus, wrote to us to likewise watch what comes out of our mouth. These things signal the health of our heart.

We’ve been taught with stories for thousands of years about how words, once spoken, cannot be recalled. They’ve already caused hurt.

I’m amused by all the emails I receive “X desires to recall the email.” Too late. I’ve read it.

Today the “tongue” has expanded to social media.

As the old National Enquirer ad once ran, “Enquiring minds want to know.” Gain a little notoriety and someone is racing to search all your social media posts as far back as they go to get some dirt on you. Like Pink Floyd had it, people everywhere want your dirty laundry.

Sports stars posted trash talk when they were young and stupid. Suddenly, it makes headlines.

What if someone searched your social media posts? Would it reflect your heart as loving and spiritually inviting? Or, would it reveal hate, anger, fear, lust?

Ask the founder/CEO (former) of Papa John’s pizza about making crude and derogatory remarks in a meeting–that suddenly became quite public.

Watch what comes out of your mouth–or your fingers–for it signals the health of your heart. Perhaps it’s time for a change of heart?

What or Whom Do You Know

August 10, 2018

“Do you know the Bible?” asks the billboard I passed in southern Ohio yesterday.

I thought, not a bad question, but probably the wrong one.

In Lean methodology, there is a practice called “5 Whys”. If you ask why about a situation five times, by the fourth or fifth time your thinking is getting deeper and you’ll get to the right question.

If you wish to help someone change their life, perhaps a better message would be, “Do you know God?”

The Bible is a great guide to living a better life. But we need to go deeper to the root cause (as they say in Lean Thinking).

If we are beginners, then we need a guide, a friend. Not to be hit over the head with requirements, memorization. It’s about someone helping us to know what to do when we get up and get moving in the morning. What to do when we go out and meet people. How to sit quietly in the day and let God speak in the stillness.

I’m all for learning and study, but more important is spiritual relationship.

[Update: Got home from a couple of vacation days and caught up on three days of news. I saw that the executive pastor and entire board of elders at Willow Creek resigned. Hybels, meanwhile, according to The New York Times, is still living in denial. A leader can build up. But when a leader is not self-aware of sins and weaknesses, that leader can bring down many. Take a lesson, leaders. Cure yourself before you cure others.]

Responsibility – The Other Side of the Coin

August 9, 2018

We like to shout about our freedoms. We can say whatever we want, do whatever we want, eat whatever we want.

We forget about responsibility. There are many things we say that are irresponsible. They spread lies, hatred, divisiveness. Doing whatever we want may cause harm to others or the environment we all live in. Many of us are packing more than a few extra pounds on our frames because we are not responsible about what we eat.

Priest and theologian Oscar Romero said, “How easy we find it to condemn structural injustice, institutional violence, and social sin! All that is quite real, but where are the sources of that social sin? They are in the heart of every person. Modern-day society is an anonymous society in which nobody accepts blame but everybody is responsible.”

Yes, years after he wrote these words, we are even worse about running around shouting condemnation of others without acknowledging our own responsibilities.

It always comes back to the status of our hearts.

A Vacation Day

August 8, 2018

We all need some rest. I can’t shut off my mind, but I can slow it down and enjoy the deer in the forest. An antidote for many ills.

Pride, Ego, Lust—Recipe for a Downfall

August 7, 2018

The Willow Creek model for building a modern has influenced a generation of church leaders. Guys I listen to on a regular basis–John Ortberg, Gene Appel, Andy Stanley–have all based their ideas on the model.

For years I have wondered about this thought–why do none of them ever mention the founding father of the movement? They may refer to Willow Creek occasionally, but never to Bill Hybels.

I also wondered why when Hybels spoke one week about how they did an employee survey and discovered that people hated working there. And how they hired a consultant to fix things. But, Hybels as the leader, never took personal responsibility for creating that culture.

And the church has done fantastic good–both in the lives of people and in society at large.

And Hybels is a good teacher and public presenter. And just like other popular personalities–I am thinking of people like Mario Batalli for example–they covered a multitude of sins.

Pride, ego, lust. And in a flash, they are gone.

Except the fallout continues with Hybels. More accusations. At the beginning of public revelations, I wondered about what was going on. But the Board seemed to be on top of things–until they weren’t. There is another, even worse, accusation, this week reported in The New York Times.

Even now the Board seems reluctant to take initiative and act. So the lead teaching pastor resigned issuing public statements.

So I take these thoughts and bring them home. Are you on any type of Board? If so, do you take the time to do your duty? Are you like these boards–like Willow, or large corporations with celebrity CEOs–who ignore warning signs and then themselves now wrapped in pride refuse to see the obvious and fail to act?

Pride, Ego, Lust. Three demons we studied while reading John Climacus the past month. They destroy people.

Willow Creek has done so many good things, I hope a new Board of Elders (I’m not a member, but I’d certainly vote for a new one if I were) steps forward and does the right thing.

It’s easy to point to celebrities who get overcome with these on a big scale. Harder is to look in the mirror and detect these demons in ourselves and deal with them. Follow the Ladder of Divine Ascent. Take the first step, that of self awareness.

The Ladder of Divine Ascent

August 6, 2018

Spiritual Formation lies at the heart of my interests. Union with God as the goal of the contemplative life was where I started and what drew me to this essential book of monastic life for 1,500 years–The Ladder of Divine Ascent by St. John of the Ladder, aka John Climacus.

Spiritual Formation and the pursuit of the Spiritual Disciplines (aside from occasional rants) compose the foundation of this blog. But these can become too inward looking causing people to withdraw from the world. But reaching out to others is the opposite side of the same coin. It takes both sides to make the coin whole. (You could make an entire philosophical inquiry on that thought.)

However, let us sum up John’s thoughts in this outline. It’s worth putting in Evernote and scanning periodically.

The Break with the World

1. Renunciation

2. Detachment

3. Exile

The Practice of the Virtues (Active Life)

Fundamental Virtues

4. Obedience

5. Penitence

6. Remembrance of Death

7. Sorrow

The Struggle Against the Passions

Passions that are predominantly Non-physical

8. Anger

9. Malice

10. Slander

11. Talkativeness

12. Falsehood

13. Despondency

Physical and Material Passions

14. Gluttony

15. Lust

16-17. Avarice

Non-Physical Passions

18-20. Insensitivity

21. Fear

22. Vainglory

23. Pride

Higher Virtues of the Active Life

24. Simplicity

25. Humility

26. Discernment

Union with God (transition to Contemplative Life)

27. Stillness

28. Prayer

29. Dispassion

30. Love