Speaking Your Mind

March 4, 2021

Saying whatever comes to mind without an interposing filter–describes every two-year-old everywhere.

Also most sixteen-year-olds who have learned much, but whose brains are not yet fully developed.

I knew a person who would often find trouble with the bosses by always “speaking the truth.” Unfortunately, that version of the truth was always negative, tearing down the reputation of companies and people.

Many people today wan to say whatever they want (true or not) whenever they wish without regard for consequences. If perpetuating lies forwards my perceived best interests, then fine.

These feelings are not modern.

The Apostle James wrote in the first Century about the dangers of speaking without thinking. The tongue, he said, is a tiny organ that can cause great trouble.

Saint Gregory of Nyssa said, “Divinity is purity, it is liberation from the passions and the removal of every evil: if all these things are in you, God is truly in you.”

He also said [pronouns changed to include us all], “You must always examine your own thoughts, your own words, and your own actions in the innermost depths to see whether they are oriented to Christ or are drifting away from him.”

I like those words “oriented” and “drifting away.” I could probably write an entire book just on the meaning of those.

Living In Encounter With God

March 3, 2021

Tevye is one of my favorite characters from the musical theater. He is the lead in Fiddler on the Roof. He is an impoverished dairy man blessed with several daughters. (Once I played Fyedka, the Russian who marries Chava, Tevye’s daughter, in a community theater production.) What impressed me about Tevye was his unpretentious continual conversation with God. He met God just as he was, with all his hopes and fears and wishes and concerns. He was never anyone beside himself.

I thought about Tevye while reading about the church father St. Gregory of Nyssa (brother to St. Basil). Gregory seemed to be a sort of Christian Tevye. He was meditative. He lived his life in daily encounter with God. Pope Benedict XVI in his teaching on the Fathers says of Gregory, “…this is the most important lesson that Saint Gregory of Nyssa has bequeathed to us–total human fulfillment consists in holiness, in a life lived in the encounter with God, which thus becomes luminous also to others and to the world.”

Richard J. Foster, who wrote the book on Spiritual Disciplines that I follow (Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth), called it the “with-God life.”

We can begin the day with meditation and reading that will focus us on God. Then pause during the day often to reconnect. Do that, and your personality and life will change for the better.

I Want What They’ve Got

March 2, 2021

I tend to be an inductive thinker. Especially when reading a book of substance. I dive in to gain insight or learn from the specific examples. Gradually I begin to see the patterns and can begin to draw a bigger picture and meaning.

I’m reading (again) on the Church Fathers. These were remarkable men. That’s why they remain subjects of books and discussion.

The pattern just came to mind while I was thinking of the one I’m currently reading. These guys were all great leaders. At a time when a new church was forming while it was being actively persecuted by the government and on through when it had become an “official” religion of the Roman Empire, they kept churches motivated, solved internal political crises, eventually worked with government leaders, and assured that the original theology was maintained. They were thinkers and doers.

Then it dawned upon me. None of these were what we’d call evangelists. There were no John Wesleys out in the coal fields preaching to the poor.

How did the church grow in numbers?

This is relevant today, right?

This is a hard thing to research, evidently. We have Acts 2. We have a few sources. What I’ve been able to uncover with some research follows this scenario–people lived crowded lives in cities; everyone knew everybody’s business, some people joined the new faith, they began to live in a completely different manner exhibiting joy and peace and optimism; when crises like pandemics occurred, these people pitched in and helped even at great personal risk. And their neighbors said, “I want what they’ve got.”

And that is how the church grows today in Asia and Africa and other places.

Two questions:

Has your spiritual formation reached the point where people notice without your continually telling them?

Does your group/church/denomination exhibit people with this peace and joy and service and unity and optimism that attracts people like iron filings to a magnet?

Maybe a third question–why not?

Choosing To Look Forward

March 1, 2021

The calendar app icon on my phone showed “1”. I can’t believe February is gone. It’s March.

A year ago I had completed all the financial transactions for selling and buying a house. I was feverishly making trips to Lowe’s and Mennard’s buying boxes, and more boxes, and packing tape, and packing material. You get so busy at life change moments that you don’t have time to reflect.

A year ago also the beginnings of the pandemic were rising to our consciousness. Little did we foresee the way we’d live this past year. I imagine many of us felt a little like MacBeth this year:

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.
— MacBeth, William Shakespeare

That is the first thought that came to me as I settled into my chair to contemplate these thoughts. March 1. Another month. What did I do with February? What will I do with March?

The thing is, I get to choose. Whatever happens, I can choose my response. I can choose how I view the new month. Like a tabula rasa, a blank slate, to write the next month of my spiritual formation, with what I do, think, write.

Perhaps we can see an end of the worst of the pandemic dawning and a new day appearing. It’s all in our attitude. We can choose that, too. We can sing with Annie (from the musical):

The sun will come out

Tomorrow

Bet your bottom dollar

That tomorrow

There’ll be sun!

Annie

The Discipline of Solitude

February 26, 2021

“Solitude well practiced will break the power of busyness, haste, isolation, and loneliness. You will see that the world is not on your shoulders after all. Your will find yourself, and God will find you in new ways.”

Dallas Willard

Solitude will break isolation and loneliness? Is one of my favorite philosophers off his rocker?

Note the “well practiced” part.

Isolation and loneliness are a state of mind. I have been lonely in the midst of many people. There is a special feeling when you travel alone and go to a restaurant to eat. You see couples and parties, yet you are alone–or if, like me, you bring a book along for companionship.

Solitude is intentional. I decide to take a break and spend half-a-day or a full day somewhere alone. Perhaps on a bench in the woods. Or along a stream or at a pond. I’ve known people who rent a hotel room for a day–no, not for that–just to be able to be intentionally alone with themselves.

In the solitude, we can leave all distractions and call on God to visit. Kind of like Mork calling Orson, making contact with something distant, and yet close.

We’re closing out a year of Covid. Most likely we all have had feelings of isolation and loneliness. Others still are busy with work, writing, zoom conferences, whatever. It is a crazy, juxtaposed time.

Perhaps a weekly dose of solitude is just what we need to reconnect with God–and then with each other.

Love Is the Foundation

February 25, 2021

When I read the early Apostles and Church Fathers, I often think of the joy balanced by responsibility of these people trying to find the proper way to organize a church that Jesus started but left almost no instructions or rules for.

Reading Origen of Alexandria on Bible study, he emphasized reading within love for God.

I realized that Jesus instituted only two rules for us–love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and your neighbor as yourself. Then later he added a mission statement (for you management consultant geeks out there)–Go into all the world teaching what I have told you and baptizing.

First, we must bring our awareness to ourselves and come to love ourselves. Perhaps this is the most important–and most missed–step. We must deal with our passions, fears, anxieties, prejudices, recognizing the evil within us just waiting to erupt. Sometimes we can heal over time with prayer and study. Sometimes we need help–a mentor, friend, professional, whatever it takes.

Then we can truly love others and love God with purity and a whole heart.

Then we can go and help others, continuing in our own spiritual formation as we love more deeply setting aside ambition. We can truly live that attitude of loving others–surely the most difficult command in the entire Bible. Sometimes we have to love even though we have the feeling expressed by a business acquaintance at dinner in his one and only tweet on Twitter including me in his bunch, “I’m having dinner with a bunch of idiots.”

Still, we must love. Only then can we truly begin our Bible study.

God’s Truth Is Not Theory, It’s a Life Force

February 24, 2021

Pope Benedict XVI presented a series of meditations on the early Church Fathers in 2007-2008. Discussing Clement of Alexandria’s thinking, he noted that Clement said Christians “must be guided by Christ and thus attain knowledge of the Truth…becomes a living reality in the soul: it is not only a theory; it is a life force.”

Discussing Irenaeus of Lyons, Benedict notes Irenaeus’ teaching that the Church should transmit the faith in such a way that it must be as it appears it is–public, one, spiritual.

Sometimes we humans become enraptured by a single word pulled from a context or by a theory proposed by another human. And we become fixated on just the words supposing that to be belief.

And we miss the spiritual, as Irenaeus would say, or we miss the life force described by Clement.

People who practice spiritual disciplines know that we must take those words and bring them to life within us. Not mere words, but descriptions of how we live. With the spirit, in the flow of the life force, described in the Christian Bible as living in the kingdom of God.

A Weakening of Charity

February 23, 2021

Those first century Corinthians must have been something else. Two letters that the Apostle Paul wrote to them are preserved in the Christian Bible. In one of the most famous passages in the entire Bible (chapter 13 of 1 Corinthians), Paul defines charity (love) for them. Evidently they didn’t have a clue.

Pope Benedict XVI in a series of talks on the Church Fathers talks of the third Bishop of Rome, Clement, writing to the Corinthians toward the end of the first century (maybe 30 years after Paul?), observes that if there were abuses in Corinth, the reason should be sought in the weakening of charity and other indispensible Christian virtues.

Someone must have thought, “Why did anyone ever stop in Corinth and start a church there? They’ve been nothing but trouble.”

If we look honestly at ourselves today, what would we observe?

Would the leaders who founded our congregation wonder why they bothered with such a divisive and stubborn people?

Would a church leader observe that problems within us are due to the weakening of charity?

Would we even consider that an indictment? I do know people whose attitude toward charity does not extend beyond themselves.

Many people observe Lent at this time of year by giving up something, making a sacrifice, turning their attitudes toward God and our need for grace. Maybe we could be in prayer and contemplation about whether we ourselves and our congregations are weakening in charity–and do something about it.

Seeking Unity Not Divisiveness

February 22, 2021

Alexis de Tocqueville travelled from France to the United States in the 1830s to find an answer to what to him and his European contemporaries was a perplexing question–How could the US operate with separation of church and state?

When I came to enquire into the prevailing spirit of the clergy, I found that most of its members seemed to retire of their own accord from the exercise of power and they made it the pride of their profession to abstain from politics. (When he asked them why, they answered) Because politics is intrinsically divisive. We want to be a unifying rather than a divisive force.

Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Here were some key goals they held:

  • strengthen families
  • building communities
  • starting charities
  • inspiring people to a sense of common good
  • educating them in habits of the heart
  • bequeathing them the art of association

Concluding, de Tocqueville wrote, “Liberty cannot be established without morality, nor morality without faith.”

How do observers around the world describe American Christians in 2021, some 190 years later?

More to the point, looking into the metaphorical mirror, how would each of us describe ourselves? Are we building, strengthening, inspiring, educating? Or, are we promoting divisiveness?

A Race To Tame Testosterone

February 19, 2021

The philosopher Ken Wilber once wrote, “Civilization is a race to tame testosterone.”

Evidently the sex drive (metaphorically reduced to the hormone testosterone) of men in general knows few bounds. It exhibits itself in aggressiveness, abuse, and overly sexual behavior. I wrote yesterday about two TV series exploring the theme of men coming to an understanding of the changing role of women in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

That struggle is not over. It’s even worse than the persistent belief among some that the woman’s place is in the kitchen and bedroom. Abuse is abundant in the USA, as well as throughout the world.

I knew about Bangkok, Thailand as a vacation destination for Japanese men seeking sexual pleasure many years ago. Probably men from many other countries, as well. It persists even today. Let me tell you the story of a coffee farmer in the highlands of Thailand named Abonzo. Like coffee farmers around the world, the family was unable to escape poverty and pay living wages to its employees given the economics of how coffee is purchased and distributed. The farm workers were so poor that many often sold daughters they could not afford to feed to brothels in Bangkok. Then a coffee roaster in Ohio learned about the family and purchased coffee from the Abonzo family farm directly paying a fair price. The last I had heard, they had brought 70 women back from Bangkok to work at the farm reunited with their families.

You can buy direct trade (direct from the farm) coffee from Hemisphere Coffee Roasters. I don’t see Thailand on the list right now. I buy Cafe Diego–I met Diego Chavarria from Nicaragua once and heard his story–plus we like the coffee. It is so much better than the usual stuff you get. And you support many people.

Another way you can help make a big difference in a person’s life is to support a women’s shelter. We send donations monthly to the Tijuana Christian Mission. The main mission supports two orphanages for children who often are the victims of neglect and abuse. There is also a shelter, Women With Purpose, you can reach out and donate at Women With Purpose, PO Box 85, National City, CA 91951. I’ve visited the shelter some years ago and done some painting to spruce it up. Tijuana is a sex destination for American men. I’ve also gone through that area of town. (Not as a “tourist”!) The shelter sometimes helps women who got out of that or most often are victims of abuse at home.

Only about 10 miles from where I lived in Ohio quietly existed a sex slave “business” serving long-haul truck drivers and others. You can support women in many ways. But we need to reach out to the men, too, and as Wilber put it–race to tame testosterone.

The Bible challenges us often in its pages to care for the widow and orphan. There are many ways to do it. You can help from wherever you are in the world.