Ambiguity

July 14, 2020

She holds a PhD in Physics and knows as much about black holes in the universe as anyone. Janna Levin described her transition from a philosophy major at university to physics in a recent podcast.

“People would say, ‘this is what Kant meant when he said…’, and then there would be debates. No one says, ‘this is what Einstein meant in the Special Theory of Relativity,’ and the math is there to back it up.”

She has a point. Ambiguity is a pain.

Some people read Paul’s writing contained in the New Testament as if it’s a list to separate the good people (us) from the bad people (them). Others read the same letters and sense the overwhelming feeling of God’s grace and how Paul was deeply affected by God’s faithfulness to his creation.

Check out the debates on what John “meant” in his Revelation. If someone tells you they’ve figured it all out and can tell you exactly what John meant, run the other way.

Wisdom literature, both in the Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian New Testament, as well as in multitudes of other ancient sources are pretty clear. (Few follow the advice, but it’s there for the reading.)

When one starts to talk about spiritual union with God and “details” of the kingdom of God and describing “heaven” and eternity, well, we have no precise language.

What we have is experience. If we follow the same spiritual practices humans have practiced for millennia, we will experience the presence of God. It is often indescribable. On the other hand, others can see it in the person who has.

I have studied the Bible for most of my life. I’ve read many scholars. I think I’ve attained a decent understanding for someone who refused to be indoctrinated in a graduate program. And this is not in vain.

However, it also isn’t what’s important. What is important is the daily practice of the presence of God. It’s simple, it’s not arguable, it’s the spark of life.

Futility

July 13, 2020

I am sitting on the patio in the early morning sun looking at one of the more futile acts of discipline.

The new brood of Canada geese is now old enough to fly. A great noise of honking geese interrupted the morning calm. I looked toward the pond. The parents in the flock have begun teaching the young how to fly in formation—the famous V shape designed for migration over long distances.

The futility is that theses are “suburban” geese. They will never leave the area. They probably will not fly more than 10 miles in their lives.

Futility is learning something never to be used to empower your own life or benefit others. Pointless and useless as the dictionary tells us.

Unless your spiritual disciplines are bringing you deeper into the spirit and outward into service of what good are they.

  • You don’t read the Bible just to say you’ve read the daily quota
  • You don’t pray just to say you’ve prayed
  • You don’t meditate just to tick off a point on your to-do list

You practice these things and more because they will change your life. People won’t notice that you’ve completed the day’s list. They will notice over time that you have changed into a new you.

July 10, 2020

Success is how well are you doing when no one is watching.

John Paul deJoria, co-founder of John Paul Mitchell systems, had the most fascinating conversation on the Tim Ferriss podcast.

He literally went from being homeless (twice) to starting a hair products company—perhaps you’ve heard of the Paul Mitchell brand. When you hear the story of the ethics behind the brand, perhaps you wouldn’t want to use anything else.

One of his early jobs helping support the family of a single mom (the husband just up and left her) and two boys was as a janitor. He only knew to work the right way. He moved things, swept the corners, and so forth. No one was around. He could have taken shortcuts. But the boss noticed what he did when no one was watching and rewarded him.

Some people try to live as if God is watching their every move, sort of like described by the author of the letter to the Hebrews in the Christian Bible.

A better attitude is to realize that we are surrounded by and infused in the kingdom of God and that it’s just a part of our being to do the right thing, say the right thing, think on the right things. It’s just us. The way we are.

Energy

July 9, 2020

When you are part of a conversation, do you add energy or suck energy?

Some conversations, whether face-to-face (not so much of that lately) or on a website, add energy to you and you are ready to tackle your work or other challenges.

On the other hand, some suck such energy seemingly from your very bones. You are left angry, hurt, lost, despondent.

Looking at the situation from other’s viewpoint toward you, how are they left feeling when you leave?

Most of the time, I bring peace and calm. But I am prone to the occasional stinging comment that is meant to provoke thinking. But I imagine sometimes it just raises blood pressure numbers without getting my point through.

Sometimes on Facebook I see a comment so insensitive and wrong that I can’t help myself. The latest have involved people posting pictures of a white guy with a comment superimposed on the picture, “If you don’t break the law, you don’t have anything to fear from police.”

“Only if you’re white,” I’ll comment. And since I don’t hang out in Facebook, I don’t see any reactions. And…I probably didn’t make the point.

People can point to scriptures. The apostle Paul wrote in Romans 13 that same sentiment about obeying the law and you won’t get in trouble. What if he had been writing that letter 10 years later under a different emperor who instigated violence against Jesus-followers simply for being Jesus-followers? I bet his worldview might have shifted slightly.

The same could be said for Jesus-followers in many places around the world at this very moment. Just for following, they could be arrested, jailed, killed.

Little quips can be cute to some people and cutting to others. And they often deny the reality of fellow human beings who are also created in the image of God.

Next time you (I) get the urge for the cutting comment, try pausing and asking what we are adding to the conversation—positive energy or sucking the energy out of someone.

Confusion

July 8, 2020

Sometimes we get so confused. We think we are the center of everything. We become hardened in some ways and easily gullible in others.

Sometimes we think everything depends upon us. We need to fix everything and everyone. If only everyone would listen to and obey us, the world would be perfect.

Except…

Coming in toward the summary of their New Testament survey, The New Testament In Its Time, NT Wright and Michael Bird drop this little thought. Notice the silly little preposition.

We are not building the kingdom of God on earth, we are building for the kingdom on earth.

It is not all dependent upon us, the kingdom. It is already here.

Take a deep breath. Relax for a moment. Re-focus. Exhale. Trust God to be in charge. Now just do the work for the kingdom.

Marketing

July 7, 2020

I had to make a new batch of steel cut oats this morning. I use the InstantPot. It’s easy. Get the cooker out, measure 3 cups of water, 1 cup of oats, and a pinch of salt. Put in cooker and give it a stir. Set the timer for 3 minutes. I usually get out the computer and read and write and remember to open the cooker after it has simmered in the pot for 25-35 minutes—whenever I remember I have to fix the oats. Sometimes I double the recipe leaving the time setting the same.

The last ones I purchased were “authentic” Irish oats. This bag is from a different company. How could I not buy them? Listen to this blurb from the bag: These aren’t ordinary oats. Our Gluten Free Organic Steel cut Oats are milled from the highest quality farm-fresh oats in the world. Each batch is handled with care in our dedicated gluten free facility and tested in our state-of-the-art laboratory to ensure our strict gluten free quality standards are met. Make the world’s best oatmeal at home…

[I think in Europe what we call oatmeal is called porridge. Whatever the name, an excellent breakfast.]

Disclaimer—in my life I have written such [stuff] in a variety of marketing jobs.

Then I thought about many Christians—especially many who claim to be “spreading the gospel”. Do they seem like they are taking the highest quality farm-fresh oats and handling with care?

More like they are sour with those artificial smiles pointing out with seeming glee the failures and shortcomings of other people. That doesn’t sound like “handling with care.”

And supposedly they are leading people to live a life in the spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

I think I could write a better marketing message.

The Sioux Native American tribe has a proverb, “Do not point the way, but lead the way.”

That is actually the best, no-BS marketing message.

The first generation of Christians had it. Others looked and said, “I want what she’s having.”

Daily Renewal

July 6, 2020

The body requires adequate sleep. As does the mind. And soul. The body does some work during sleep removing wastes from cells and performing minor repairs. The brain gets a bath of chemicals to rejuvenate it.

The physical body is composed of cells. These cells are constantly dividing and shedding. During the course of 7 to 10 years every cell has been replaced.

The apostle Paul wrote of applying a similar idea to our minds. “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind,” he wrote to the Roman Christ-followers. “Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

We are so easily manipulated into patterns of this world. When we lived in tribes and villages, the pressures of conforming were intense. Now we have the universal power of social media that serves to reinforce our prejudices and conform us to a world often filled with hate toward others not like us.

Daily renewing involves setting aside a quiet time—best is two, one at the beginning of the day and one at the end. Read something, even if only a little. Reflect. Pause and meditate. Write something—journal or thoughts or 20 things I can do today to contribute for good.

Nourish the body with proper nutrition, exercise, and rest. Likewise, nourish the mind with proper information, thought, and meditation (rest).

Kindle the Fire of the Spirit

July 3, 2020

The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled. — Plutarch

Education does not consist alone of filling a mind with facts. That path leads nowhere.

You can read your scriptures as much as you want, study words and discuss nuances of translating from original languages to modern. You can memorize dates and places.

You will not meet God.

Let alone walk the path with-God in the spirit.

Some have described the feeling like a fire within. Not the fire of anger and wrath. The fire of spreading warmth and passion. A passion for God and for justice, mercy, and grace.

Reading and study can help nurture the fire. But the spark that ignites the kindling which ignites life and creativity and imagination—that spark springs from stillness.

Only when we are still and empty our mind of its useless chatter and prejudices is it ready to be filled with the fire of the spirit.

In the beginning, God spoke and the universe was created. In our stillness, God speaks and we only then can hear. And start the fire.

Why Do You Have the Way and Lose It

July 2, 2020

I am listening to a man tell his story. Today he is accomplished in his profession, is married to a beautiful wife (I don’t know what her physical appearance is, but the beauty of her being shines through his words), lives a life in the spirit (that also shines through his words).

This man’s story arc is similar to many successful people. They don’t plan out every detail at 10 years old and then follow the master plan to success. He went to university to study one field, took one class to fulfill a requirement, that class led to a career and a life.

The part that I am meditating on this morning returns to that spirit-filled life.

His dad was converted to an evangelical / fundamentalist version of his religion when he was a small lad. That religion contributed to the break up of the marriage. The man grew up in that faith.

He doesn’t describe the process exactly, but he gradually left that way of life behind in pursuit of a richer, fuller life. Actually the life Paul describes with the fruit of the spirit phrase, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

What I ponder often is why we who have the words do not have the life we talk about?

How much are we like this song performed by The Temptations?

Smiling faces sometimes
Pretend to be your friend
Smiling faces show no traces
Of the evil that lurks within (can you dig it?)
Smiling faces, smiling faces, sometimes
They don’t tell the truth
Smiling faces, smiling faces tell lies and I got proof
Oh, oh, yeah

The man is Hugh Jackman. The podcast interview is with Tim Ferriss.

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There Are Times to be Adaptable

July 1, 2020

It’s July 1. We’re half-way through the year.

When I sat down over the Christmas/New Years holidays and envisioned what I’d be and who I’d be this year I never saw:

  • We would have sold our house in Ohio
  • Bought a house in Illinois
  • That I’d be sitting on my patio this morning staring at a totally different landscape
  • That I would have seen almost no one other than my wife for two months of shelter-in-place (we’re still speaking)
  • That the economy would be largely shut down
  • That people were getting sick from a highly contagious virus while others ignored the peril

And yet, I kept reading, writing, and thinking. I picked up a research and analysis contract despite everything going on.

I know that a few of my evangelical friends will hate the reference, but Darwin after his studies of the lives of various species of animals noted that only the species that are adaptable to their changing surroundings survive.

We have to know what is our unshakable core and where we need to adapt to changing realities. As ancient mystics taught, “Wherever I go, there I am.”

I am still “here”, but I have gone elsewhere. How about you? How have you adapted to changing surroundings? And, how will you adapt when the virus passes and we have new surroundings? It’s an important question.