How Does Church Matter?

September 24, 2021

Most of my study and thinking regards individual personal spiritual practices and discipline. One ancient and generally accepted spiritual practice concerns some manner of corporate worship.

Many younger Americans have been rejecting churches. These include both evangelical and Roman Catholic churches.

I ran across this thought in my reading:

Losing My Religion–If people reject the church because they reject Jesus and the gospel, we should be saddened but not surprised. But what happens when people reject the church because they think the church has rejected Jesus and the gospel? What if people don’t leave the church because they disapprove of Jesus, but because they’ve read the Bible and have come to the conclusion that the church itself would disapprove of Jesus? That’s a crisis.

Russell Moore

I’ve struggled with those thoughts, trying to effect some change from the inside. Still, I wonder…

We need the encouragement of meeting with others. We do not need the discouragement of theological/political battles that seemingly leave Jesus on the outside, looking in. Perhaps this is one of those dynamic tensions upon which life is built.

Pray for Justice and the Kingdom

September 23, 2021

An instruction from Evagrius:

In your prayer seek only after justice and the kingdom of God, that is to say, after virtue and true spiritual knowledge. Then all else will be given to you besides.

Evagrius

Need we say anymore? Let us always remember justice and do justice in all our thoughts and actions.

Seeking spiritual knowledge goes without further mention. It should be why we have our daily practices.

Awareness

September 22, 2021

We kill at every step, not only in wars, riots, and executions. We kill when we close our eyes to poverty, suffering, and shame. In the same way all disrespect for life, all hardheartedness, all indifference, and all contempt is nothing else than killing. With just a little witty skepticism we can kill a good deal of the future in a young person. Life is waiting everywhere, the future is flowering everywhere, but we only see a small part of it and step on much of it with our feet.

Hermann Hesse

We can go through life so unaware. Never noticing how we affect those around us near and far. We are as if in out cocoon. A bubble where everything is about us.

And yet, one cutting word thoughtlessly spouted can ruin someone’s day or even their life. One stupid repost of a “witty” meme on social media can ruin a career or people’s trust in you.

It’s hard to be like Jesus who seemed to be aware of everyone around him. But it is a goal toward which we strive every morning as we rise and go.

You Cannot Unsee

September 21, 2021

Be aware of how you fill your mind. Your news sources. Social media use. TV shows. Books. Newsletters.

What you ingest determines your outlook on life, even your personality.

Your thoughts determine your actions. Your actions determine who you are.

We’re on a vacation (well, for me a sort of working vacation) at a popular resort. Last night we saw an illusionist (used to be called magician). He commented at one point, “You can’t unsee this.”

It’s true. There are things you’ve experienced that you cannot unsee. Once it’s buried in your mind, it’s there.

All the more reason to be aware and then selective of what you allow in.

Asking In Prayer

September 20, 2021

Many times while I was at prayer, I would keep asking for what seemed good to me. I kept insisting on my own request, unreasonably putting pressure on the will of God. I simply would not leave it up to his Providence to arrange what he knew would turn out for my profit. Finally, when I obtained my request, I became greatly chagrined at having been so stubborn about getting my way, for in the end the matter did not turn out to be what I fancied it would.

Evagrius

How often we think we are smarter than God! Not thy will but mine be done.

How much better to seek the spirit within and without and go with the flow of God’s spirit.

Frustration

September 16, 2021

I have been trying to find referees for 10 games for tonight. There should be 2 or 3 per game. Six have a single referee and four will probably be cancelled. It’s frustrating to call Athletic Directors and tell them that they have to tell players, coaches, and parents there will be no game tonight.

I feel as if I have failed.

Oh, then this morning another referee wrote an email wondering if anyone was available to take his place. He was sick.

Frustration.

So this morning:

Jon Swanson wrote a prayer on his 300 Words a Day blog to help us deal with frustration.

Ryan Holliday wrote his Daily Stoic newsletter on how the ancient Stoics dealt with frustration.

I just took 15 minutes to disconnect, breathe, relax, and now go back to work.

Frustration leads only to depression.

Breaking the stream, relaxing a bit, refocusing, gets the job done.

Enter The Story

September 15, 2021

A famous Zen koan says “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around, does it make a sound?”

My first rational response years ago was, “Define sound.”

I heard a Zen teacher explain that meditating on this saying and others like it means entering a story. The saying usually makes no “sense” but you meditate on that and enter a story about you.

I thought about how Jesus spoke these sayings. Rational, literalist scholars and students try to parse out all manner of rational explanations. Perhaps they are on the wrong path. Perhaps the path is that of entering the story.

Remember Jesus’s earliest proclamation about the Kingdom of Heaven is here, around us, in us? Let’s take Jesus’s sayings of “the kingdom of heaven is like…”

The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard that grows into a big bush such that the birds of the air can build nests in it.

I’ve heard several scholarly explanations drawing on biology or zoology or even symbolism (birds represent evil and that means…).

What if Jesus is inviting us into story? I desire the kingdom of heaven to dwell within me. I sit in mediation and enter a personal story. I am despondent. My faith feels so small, just like that small grain of mustard. But wait, I love the taste of mustard on my sandwich. Perhaps I have the worth of adding flavor to the world around me. And the seed eventually grows so large that perhaps I can have hope that one day my faith will fill me such that others around can find support.

Perhaps your story is different. That would be OK. It would be your story. You and the kingdom.

And when you leave your mediation chair and go to work how different will you be when you are working and relating to people you meet? That also is a story.

Getting Back

September 14, 2021

I’m sitting in the media lounge at a trade show. First time in two years. We are not back to normal, but we are getting there. We need healthy habits and patience.

This show is called Fabtech. There are many machines that do metal forming. I’ll be talking to people at robotic companies and 3D printing mostly. It’s good to see people again.

The trouble with us contemplatives that we can be too inward looking. We need to mingle with other people sometimes.

Now, to go talk to people in the flesh.

A Cask Full of Holes

September 13, 2021

The man who stores up injuries and resentments yet fancies that he prays might as well draw water from a well and pour it into a cask that is full of holes. –Evagrius

That moment before you click “post” on Facebook or “tweet” on Twitter or “send” in your email app, that moment between reactive thought and public unveiling, that moment when you could have paused and inhaled deeply–what stored up injury or resentment is releasing its venom upon your friends, acquaintances, strangers who now think differently about you?

That moment when you sit to pray and your anger and hate spill over. Then, what is the condition of your heart? Is it that of the penitent of whom Jesus taught to settle things with the other person before approaching the Temple?

In that moment can be the pause where we realize the problem is not them but what is within ourselves. And how we can now lay aside those burdens and stand naked before God asking for grace.

It is that which TS Eliot wrote, “…at the still point, there the dance is…and there is only the dance.”

Changing

September 10, 2021

Sometimes we change–and we don’t change. Or, we change one vice for another.

Perhaps we are a judgmental, abrasive type of person. We “become a Christian.” And we become a judgmental, abrasive Christian. Know any of those? What would Jesus think?

Perhaps we gain the virtue of humbleness. But then we become proud of our humility.

Self-awareness becomes the key to change. When we gain the ability to see ourselves, only then can we become the change we seek.