Author Archive

Listening With All Our Senses

December 7, 2021

Once I walked into my boss’s office. His head was bent over the desk resting in his hands. There was no energy in the room. The company president looked up at me with bleary eyes, “Gary, no one listens to me.”

To which I, Vice President of a bunch of stuff, replied, “Huh?”

“No one listens to me.”

“Huh?”

Then he caught it. The spell was broken. We could have the discussion on whatever problem of the day I had.

A newsletter dropped into my inbox this morning. An engineer whom I respect discussed his education on “listening” to machinery when he was troubleshooting a problem in the field. It was beautiful. You listen to the sounds. Feel for vibration with your fingertips. Drink in smells from the electrical cabinet and the machine. Watch how it operates. You “listen” with all your senses.

Psychotherapist Carl Rogers on listening: “Some of you may be feeling that you listen well to people, and that you have never seen such results. The chances are very great indeed that your listening has not been of the type I have described.” He suggested that his readers conduct a short experiment when they next found themselves in a dispute: “Stop the discussion for a moment, and institute this rule: ‘Each person can speak up for himself only after he has first restated the ideas and feelings of the previous speaker accurately, and to that speaker’s satisfaction.’”

These are examples of listening to people and things. Perhaps we need to pause, turn on all of our senses, and listen to God in the same way. Try to really “hear” what is said. Try to understand the meaning of the message.

Open To God

December 6, 2021

Beg our Lord to grant you perfect love for your neighbor, and leave the rest to Him. He will give you far more than you know how to desire…

Teresa of Ávila

Teresa is one of my favorite mystics. She has much to teach us.

Jesus taught us that we must love our neighbor. He didn’t qualify it. We are to just do it.

We may seek to escape the work by asking how will we know when to act or how to act.

Teresa answers. We can ask God for openness to his leading. And trust that he will lead us to someone who needs assistance and he will also give us the tools we need to show the love, be it words or money or presence.

Accepting or Declining Gifts

December 3, 2021

We have sayings and proverbs, such as “don’t look a gift horse in the mouth” or “that gift is really a white elephant”.

Seth Godin recently talked about gifts explaining the origin of the white elephant idea and how it has come to mean a gift that you don’t need or want. He suggests that if it is a gift, you can always decline it if it is something you can’t get rid of and is expensive to keep—like a white elephant.

Sometimes a gift is not a benefit.

Seneca wrote about 3,000 words (in English translation, of course, I don’t know how many Latin words) about balancing the ledger if someone gives you a benefit and later injures you. How do you figure out if you are indebted for the benefit or need retribution for the injury? He suggests ignoring the injury and acknowledging the benefit.

This may be Advent, but it is also the beginning of the Christmas shopping season. You may be contemplating the appropriate gift for family and friends. You may also be anticipating a nice gift from someone special.

Practice giving thoughtful experiences as gifts and graciously accepting what is given to you—unless, of course, you find a large stock truck parked in front of the house on Christmas.

Wisdom Don’t Come Easy

December 2, 2021

You, who are on the road

Must have a code

That you can live by

And so become yourself

Because the past is just a goodbye

Graham Nash, recorded by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young

Life as a journey must be a metaphor as old as human life itself. I thought about that journey and the advice that Seneca gave to his friend Lucillius, “Wisdom comes haphazard to no man. Virtue will not fall upon you by chance. Either will knowledge thereof be won by light effort or small toil.”

Seneca wrote 124 letters to his friend teaching him how to live a virtuous and complete life. But such a life is not gained by taking it easy. We must have that vision of a final outcome as a virtuous and wise person if we are to reach that destination.

First we learn and infuse that knowledge and wisdom and virtue into our own lives. Then we must teach the next generations unless they degenerate into heathens.

Teach your children well

Their father’s hell

Did slowly go by

And feed them on your dreams

The one they pick’s the one you’ll know by

Graham Nash, recorded by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young

Blessings on your journey. Wisdom don’t come easy, but attaining it is worth the effort.

People On The Journey

December 1, 2021

Yesterday I started the metaphor of Advent as a journey. Unlike a preacher outlining an entire sermon series six months prior, I just began with an image and a word.

Then I realized that most of the people in the world have heard of the myth of the settling of the American west. You know, covered wagons, cowboys, fighting with the native inhabitants to take their land, farmers and ranchers “taming a hostile land”.

Those wagon trains leaving St. Joseph, Missouri heading across the plains and the mountains for wealth and a new life in California encompassed people with a number of roles. Each of which can be a metaphor for people on this advent journey.

There were the scouts. They had been there before. Most likely they spoke the languages of some of the native inhabitants. They were skilled at picking out the best trail where wagons could go. They were also skilled at sensing danger and warning the rest. Their wants were simple. They sought the adventure of discovery and journey.

We had the Boss. The Master. He was the organizer and manager. He had been there. Perhaps he was former Army. He knew how to keep the rookies going. Alternately prodding and counseling. Shepherding resources. Organizing defenses when the train was attacked. The people had to trust him completely.

There were the pilgrims. They left a way of life that did not satisfy their souls and needs. They dreamed of a better life somewhere else. But they couldn’t do it on their own. They gathered into a community. Hired someone with experience to guide them and scouts to find the way. Some made it to the end. Some stopped along the way. Some made it.

Where are you in this journey? Why are you here? Are you in the right role? Do you lust for the wrong role? I always wanted to be the Boss. In reality, I’m a scout.

All roles are valid. The important thing is to be in the right one at the right time.

Are We There Yet?

November 30, 2021

We are traveling. The journey seems longer than we anticipated. We ask perhaps the oldest question, “Are we there, yet?”

I am not a student of the liturgical calendar, but I hear that we are in the season of Advent. Even though we know that Jesus appeared in the flesh 2,000 years ago, we set aside time each year to recreate in our hearts that journey toward his coming.

Because of his invitation—the invitation to enter the kingdom of God. We journey again from where we are to where that kingdom is. Geographically, the distance is nearby. Spiritually, maybe not so close.

Some have arrived. Perhaps we know one. They have the power of living with God—not political or social power. Power of life. It’s reflected in the peace, joy, calm assurance of their life.

Maybe we are at the door of the kingdom. The journey got us that far. Maybe this season of preparation will help us open the door—for the handle is on our side of the door. It is for us to open it. The journey completes when we open our door and feel the power of God infuse us.

At the journey’s end, life begins.

Training

November 29, 2021

We have put Thanksgiving weekend behind us in America. It can be four days of feasting at the beginning of five more weeks of feasting. Or at least eating more than usual the amount of sugary treats.

The gyms will be full of people at the beginning of January perhaps continuing into the beginning of February. They have struggled into clothes that fit perfectly only a few weeks before and have decided it’s time to get fit and lose weight.

How many men train their bodies and how few train their minds! How feather-brained are the athletes whose muscles and shoulders we admire!

Lucius Annaeus Seneca

Yes, the gyms will be full. The libraries and bookstores not so. And even less those small groups where people can study and train their minds and spirits.

And after reading a few news clips about inane things some of our professional football and basketball stars have uttered recently, I see that 2,000 years have had little impact on the athlete community.

Physical training doesn’t fall into the traditional list of spiritual disciplines. I believe it should be. Movement, flexibility, strength, nutrition—these are part of being as healthy as possible. These give the stamina for study, meditation, service, prayer. Just as I have believed from an early age that education includes the arts and the sciences, the rest of us require both physical and spiritual strength.

For although the body needs many things in order to be strong, yet the mind grows from within, giving to itself nourishment and exercise. Yonder athletes must have copious food, copious drink, copious quantities of oil, and long training besides; but you can acquire virtue without equipment and without expense.

Lucius Annaeus Seneca

Actually, to modify Seneca, we can begin a physical fitness routine just by walking (barring infirmity, of course). And that is free. Books can be found also for free in a library or for the price of an Internet connection. And you can begin now.

Serving The Invisible Person

November 26, 2021

Not long before the world shut down, I went to visit a friend in home hospice. The nurse on duty was her niece, who showed me to my friend’s room, and then asked, “Do you mind if I shower while you’re here?” I did not mind. My visit surely gave me more than it gave my friend who lay at the threshold of heaven. On my way out, I ran into the niece again. “Thank you,” she said, “I hope that wasn’t too weird for me to ask.”

Rebekah Curtis

This story came to me in a newsletter this morning. Last night we watched an English murder mystery on TV. The murderer was a talented individual who had been overlooked his entire life. There came a breaking point when past injustices led to his imminent death, and he snapped.

Sometimes it takes multiple experiences before something finally bubbles into my awareness.

Like—how many invisible people have I passed by who could have used a helping hand, a small amount of service, a kind word, an acknowledgement of their worth?

As we enter the Christmas season with all of its pleas for donations for this or that cause, let us open our eyes to the invisible people who surround us.

Let us open our eyes, but with love not the underlying arrogance of Mr. Shirley, the CEO in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (we had our annual kick off of the Christmas season watching it last night). “This experience taught me that it’s people who count, little people…like you.”

No, we are all children of God who deserve to be noticed and loved.

Gratitude and/or Food

November 25, 2021

It is Thanksgiving Day in America.

For all of you here, I wish you a happy day. Even if your crazy uncle is visiting for the day or your football team loses or you eat too much and feel ill.

We probably need more official days to remind us to pause for a bit and reflect upon our blessings and express gratitude for whatever we have and whoever is in our lives. Maybe make a list and stick it in your diary for remembrance every day.

Wherever you are, I thank you for reading. Many people read this who don’t live in this country. But you also can pause a moment during the day and offer gratitude for whatever you have or whomever you know.

Making Disciples

November 24, 2021

Jesus commissioned his followers to a task. No, more than a task. It’s really a way of life.

Make disciples…

He didn’t say the end goal was how many people attend your church. Or even how many baptisms last week. How many people do you know who were baptized with great joy and then within a year had drifted away?

No, a disciple is someone who:

  • Takes great joy in learning
  • Makes the effort to emulate the teacher
  • Absorbs certain disciplines into the everyday fabric of life
  • Eventually looks for the next generation to lead
  • Exhibits the fruit of the spirit most of the time

He didn’t say extract a statement of agreement and then move on to the next conquest.

After totally upending the Roman culture of power in favor of a God-centered culture of love, he didn’t instruct us to seek political power to force others to agree with us. Or at least behave in public like we wish.

Did you pause this morning to orient your life toward God before beginning your day? It’s not too late.