Author Archive

Love One Another As I Have Loved You

April 2, 2021

The thing about a good story, whether fact or fiction, is that it harbors truth in many layers.

When the first disciples of Jesus began telling the stories of this last week–the march into Jerusalem, the Passover dinner, the prayer in the garden, the arrest, trial, conviction, execution, and later the resurrection–there were of course many layers to the stories.

One layer begins with Jesus last command. Remember? Once he answered a scholar about the greatest command from God, and Jesus told him there were two. This time Jesus says, oh yes, I’m giving you one last command. Love one another as I have loved you.

In a bit, he goes to the garden to pray and takes a few guys with him. They are armed. We know for sure, at least, that Peter was. When the armed patrol comes to arrest Jesus, Peter draws his sword and cuts off the ear of one.

Jesus rebukes him. He heals the severed ear. He lets himself be arrested without a fight. He says he lays down his life for them.

Setting aside theology and looking just at the story–Jesus did lay down his life for them. Had he told them to fight their way out of it, they would all have died on that hilltop.

Then they looked at the story and we look at the story, and we put it all together.

Jesus gave a command. Then he lived it by example. And there it is for all who call themselves followers. Can you love one anther even as Jesus did? Even up to giving up your life so that they may live?

Pointless Knowledge

April 1, 2021

Seneca spoke critically of literary snobs who could speculate for hours about whether The Iliad or The Odyssey was written first, or who the real author was (a debate that rages on today). He disliked hearing people chatter about which Roman general did this or that first, or which received this or that honor. “Far too many good brains,” he said, “have been afflicted by the pointless enthusiasm for useless knowledge.”

I find this point of Seneca’s to be disturbingly true even today, 2,000 years later.

Today is celebrated in many Christian traditions as Maundy Thursday, a remembrance of Jesus Passover meal with his friends just before his arrest.

Scholars may think it was only the Twelve plus Jesus. Some have suggested that there may have been more disciples there than the Twelve. What does it matter?

I believe Jesus had a dinner celebrating both the tradition of Israel’s emancipation from Egypt and anticipation of God’s working in the world again. Later, he was put on a quick trial, found guilty (sort of), executed, and then came back to life. All this in four days–Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday in our calendar.

It is good to remember.

When his close friend John remembered later in life and wrote his memoir, he called Jesus the Light of the World. That is what we celebrate. And what we try to incorporate into our life.

Where Am I?

March 31, 2021

I found myself reflecting on Paul’s Letter to the Roman Christians. This is perhaps the most cogent blueprint of spiritual formation in the Christian Bible.

It begins with knowing where we are. Spiritually and emotionally, of course.

When we pause over a period of time and begin to understand what drives us. We begin.

We have to become aware of the things that influence us–advertising, comments on social media, character on a TV show, social media influencer…

Awareness that we are capable of doing and thinking of things that violate our own best self and are hurtful to other human beings. That comes first before we can do anything.

Then we can begin to be open to change. We can find that Jesus pointed to a path.

That path includes time alone in prayer and meditation. But if you stop there, you’ve missed the point. It’s all about going from that secure place to be able to help others in whatever way we can.

At the end of his life, Jesus left us only one command for life–love one another as he loved us.

Go figure that out in your own actions.

Backed Up and Out of Balance

March 30, 2021

The huge cargo ship that was stuck in the Suez Canal has been freed.

One blockage threw the entire shipping system from Asia to Europe out of balance. Backed up. Threatening economic health.

Sometimes our bodies get similarly blocked and out of balance. We lose energy and optimism Threatening our physical and emotional health. And when it’s free, what a great feeling.

Sometimes our intellectual life gets blocked and out of balance. We become fixated on an idea where we are right and everybody else is wrong. We cannot learn anything new. We are argumentative and surly and not pleasant to be around.

Sometimes our spiritual life gets blocked and out of balance. We are stuck. We’ve become “them versus us” religious. We think “certain kinds of people” cannot be as religious or accepted by God like us. We become unpleasant people behind our plastered on stage smiles.

Sometimes we’re like the cargo ship in the Suez–it takes a mighty and coordinated effort to clear us of the blockage and get our system back into balance.

Sometimes what we need for body, mind, and soul is simply to get out. Outside. Take a long, slow walk in nature. Hear the birds. See the otters, muskrats, rabbits, foxes or whatever is around. Walking is great for digestion. Outdoors is great for mind and soul blocks.

Try it with the attitude of gaining new perspective.

Holy Week or Spring Break

March 29, 2021

This is Monday before Easter. Where are you? I mean physically, mentally, spiritually?

It used to mean new, spring clothes and anticipation of Easter eggs and chocolate. And, everyone in town would be in church on Sunday–looking good.

The Easter gifts came a little later in the generations.

Maybe now you are in Florida getting drunk and spreading viruses. Like Easter used to be a thing for everyone to do, now Spring Break is a thing everyone must do (or so I read in the media).

Somewhere in the mist of history, this is a week of remembrance and in the end–celebration.

The church we are now “attending” is doing one of those evangelical stunt things–dropping Easter eggs from a helicopter. I’m sorry, I keep having visions of Les Nessman reporting live from a shopping center parking lot in Cincinnati on the TV show WKRP in Cincinnati as the turkeys fell from the sky. The key sentence from the boss, “As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly.” I have these visions of eggs…

I’m sure it will be fun for the little ones.

Or maybe it will be a gathering on Thursday evening recreating Jesus’ Passover meal with his friends. Followed by a solemn service on Friday to remember Jesus being killed by the authorities for daring to buck the system. And on to the celebration of joy of Jesus’ resurrection on Sunday.

So will the week be adolescent memory making, Christian tradition, first family gatherings in months?

No matter. Best is to read again the final chapters of the Gospels and have a right attitude for the week and weekend.

The Discipline of Looking Beyond First Impressions

March 26, 2021

Yesterday, I moderated a webinar discussion about automation of an assembly line. We were all guys and all European-looking guys except for one who was most likely Asian. Typical group of presenters in my field.

Later I tuned into another “virtual conference” where the moderator was a 30-ish woman wearing bold colors and outlandish glasses. One of the presenters had her boldly colored hair close cropped on the sides and longish and styled on the top (the modern style, I guess). The other presenters were a mix of females and males.

The contrast could not have been sharper. Same industry. Still discussing engineering and automation. I confess, I had to blink twice before settling into the flow of their conversation.

We can go back in time to the late 1600s in North America. William Penn was awarded a tract of land by the King of England upon which to build a colony (hopefully loyal to the Crown, but 100 years later…). He called the colony after himself–Penn’s Woods or more poetically Pennsylvania.

He studied the local tribe of indigenous people in what is now New Jersey. He found, to his surprise, “I find them of a deep natural sagacity. The low disposition of the poor Indian out shines the lives of those Christians, that pretend an higher.”

We too easily pass a quick judgement upon people we see or hear about. We may find that there is much to learn from and to love about each if we were to only open our hearts.

In these days of pandemic, we may not be seeing a great diversity of people. As we start to venture forth again, perhaps we can forge a discipline of second impressions–delaying the first impression for a bit until we really see the person.

Prayer

March 25, 2021

People have realized for probably as long as there have been people something about prayer.

Prayer is a lifestyle.

Just this morning, I’ve read from the oldest book of the Hebrew Bible, something from the European Middle Ages, something from the 1800s, and something contemporary. All realized the reality of prayer, not as some time and some place where you repeat words.

Brother Lawrence talked about cultivating the practice of the presence of God.

Job’s friends tore their clothes and sat with him for seven days, not in words but in practice, to pray with him for the disaster that had overtaken him.

Habits become just the way you live over time. The Russian peasant, the hero of The Way of a Pilgrim, determined to live the life the Apostle Paul advised when he had taught us to “pray without ceasing.” He was exploring just how one could make prayer an intimate part of life. And remarkable experiences came his way.

There are times to pray with intention for outcome. Times to pray aloud especially for the comfort and encouragement of others.

But mostly, let your life be your prayer.

Unhurried

March 24, 2021

Jim was my boss for perhaps almost two years. He was the engineer’s engineer. Pleasant, but dull; methodical; never rushed, but accomplished more than any two people I’ve known; could think more about work that other people should be doing than anyone I’ve met.

Made me think about this thought from Dallas Willard, who once said one of the defining characteristics of Jesus’ life was that he was unhurried.

Similarly, John Wesley said, “Though I am always in haste, I am never in a hurry; because I never undertake any more work than I can go through with perfect calmness of spirit.”

I have tried to inculcate that lack of hurry into my life. When much younger even as a child, I rushed through everything. Things would not get done to completion. Accidents would happen. I’d wind up spending more time because I’d skipped a crucial step and had to go back.

These days, it’s more like “don’t rush me, I’ll get to it when I get to it, but I will have thought it through before I start and (often) do it correctly.”

You can’t rush wisdom. You have to live through experiences and then learn to slow down in order to accomplish more.

Apostle Paul’s Shema

March 23, 2021

One God, the Father, from whom all things, and we [belong/live toward] him.

And one Lord, Jesus Messiah, through whom all things, and we [live/have been saved] through him.

1 Corinthians 8:6 translated by NT Wright

Jews pray every morning and and the Shema—a reminder of the basics of faith. Part of it is famous to Christians (quoted by Jesus as the greatest commandment), Hear O Israel, the Lord is one, you shall love the Lord Your God with all your hearts and all your soul and all your strength.

Jesus added a second when asked for the greatest commandment also quoting Torah, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The famous first century rabbi Hillel, whom Jesus often quotes, says that this summarizes the Torah, all the rest is commentary.

New Testament scholar NT Wright in his huge study of Paul—Paul and the Faithfulness of God—sees the thought quoted above as Paul’s Shema for Christians. Perhaps Paul would also cite Hillel as all the rest is just commentary. Note: the verbs do not appear in the Greek text. Wright suggests the two from the context.

My heart is saddened whenever I see Christians search through the writings and twist interpretations and pull things out of context and build cases against other Christians—or even against all people.

I all could be so simple. Hard to do. But simple. At the end of his physical life on earth, Jesus summarized the two commandments and left us one major one—Love one another as I have loved you.

We belong to God, living through Jesus, loving one another. What gives us the power to begin to qualify who is included in one another?

Here’s a discipline that is hard to bring into our life—when we go out today and see a human person who is made in the image of God (that is, everyone), treat them with respect. When we start to repost someone’s cute, but cutting, “picture” on Facebook, think, are we reflecting this command of loving one another. When we talk to someone about someone else, are we talking in love or (pick one: hate, anger, envy, lust…)?

What Christians Believe

March 22, 2021

We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father.  Through him all things were made.  For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man.  For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried.  On the third day, he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.  He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father.  With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified. He has spoken through the Prophets.  We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.  We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.  We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.  Amen.

Nicene Creed from 381AD

If you read me consecutively, you know I’ve been going through a study of the Church Fathers. You might ask, how did they come to be known as the Church Fathers? Good question. The one defining thread is that they defended the Nicene Creed against all the battling ideas circulating at the time.

And most of the controversies revolved around understanding just who this Jesus guy was.

The first Nicene Creed of 325 amended a little by a meeting in Constantinople in 381 was developed for two reasons. First, the Emperor, converted by his mother to Christianity, proclaimed the religion an official religion of the Empire. So, people needed to know what that religion was. Secondly, there was a philosophical movement afoot to convince people that Jesus was never a real human. The church needed a statement that affirmed both the divinity and humanity of Jesus.

Christians have always been an argumentative lot. Already by 55, the Apostle Paul was combatting “heretical” ideas. And the Creed of 381 didn’t resolve things.

We must have a thousand Christian denominations today. A couple of dozen (at least) traditions. Social issues that give us something to argue about. Sometimes minute theological issues to give us something to argue about.

However, all believe that Creed (except for a very few outliers).

What if we decided to follow a discipline of going back to the basics. Finding that we agree. Maybe some of us like the “rock concert followed by TED Talk” style of worship. Maybe some of us like the mystery and majesty of a formal liturgy. I know of some (many?) who like a little of both–charismatic Catholics do exist. Maybe some are comfortable within certain traditions. Those should not have divided us to the point of war.

A great spiritual discipline is to return to the roots periodically and ground ourselves in order to make our priorities right.