Author Archive

Thinking About Thinking

September 9, 2021

Our rational mind tries to figure things out. But it must start with an assumption. Some sort of starting place. Then it proceeds to think more or less rationally. Perhaps for justification.

Our mind, however, will believe anything we tell it to believe. Our starting point for thinking could be completely wrong. Or flawed. Or incomplete.

We must first find the proper starting point for thinking. Perhaps through prayer, contemplation, meditation, study we see through our fog. We develop a new way of looking at our story.

Look at the way Jesus told stories. Almost always they are designed to shock the hearer’s assumption so that they now think from a new starting point.

Are we shocked by Jesus’ stories? Or have we read them or heard them so often that we miss the point?

Can we pause, breathe, relax and then approach these stories with new eyes, like a child? Maybe we can be shocked again like the original hearers?

Repaired

September 8, 2021

I’ve heard this story several times lately. That must mean it’s time to share it with you. This one comes from Ian Morgan Cron, an Episcopalian priest, therapist, and Enneagram whiz.

In Japan, when a valuable tea bowl or piece of pottery breaks, the owner doesn’t throw it out. 

They take it to a craftsman who gathers the shards of the broken vessel and mends it with lacquer dusted with 24k gold powder in an art form known as “kintsugi.”

The result is an object that is imperfect but paradoxically more beautiful than it was before it broke.

What we can learn from kintsugi is what the Japanese call “the perfection of imperfection.” 

When mended, the owner displays the kintsugi bowl in a place of honor in their home where visitors and guests can see and admire it. The display reminds them that imperfections are not only okay–they can even be made resplendent!

So the next time your Inner Critic tells you that you’re beyond repair, incapable, or even unworthy of love and relationship, turn to it and say, “No. God has made me perfect in my imperfection.” We can overcome the many forces that conspire to keep us from fully living our lives when we believe that God can make our damaged hearts beautiful.

“Repaired” is also known as “Grace.”

When You Are Not Treated Well

September 7, 2021

When a church (congregation) does not treat people well, those people will tend not to go to church.

I never feel part of a crowd, always told I was different. But, I’ve experienced community in churches a few times. And I’ve experienced people trying to impose themselves and their creeds upon others. People who divide other people into different sorts of categories–each one defined as below themselves.

Some people recognize that every human born into this world is made in the image of God. We are each to be treated with respect as Jesus taught, and James reinforced, that we are to practice loving our neighbor as ourselves.

In our daily routine of living, we pause to look at ourselves. Did we just treat that person in our last interaction as a child of God? Smile and tip the barista? Give a pleasant greeting to a neighbor? Avoid lifting a hand gesture to someone trying to cut us off in traffic? Pause and ask how someone is doing and then actually listening to them?

We are each offended when we are not treated well. But, how well do we treat others?

Labor Day

September 6, 2021

Today is Labor Day in America. A national holiday. And, like pretty much all of our national holidays, it’s just a Monday off work (for some, but not many people laboring to serve us). This holiday traditionally signals the end of “summer” and the beginning of fall activities. Schools once opened after Labor Day since they were not air conditioned and days are becoming cooler–at least in the north.

It’s a day of grilling on the patio with some family or a final weekend for camping and boating.

And labor?

Not so much respected for the last 70 years or so. We have developed a gerbil exercise wheel culture of ambition and activity where we think that the only people of worth are those ceaselessly striving for riches and power.

Many manufacturing leaders have adopted a management style called “Lean”. The central tenant of this movement is respect for people. The idea that everyone, including laboring people, has values and can contribute to the overall success of the enterprise.

I wholeheartedly support this. As a writer on manufacturing with a fairly large following (my Website is starting to nudge 200K viewers a month, very good for a niche publication), I’ve had the opportunity to visit many plants both in Europe and the US practicing this methodology.

It is not only industrial and manufacturing “labor” that serves us. Let us pause, even in those countries not celebrating the holiday, and thank all the people working in hospitals and other healthcare facilities whose stressful work keep us alive even when we don’t practice good health habits. People work even through the holiday to serve us at stores and restaurants and fix our Internet connection and restore our electricity and so forth.

They serve us. We can serve them. I’ve been reading in Evagrius who taught that service (charity) was a spiritual discipline that helps us overcome some of the spiritual ills we face.

Equanimity

September 3, 2021

The community here in illinois where I now live has not one, but two, Facebook pages. That’s overkill. I grace at them every other day or so just in case there may be some interesting news–like the expansion of the local ice cream shop.

There are about five women posting daily recently feeding on each other’s complaining. One starts, another chimes in with something worse, and so it goes. Lately it’s all about the lawn care provided by the Home Owners Association.

I thought, how easily we get caught up in a cycle of complaining, negativity, anger. It builds into even actual hate.

Equanimity came up on today’s podcast. The ability to stay calm, even tempered.

Equanimity can be learned. Not intellectually, but deep within the soul. Usually it comes gradually. Best if inculcated intentionally. It took years of meditation and practice.

A new soccer referee wrote the other day. We are in the second week of the high school season. I’m the assignor. He had made one of those “controversial” calls. Tough call for a foul that the coach objected to loudly. That got the parents riled. Lots of yelling. He figured I’d be getting a call from the school. I told him not to worry. I have many years of experience defusing situations, but that mostly people forget after the game.

He will learn to develop equanimity, or else he will not last.

And those women on Facebook? I know that people exist who get joy from being negative. But a little equanimity might make life better for them and those around them.

And every day I must practice breathing intentionally. Maintaining equanimity is not “one and done.” It requires a lifetime of practice.

Beauty

September 2, 2021

Sitting on my patio this morning, my thoughts drifted to the juvenile things I’ve recently seen and heard adults do. Then I lifted my eyes, as the Psalmist would say, and saw the beauty of the trees and grass and coffee cup (well, thinking of the direct trade coffee in the cup).

Far better it is to contemplate beauty than lose myself in negativity. My friend Sarah commented on a Facebook picture I had posted, “You live in such a beautiful place.” I had thought, beauty is where you look for it. My friend is a beautiful person. I am blessed to know many beautiful people. This place is beautiful. So is where I’m from. So is southeastern Ohio where we often vacation. Or Norway, Ireland, Hungary and the many other places I’ve visited.

Such a far better attitude to carry into the day ahead with the many problems I will have to solve. Sometimes we just need this perspective to survive.

Frustration

September 1, 2021

Frustration grows within us when things just don’t conform to our will. Or people don’t conform to our will. The bottle cap doesn’t screw on right away. You flip a switch and nothing turns on. You tell your kid to do something and they don’t.

Or life just doesn’t work out. You want to go to the store like you did a couple of years ago. Without putting on a mask. But now you’ll either spread a virus or catch a virus. Whether you believe in the reality of the virus or not. It doesn’t care, because it is. Or whether you think you are invincible or not–you’re not.

Frustrations often play out at sporting events. Especially those involving our kids.

We are half-way through the second week of the high school soccer season in Ohio. We already have three incidents of ejecting groups of spectators from games for unruly behavior.

Frustration. Leads to anger. Leads to behavior we’ll live to regret.

It’s hard to take that deep breath. Pause. Remember that life does not bend to your will. You must respond to life.

It reminds me of the first paper on philosophy I wrote as a college sophomore. Henrik Ibsen’s concept of truth as described through Peer Gynt. He called it a creative response to life.

I think Jesus would be happy with that idea. He certainly responded to life creatively, with great stories and teachings, and with how he lived (and died, and lived…).

Perhaps we could learn the hard lesson. It definitely isn’t easy. But give it a try.

Anger

August 31, 2021

Shake a can of Coke or beer. Hand it to someone at a picnic. Watch and laugh as they pop it open and are sprayed as the contents spew forth. Adolescent practical joke usually perpetrated by 20-something men. Metaphor for anger.

Sometimes we hold anger inside. And it gurgles, and bubbles, and ferments, and builds pressure.

Until…

It must explode either in acts of verbal or physical violence or your body gives way with a stroke or heart attack.

Sometimes just a perceived slight from someone can build and build until inner peace is destroyed.

We must deal with this. There must be a safe outlet. But first we must recognize its presence. Then its cause. A good reason why Jesus told us to go make things right with the other person before offering a gift to God. John Climacus taught us anger is a disturbance of the heart that prevents the presence of the Spirit.

More than breathing exercises, which may help bring down the boiling point, we must also search for humility and then reconciliation in order to return to stability.

Thinking

August 30, 2021

There are those people who are hungry–hungry to be told what to think, what to do, where to go.

There are those people who eagerly promote themselves as the feeder of that hunger.

Then there are those people who long to learn, experience, and think for themselves.

Patterns

August 27, 2021

When I learned to touch type, I thought about each letter and each finger. After a few years of practice, I found that my fingers had learned patterns for most words that I use. I don’t think about letters. In fact, I think only about what I am writing.

Chess masters during a game begin with recognizing a pattern of the pieces on the board and then can translate into discrete moves building upon or changing the pattern.

Our life with God similarly reflects a pattern. There is a pattern and rhythm of closeness and distance. Recognizing that pattern moves us closer to both awareness of our relationship with God in the moment and impetus to change where we need to change.

We develop spiritual practices or disciplines simply so that we intentionally orient our lives into the appropriate pattern of living with God more fully and more frequently.

The problem may not lie in beginning the day with a practice. It may lie in finding a recurring pattern of practice to maintain that awareness throughout the day.