Author Archive

To Listen Is To Lean In Softly

November 13, 2020

To listen is to continually give up all expectation and to give our attention completely and freshly to what is before us, not really knowing what we will hear or what that will mean. In the practice of our days, to listen is to lean in, softly, with a willingness to be changed by what we hear.

However, when I am giving myself to listening, I have expectations of the speaker.

I can rejoice with the joyful, mourn with the hurting, provide encourage the discouraged, provide an ear for those with burdens to unload.

Where I have trouble, and I perceive it’s not only me, is to listen to those who with belligerent attitude try to force lies, innuendo, deliberate twisting of facts upon me.

How do I keep my defenses and my BS detector and my wish to push back under control.

Perhaps those people feel like they are not heard, so they need to talk louder. Sort of like when you are talking with someone who does not speak your language and you talk louder thinking that then they will understand.

I am convincing myself that even then, it’s important to lean in softly. Maybe I learn something—maybe not from their words, but from their hurt.

Tell The Truth

November 12, 2020

A true master never offends anyone, but she or he is always truthful.

I am amazed and in awe of the Desert Fathers who never used 500 words when 15 would do.

They obviously took their cue from Jesus. He could evidently teach for a long time, yet no teaching was longer than a few sentences.

Yet, they spoke the truth with love and perhaps some went away disappointed or didn’t agree, but they were not offensive.

There is a cartoon from early in the popular Internet era where the wife calls from the bedroom, “It’s time for bed, dear.” The husband replies, “Just a moment, I found another error on the Internet I need to correct.”

How hard it is on social media to speak the truth to someone or point out an error (gasp, yes, they do occur) in 15 words without offending. Lord knows I’ve tried myself–and failed.

I forget which famous person (probably attributed to many) said, “I apologize for the length of this letter. I didn’t have time to write a short one.”

To be truthful without offense in a few words requires thought and compassion. Each is in short supply these days.

You Are To Blame

November 11, 2020

Andy Stanley likes to bring up this thought nugget, “Do you know who was present at every bad decision you ever made? You. You were present at every one.”

We learned something from Jeremiah yesterday that our heart is deceitful above all things.

Advertisers and marketers are geniuses at using this knowledge. They know how easy it is to present something in such a way that we believe it. And then we act.

And then later we wonder why.

Why did we buy that? Why did we call her back? Why did we go there? Why did we get suckered into believing her or him?

Wouldn’t it be great if we had a pause button? Before we decide to trust her; before we decide to go there; before we decide to send that note on social media that will make us look like a fool; before we buy that–we pause, breathe deeply, tell our deceitful heart to back off.

We are also present at our good decisions.

Andy never says that. But it’s true.

Wisdom comes from gradually recognizing situations and hitting the pause button and then making the good decision.

The Heart Is Deceitful

November 10, 2020

Yesterday I looked at advice for you to set your heart in the right direction.

But we must beware and be aware–as the ancient Hebrew prophet Jeremiah noted, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.”

Prophecy in the scriptures does not equal telling the future. It does equal bringing a message from God that speaks to the times–and sometimes to all times. Perhaps here we first meet God the Cardiologist. Jeremiah quotes The Lord, “I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward each person according to their conduct, according to what their deeds deserve.”

Sometimes we may look at ourselves and think how beautiful we look when indeed it is vanity talking.

Sometimes we consider ourselves and judge ourself as a “good Christian” when indeed God (and other people) look at our conduct and deeds and judge us as wanting.

We can overcome that deceitful heart. But only by working on the machine that is us and becoming brutally self-aware.

We realize at some point in our lives, hopefully sooner than later, that no matter what that inner voice tells us that when we mentally and spiritually take a step back and look at ourselves as God and others truly see us that we are lacking. We fall short of how smart we think we are, or how wise we think we are, or how much a servant we think we are.

It’s not pure theory or pure knowledge that God is searching us for. How did we treat the server at the restaurant or barista at the coffee shop? How did we treat the least of the people we met?

Will God search us and find us not worthy?

Where Is Your Heart Pointed?

November 9, 2020

We watched a dramatization of an Agatha Christie Miss Marple story last night. The sub-plot behind the main plot of uncovering the murder mystery concerned the decision of a beautiful young woman who must choose a husband from between a man who does foolish things out of a deep love for her or a man who is a political climber, member of Parliament who has not the capacity for love.

She, of course, chooses love.

The Desert Father, Abba Poeman (the Shepherd), once said, “Do not give your heart to that which does not satisfy your heart.”

We are in the aftermath of a hard-fought, yet strange, election season in the USA. Some who won are not positive they won all they hoped to win. Many who lost are mired in bitterness and despair.

If you give your heart to politics, you are doomed like Sisyphus to cycles of elation and despair.

Giving your heart to God is “like a rock”, stable, secure, dependable.

Life will provide you with plenty of cycles of up and down. God is always there to stabilize. Daily disciplines focus your heart firmly on that which never changes.

Humans Haven’t Progressed Too Far

November 6, 2020

There was a cigarette advertisement (if American, are you old enough to remember those?) in the 70s that tried to play off the idea that women had progressed a long way in society–“You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby” they proclaimed saying women deserved their own brand of death-in-a-package.

I’m currently reading in Augustine of Hippo. He talks of his teen years in what we’d call University.

These studies of mine also, which were considered perfectly respectable, were designed to fit me for the law so that I might gain a great name in a profession where those who deceive most people have the biggest reputations.

Augustine, Confessions

In America, as well as in many countries of the world, we have come through a season of political campaigning and elections. Sometimes we get the feeling that 2020 resembles 380.

Although Augustine did turn his considerable rhetorical abilities into working for good, so it is possible to change.

Augustine was discussing his past, the time prior to his focus on God. This is part of personal awareness, when we can look back and see where we were deficient and sinners. Then we can see where we’ve grown and where there is still room for growth.

Only when we see can we understand that we are not yet model citizens in the City of God.

A French psychologist once taught a phrase to repeat, “Every day, in every way, I’m getting better and better.”

When we think we’ve arrived at our best, then we’ve turned those powers of deception upon ourselves. Augustine saw it 1,600 years ago. Ancient writing dating back 4,000 years also contain the same warning. It seems we either train to deceive others, or we are professionals at deceiving ourselves.

Coming to awareness brings us one step closer to living with-God.

Have we come a long way? Well, yes, and no.

God Is With Us If We But Look

November 5, 2020

I’m currently reading again in the book of Daniel. I do not read it because of interest in future-telling. I know that some have woven fantastic and captivating stories about some future end-of-times. That’s not a new phenomenon, by the way.

No, once again I am captivated by stories of how a group of four friends, captured as teens, taken away to a foreign land, taught the language and culture of the foreign people, continued to live with God in the face of occasional grave danger.

The king has a dream. Won’t tell anyone what it was, but he wants an interpretation. His wise men tell him it cannot be done. The king says, then kill all of them. Daniel and his buddies learn about their imminent demise, turn to God, and God tells Daniel the dream and interpretation.

Tattletales tell on the three friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and the king orders them burned alive. When the king looks into the furnace, he sees four men. God is with them. They walked out unharmed.

The king gets mad a Daniel. Has him thrown into a cage with a hungry lion. God is seen with Daniel, and he walks out.

There are more–but do you get the drift. They live with God, and God lives with them.

Richard J. Foster called it the “with-God” life.

God takes care of his part. It requires awareness on our part. Even while administering a vast empire, Daniel had a rhythm to life of withdrawing three times a day to connect intentionally with God. Jesus also had a rhythm to his life of withdrawing to connect intentionally with God.

What about us?

Vocation

November 4, 2020

No, not vacation, something we all need right now. Rather, vocation refers to the work you do, your career, how you devote your skills and talents. My introduction to the word was in high school. There was a course of study called Vocational Agriculture. It was for the farm kids who were going to go into the family farming business.

I went to college and studied lots of things. Then I was introduced again to the word when I taught 7th grade at a Catholic school. Not being Catholic, I had to pick up on the specific meaning of the word as they used it back then–namely (I think) showing the kids the opportunities for “vocation” meaning becoming a priest, brother, or sister.

Most of us get a job of some kind and perhaps it becomes a career of some kind. Do we think beyond that? Like those Catholic kids I taught, are we encouraged to consider what God might want us to do with our time, skill, talent?

I saw this thought in today’s readings:

Vocation is not evoked by your bundle of need and desire. Vocation is what God wants from you whereby your life is transformed into a consequence of God’s redemption of the world. Look no further than Jesus’s disciples – remarkably mediocre, untalented, lackluster yokels – to see that innate talent or inner yearning has less to do with vocation than God’s thing for redeeming lives by assigning us something to do for God.

Especially American Baby Boomers, but also many people in the world, think about how much money we can make, or how much power we can exert over others, or retiring to a lifestyle of wealthy leisure such as portrayed in countless movies and TV shows.

But no, someday God will call us to account for our use of his gifts. It’s not to late to discover and go.

The Joy of Sinning

November 3, 2020

The Apostle Paul writing some of his most poignant thoughts talked of how he gets upset with himself when he does what he doesn’t want to do and doesn’t do what he wants.

Augustine (au-GUS-tin, the city in Florida is au-gus-TEEN) of Hippo wrote in his Confessions about a time when at age 16 (the brains of 16-year-old boys were just as undeveloped in 360 as 2020) when he and a group of other boys stole a large quantity of pears and then wound up just throwing them to the pigs. He was puzzling why he did it.

The real pleasure was simply in doing something that was not allowed.

Sometimes I think I’m like Augustine where I can suddenly remember seemingly every stupid thing I’ve done like that. People thought I was a good boy–I wasn’t. At least, not always.

That carries over even until today, I fear.

Often when I read current news, I have the feeling that there are many in our society who are acting out that same inner drive toward sin–the pleasure lies in the knowledge that it is not allowed.

Augustine mourns that he did not know God when he was 16, and he wishes that he would have. I bet most of us are in that same boat.

But today is a new day. Life will put before us this very day opportunities to do things not allowed yet pleasing to our hearts. Or–we could pause, re-focus, calm down, and derive pleasure from being part of the Kingdom of God.

We can pick up Paul’s challenge and sometimes do what we know we should as Jesus-followers.

Maintaining Focus and Equanimity

November 2, 2020

Sometimes I lose track of special days and holidays when I sit in meditation. But something reminded me that today is the Eve of the Election in the USA. Without a memory of our history and listening only to candidates and media, you would think this is an unprecedented election. It isn’t.

It might be instructive to check out the 1850s and the rise of the Know Nothing Party. I was taught as a young student that the party got its name from adherents answering “I don’t know” to questions about the party, its leaders, its tenants, and so forth. This party was an attempt to organize American Protestants mobilizing anti-Catholic (by implication anti-immigration), anti-black people, American nativism, and so forth.

Yes, today the election is bitter, divisive, as are almost all elections. Although not all involve strident language as much.

St. Anselm of Canterbury, who lived in another wild time from about 1033–1109, offers some good advice for Americans this week and for everyone at every time, “Flee for a while from your tasks, hide yourself for a little space from the turmoil of your thoughts. Come, cast aside your burdensome cares, and put aside your laborious  pursuits. For a little while give your time to God, and rest in him for a little while. Enter into the inner chamber of your mind, shut out all things save God and whatever may aid you in seeking God; and having barred the door of your chamber, seek him.”

I do not allow myself to dwell on the hype and divisiveness. I acknowledge its existence. It is not my foundation. Seeking God in quiet is my foundation.

Oh, and I’ve already voted. And donated money. I’ve done what I should and can. Now to focus on what I need to do for today.