Archive for the ‘Attention’ Category

Aware of Ourselves

May 4, 2018

The most common angelic greeting in the Bible? When a human meets the divine, what does the divine say?

“Don’t be afraid.”

Fear sometimes is right there with us. The first emotion upon meeting a stranger in the night in an unfamiliar place. We face an imminent weather event–tornado or hurricane, for example.

Sometimes fear is insidious. It enters quietly, like a thief in the night. We don’t know it’s there.

But fear influences our thoughts. We fear change. We fear the unknown. Worse, we project our fears on other humans who become the personification of those fears.

Fear breeds hate. We grow to hate those other humans–those other children of God.

We don’t even realize it. These evil emotions don’t just greet us like the angels in the Bible do. “Don’t be afraid.” They sneak in and capture the heart and mind.

Awareness brings things to light. So much of the theme of the Apostle John’s writing concerned bringing light into the darkness.

Sometimes in meditation and prayer, we must listen to God expose these thieves who have crept into our life and captured it.

Fear and pride–two things that will corrupt your life. Bring the light of the world to shine in those dark and web-infested corners, expose them, and expel them.

The light is called awareness. Pray often that God will expand awareness within us.

From Whom Can We Learn

December 8, 2017

“Have you read that essay that went viral on the Internet about how women can’t be engineers?” someone asked a radio interviewer, who happens to be a woman who earned a Ph.D. in engineering.

“No,” she replied. “I am careful what I fill my mind with. Thoughts can determine attitudes.”

The other day, before I was distracted, I wrote about keeping our eyes wide open this Advent. That’s called awareness.

Do we go through life unaware of the things around us–the good works of some, the grief and misery of others?

The next step is attention. To what or to whom do we pay attention?

Better, from whom can we learn if we but pay attention?

From a professor? Maybe.

From a child? Probably. Consider that a child with few preconceived ideas, observes things from an entirely new perspective. They are curious. Listen. Pay attention. She may rock your world.

From a person with little education? Often, if we pay attention. It’s still a different perspective.

If you are a specialist in one area, listen to those in another area.

We can be intentionally aware of all the Christmas preparations, but we need to watch what we pay attention to. It determines our attitude.

Good Leaders Have Great Observation Skills

August 17, 2017

Leaders are observers.

I was a new college graduate. I thought it would be smart to take a year off before graduate school and make some money since I was paying my own way.

A teaching position opened. I had zero training for the position. But in those days, there was an acute shortage of teachers. All I had was a degree. No training. Protestant religion applying for a position in a Catholic school. No knowledge of the developmental psychology of 13-year-olds. Pure geek. And I became the new 7th grade social studies and writing teacher at a Catholic school.

So I went in to check out my room and met Mr. Carder, one of the other 7th grade teachers (the other two were nuns). We were each to have 40 students in our classes. Mr. Carder began talking about his previous class. It dawned on me that he knew the names and mannerisms of each of his previous 40 students.

Wow, I thought. That’ll be a challenge. And it was.

Somewhere in the Bible is the phrase “Looking but not seeing”. 

Aren’t we often afflicted with that disease.

We think we are watching the road as we drive, but then we can’t remember a thing about the route.

We thought we were awake while walking along the street, but we didn’t see the homeless person or the mother struggling with kids and packages.

We see the people on our committee or organization, but we really have no clue about where they are in life. Are they connected and committed? Is there an agenda? Or a problem?

Let that phrase not apply to us.

Breaking Their Attention To Focus On Something Else

August 10, 2017

We were hiking along a path in the woods and hills.

Family with 2-year-old coming toward us. Kid is cranky and letting everyone know.

We meet on the path. Kid looks at me, still trying to cry and scream. I say something to him. He looks. Breaks his attention. He stops crying. 

But, we pass and he remembers he was trying to get something out of dad–probably a ride. Back to crying.

Reminded me of the one time that one of my kids threw a tantrum at the check out lane of a grocery. She’s laying there screaming. I call out, “Whose kid is that?” Broke her attention and focus. 

I like breaking people’s focus trying to get them to focus on something else–preferably something better.

I think Jesus was a master of that. He’d say something that was on a different plane than the one his companion was on. They’d have to stop and refocus. Some were good at that, many were not.

When you study Jesus’ words, you need to keep that in mind.

Also a life tip. When you find yourself focusing on something depressing or fearful or agitating, purposely choose to think about something else. (Probably not a therapy for clinical problems, but it works for me.) Break your own focus and attention.

For What Do We Search

July 21, 2017

Wisdom says, “Whoever diligently seeks good seeks favor;

But evil comes to the one who searches for it.
 Proverbs 11:27

I’m addicted to Masterpiece Mystery shows on PBS (originally on BBC). Just watched the series Grantchester.  Supposedly a murder mystery series of stories, but the real story line delves into the screwed up relationships of the four main characters. You sit there, you watch it. You can see them coming to no good end.

At the end, one woman asks her man, “Just what are you searching for?”

That was the theme of the story. (Find it on Amazon Prime or Netflix or something and watch it. Worth the hour.)

We need to ask ourselves daily, what are we searching for?

Reminds me of a story from the poet Carl Sandburg. Seems a farmer was standing by a field contemplating the harvest when a stranger drove by. The stranger asked, “What sort of people live around here?”

“What sort were they where you are from?”

“They are a mean, lying, thieving sort.”

“Well, I guess you’ll find the people around here just like that.”

The farmer turned back to his field and a second stranger stopped to chat.

“What sort of people live around here?”

“What sort were they where you are from”

“Why, they are honest, hard working, helpful people.”

“Well, I guess you’ll find the people around here are just like that.”

Why do you think I carefully choose what news sources to read and then only check them a few times a day? I’m not seeking ways to get my negative emotions all fired up.

The people who puzzle me and for whom I pray are those who are seeking, but they don’t know for what they are seeking. They are just lost. Its seems worse to me to just drift through life always searching, never finding.

Every day I seek God. On the good days, I find him.

What Or Who Is Your Savior

July 6, 2017

You know the song about the guy standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizonza, right? I stood on that corner once. No girl in a flatbed Ford, though.

C’mon baby, don’t say maybe, I gotta know if your sweet love is gonna save me.  — The Eagles

Rolla May, psychologist and author of a number of books including Love and Will and Power and Innocence, wrote that throughout history men have harbored the idea that a beautiful woman will be their salvation. 

They all didn’t understand the thought of that social philosopher from the early 60s, Jimmy Soul, who sang, “Never make a pretty woman your wife…she does things that causes his downfall.”

Think of the things you think will save you.

Everything will be alright if I can just get seven figures in my bank account, or if I just had that house in that neighborhood, or if I just had that car, or if I could have had that guy (or girl).

This isn’t new thinking.

More than 4,000 years ago a guy named Abraham had conversations with God. It wasn’t belief–he continued doing things that revealed a lack of complete trust in God. But he had those conversations where God spoke and he spoke back. It didn’t seem to surprise him that this special god spoke with him. 

But he’d slip into these moments when he thought his own ingenuity would save him rather than dependence upon God.

Think of all the other heroes in the Bible–Adam, Samson, David, Solomon, King Saul–who failed at crucial times.

Is it time for a gut check? What thing or person have you been focusing on for salvation? Time for a change in focus?

How To Develop Who You Are

May 4, 2017

Paul wrote at least twice in Romans thoughts that today could be translated “You become what you think about.”

Where you choose to place your attention determines what sort of person you become.

This is part of the law of sowing and reaping.

Marketing master Seth Godin puts it this way:

We get what we invest in. The time we spend comes back, with interest.

If you practice five minutes of new, difficult banjo music every day, you’ll become a better banjo player. If you spend a little bit more time each day whining or feeling ashamed, that behavior will become part of you. The words you type, the people you hang with, the media you consume…

The difference between who you are now and who you were five years ago is largely due to how you’ve spent your time along the way.

This is why I recommend every year that, instead of goals or resolutions for the new year, we imagine what sort of person we’d like to be. Then we cultivate habits to become that sort of person.

Godin says that those habits determine us. We practice a musical instrument, or a foreign language, or praising people, or choosing positive thoughts.

Where are you, and where do you wish to be?

The Words of My Mouth And The Meditations of My Heart

February 28, 2017

Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer. –Psalm 19

Saw in a cartoon strip. Two 50-something men sitting in a bar. Old friends. One is a priest. Woman walks up who is an old friend not seen for many years. “Gosh, Nicole, you look, er, wonderful.”

The man turns to his friend, the priest, “Forgive me Father, for I am about to sin.”

“I don’t do funerals,” replied the priest.

My wife is in a small group studying the Sermon on the Mount. They hit the divorce teaching of Jesus. We talk about it. Not to get one, of course, but to consider the current cultural environment.

For example, the Religious Right chose an issue it thought would get the most emotional allegiance from politically conservative Christians. It did not choose divorce. In fact, it doesn’t even have a divorce teaching. One of the founders was quite frank about it–too many people are divorced and accept it as just a part of living. No big deal.

And the legal reason back in Jesus’ day for divorce was–adultery.

Jesus, when asked one of those trick questions, said that Moses put in a law about divorce because humans are sinful. But God didn’t create us to have disposable spouses. Then Jesus talked about the meditations of our heart.

In fact, Jesus said, just to contemplate how “wonderful” another person is in a sexual attitude is the same thing as adultery.

Words can be cruel things that cannot be recalled. The meditations of our heart, though, corrupt our very soul. That’s like yesterday’s teaching. Where we set our mind is the direction we’ll go. We become what we think about. Don’t let your imagination get carried away.

I’m Doing A Great Work

July 21, 2016

I’m doing a great work, and I cannot come down. — Nehemiah

Still focusing on focus. This morning I was thinking about various people in the Bible and came across Nehemiah.

He was an important official in the Persian Empire toward the end of the “Babylonian Captivity” period of Jewish history. His brother returned from a trip to Jerusalem with a description about how the once great city was now a laughing stock. It seems the walls had never been rebuild since the Babylonians had conquered the city some 70 years or more before.

A city without walls? Impossible!

This touched Nehemiah’s heart and he determined that his life’s work was now to rebuild those walls. You can read the entire story in the book that bears his name. It’s short, but powerful. A great lesson in leadership. And in focus.

From that day forward, Nehemiah focused on that mission and what he could do to accomplish it.

Skipping toward the end, he went to Jerusalem with the king’s blessing and set about rebuilding the walls. When the nation’s local enemies determined that he was serious and about to accomplish the project, they sent for him to come down from the mountain for a meeting. Most likely they were going to kill him. But Nehemiah sent a reply, “I am doing a great work, and I cannot come down.”

His focus was incredible.

He accomplished his mission.

So, we may not have a mission that great. But reading the practical advice that Paul gives the Colossians helps us bring it home.

“Set your mind on things that are above.”

Set your mind on things that are above.

We choose that which we focus on. Either we choose mindfully. Or, we choose lazily, just drifting to what feels good or influenced by peers or advertising to just follow shallow desires.

What do we choose to focus upon today?

Persevere In Practice

July 20, 2016

“I know how to hit” exclaimed the kid to his baseball coach.

“Yes, but that just makes you a coach. Hitting makes you a player,” replied the coach.

Yesterday’s topic was focus. I thought I’d, well, focus on focus for a few days.

So, I did a search for the word “focus” in my translations of the Bible on my iPad. Digital books have much to commend themselves.

Focus does not appear in the Bible–at least my English translation. I figured Paul’s writings would be full of the word. But, alas, no.

He does tell us to persevere, though. And there is a similarity. In Romans, he advises, “Persevere in prayer.”

I take this to mean–do it; concentrate while doing it; make it a practice.

I thought of a little kid learning to hit a baseball. “I know how to hit,” he says. But knowledge only gets him so far.

Actually hitting a baseball gets him on the team. To hit a baseball requires focused attention, consistent practice, and perseverance over a period of time.

Many people know the Bible. Many people know about prayer. But what do they practice? Do they practice studying the Bible with the focus on improving their lives? Do they consistently focus on prayer to bring the Spirit into their lives (and into others’ lives)?

It’s like the person who knows CPR but can’t do it when someone needs help. (I worry about that. I take a refresher course every two years. Will I remember and keep my head if I’m in a situation?)

We’re in a game. Life. Are we just going to sit on the bench and watch others play while we do nothing? Or are we going to apply that knowledge to actually going up to bat?

“Batter up!”