Archive for the ‘Attitude’ Category

Be Generous

December 31, 2020

A couple of years ago the US Government changed the tax laws to reduce the amount of money you could deduct from reported income for tax purposes for charitable donations. This year due to the pandemic they changed it back to be, well, more generous. Today is the last day of the year to be generous and reduce income taxes a bit.

That is a good thing. Take advantage if you are able.

I am thinking of generosity more in terms that define who we are. There was recently a thought passing around Facebook revealing the typical “it’s all about me” attitude of us Baby Boomers. But it’s not all about me. It’s all about us. Me and my neighbors Jesus put it once. And who are my neighbors, religious people asked him. And he told a story about generosity. Helping someone who happened to be born into the “wrong” community, tribe, race. That was generosity.

Thinking back on this year, when have I been generous even though hurting physically or emotionally? When have I been generous with time, kindness, gifts, caring?

Perhaps we can improve on that for the next year. We can choose to be generous, kind, peaceful, just. We can choose to be the person Jesus intended his followers to be–filled with the spirit and acting in love.

Good-bye to 2020. Here’s to a 2021 filled with peace, justice, generosity, kindness. May our social media posts be filled with these thoughts when we, next year at this time, look back at 2021.

A Vision of Human Spiritual Development

December 24, 2020

“…be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.” —Philippians 2

The Apostle Paul writes to a small group of Jesus-followers in Philippi. We know from Acts 2 that the movement grew exponentially because of the way the early followers lived. Here is a brief glimpse of that life.

He did not instruct them into something new. He reminded them of their coming into fellowship together and with Jesus. His hope is they never forget it…and never stop living it.

Our challenge as we sit here socially distant from others and most likely not in church on Christmas Eve maybe for the first time in our lives, reminds us in these ways of becoming a Jesus-follower even in these circumstances.

The times require even more than ever humility, forsaking selfish ambitions, infusing our selves with humility.

Thus we truly prepare ourselves to celebrate Christmas no matter what our unusual circumstances this year.

Beyond To Do Lists and Don’t Do This Lists

December 23, 2020

How about a list of virtues? Something to guide us into a better state of being?

Humans seem to love lists of “thou shalt not”. They have compiled these for thousands of years. They are a means of comparison. I can prove that I am better than you by comparing how we did on rule-following

However, humans on a spiritual path also have discovered thousands of years ago the list of virtues. Make these your way of life and you will live a better life and be more successful.

Like water, it benefits all things, but does not contend with them.

It unprotestingly takes the lowest position.

This person adapts to any environment;

Attunes the mind to what is profound;

Is kind when dealing with others;

Is sincere in speech;

Is efficient in work;

Is opportune in actions;

Does not contend with anyone;

And, thus, is above reproach.

Within the stresses of holiday and pandemic, shall we pause, become aware, then remember to practice virtue. At the very least, be kind.

Happy Winter Solstice

December 21, 2020

Of course, happy summer to my friends in Australia, Brazil, South Africa and other locations south of the equator.

One of my Persian friends posted a picture on Facebook about their traditional observance of the longest night of the year. Candles, special foods, reading traditional poetry. Cool. That surely beats grumbling about the dark and cold.

We moved 150 miles (241 km) north last spring. That means the nights are even longer than back home.

But we don’t really know. With the pandemic settled in for the season, we hardly go outside anyway.

Some people don’t like the dark. I wonder at times if we convince ourselves that we must be depressed with the dark because everyone says we should be. Enough people are depressed that psychologists have come up with a name, that means a diagnosis, that means treatment (and a fee).

But we know from recent history that the days will start lengthening. Ancient peoples could tell for sure that they had turned the corner four days later. Therefore the celebrations four days later, the day we call December 25. The celebrations that the Christians co-opted and turned into a feast day, a celebration of a new birth.

Use the darkness to settle in, slow down, read, play games, contemplate the fire in your fake fireplace. Use these few weeks to recharge in order to greet the end of the pandemic with renewed energy. Change your attitude from discouragement to celebration, like my friend, the Persians.

Jesus, So What?

December 17, 2020

I devoted some hours yesterday to thinking about market disruption in the industrial automation and control market. Is there a new technology that will upend the incumbent market leaders much like digital photography (incidentally, invented by Kodak) rendered Kodak almost instantly obsolete?

And I thought, it was really all about what serves the customer and solves its problems.

I intended to write something from the Desert Fathers this morning when my mediation took this idea of serving the customer into the realm of churches, and eventually Jesus himself.

Christians are in the season of Advent, the time of preparing to celebrate Jesus’s birth as a human being. Some people focus on the celebration. In parallel, there is a secular side of Christmas–family dinners (not this year), getting (and maybe giving) presents, wishing people peace and joy, and wishing for snow (depending upon where you live).

I’ve observed churches for almost my entire life. Most of them say they want to attract new people “to Jesus”. And I’ve sat back and watched and asked, “So what?” Why? What happens afterward?

Andy Stanley, founding pastor of Northpoint Ministries in the Atlanta area, invites people to “make better decisions and live a better life”. I like that mission. It sounds much like Jesus who also invited people to make better decisions and live a better life. That is the “so what” that people ask when they commit to joining an organization (or buying automation and control equipment).

I’ve seen too many people say that they’ve “accepted Jesus into my heart” and then noticed that nothing changes about their lives.

If we have not made the changes that comes from really living in the kingdom of God, then we have missed the message. It is not so much what we say about Jesus; it is very much about how we live our new life. That is the “so what” that is too often missed. Maybe our reading for this celebration of Jesus’s coming, we shouldn’t just read the “Christmas story”, but maybe we should go to Matthew 5-7 and read Jesus’s words to us.

Make better decisions; live a better life. Beginning now.

Good News of God’s Story

December 15, 2020

Gospel.

From the Anglo-Saxon meaning “God’s Story.” A translation before that from the Greek meaning “Good News.”

The first generation of Jesus-followers, eventually called Christian by others, spread the Good News

  • By the way they lived–individually and in community
  • Through their teaching, usually after attracting people
  • Through showing love to others–even those who were not part of their community

The stories handed down were about people who exhibited deep peace, joy, and love despite at times being treated harshly by the governments and others.

A question I hear often in various guises is, “If Christians have a message of Good News, why do they not show it?”

Even one Christian community to another Christian community. Especially to those whose beliefs differ, even if only a slight amount.

Except during December leading up to Christmas celebrations. There may be talk of peace, joy, good news, love.

But…psychologists who study things such as this talk about the stresses and family squabbles and depressions (sometimes even clinical).

It’s tough this year for everyone in the world. I hear stories daily of people I know struggling with Covid on the one hand and acting as if it doesn’t exist on the other (until they, too, get it).

We need a personal visit from the angels who told the shepherds as reported by Luke, “We bring you good news of great joy.” May we be listening when the message comes. And then maybe show it.

All Things Come and Go

December 14, 2020

Seven Things Mindful People Do:

  1. Practice being curious
  2. Forgive themselves
  3. Hold their emotions lightly
  4. Practice compassion
  5. Make peace with imperfection
  6. Embrace vulnerability
  7. Understand all things come and go

Abraham Lincoln, in a speech before he was elected president, said, “It is said an Eastern monarch once charged his wise men to invent him a sentence, to be ever in view, and which should be true and appropriate in all times and situations. They presented him the words: “And this, too, shall pass away.” How much it expresses! How chastening in the hour of pride! How consoling in the depths of affliction!”

Perhaps we should meditate on two phrases–“chastening in the hour of pride” and “consoling in the depths of affliction”.

I have not written much about the pandemic, mostly because, what can I say that isn’t already said? Except that most things I read fall into one of two camps–scare us about how many deaths, or ignore it and it will go away.

This is not the first pandemic humans have weathered. It will not be the last. Nor is it the deadliest. But it is real. Some people withdraw as much as possible to avoid contracting the virus; some people act as if it’s nothing to worry about. I used to think those attitudes fell along political lines. But it is more personal than that.

I read about a General who was a prisoner of war during the VietNam war for many years. He said that those who made it through were optimistic in the long term. Those who didn’t were the ones who set a date–we’ll be home for Christmas, oops, we’ll be home for Easter, oops, we’ll be home for 4th of July, and so forth.

This pandemic will pass. One way or another. I am optimistic–for the long term. And we’ll forget about it–mostly. Then someday another will spread. Humans will still populate the planet.

And God, the creative source of life, will remain the point of stability in a changing world.

TS Eliot described that in his poem Burnt Norton from the Four Quartets:

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;

Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is, 

But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,

Where the past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,

Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,

TS Eliot, Burnt Norton

Embrace Vulnerability

December 11, 2020

Seven Things Mindful People Do:

  1. Practice being curious
  2. Forgive themselves
  3. Hold their emotions lightly
  4. Practice compassion
  5. Make peace with imperfection
  6. Embrace vulnerability
  7. Understand all things come and go

About 2,000 years ago, a man walked on a hot, dusty Middle Eastern road. He had a destination, a goal, and a mission. He was serious, and, he thought, powerful.

He saw an extremely bright light, heard voices, followed by the realization that he could not see.

He was now totally vulnerable. Without his friends to guide him to the destination city, he could have died on the road. In the city, people came to him to help him. People he did not know. They could have killed him. He was still vulnerable.

The man we know as the Apostle Paul embraced that vulnerability until the end of his life. Yet, he became one of the major influencers of Western culture until this day.

I guess vulnerability is when we don’t have all the power to determine our destiny even for the rest of the day. It’s when we don’t know everything.

We can live in a world of delusion. We can live in a world of paranoia. We’ve all met citizens of those realms. Perhaps we’ve been there.

Or, like Paul, we could embrace our vulnerability. Learn to live with it. And practice disciplines that guide us through it.

Victor Frankl discovered in the camps a way to maintain a core of strength even while being almost entirely vulnerable.

I’m not sure that we can grow mentally and spiritually by ignoring our vulnerability. We have a choice. We can embrace our vulnerability and then chose to use it to learn humility throwing off pride and walk with God in the direction he guides.

Sorry, We’re Not Perfect

December 10, 2020

Seven Things Mindful People Do

  1. Practice being curious
  2. Forgive themselves
  3. Hold their emotions lightly
  4. Practice compassion
  5. Make peace with imperfection
  6. Embrace vulnerability
  7. Understand all things come and go

A man (not me) describing his wife as a “perfectionist” quipped, “Her love language is criticism.”

There exists a personality type that feels deeply that things should be perfect. This personality type loves lists of rules. Not content with merely striving for perfection, these people need rules so that they know how they stand at all times.

Held within limits, that’s just the way they are. When it gets out of balance, these lists of rules become scorecards to compare themselves to see who’s winning. They become rigid and not particularly likable. Taken further along the spectrum, this rigidity leads to mental and physical health problems.

Many people I know say, “There is a name for those people–Christians.”

For example, a pastor I had told me that he was on a team where they all took the Myers Briggs Types Indicator with the idea of knowing personality types would help them work together. He said that the entire team, every one, had a “J” at the end of their type. The description of a “J” is one of these rule followers–although the Myers Briggs falls short on having a continuum of healthy to unhealthy types.

But when I told him I was a “P”, he blurted out being astonished, “How can you call yourself a Christian?”

Well, sorry, but I made peace with not being perfect a long time ago.

The Christian Bible has a word for people of this type–Pharisee. And the Pharisees of Jesus’ time were almost all (as reported by John anyway) the unhealthy type. And Jesus was always poking at their belief.

Referring to body and soul, “You are like a cup that is washed on the outside, but inside you are dirty.”

All of us who harbor these perfectionist qualities can stay on the healthy side by recognizing it and then releasing it. Perhaps with a deep breath.

Paul, the guy who famously converted from Pharisee to Jesus-follower, wrote eloquently in both his letter to the Galatians and the letter to the Christians in Rome about growing out of that life bound up by rules and living free in the spirit.

Recognize God’s grace that leads us to stop the treadmill of trying to be perfect and judging others about their perfection, and just live in the spirit. If you are a “J”, learn to be healthy by releasing the drive to perfection.

What Do We Love?

November 30, 2020

“Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so thatd we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.”

1 Timothy 6

Yesterday for Americans, we left the season of gratitude. We entered Advent, the looking forward to Christmas—for many the season of “I want…”

I sympathize with businesses. I’ve spent a fair share of my business life trying to figure out how to increase sales and profits. But the way 140 years of experience have taught them the tools of manipulation of emotion blurs the lines of ethics.

And the target is not just kids. We target kids to bring them into the desire emotion with toy cars and their parents with a big luxury car with a bow in the driveway.

Look at Paul’s key words above—desires, love (of the wrong things), plunged (into ruin), wandered (from faith), pierced (with pains).

It’s about the heart. Is our heart set on the things of God? Is our heart set on objects of desire?

As we enter the Advent journey, let us maintain focus on what matters.