Archive for the ‘Awareness’ Category

Self Deception

April 23, 2021

Jesus is bringing his teaching session toward a close. Studying the message afterward, we can read through and then read again. So, we notice a message he wishes to drive home to his listeners.

Do you know that the subheads so conveniently placed at the beginnings of sections are not part of the scripture? Just like chapter and verse numbers, some nice editor added those to make it easier for us to read.

The subhead for this paragraph in the translation I’m using (NRSV) says, “Concerning Self Deception.”

Jesus says, “Not all who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven.”

I have come across people who say that you only need to say the magic words and everything will be all right.

Jesus continues, “…but only the one who does the will of my Father.”

The concluding paragraph uses the analogy of the the wise person who builds a house on a solid foundation who is the one who hears Jesus’ words and acts on them.

I think we have a theme.

I also think Jesus knew people. He knew that it’s easy for us to convince ourselves we do well when we don’t.

Maybe we think that we ate a healthy diet yesterday, conveniently forgetting about the chips and cookies. Maybe we convince ourselves that we are saying things that are true when we are actually just justifying actions we know are duplicitous.

Self awareness is one of the keys to wisdom. Self deception follows our every thought. It’s a struggle we often do not realize exists. It’s all so clear to us…until someone points out the emperor has no clothes.

Avoid self deception. Seek self awareness…even when it is unsettling.

Do Not Hold Others In Contempt

April 19, 2021

I am once again deep into Matthew 5-7 popularly called the Sermon on the Mount. I am not a professional Biblical scholar, but I have to believe this wasn’t a one-and-done talk. Jesus probably taught this whenever he had a crowd of 10 or more. Based on some research, I also think that this is not a random collection of sayings that Matthew heard during his time with Jesus. It fits together too well and leads to an obvious conclusion.

After he talked about how various people among his hearers would be blessed through his introduction of the nearness of the kingdom of the heavens (as Dallas Willard likes to say), he tackles what we would call Root Cause Analysis–anger that leads to murder and contempt.

It is becoming socially acceptable in many cultures today to openly hold people of different races, tribes, and religions in contempt. A paper is openly circulating in the US Congress right now upholding this. It is even acceptable in many places around the world by some people to openly discuss and act on killing those whom we hold in contempt.

What spiritual disciplines could we bring to bear to counter such thoughts and actions?

It always must begin with self-awareness. Whether we read in the Bible or other spiritual writings and biographies, circumstance must conspire to bring us to the depths of realization of how we have fallen short of God’s expectations. Then coming to the realization of how the kingdom of God is right here around us.

As we meditate on the nearness of God and his teaching, we can begin to recognize and act on our fears that drive anger that drive contempt.

Jesus closed his talk with a call to action. “Whoever hears my words and acts on them is like a wise man who builds his house on a solid foundation.”

We must hear; we must act. Each of us. Wherever we are.

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.

Breathe

March 18, 2021

We forget that we breathe. It just happens. Well, it happens or we die.

I hear or read the word, and I immediately become conscious of my breath. Then I regulate it. Slow down. Become aware of how my chest expands and diaphragm drops as the lungs fill with air. And then the contraction as I exhale.

Ever notice how people talk differently? Some talk with breath support–you’re taught that at speaking school. Some have a lazy diaphragm and lower abdominal muscles and speak in a lazier way lacking some enunciation. It’s breath.

Warriors must learn to regulate breath. As should all of us in stressful situations or when working.

We pay attention to breath while meditating. Slowing down. Filling our lungs.

Some people who study such things report that humans typically only fill their lungs to about 20% capacity. Stop, become aware, fill your lungs completely followed by a slow exhale (all through the nose) several times a day. Take short breaks from the computer or the book you’re reading. Breathe.

In Yoga, we learn pranayama–breathing exercises. I never told my class, “Now, we’ll do pranayama.” Instead, I would begin a class sitting (usually, but sometimes standing or reclining) and lead through some different breath work to get us warm and in the mood to begin exercise.

Breathing is so essential, yet so unconscious that James Nestor researched globally and wrote a book, Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art. I have not read the book, but I heard him interviewed on a podcast. So, this book is on my list.

Pause. Breathe with awareness. Set a timer on your calendar to pause during the day. Breathe. As I breathe with intention, I turn my awareness to God. It’s like a “God break” during the day.

Ever-Changing Roles

February 18, 2021

She was a freshman and I a sophomore at university. While we were chatting before an English class, she said, “I’m going to be a lawyer.” This would have probably been in 1967.

She noticed the involuntary look of (probably) disgust on my face and bristled, “You don’t think women should be lawyers?”

“It’s not that,” I replied. “I don’t think anyone should be a lawyer.” I had no problem with her being whatever she wanted to be, as long as it was legal and ethical (neither of which, oh well, you get the point).

Since we have settled into a routine with the pandemic-enforced not going to meetings or Yoga, my wife turns on the TV about 8 pm (as a retired elementary school teacher, her entire life revolved around schedules) every evening. Typically we pick an English murder mystery series and watch the entire series straight through at two hours per night. We currently juggle an older Australian murder mystery series, Miss Fisher, with the currently running on PBS Miss Scarlett plus a different kind of story All Creatures Great and Small.

Miss Scarlett works in Victorian 1880s London. Partly by circumstance, partly by disposition, she becomes a private detective. An old family friend is the local Detective Inspector, and she becomes his unwanted companion solving crimes. 40 years later in Melbourne, Australia, Miss Fisher, an adventurous and wealthy slightly older woman, becomes a private detective and unwanted companion also of the local Detective Chief Inspector. Miss Fisher brought a young woman, Dottie, into her household and into her business. Dottie becomes romantically entangled with Hugh, a police constable working for said DCI.

A significant subplot of both series tells the stories of the three men and how they struggle to accept the changing role of women.

100 years later, it’s today. and men in most of the world are continuing to struggle with the role of women. But it has gotten worse for these men (and many women, too) because the struggle has broadened to having to deal with the once-hidden reality of homosexuality. Lest you think that is an American problem, in the United Methodist Church (becoming dis-United thanks to this issue) the largest anti-homosexual voting bloc is from Africa. And not just sexuality, we are dealing more and more with the realities of acceptance of multiple ethnicities and races. Again, not only an American problem, it’s a human problem.

I was not brought up this way, but somewhere along the line of my maturing, I became pretty completely accepting of all this rich variety of humanity. I think it’s great, actually. One of my most moving meditation experiences was God showing me the family of the human race.

People have always tried to ascribe to the Apostle Paul 20th Century values to a guy brought up in the 1st Century. We miss the revolutionary parts of his remarks. Like the times he says there are no Jews or Greeks, male or female, slave or free, but we are all one in Christ.

Or the time he gave instructions about church services (totally misinterpreted by most) where he says men do not have to cover their heads while praying, but women should cover their heads when praying. What’s revolutionary? My wife still get upset thinking of this instruction. Why do men not have to cover their heads? That’s not the point.

In Jewish synagogue meetings, there were only men in the primary part of the building. They had “prayer shawls” and covered their heads when praying. If you have a mixed group of worshippers as in the early church, the “Greeks” would not have had those head coverings. Paul said, just do away with them so all are the same. And then, pause and let this digest, women were allowed to be in the main part of the worship with the men and they were allowed to pray in the group. Paul just asks for a a certain amount of modesty. I know that women today don’t make personal statements with their hair styling and coloring, but back then… I think Paul was being about as revolutionary as he thought he could get away with.

Recognizing our fear of change of these developing and empowering roles of gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, is the first step to being able to deal with it. We can succumb to the fear by abuse and hatred and even killing others not like us. Or we can recognize and begin the hard work of dealing with it. That is something Christian churches were supposed to do–by accepting all these varieties of people into their worship with no second-class memberships.

Energy

February 2, 2021

We waste so much energy. Not the petroleum or electricity part. Although that is true. I mean our spiritual and mental energy. Our personal energy.

We succumb to illusion and delusion losing awareness of the ultimate truth. Our mental activities are scattered, dissipated. We have lost focus on the truth of God’s eternal spirit.

We organize our spiritual life into churches, denominations, organizations. And then we squabble among ourselves within and among those things.

We waste so much energy. Emotional, physical, psychic, spiritual.

Let us become clearly aware of the Spirit and our need for our own spiritual formation. Instead of scattered arguments, let us recall the lessons of pride and forge humility on the anvil of the spirit.

A writer once described his main character as having the ability to concentrate entirely on the task at had even in the midst of crises. He called it the immense power of focus.

A magnifying glass can focus the sun’s energy enough to start a fire. Imagine what we each could do if we were to focus the true source of energy onto the things God has asked of us–showing mercy, pursuing justice, loving our neighbor.

Today and Tomorrow

January 26, 2021

Reading from two different thinkers going different directions stretches the mind. Or causes cognitive dissonance. Or something.

Eberhard Arnold writing a thought for the day advised not being burdened by the future. Live your life today.

This is ancient spiritual and mental health teaching. Living in remorse for the past–either things done or left undone–has burdened many people into living less than a full life. Yet, living in fear of the future constricts our growth.

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, writing in his last book, Morality, points to the problem of living today ignoring the future. Andy Stanley teaching in last weekend’s Your Move noted much the same thing. One little decision made today can start a new habit, affect your children or grandchildren, or affect the environment. We do need to pause at times and reflect on the potential outcomes.

There was a time when humans thought that given enough data and a starting point they could predict the exact future hundreds of years out.

Along came chaos theory. The classic example is a butterfly beating its wings in Brazil starts an air current that eventually causes a hurricane going up the North American coast. In other words, systems are so complex that we cannot predict tomorrow. Ask any weather scientist with her bank of differential equations who missed last night’s projected snowfall by at least 6 inches (literally last night here in northeast Illinois).

It is important to live in the moment dealing with and then discarding burdens from the past or fears for tomorrow. It is also important to be aware of the potentials involved in the little decisions we make constantly.

Balance is essential to living in the spirit.

Self Help

January 19, 2021

A woman became dissatisfied with her life. She decided to actually live in accordance with self-help books. She had 15 such books. For one month at a time, she took 15 months to live each one strictly according to each one of those books.

She gained 14 pounds. She lost one of her best friends. She became self-absorbed, narcissistic.

Some people read through the Bible as if it were a self-help book. Compile a list of do’s and don’ts. Eat the Daniel diet. Point out to others how well they are doing–and conversely how far from ideal they are.

Jesus indeed taught people how to live. Perhaps not so much what to do, but more so what kind of person to be.

Jesus seemed to be much more interested in the state of our hearts. If our hearts are in the right attitude and orientation, then we will live as if described as one of the heroes in his stories.

It all starts from within. It’s like the path Paul charted through his letter to the Romans. It all starts with awareness of what we are leading to a change of heart leading to living in a new, freer way. The kind of life that those around say, “I want what she’s having.”

Violence Won’t Resolve Ethnic Issues

January 18, 2021

I’m concerned about a better world. I’m concerned about justice; I’m concerned about brotherhood; I’m concerned about truth. And when one is concerned about that, he can never advocate violence. For through violence you may murder a murderer, but you can’t murder murder. Through violence you may murder a liar, but you can’t establish truth. Through violence you may murder a hater, but you can’t murder hate through violence. Darkness cannot put out darkness; only light can do that.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

I echo those thoughts. Much of the cause of the events in America on January 6 lay in fear leading to anger leading to hate.

But Americans shouldn’t feel alone in that, even though those feelings toward black people and “foreigners” are as old as the country. There is no country in the world of which I’m aware where this vicious cycle doesn’t play out. Europe is struggling. The Middle East has its own problems with ethnicities. It’s still dangerous to be a Jew in Russia. Likewise to be Uighur or Tibetan in China. Or Rohingya in supposedly Buddhist Myanmar or Bangladesh.

It’s a human problem.

We can try legislation, which has some, but limited, impact.

The solution lies in a change of heart. Jesus worked specifically on that heart problem. A pastor I heard once called Jesus the first cardiologist. But even Jesus didn’t change all the hearts. The rule makers and followers killed him.

But as we look in the mirror today—the day America sets aside to honor Dr. King’s legacy—what is the condition of our own heart? What do we need to do to change and bring it in alignment with that of Jesus? When can we look past ethnicity into the character of the person?

Today would be a good time to start.

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.