Archive for the ‘Awareness’ Category

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.

Between Prejudice and Passion

December 16, 2020

Why lies He in such mean estate,

Where ox and ass are feeding?

Good Christians, fear, for sinners here

The silent Word is pleading.

What Child is This

When we read things, our mind conjures images. Christians have settled upon a long tradition of the humble manger (“mean estate”) scene. When you visit Israel as a Christian tourist, guides will dutifully show you examples of first-century mangers (feeding troughs).

I imagine that we all ascribe personal meanings when we view the scene in our mind’s eye. Evelyn Underhill saw this:

Human nature is like a stable inhabited by the ox of passion and the ass of prejudice; animals which take up a lot of room and which I suppose most of us are feeding on the quiet. And it is there between them, pushing them out, that Christ must be born and in their very manger he must be laid – and they will be the first to fall on their knees before him. Sometimes Christians seem far nearer to those animals than to Christ in his simple poverty, self-abandoned to God.

Evelyn Underhill

This image both appeals to me and repulses me. We are, each one of us, inhabited by the ox of passion and the ass of prejudice. They do take up a lot of room in our consciousness and our unconsciousness. Unrecognized, they turn us into rigid, nasty, temperamental people.

But Jesus said that we don’t have to be that way. If we have the discipline to truly follow him, we can harness passion to the benefit of humanity like an ox harnessed to a plow helps provide food for many. We can likewise train the ass–recognizing our prejudices and dealing with them–such that we begin to see others as God sees them, as his children.

Underhill correctly observes that sometimes Christians seem to be more like those animals than like the person they are supposed to be following. But we have a choice. We can choose to truly follow Jesus living in God’s kingdom by harnessing the ox of passion and training the ass to recognize and overcome our prejudices.

Somedays I think this is a never-ending journey. This trip requires discipline.

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.

Gratitude For When I Choose Wisely

November 24, 2020

Did you ever find yourself in a place with certain people at an awkward time–and wonder what you were doing there?

The news is full of those stories–why did I choose to come here and now I’m in trouble?

Did you ever find your self out between midnight and 4 am? You’re with people who come up with a “bright idea”? And you wonder, “What am I doing here?”

Maybe I was given a partial gift–I can remember during the situation thinking that. Mostly when I was younger. I can’t remember many times when I thought that ahead of time.

However, certain disciplines and habits have kept me from those what am I doing here situations.

And for those, I am grateful.

As we approach America’s Thanksgiving celebration, we can pause daily to think back of things we did or didn’t do and find those for which we’re grateful.

Gratitude during Thanksgiving season leads us naturally to Advent (for the Christians among my readers). A season of preparation to celebrate the coming of Jesus. My virtual friend Jon Swanson has written an Advent book for this year, Giving a Year Meaning: A Healing Journal for Advent 2020. He makes me think–in a good way. You still have time to order and begin it.

When God Speaks and We Don’t Hear

November 19, 2020

She was in rural West Virginia negotiating to buy a farm. She assured the sellers that she was not going to develop the land. She was going to farm it to grow pumpkins. Sarah Frey had purchased her family’s family farm in southern Illinois before she was 20. She grew pumpkins and watermelons. She had not yet been anointed America’s Pumpkin Queen.

Back in West Virginia, she was thinking about how some people get a sign from God about what they are doing. How do they get a sign? How do they know God is talking to them? She was asking God for a sign sitting alone at dinner in a cafe/tavern. It was some kind of theme night, and people were dancing.

Suddenly it happened. A big guy on the dance floor dropped his pants. Staring her right in the face were two large orange tattooed pumpkin Jack o’Lanterns–one on each cheek. Had to be a sign from God! She asked one of the girls with him to take a picture.

Sometimes God speaks and we aren’t listening. Like the times we pray for big things like maybe becoming the senior pastor of a megachurch. And we have ignored the opportunities God put before us to serve someone in the grocery store parking lot struggling with bags of groceries and two small children.

Then sometimes there are two pumpkin tattoos on some guy’s butt and you become America’s Pumpkin Queen.

It’s best to keep our eyes open and awareness tuned. Don’t ignore the little things or the absurd. God has a sense of humor. And sometimes we are surprised by his message.

Comfort

November 16, 2020

The word of the day came to me in a vision…oops, sorry, I’ve been reading in Daniel and his chapters on visions.

But the word comfort came to me as I pondered the renewed spreading of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. And the response I have noticed in a few people.

And the word comfort. Like a favorite old leather chair that’s been molded to our contours. We settle in. The physical reminder of a partially remembered past. Partial because we often only remember good times. We wish for that security of the way things were–at least, were in our deficient memories.

Given a little freedom to go to restaurants, churches, some sporting events, we naturally go too far. How much we want it to be like last year!

But it is not last year. And we went too far. We went to our favorite gathering places–churches, taverns, ball games–and we went unmasked into the future. And we got boisterous. And we spread whatever viruses we were carrying. And we spread disease.

It’s natural, comfort is.

Once upon a time, we couldn’t afford comfort. Relax and our enemies may sneak up and get us. Once they were human enemies. Now, enemies we can’t see. Maybe don’t even believe they exist.

But they do.

Vigilance. That is the antidote. The good old days weren’t. And today is a new beginning. Be vigilant and strong. And stay safe.

I pray you’re all well.

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?

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.