Archive for the ‘Compassion’ Category

So That You May Lead Lives

September 13, 2017

“For this reason, since the day we heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God. May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power,”
Paul writes these thoughts to the Colossians. 

In our rush to parse through the Bible in a rush to pull out rules that make us different (better) than others or in a rush to apply to politics, we miss the “so that.”

Why do we study, pray, meditate, grow in knowledge, spiritual wisdom and understanding?

So that, we may lead lives worthy of the Lord. What kind of life? Pleasing to God, bearing fruit in every good work, strong in character able to withstand those who are against us.

Thinking of descriptions such as compassion, joy, kindness, humility, patience.

What we know is only a foundation or a guide to living a better life. Paul, Jesus, James, Peter, the whole lot of them stretching back to Moses and all the prophets explain what that better way of living is. 

Yet, so many Christians miss that point. It is so sad. They miss the joy in the midst of their anger or pride.

For years I have made it my prayer that from the time I get up in the morning or when I leave the room after a study group that God will guide me to living a life pleasing in his sight.

The Strength To Engage Wits In A Conversation

June 6, 2017

Don’t get into a battle of wits with an unarmed opponent.

Do you ever notice how much more powerful and moving a stage play, or even a movie, can be than reading a book? Nuances of the language and conversation can be conveyed in 3D, so to speak.

Sometimes I think we read stories in the Bible and use a “Church” voice. Rather we should often read aloud–with feeling, and maybe six-part harmony.

Take, for example, Jesus’ two conversations with women. People seemed more shocked that he was talking with a woman in public than their race. But one was Canaanite and the other Samaritan.

When we read them, they can sound too dry. Intellectual. I imagine the conversations in full color and noise. I think in both cases, Jesus was engaged in a subtle battle of wits. And in each case, the woman stood up for herself. And in each case there was change. 

The Canaanite women had been a pest. Jesus decided to stop, acknowledge her, and deal with the situation. She stood strong. Her child was healed. 

The Samaritan woman was an outcast due to many bad decisions in her life. I grew up in a small town. I can imagine her shame. She’s alone. That fact alone tells us volumes. This is the social media gathering spot for the women of the town. Catch up on gossip and who has done what to whom. She’s alone. Jesus asks a question. That was shocking. She hardly expected a Jewish man, a teacher even, to speak to her. But she held up during the conversation. Changed her life and the lives of her entire town.

A couple of questions.

How often to you engage someone unexpectedly in a conversation that can move deeper?

Where do you find the strength to respond to such a conversation?

Living In An Always On Video World

May 12, 2017

You lose your emotional balance. Start yelling and screaming at someone. You do it long enough for at least one person, perhaps more, to point their smart phone and click video / record. One Facebook post later, and 2 million people see what a jerk you are.

You step outside, and someone could be taking your picture. If you have caused anger in your significant other, even in your house you could be the subject of a new “film at 11” on the Web.

You would think that all this surveillance would make us behave better.

I wonder if Biblical writers such as John, who often wrote about light and dark and things we do in each, or James, or Paul even in their nightmares could envision the public exposure extending their thoughts about doing good.

The problem is that we see one video over and over and our brain starts to think this is a common occurrence. It isn’t. I just completed two trips–two continents, 10 different flight segments, five airports. Not one thing worth videoing. Darn, I’m not going to be famous (he said facetiously).

Someone asked me last night, wouldn’t it have been better for the person shooting the video to step up and try to be part of the solution? Sometimes we can’t. But I bet most of the time we can.

What if someone videoed us doing an act of kindness? Of being a calming influence when tempers start to kindle? Of preventing a friend or neighbor from becoming the next Internet Star?

Overcoming Our Own Ignorance

March 10, 2017

“Our mind is the instrument of knowledge, but it is very imperfect and filled with all sorts of ignorance.” John Climacus

The Ladder of Divine Ascent has been on my “to read again” bookshelf for a long time. John is so perceptive. It’s an education in psychology as well as spiritual development to read his work.

It is easy to see ignorance everywhere–everywhere but in ourselves, of course. Does your heart ever ache at those times when someone seems ignorant on purpose? Proud of it? The answer is right there in front of them, and they stubbornly cling to an idea completely different?

I actually took a couple of years to study brain science to figure that out. But, I digress.

Have you ever stared at a passage of Scripture and then exclaim, “Oh, that’s what he’s saying???”

Happens to me often.

I try to be open to new ideas. New interpretations. Open to God breaking through and going “Open your eyes, dummy, and learn this.”

Two things help. One is to read a lot. I watch about 3-4 hours of TV a week (well, plus another 4-5 hours of soccer, but that’s s different story). Otherwise I read.

The other is meeting people. Not just seeing people. Meeting them. Christian fundamentalists. Ordinary Christians. Atheists. Pagans. Muslims. Hindus. Buddhists. And having conversations. And listening. And seeing people as people–God’s children.

Know what? People are different from what you see in the news. Some people like to see their names in the news. Most people try to live a moral life as best they can. Most Christians I meet no matter what flavor of theology are just trying to live a spiritual life an hour at a time. Quietly. No headlines. No anger. No hate. Just people.

We have to watch our minds. Root out our ignorance through continual learning. Listen to someone today.

Are You Prejudiced?

March 3, 2017

Remember how Jesus asked Peter three times, “Do you love me?”

Recently I saw one of my many friends from India. “Are you prejudiced?” he asked me. Three times.

I don’t feel any, I thought. But I was raised in the rural Midwest. I know I was raised with prejudices. Some were taught outright–never marry a Lutheran, my mom often said. They are almost as bad as Catholics. (Whatever that meant.)

My first date, when I was a senior in high school by the way, was a Lutheran. Go figure. But I married a Baptist–who was born in Kentucky. Oops. A family of outsiders had moved into town when I was little. All the old women whispered about “hillbillies.”

Except my wife was raised in Michigan. Oops. Everyone around is an Ohio State University fanatic. Hate Michigan.

Prejudiced? I don’t know. Nothing came to mind quickly. It’s hard to get past your roots. I’ll admit it takes me maybe a minute or so to get past piercings and tattoos to see the person underneath the rebellion.

There are behaviors I don’t like. Strong opinions not backed up by facts. Hate. Injustice. Am I prejudiced against the people? I don’t know. Maybe.

The first time I talked with a person of another race was when I was a freshman in college. Never had a problem with that. Gay people? Doesn’t bother me. People are people.

Even when I look at my Teacher. Jesus had no trouble with the Samaritan woman. But he did have quite the discussion with the SyroPhoenician woman about prejudice of Jews toward other tribes. “Even the dogs get table scraps,” she told him.

So I am still watching. Where are my prejudices? I must have some. You must have some. The way to get past them is to first recognize them. And then realize that all humans are created by a God who loves them.

Travel Is Fatal To Prejudice, Bigotry

February 23, 2017

Found this article on “Big Think.” This confirms observations that I have made over the years. It’s often said that there’s safety in numbers, and unfortunately, the bromide applies equally to people with hateful attitudes when they operate in groups. Racism, for example, is easy to maintain when surrounded by other haters, but a different matter altogether when a racist is alone with his or her intended victim. At that moment, it’s much harder to ignore the fact that the object of hatred is just another vulnerable human being with the right to be treated respectfully and decently. 

Author Daryl Davis knows this, and as a black man has been disarming members of the Ku Klux Klan, one by one, since the 1980s by asking each one he meets, “How can you hate me when you don’t even know me?” he tells the Daily Mail. He says he’s gotten over 200 KKK members to quit.

Davis is about to release an updated version of his memoir, Klan-destine Relationships: A Black Man’s Odyssey in the Ku Klux Klan, which describes his experiences. 

Davis cites Mark Twain in explaining how all the traveling his family did when he was young gave him a different view of racism, and an unusual patience with the ignorance underlying it: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

I hear so many blanket statements about groups of people. In today’s immigration argument, it’s a frequent topic. But, I think, they just don’t know any. It’s all theory. And theory is a killer. This man is a genius. I have none of his courage (or the social skills to pull it off).

Recently a message came my way–visit new places, meet new people, read new things. Good idea. Deal with people in the particular, not in the general. 

Now, to go forth and practice my own preaching…

Let’s Pick The Scripture / Teaching We Want

February 20, 2017

It’s like a buffet. You get in the queue. All the dishes are laid out in front of you. Looking through the sneeze guard, you pick the things you want.

A guy I knew who was firmly and proudly in the Religious Right preferred to black out inconvenient teaching in the text. And often blacked out the context, too.

I’m teaching a class focusing on one of Paul’s letters. “I never liked Paul. He said such mean things about women.”

It is so inconvenient. Reading thoroughly for meaning within context, that is. It is so easy to pick out the things I agree with and ignore the rest. 

And when we do that, we hurt people. Deeply.

I even know of people who have deeply held “religious” and “Christian” views that aren’t even in the Bible. Or even in any reputable Christian writing from the early Church fathers to Dallas Willard and Henri Nouwen.

And they deeply hurt people. And drive them away from the church.

Can I ask an existential question? What happens to both people when a self-proclaimed Christian person separates another person from God? Are there any winners? Are there any losers? Who?

I have only one faith–that God raised Jesus from death to life.

And two commandments that I follow quite poorly (geek that I am), namely Love God thoroughly and Love other people as myself.

So there are two responses, peace and justice.

And where lie peace and justice in a world where we draw lines based on buffet-line-style religion? And a world where self-centeredness rules?

How about instead of a buffet line reading of the Scripture we try a wine tasting way? We try some and learn to savor the different flavors and aromas. Discerning the nuances of each grape and fermentation process. And then try some more.

Spiritual writing is to be savored with discernment, not picked over and swallowed without tasting.

I Have A Dream

January 16, 2017

Is there an American who does not know what follows that phrase, “I have a dream”?

I hope not.

I remember taking a lot of grief from pretty much everyone in my home town back in the day for agreeing with that dream.

But I still have the dream–that every person will be judged by the strength of their character and not the color of their skin–or any of the other ways we have of dividing people into groups “like us” and “not like us”.

Jesus did not have difficulties crossing the very strict racial boundaries of his day (Jew v non-Jew).

I’m leading a small group studying from Romans right now. Paul is devoting much time to bridging the divide between the significant racial divide of his day–Jew v non-Jew.

It was painful to me in the last presidential election to watch one marketing message very clearly playing on the racial fears or prejudices of a group of Americans while the other candidate failed to come out strongly as one who would bridge the gap.

The same attitudes are springing up world-wide. Look at the unrest in Europe right now.

Where is the next Martin Luther King, Jr. who can raise a powerful voice in a non-violent way to unify people instead of dividing them?

What Have The Years Wrought With You

November 29, 2016

I knew a woman who was kind and funny. She got a job as a police dispatcher. Within a couple of years she became negative, cynical, joyless.

She dealt daily with criminals, people with stories about how they wound up  on the wrong side of the law, drug dealers, drug users. She seldom saw beauty and truth. There were no random acts of kindness.

I felt so sad.

When I reflect on the last year, one thing stands out–how many people have lost their kindness, their grace toward others, their joy.

dalai-lama-kindness

I came across this thought while reading through my eclectic information gathering.

How have circumstances affected us?

Have we become more hardened, resentful, afraid?

These actually go together. Fear is at the root of many negative emotions. Fear of loss. Fear of the future. Fear of someone taking my job. Fear of others whom I do not know. Fear of the future.

However, we all know people (I hope) who have grown wise and understanding as they age. They no longer have anything to prove. They see that others have struggles, too. They see evil or foolishness and avoid it. They walk with God.

The Dalai Lama points to a wisdom that we also find throughout the Proverbs. It is our choice.

Every day we arise and we begin making choices. We can fill our minds with words of wisdom. We can fill our minds with the news headlines. Our choice.

We can choose how we react to the news. Do we allow our emotions to go crazy and get all worked up? Do we take a breath and allow the perspective of God to let us see beyond the news.

It’s not that I wish to ignore bad news and act as if it didn’t exist. That is a sign of mental illness. It’s just that I choose what I focus on.

We become what we think about.

Facing Doubts, Uncertainties, Fears

October 19, 2016

It is impossible for me to know the depths the struggles, fears, uncertainties of being a woman in today’s climate.

Even though I am by nature empathetic with others, I cannot completely step outside my experience shell to know at a deep level.

Even a simple a thing as running in the park just after dawn where I just run, but women have told me they fear going too far back or even being alone. I said once that I had never seen anything. She said, “I have.”

I first heard about Allison Fallon through Donald Miller’s blog (the author turned marketing consultant). She writes from her deep struggles. She opens eyes to people can perceive (see yesterday’s post). She wrote yesterday On Being a Woman In the World Today.

2,100 years after Jesus showed us men how to treat women and after Paul taught the mutually submissive lifestyle, there remains the struggle. The struggle to feel good in the face of a presidential candidate who rates women on a scale of attractiveness. The uncertainties facing a world where men can violate a woman in America and get off with a slap on the wrist.

Menlo Church where John Ortberg is the Senior Pastor has been teaching “It’s OK to Not Be OK.” Last Sunday Scott Scruggs taught on the book of Lamentations. That book begins by questioning God and ends by questioning God. He looked at “Doubting” Thomas, and how even guys who had lived with Jesus had trouble believing.

It seemed an appropriate teaching after reading Allison. Sometimes we have questions and just cannot comprehend where God is in all that. But then we meet people or find a worship experience where God shows through. Maybe it’s still a struggle. But there is some hope.

The other experience I cannot relate to is on the men’s side–the ones who abuse women and children. How can they do that?

Yesterday I talked about the condition of the heart. Today, it’s more of the same. If only we could reach out and help perform the Jesus type of heart surgery. That would be cool.