Archive for the ‘Disciplines’ Category

Prejudice Seeps Into Your Being

February 18, 2020

My wife and I just finished watching the entire series run of Agatha Christie’s Poirot stories. I’m not a Christie scholar, but I’ve found how she handles many sensitive topics fascinating.

For example, The Murder on the Orient Express explores the conflict of Poirot’s deep Catholic sense of morality versus the broader sense of justice.

More interesting is how she so naturally weaves English national prejudices against “foreigners” (Poirot is Belgian) and people of other races. I don’t know if she is reflecting English prejudice or if given which characters say what that she is subtly poking at those prejudices.

But I see how subtly and pervasive attitudes toward others different from oneself creep into language.

My gut tightens whenever I hear an adjective used as a noun. I hear “the blacks” or “the gays” or “the Jews” or “the Muslims” or “the Christians” and on and on.

These are actually people—a thought perhaps surprising to some. Black or gay or Jew or whatever may be one adjective describing someone. However, there are many more words that could also describe that individual person—nice, angry, deceitful, honest, peaceful, fearful…

The spiritual discipline I work on constantly is to filter my thoughts and words such that I talk of people, not attributes. This learned behavior that seeps deep into the being can be countered—but we must be honest with ourselves. There is that self-awareness discipline appearing yet once again.

A quick glance through social media shows me that there are many others who also have work to do in this area.

Silence Breeds Action

February 17, 2020

Christian Wiman—Silence is the language of faith. Action – be it church or charity, politics or poetry – is the translation.

This thought well expresses the iterative nature of the New Testament and what it means to follow Jesus.

Faith, as the Apostle James advises, without doing something with it, is dead.

Actions without the grounding of silence often go awry.

Imagine, if you will, a spiral reaching toward God. Within the spiral is the iterative dance of grounding in silence and acting from faith.

That reminds me of a thought from TS Eliot, maybe not exactly what he meant, but “Except for the point, the still point, there would be no dance, and there is only the dance.”

Or the tune from the Shakers, “Dance, then, wherever you may be; I am the Lord of the dance, said he. And I’ll lead you all, wherever you may be, I’ll lead you all in the dance said he.”

Understanding Yourself and Others

February 14, 2020

I first discovered the Enneagram at least 35 years ago through the study of the Jesuits. Ennea from the Greek for nine; gram from the Greek (sort of) for picture. The Enneagram is a diagram showing the nine basic personality types and some relationships among them.

The origins of the Enneagram are hazy, but an early church father is thought to have put out the original ideas.

The Road Back to You provides an overview of the nine types and their nuances. Most importantly, since the Enneagram has Christian origins, it is more useful for spiritual development than it is for psychological profiling.

Oh, the nine types:

  • One-The Perfectionist, Reformer
  • Two-Helper, Giver
  • Three-Achiever, Performer
  • Four-Individualist, Romantic
  • Five-Investigator, Observer
  • Six-Loyalist, Loyal Skeptic
  • Seven-Enthusiast, Epicure
  • Eight-Challenger, Protector
  • Nine-Peacemaker, Mediator

I am a Five with a strong Four—just so you know why I write observations so much and prefer reading and researching. Don’t ask about the Romantic side 😉

The purpose of this is not to know your type, or your significant other’s type. It is to do the work of growth and spiritual development. It never ends.

Sometimes We Need To Look In The Mirror

February 13, 2020

Thomas Merton said, “Do not be too quick to condemn people who no longer believe in God, for it is perhaps your own coldness and avarice, your mediocrity and materialism, your sensuality and selfishness that have killed their faith.”

Time and again we’ve seen people driven from God by the sort of attitudes Merton describes. We see it in issues even today where we divide people into groups—some are “sinners” while we, I guess we are not? Except that is not a point of view that Jesus would have endorsed.

Worse is when we reflect on our own prejudices and cold attitudes and see that we ourselves have had a part in that whole driving people from God process.

We need to look in that mirror not with vanity but rather with probing, self-aware eyes and hearts that see the times we have unleashed our inner Pharisee and hurt others.

Then we need to ask forgiveness. And receive grace. And start again with renewed heart.

Using Your Time Wisely

February 12, 2020

People as diverse as Ignatius of Loyola (founder of the Jesuits) and Ben Franklin (co-founder of the USA) have written of a daily discipline of reflecting on time spent.

In the morning, ask “what good will I do today?” In the evening reflect back and ask “what is one good thing I have done today?” Many spiritual seekers recommend writing those in a journal.

Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote that it appeared as if people of ill will have used their time better than people of good will.

“Time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’ into the future.” Steve Miller Band, from Fly Like an Eagle.

We all realize this on some level. Grasp the time wisely, or we could be despairing like Pink Floyd:

Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day

Fritter and waste the hours in an off-hand way

Kicking around on a piece of ground in your home town

Waiting for someone or something to show you the way

Pink Floyd, Time

How are you using your time today?

Forcing Yourself Into a Category

February 11, 2020

Yesterday I wrote about how we construct theories and categories and then shove people into them. It’s easier to deal with people if we can make them a “type” and then dismiss them if they don’t fit into “our” category.

However, I started a new book on the Enneagram during yesterday’s flight to Germany. (I’m sitting in my hotel room overlooking the famous “fair grounds” of the Hannover Messe as I write this. Oh, yes, and on probably 4 hours of sleep on the plane. If this is incoherent, we’ll blame that…)

The purpose of studying the enneagram is not to determine your type and stop there. Or even to arbitrarily assign someone else to a type and stop there.

What really happens to us is that we categorize ourselves. We’re stupid. Or clumsy. Or unattractive. Or didn’t have the breaks that rich kids had. Or…whatever.

If we just had but a wise guide to lead us through the enneagram, we could develop an awareness of the tactics we adopted as kids in order to survive our circumstances. Further, we could see that we are still locked into those tactics and strategies and feelings, and that these are inhibiting our growth and our relationships.

I think every spiritual writer I have studied has at some point taught the importance of self-awareness. What a spiritual gift we have when we can see ourselves from the outside in and then change from the inside out.

Forcing People Into Categories

February 10, 2020

Software designed to help management run businesses usually forces the company to change to fit it. Rather than assisting people operating the organization it forces workflows and the way to operate as designed by some geek in a cubicle hacking computer code.

Politician can be that way. They have a theory and fit facts and people into categories according to that theory. Everything becomes a battle where I’m trying to get my theory triumphant (in whatever sense) over your theory.

Christians can also be that way. We have a theory and derive rules from that theory. We expect people to agree with the theory and to completely follow the rules we have constructed. And, woe to those who disagree or slip in the following of a rule. They will be cast into hell where we Christians can joyfully sing “I told you so.”

But, there exist followers of Jesus who try to live out the harder commandment. “Love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. And your neighbor as yourself.”

We don’t have rules. We have “The Way” as the first followers were called. And that way means we don’t try to force people into molds and then judge them according to the mold. No, each person is a child of God. And we treat them as such. Offering to help them along the way.

Jon Swanson comes up with some of the most intriguing and challenging ways to serve. Follow the link to some practical yet fascinating ways to “fast”—or better said, to Love our neighbor. I wish I had the courage to try out his ideas.


February 7, 2020

Among the important traits of a leader, stability ranks with clear vision and effective communication.

Ricochet Rabbit served as sheriff in a cartoon parody of the American Wild West. He earned the name “ricochet” because his hyperactivity had him bouncing off the walls–literally, it was a cartoon, after all.

I had a boss like that once. Nice guy, but I never knew where he would be coming from when he walked into my office. Yesterday’s project was forgotten. On to new things today, only to be replaced tomorrow by another idea.

We find ourselves at times like that. Our mind resembles a group of squirrels scrounging for seeds.

“We must try to keep the mind in tranquility. Our mind when distracted by countless worldly cares cannot focus itself distinctly on the truth,” said St. Basil the Great.

David Allen, the master productivity guru wrote in Getting Things Done the importance of having a “mind like water.” That is a mind that absorbs a shock, the ripples start out but smooth out into stillness once again so that we may focus.

Take a deep breath, slowly exhale, allow the mind to settle back into a state of tranquility. Then we may perceive the truth. And make better decisions.


February 6, 2020

I was meditating on the spiritual experience of awakening. That moment when inspiration and awareness arrive in an instance–after sometimes years of discipline.

This was early yesterday. The third day consecutively where I rose from bed with about two hours less sleep than normal. These conferences can sometimes be physically, as well as intellectually, tiring. When I’m walking the mile-and-a-half from my hotel to the conference location after perhaps six hours of sleep rather than my regular 7.5+ or meeting my 6:30 am Lyft driver to the airport, awakening is on my consciousness.

I was going to write this yesterday on the early plane. I was upgraded to first class. The seat was wide and comfortable. I dozed off. Missed the first-class free breakfast, although I had grabbed a quick bowl of oatmeal and a slice of toast at the United Club before the flight.

I also missed reading and writing while sleeping most of the way from Orlando to Chicago.

What a metaphor for how sometimes we sleepwalk through life. One day after another. Not paying attention to our surroundings or other people. No awareness that the spiritual presence of God surrounds us and infuses us.

Just asleep.

And then we awaken. And it’s great to be alive.


February 4, 2020

This is one of those weeks. Flew to Orlando late Sunday. Up early Monday and met with at least 20 people spending most of the day sitting. Dinner with a group from 7-10. Back to the hotel room (I am staying about a 25-minute walk from the conference hotel, so I get some exercise). In bed after 11. Up at 5:30 to get ready, walk to the conference hotel, and then sit through an hour of breakfast and company presentations.

Now I’m sitting through the keynote presentations. Usually theoretical and boring. But today the leader of the Information Technology group and the leader of the Operations and Manufacturing group from Dow spoke about working together in order for the corporation to meet its goals.

These two organizations typically do not like each other. Each things of the other as a roadblock to good organization. Each thinks the other doesn’t understand their needs and expertise. (Actually, there is truth to that.)

No matter what sort of organization you work at, you’ve no doubt seen where bickering and misunderstanding between different groups leads to a dysfunctional organization. Without strong leadership from the top, the organization, whether for-profit or not-for-profit, will not serve its customers and investors and will ultimately fail.

The point was that these two executives shared the story about how the two organizations broke down the barriers between them and worked together to achieve the corporate goals.

The “secret sauce”? Communication. Try it in your organization.