Archive for the ‘Disciplines’ Category

What Sort of Person Are You

October 24, 2019

What would Jesus do? A phrase popular for a time known as WWJD.

Supposedly a follower of Jesus would pause and ask herself/himself that question and then act appropriately.

The pause part of that formula would be very helpful. Would have saved me from much embarrassment over the course of my life.

But is it really about doing?

Would you (we) be described by the description of the Pharisees by Jesus–clean on the outside and filthy inside?

Meister Eckhart wrote in the 13th Century, “It is not by your actions you will be saved, but by your being. It is not by what you do, but by what you are that you will be saved.”

As a follower (disciple) of Jesus, it is not so much trying to imitate what he did. Rather, how can we actually be like Jesus. What sort of person was he? What sort of person shall I become?

I was in graduate school with a bunch of philosophers (you’re not surprised?). We spread this little joke.

To do is to be.–Aristotle

To be is to do.–Dante


The mystics and spiritual seekers tell us there is more truth in “Sinatra.”

Don’t think so much to justify yourself. Just be like Jesus.

Faith and Culture

October 23, 2019

A nationally reputable speaking coach recently called Andy Stanley the best speaker in America today. I listen to his “religious” teaching and to his leadership podcast.

He has begun sending a newsletter as part of the leadership series. He said in the last issue, “As you already know, I’m passionate about leadership and helping you get leadership right. However, you may not know that I’m equally passionate about the impact of faith on culture. It’s no secret that the religious landscape in America has shifted. Fewer and fewer Americans are self-identifying as Christians, while more and more are identifying as religiously unaffiliated.”

I interrupt—his teaching on faith and culture and politics is the best I’ve heard especially from an evangelical who is typically pretty knee-jerk conservative and borderline racist. Some may think that’s a harsh statement, but I tend to poke beneath the surface of attitude to underlying causes (we call it root-cause analysis where I come from).

Continuing, “You may have heard me ask the question, ‘What breaks your heart?’ Something that breaks my heart is seeing millions of people walk away from Christianity because they find the version of Christianity they’ve grown up with unconvincing, uninspiring, and irrelevant.”

He points to a library of resources focused on the impact of faith on culture.

I think much of the problem he points to involves where the loudest voices of organized Christianity have gone over the past 50 years or so. A lot of telling you what to do from the point of view of superior to inferior. Not so much being fellow travelers on the journey toward spiritual reality and a whole life.

The organizations themselves seem to be working hard to make themselves irrelevant.

It’s too bad. But it’s what happens when human ego takes the place of spiritual seeking.

I hate telling people what to do. But I’m always willing to be a guide. We need more guides.

I encourage you to check out Stanley’s teaching. There is so much common sense.


October 22, 2019

Do you realize that when you oppose something you become attached to it. Your being is tied up with that which you oppose.

What will you be when that thing changes or fades away?

Maybe you are tied to an idea or political movement. You become it. As it goes, so go you.

Be careful of your attachments. You think you are free. But you are not. You are defined by that which is attached.

Many psychologists and spiritual teachers will help you toward self-observation. Obtain a point of view slightly above and beside you. Observe without judgement what you do.

Was it something embarrassing? Do not feel embarrassment. Observe what happened. When the situation once again occurs, be reminded of the inappropriate actions and words. Observe yourself acting with wisdom and compassion.

Self-observation can lead to awareness.

Humans Are, Well, Human

October 21, 2019

Awareness, The Perils and Opportunities of Reality contains a (more or less) transcription of an Anthony de Mello workshop. de Mello was a Jesuit priest. I imagine he got away with saying some of the things he did because of being a Jesuit.

I’ve read this before many years ago. Probably more than once. Someone recently advised reading this little book frequently as a spiritual “pick-me-up”.

He hit me with a section on awareness that reminded me of a moment of awareness I experienced. It was about people. Fellow human beings. It was about how we label others (and others label us), in many cases to make us seem less than human because we are not like them, or they like us.

But we are all alike. Jesus, I was reminded, didn’t really associate with “his own kind”. He associated with “sinners and tax collectors”, and people of another tribe (Samaritans), and “Gentiles” (Romans, Greeks, most likely others).

He attacked the hypocrisy of those who considered themselves superior.

de Mello contends we are all asleep. Unaware. And we don’t really want to awaken. That seems uncomfortable.

Maybe when we stop trying to force other people to be like us we will briefly awaken, in de Mello’s terms. We will realize that we are all in this thing called life together.

We are all strange and a little screwed-up. I guess that’s being human. Get over it.

She Can’t Take You Anywhere

October 18, 2019

I found out a long time ago
What a woman can do to your soul
Oh, she can’t take you anywhere
That you don’t already know how to go — The Eagles, Peaceful Easy Feelin’

Occasionally my wife comes home from one of her Bible studies with really odd questions. Someone brought up something, then the pursuit of squirrels ensued. It’s what makes a group interesting.

She hit me with another last night after dinner. I pondered the problem for a bit. I won’t get into details, because I’ll trample on the theological toes one way or another of just about all of you.

I’m not a subscriber to any of the theologies. I’m simply trying to follow Jesus. All the theological disputes of fundamentalist (evangelical) vs. Catholic vs. reformed vs. whatever are pretty much intellectual amusements to me.

So, I thought about my wife’s questions.

And I took a step back and looked from another perspective.

They started with a proposition, I told her.

From that proposition they devoted a great amount of logic to weave a path to explain the correctness of their proposition.

The trouble is, while you do that, you wind up ignoring a whole bunch of teaching in the New Testament.

That is where she had a problem–but Scripture says this in this passage. Yes, dear, it does. It is conveniently ignored by the logic of proving the proposition.

Oh, and I can’t really explain that either. Some things just seem destined to remain a mystery. I take solace from a thought of CS Lewis on that topic.

But Logic? She can’t take you anywhere that you didn’t already know how to go.

Me? I have a peaceful, easy feelin’. And I wish that to you.

Hi I’m Gary and I’m an Addict

October 17, 2019

She was about to go to bed when she checked her fitness tracker. Only 200 more steps and you’ll earn a badge, it told her. That was easy. A couple of laps around the inside of the house, and then bed.

But, then the “monster on her wrist” told her that only a few flights of stairs and she would earn another badge and another level. OK, that’s easy. Just a couple of times down and up the stairs to the lower level of the house.

The next thing she knew it was 3 am and she had climbed the equivalent of the Empire State Building.

That was when the realization hit–she was addicted. All those levels and badges and encouragement kept her on the app. She was getting steps in to the neglect of her husband and her sleep.

It took a period of time to become more realistic about the “monster on my wrist” and make it serve her fitness needs not its needs to keep her on the app.

Facebook uses the same psychology. And YouTube. And many other apps. They encourage addiction. You become their servants.

A lesser known pioneer in psychology, Roberto Assagioli, who founded a school called Psychosynthesis, talked about developing the ability to step away from ourselves. We view ourselves as if from slightly above and away. We see how we are acting and relating to others. I read his works in the 70s, and they had a powerful impact.

When we grab for the phone to check our our steps for the hour or day, or social media streams, or just one more YouTube video, we need to develop the discipline to see ourselves grabbing that phone and realize the time and emotional hole we are entering. And choose to use it rather than it using us.

Robert Burns, the Scottish poet, recognized our need to step back and observe ourselves:

O wad some Power the giftie gie us 
To see oursels as ithers see us! 

*I’ve never been to a 12-Step meeting, but I’ve heard that so many times it is imprinted into my brain. And I am probably addicted to something–just need to recognize what. Maybe coffee…


October 16, 2019

There is a little known teaching of Jesus. Oh, it’s right there in the Gospels, not hidden at all. But in the America of the past few decades–the America of selfies and “all about me”–it became a distinct negative.


“Sell all you have and give to the poor.” I think Jesus was serious about generosity.

Yesterday I talked about happiness. Part of that happiness Thoreau discussed relates to chasing more wealth and pleasure and things. And the more you chase, the more happiness evades you.


Give some away, and the endorphins and other pleasure chemicals inside you fire.

I was recently guided to this website 50 Ways to be Ridiculously Generous through a newsletter from Tim Ferriss.

Lots of cool ideas there.

Or, try sometimes randomly paying for someone’s dinner at your favorite family restaurant. Just tell your server to send over the check.

Or, give the barista at your coffee house $20. $5 for her, and then pay for the next one or two patrons.

Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World

October 15, 2019

Tiger Woods was trained almost from the cradle for one thing–to be the greatest golfer.

Roger Federer tried many sports. He loved soccer. Even though his mother was a tennis teacher, he didn’t pick up tennis until his early teens. Other kids had been playing for years by then. He soon passed them by and into his thirties is a dominant tennis star.

You need to be good at something, but it is good to be interested and experienced in many things.

I have a book to recommend. Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, by David Epstein. It is not a spiritual book. It is a book that will help you learn to live a fuller life–and help you bring up your kids and encourage your grandkids.

Life in the Industrial Age, as well as in some previous eras, was composed of patterns. You could be trained to recognize patterns and adapt and become skilled at them. These are called “kind” learning environments. Kids excel who see and repeat the patterns.

Life today is what a psychologist call a “wicked” learning environment. Here, the rules of the game are often unclear or incomplete, there may or may not be repetitive patterns, and they may not be obvious, and feedback is often delayed, inaccurate or both. In most devilishly wicked learning environments, experience will reinforce the exact wrong lessons.

How does one adapt? By reading widely. Pursue several interests. That will be the human triumph in an age of robots.

I respect those who study the Bible. I have studied it for years. However, there is much more to spiritual growth. There exist many deeply spiritual guides who have left books and stories behind for us. Start drawing or painting. Pick up music. Study nature–don’t just take pictures of sunsets, observe nature deeply and often.

I often ponder the relationship of God, creation, Quantum physics, relativity theory, and TS Eliot’s poetry. There will not be a stunning book coming from that, but it broadens my mind to receive new insights.

The Pursuit of Happiness

October 14, 2019

“They should be happy, happy,” he said.

I’ll never forget the passion of a local man when I was involved with school board politics a long time ago. The kids should be happy. We all should be happy.

It turned out that he was a very unhappy man. “The lady doth protest too much, methinks,” wrote Shakespeare. Sometimes we reveal much about ourselves in the negative of our passions.

The US Declaration of Independence includes the phrase “the pursuit of happiness.” Perhaps a bit of hyperbole.

Strange thing that is–happiness. As Thoreau said, “Happiness is like a butterfly: the more you chase it, the more it will evade you, but if you notice the other things around you, it will gently come and sit on your shoulder.”

Get out into nature daily. Help someone every day. Be generous to someone or something every day. Stop the pursuit and just live. And happiness will settle into your soul.

Planning, Perseverance, Achievement

October 11, 2019

I am at the Las Vegas airport United Club on my way home after an IT (information technology) conference.

But I’m not here to talk about technology.

Perseverance keeps you working toward your goal; Planning leads to confidence; Achievement follows.

The final keynote speaker at the conference was Alex Honnold. You may think you don’t know him, but he was the rock climber featured in the documentary “Free Solo” about his climb up the face of El Capitan. Alone. No ropes. No safety.

I can’t look down 10 feet without feeling a little queasy. He went up 3,000 feet.

His story was about quest.

More than that, it was the painstaking planning and practice. He didn’t just decide to climb and then go up the cliff. He spent months exploring the face of the cliff on ropes. He needed to know the right path up. He needed to know every hold, every potential rock slide, every bush.

Then he mentally rehearsed every step of the way. He knew exactly what needed to be done at each transition point. He had rehearsed it in his mind a thousand times.

He made it.

We, also, can learn from that. What do we want to achieve? What will it take to make it? Plan every step of the way. Rehearse it in your mind. Make sure you are physically/mentally/intellectually prepared. Go for it!