Archive for the ‘Living’ Category

Ease of Use

May 5, 2021

I got up this morning, and, as always, I prepared for making coffee and taking my supplements then grabbed my iPhone.

No, I don’t check social media or email–except to see what Jon Swanson’s latest thought is. I awaken my phone with a tap and face ID, tap an app icon and check the weather, tap another app icon and pop up my Hey email client and check out 300 Words a Day, and I tap a third app and get a report on my night’s sleep from my Sleep Number bed.

This morning there was a flashback to the early days of personal computers. I used to buy a motherboard, serial cards, graphics cards, display cards, and whatever else I was playing with. I’d assemble into a case (I must have rebuilt a half-dozen computers using the same case). Then an operating system was installed. Then applications. Each was time consuming to install and tricky to use.

And Steve Jobs said in the late 80s that he wanted to build a computer that anyone could easily use.

The iPhone came in 2007 with the app store not long after. And he did it. Grandmas pick up an iPhone and click apps and send and receive messages, check the weather, FaceTime (or Zoom) with friends or grandkids, check on the stock market…

When I get stuck trying to remember the exact Bible verse or song lyric for this blog, I pick up my iPhone and do a quick search of the Internet.

I think of Jesus as sort of that Steve Jobs type. He came along and said we didn’t have to assemble the computer and add the operating system and tinker with things to get it to run. He said we didn’t have to memorize all 613 (or whatever the number is) laws of the Jewish scriptures and then live our life in fear that we may have broken one.

Jesus left commands and instructions that were easy to remember and follow. Love God and love your neighbor, love one another as he loved, go into the world and make disciples. Pretty much it.

But first, when we get up every morning, we have to turn on the operating system by getting into sync with the Spirit. Prayer, meditation, reading are the key, even if only for 15 minutes. It sets our hearts in the right direction. We are ready to just live the day. No worries about eating the wrong thing or touching the wrong person. Just live in the Spirit with Jesus as a guide.

Although I do miss tinkering with the electronics 😉

Try Not, Do or Do Not, There Is No Try

April 28, 2021

“Try not. Do or do not. There is no try.”

This is quoted to the best of my memory from Yoda in the original Star Wars trilogy. Note: I read once that there are two types of sci-fi movie people: Star Wars or Star Trek. I am the former.

This line of thinking began with someone telling a gathering that he was a Christ-follower.

So with no commentary about that person, I started thinking that if you must tell people you are a Christ-follower rather than that just being obvious by the way you talk and act, then perhaps something is amiss.

We should see in someone’s behavior what they are.

Then, in my imagination, I had a conversation with someone where I said, “I try to be a disciple of Jesus.”

That’s when I was condemned by Yoda. There is no try. Do or do not.

That is the question for me…and for you. What do we do?

I gave up fighting a long time ago as a youth when I saw the futility of it.

I gave up arguing a long time ago because I saw the futility. The last time I let someone push my button is burned into my memory from about 15 years ago.

I gave up protest marches 50 years ago because I thought they were futile.

I just make an effort to treat everyone as a person formed in the image of God. When I slip, I vow to not let it happen again.

Doing is a way of life–as in following the command of Jesus to love just as he loved.

Getting A Reboot

April 27, 2021

I am writing this on my older iPad Pro, because my new MacBook Air is getting a software update and is rebooting.

That sort of means going back to the source and starting over—only with new or updated software or operating instructions.

Sometimes I go in for a reboot, too.

I’m currently reading a book that made an impact on me 2-3 years ago. If you are curious (and I highly recommend the book), it is Irresistible: Reclaiming the New that Jesus Unleashed for the World by Andy Stanley. He is answering the question, what makes the American Christian church so resistible in our culture?

Reading the book of Proverbs from the Hebrew Scriptures every January is a form of reboot for me. As is going back to read Matthew chapters 5-7 from time to time.

You have to return to the source from time to time for refreshment.

Then you must venture forth to practice what you preach in the world.

There is a rhythm to life. We must find it for ourselves. A rhythm from silence and solitude to service and love—not love in the sense of so many American religious and political leaders, but love in the agape sense that Jesus, John, and Paul talked about. It’s a doing for others as Jesus did for us.

Find your rhythm. There is one for daily life. There is one for yearly life. It takes practice.

Vaccination

April 15, 2021

I am fully vaccinated against the SARS-CoV-2 virus. This morning I realized that I don’t feel any difference from when I was not vaccinated.

What this means is that I was given something of the disease to teach my immune system to fight the virus. The science is deeper than that, but that is enough explanation for where I’m going.

There exists a “vaccination theory” of education. We are “injected” with some education in grammar school and perhaps high school. Even many college graduates I’ve come across. And now, we are immune from education. In the words of the inimitable philosophers, Pink Floyd, “We don’t need no education.”

And it is a sad fact of life. Look at how poor is scientific understanding among the populations of the western world. Even the journalists writing about it are, on the whole, sadly lacking in basic knowledge of the scientific method and basic facts of nature that scientists have uncovered over the millennia.

I observe a vaccination theory of Christianity. Many people have received an injection of Jesus–they uttered the magic words–and now are immune from catching the spiritual disease. They do not feel they need to follow the time-proven spiritual practices of study, prayer, meditation, simple living, praise, and the like.

Jesus’ invitation was clear. “The kingdom of the heavens is here, among us, available to us right now.”

We could live a life in the kingdom following Jesus’ teachings. But that is the “disease.” We are immune.

Or, we could live past the inoculation. We could live a life of continuous learning. We could live a life in the spirit of God.

Apostle Paul’s Shema

March 23, 2021

One God, the Father, from whom all things, and we [belong/live toward] him.

And one Lord, Jesus Messiah, through whom all things, and we [live/have been saved] through him.

1 Corinthians 8:6 translated by NT Wright

Jews pray every morning and and the Shema—a reminder of the basics of faith. Part of it is famous to Christians (quoted by Jesus as the greatest commandment), Hear O Israel, the Lord is one, you shall love the Lord Your God with all your hearts and all your soul and all your strength.

Jesus added a second when asked for the greatest commandment also quoting Torah, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The famous first century rabbi Hillel, whom Jesus often quotes, says that this summarizes the Torah, all the rest is commentary.

New Testament scholar NT Wright in his huge study of Paul—Paul and the Faithfulness of God—sees the thought quoted above as Paul’s Shema for Christians. Perhaps Paul would also cite Hillel as all the rest is just commentary. Note: the verbs do not appear in the Greek text. Wright suggests the two from the context.

My heart is saddened whenever I see Christians search through the writings and twist interpretations and pull things out of context and build cases against other Christians—or even against all people.

I all could be so simple. Hard to do. But simple. At the end of his physical life on earth, Jesus summarized the two commandments and left us one major one—Love one another as I have loved you.

We belong to God, living through Jesus, loving one another. What gives us the power to begin to qualify who is included in one another?

Here’s a discipline that is hard to bring into our life—when we go out today and see a human person who is made in the image of God (that is, everyone), treat them with respect. When we start to repost someone’s cute, but cutting, “picture” on Facebook, think, are we reflecting this command of loving one another. When we talk to someone about someone else, are we talking in love or (pick one: hate, anger, envy, lust…)?

Living In Encounter With God

March 3, 2021

Tevye is one of my favorite characters from the musical theater. He is the lead in Fiddler on the Roof. He is an impoverished dairy man blessed with several daughters. (Once I played Fyedka, the Russian who marries Chava, Tevye’s daughter, in a community theater production.) What impressed me about Tevye was his unpretentious continual conversation with God. He met God just as he was, with all his hopes and fears and wishes and concerns. He was never anyone beside himself.

I thought about Tevye while reading about the church father St. Gregory of Nyssa (brother to St. Basil). Gregory seemed to be a sort of Christian Tevye. He was meditative. He lived his life in daily encounter with God. Pope Benedict XVI in his teaching on the Fathers says of Gregory, “…this is the most important lesson that Saint Gregory of Nyssa has bequeathed to us–total human fulfillment consists in holiness, in a life lived in the encounter with God, which thus becomes luminous also to others and to the world.”

Richard J. Foster, who wrote the book on Spiritual Disciplines that I follow (Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth), called it the “with-God life.”

We can begin the day with meditation and reading that will focus us on God. Then pause during the day often to reconnect. Do that, and your personality and life will change for the better.

I Want What They’ve Got

March 2, 2021

I tend to be an inductive thinker. Especially when reading a book of substance. I dive in to gain insight or learn from the specific examples. Gradually I begin to see the patterns and can begin to draw a bigger picture and meaning.

I’m reading (again) on the Church Fathers. These were remarkable men. That’s why they remain subjects of books and discussion.

The pattern just came to mind while I was thinking of the one I’m currently reading. These guys were all great leaders. At a time when a new church was forming while it was being actively persecuted by the government and on through when it had become an “official” religion of the Roman Empire, they kept churches motivated, solved internal political crises, eventually worked with government leaders, and assured that the original theology was maintained. They were thinkers and doers.

Then it dawned upon me. None of these were what we’d call evangelists. There were no John Wesleys out in the coal fields preaching to the poor.

How did the church grow in numbers?

This is relevant today, right?

This is a hard thing to research, evidently. We have Acts 2. We have a few sources. What I’ve been able to uncover with some research follows this scenario–people lived crowded lives in cities; everyone knew everybody’s business, some people joined the new faith, they began to live in a completely different manner exhibiting joy and peace and optimism; when crises like pandemics occurred, these people pitched in and helped even at great personal risk. And their neighbors said, “I want what they’ve got.”

And that is how the church grows today in Asia and Africa and other places.

Two questions:

Has your spiritual formation reached the point where people notice without your continually telling them?

Does your group/church/denomination exhibit people with this peace and joy and service and unity and optimism that attracts people like iron filings to a magnet?

Maybe a third question–why not?

Don’t Just Study It, Practice It

February 12, 2021

I’m deep into another book. It’s a class on taking a spiritual journey from a different perspective. The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron.

Devoted as they are to the scholarly appreciation of art, most academics find the beast intimidating when viewed firsthand. Creative-writing programs tend to be regarded with justified suspicion: those people aren’t studying creativity, they’re actually practicing it! Who knows where this could lead?

Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way

Once I had a bright idea. Going to the senior pastor of my church, I proposed teaching a class on prayer. Actually, the idea was not to teach about prayer; it was to teach and lead to practice the varieties of prayer. The students were not to view it as an intellectual enterprise where they would learn the types of prayer–intercessory, praise, complaint, or whatever–but they would become pray-ers.

The pastor was OK with it. Half-a-dozen people signed up. They all, each one, wanted to study about prayer.They did not wish to practice it. I never tried the idea on other people again.

I’m reminded of a scene in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance where Robert Pirsig, the author, has been accepted into the Ph.D. program at The University of Chicago to study philosophy. He proposes to the department chair that he focus his studies on rhetoric. “That is not a substantive discipline,” the chairman replied. And thus ensued the beginning of a long-running battle between the two.

You see, you practice rhetoric. You don’t study it like, say, Aristotle–the chairman’s favorite.

The ancient philosophers? As much as anything, they taught how to live.

The Bible–both the Hebrew and the Christian? Oh, you can spend your life intellectually parsing through the thing getting hundreds of ideas. You can develop inane theologies, philosophies, cults.

Or you can follow what Jesus’ brother James said, “Be doers of the Word, not hearers only.” Or, Jesus as quoted by John, “Those who have my commandments and follow them are those who love me.”

I went to graduate school to study political philosophy (OK, that was a mistake, but well, I was young and stupid). We graduate assistants developed a phrase, “Operationalize your Eschaton!” In understandable terms, “Get off your metaphorical butt, go out, and do.”

Protection

February 8, 2021

I watched last night’s broadcast of the Super Bowl–the highlight of American football. It was hyped as the ultimate matchup of the last generation of great quarterbacks (the key person who leads the offense) and the heir apparent to that throne.

The trouble with that hype is that ignores the other 10 men on the offense squad. And they are important. What happened in reality is that the “offensive line”–the big guys who protect the quarterback–of the Kansas City side had sustained injuries. The line, which must work as a unit much like the defenders in football (soccer), found itself with replacements and players playing positions where they had not played all year.

The result was that the young quarterback, who really is quite good, had inadequate protection. And they lost.

And so, I thought, there must be a spiritual metaphor in that situation.

I searched “protection” in both the Hebrew and the Christian Scriptures. The results were meager.

What I gained from my search was that often we humans seek protection from the wrong source. And often protection from the wrong opposing force.

Following Jesus into life in the spirit, in the kingdom of God, may not provide protection from every physical threat. It will provide the solid foundation to protect our spiritual life in the end from all the doubts and questions and threats of emotional vicissitude. He protects us from bad decisions, if we but listen. He provides guidance when we need it, if we but listen.

Add A Little Bit of Soul

February 5, 2021

And when you’re in a mess and you feel like cryin’

Just remember this little song of mine

And as you go through life tryin’ to reach your goal

Just remember what I said about a little bit o’soul

A little bit o’ soul, yeah (a little bit o’ soul)
A little bit o’ soul, yeah (a little bit o’ soul)

Music Explosion

We humans, especially in our religion but also through government, seem to love a certain rigidity of rules. We have rules everywhere. One can often determine which branch of Christianity or which religion or which country, even, by the list of rules each enforces.

We can hit the top ones like abortion or homosexuality or race or class. Then there are whether or not to celebrate birthdays or feast days or holidays. There still exist religious rules on what to wear—although American culture seems to be infiltrating the world with casual and even provocative dress.

I was sitting in contemplation on the idea of the rigidity of rules when my mind started singing this song.

Now when you’re feelin’ low and the fish won’t bite

You need a little bit o’ soul to put you right

You gotta make like you wanna kneel and pray

And then a little bit of soul will come your way

Music Explosion

Approach life with a little bit of soul. Relax. It’ll put you right.