Archive for the ‘Living’ Category

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.”


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.

Prayer Is Life

February 1, 2021

Prayer is not a discourse. It is a form of life, the life with God. That is why it is not confined to the moment of verbal statement. The latter (verbalization) can only be the secondary expression of the relationship with God, an overflow from the encounter between the living God and the living person.

Jacques Ellul

We have thoughts, worries, concerns for others. Our minds are always busy with something. Even in deepest meditation, stilling our mind is impossible for long. Many think of prayer as a verbal outpouring of all these stirrings to God.

Ellul (a theologian/philosopher/sociologist whose work The Meaning of the City influenced me some 50 years ago) called that a discourse–speaking more than a sentence. But, he says, prayer is a form of life. I turn to examples such as Brother Lawrence, for whom life was prayer and prayer was life. He was a lay Carmelite brother whose teaching is found in The Practice of the Presence of God. That book, by the way, is not difficult to read. What is difficult is to order your life the way Brother Lawrence teaches. Or according to the idea expressed by Ellul.

It is too easy to pause a moment and rattle off a stream of consciousness discourse with God, relieving our minds and asking for miracles.

Return to the New Testament. Read through with an eye toward all the descriptions of people–both Jesus-followers and non-followers. Don’t look for rules and lists. Read as mini biographies. See what kind of life is described.

Go and do likewise. Live your prayer.

There Are Two Types

January 29, 2021

There are always two types. In sermons. Speeches. Makes it easy in the words of one of my professors on every test to compare and contrast.

In this case, there are two types of Christians that I want to consider. Where do you fit?

There are people who know much intellectually. They can expound at length on many things.

There are people who live a life following Jesus.

Of course, there are those who are neither. And probably a few who are both. (That would be four types? It’s amazing where thinking too much can take you…)

It is good to know intellectually. Unfortunately, it is too easy for this type to turn off those outside the group. But they grab the bulk of attention during this “attention economy.”

Best is simply living infused with the spirit. Practicing prayer, meditation, worship, study, service. These people don’t grab headlines or attention. They simply help others.

Spiritual Way of Life

January 6, 2021

What captures our attention? To what do we turn to feel empowered? Whom do we admire? How do we pass time?

I found this description of a people:

People wear fine clothes to adorn their external appearance.

They carry sharp swords by their sides and worship might rather than righteousness.

They know only to make merry by indulging in food and drink.

They crave to possess more riches than they could ever use.

This could have been written at almost any time during the past 4,000 years of humanity. This one was probably written 2,500 years ago or longer. I am fascinated by ancient writings, say the Proverbs which supposedly date back 3,000 years to the time of Solomon or before. What fascinates me is that we never change.

Yet, these (except for guns substituting for swords) words could have been written by a spiritual observer today.

These are not the path to a spiritual life.

As we contemplate the type of person we would like to become this year–this year of recovery from the Covid pandemic–we need to find these writings that help remind us of the spiritual path.

This path is well trod. It is actually straightforward and easy, yet we humans prefer the devious route, the hard route. Jesus, for example, talked of his burden as light and his yoke as easy. Take him at his word, and put it into practice while simply following his teaching.

Practice Kindness

December 30, 2020

Few of us are perfectly kind to others, to animals (pets), to even ourselves.

I imagine we put kindness to the test for the past 10 months living in close proximity to part of family and away from other parts. Living more online than ever before, we discover that it is easier to be unkind online than in person.

One of the terminology things I like about Yoga is the word Practice. Each time we come to the mat, we are practicing our poses. A little improvement each time.

Looking at the past year, how often did we practice kindness. Looking ahead to the new year, perhaps we see where we could use more practice.

I watched on YouTube a violin master class led by a virtuoso violinist. He conducted a youth orchestra. A young man, most likely late teens, played a concerto. As the maestro led the violinist through different parts following the performance teaching phrasing and sensitivity, he mentioned, “You have probably practiced this about a thousand times and played it a hundred times with your teacher before performing here.”

We admire the performance and don’t consider the work that goes into it.

Just so with kindness. We must practice a thousand times to get close to being right. And even then, we still have more to learn. Remember, the proper phrase is not “practice makes perfect”, but “perfect practice makes perfect.”

Practice kindness.

Are You An Important Person

February 27, 2018

Are you an important person?

According to this article in Big Think, “the answer you give may indicate to psychologists how narcissistic you are. And on a societal level, the answer people give is changing. In 1963, when adolescents were asked if they considered themselves important, only 12% answered affirmatively. 30 years later, that percentage had risen to 80.”

“Narcissfism is on the rise in modern Western societies and scientists are trying to figure out why. Some hypothesize that individual narcissism follows from the culture someone lives in: the more individualistic the culture, the more narcissistic people tend to be.”

A chance to study the effects of culture came with the reunification of Germany. Researchers questioned people from each side of the Wall.
“The results showed that the participants from former West Germany scored higher on narcissistic grandiosity compared with the participants from former East Germany, even after controlling for gender and age. Interestingly, however, individuals from former East Germany had higher self-esteem than those from West Germany. This demonstrates that narcissism and self-esteem are not the same thing.”

The researchers point out that:

Self-esteem, defined as global evaluation of the self, is related to narcissism. However, recent data provide evidence that narcissism differs from self-esteem in various domains. Narcissism and high self-esteem both include positive self-evaluations, but the entitlement, exploitation, sense of superiority, and negative evaluation of others that are associated with narcissism are not necessarily observed in individuals with high self-esteem.

I observe narcissistic behavior often. In others, of course. 😉 There are ways we can improve ourselves. “Developing mindfulness, honoring your promises, respecting other people’s space, needs and desires, as well as facilitating the process of self-acceptance and forgiveness are all good practices to start with.”

Don’t Rest On Your Laurels

February 12, 2018

Søren Kierkegaard–The path of an honest fighter is a difficult one. And when the fighter grows cool in the evening of his life this is still no excuse to retire into games and amusement. Whoever remains faithful to his decision will realize that his whole life is a struggle. Such a person does not fall into the temptation of proudly telling others of what he has done with his life. Nor will he talk about the “great decisions” he has made. He knows full well that at decisive moments you have to renew your resolve again and again and that this alone makes good the decision and the decision good.

Who have been people older than you that you respect?

Probably not people full of pride. Nor people who boast of supposed accomplishments.

Nor is there retirement from a life spent living with-God.

Kierkegaard was a precursor to the people we knew as existentialists. At university perhaps my favorite was Albert Camus, the French writer who gave us The Rebel. Playing off fellow French writer Descartes (“I think, therefore I am.”), Camus said, “I rebel, therefore I am.”

They saw humans as defining their lives through their major decisions–or maybe even decisions that we may have thought were minor but turned out to be major. “I’ll just have one little drink…”

There is no one decision and then coasting–an idea easily picked up from certain theologies. Life is a never-ending series of challenges and opportunities forcing us to make yet another decision.

But that is not Sisyphus continually pushing a stone. It’s life with-God.

God Is Not Hidden Nor Does He Hide His Wisdom

February 1, 2018

I have not spoken in secret or kept my purpose hidden. I did not require the people of Israel to look for me in a desolate waste. I am the Lord, and I speak the truth; I make known what is right. Isaiah 45:19, TEV

James, the brother of Jesus and the wisdom writer of the New Testament, advised us that we can just ask God for wisdom and he will provide.

Can it really be that easy? We don’t need a special spiritual guide to initiate us into a secret society where the hidden truths are finally revealed?

Digest the words from Isaiah. God didn’t (doesn’t) hide from us. We don’t have to search in remote places. No, we don’t have to go to Sedona, AZ at the right phase of the moon to find God.

We just need the intention–we ask with intention for wisdom. It is best to ask also for discernment so that we can apply wisdom correctly.

If we but ask God daily for guidance, we can perhaps avoid the problems and wasted life of Solomon. He who asked God for wisdom and had it granted, failed to live his life as a wise man would. I’ve just finished my annual reading of his wisdom sayings, the Proverbs. But look at his reflections of his life in Ecclesiastes. All was meaningless, he said, because he failed daily to follow God.

God was not hidden. He’s right here beside us willing to enter our life. We can have wisdom and live a life of wisdom if we but just open ourselves.

“I am the Lord, and I speak the truth; I make known what is right.”