Archive for the ‘Service’ Category

Jesus Turned Power On Its Head

March 8, 2021

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Mark 10:42-45

The Roman-ruled world where Jesus and his followers lived was structured on power. At every level of society, someone had power over some others. And they were expected to exercise that power, brutally if necessary.

We often overlook the Roman context of the 1st Century and its influence on the writings. It is likely, for example, that Paul never saw the end of Roman power until the end of the age. John’s vision with which the Christian Bible is ended places that vision in metaphorical language.

Jesus turned that all upside down. Leaders were not to exert power over followers. Leaders who followed him were to lead with the attitude of serving. This is a teaching that leaders who call themselves Christian often seem to forget judging by their words and actions.

Jordan Peterson has published a new book, Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life. He discusses this power relationship.

Those who are power hungry–tyrannical and cruel, even psychopathic–desire control over others, so that every selfish whim of hedonism can be immediately gratified; so that envy can destroy its target; so that resentment can find its expression. But good people are ambitious (and diligent, honest, and focused along with it) instead because they are possessed by the desire to solve genuine serious problems.

Peterson, Beyond Order

These describe a human condition. Political leaders, bosses, CEOs, parents, pastors… If you thought of someone immediately when reading this, that may be true. The most important person to consider from this point of view is the one in the mirror. How do each of us, you and me, handle ourselves when we have authority at any level? Are we following Jesus’ teaching?

Giving to Others

January 21, 2021

True words are not necessarily beautiful.
Beautiful words are not necessarily truthful.
One who is achieved does not argue,
and one who argues is not achieved.
One who knows the deepest truth
does not need segmented information.
One who knows vast amounts of information
may not know the truth.

One of whole virtue
is not occupied with amassing material goods
Yet, the more he lives for others,
the richer his life becomes.
The more he gives, the more his life abounds.
The subtle truth of the universe is beneficial, not harmful.

There may be no better time in America to read Wisdom literature. One of my disciplines for more than 20 years has been to immerse my mind in it every January. What a way to kick off a year.

But as I sit and contemplate the world, not one place on the globe can I see where such thoughts would not be worthwhile.

Those words were written perhaps 2,500 years ago and ascribed to “the ancients.” How long we humans have known what is the true path–and how little we have followed it.

As Jesus told the religious leader who correctly identified the “neighbor” in the story of the Good Samaritan, “Go and do likewise.”

We Are Known By What We Do

January 11, 2021

Rather than go down the rabbit warren of Resolutions or Goals, I practice and teach the method of visualizing the sort of person I’d like to be.

  • I am the person who rises early to read and meditate
  • I am the person who eats a healthy diet
  • I am the person who exercises with intention every day
  • I am a helpful person
  • …(you get the drift…)

Another practice I’ve adopted for many years is to begin the year reading Wisdom literature. Perhaps it’s the Proverbs which just happens to have the same number of chapters as there are days in January. One-a-day. Sometimes it may be the study of James. Another good one is Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 5-7. This year for no rational reason, I’m reading Wisdom literature from a different tradition.

But saying I am a certain type of person or studying Wisdom literature is only a foundation. Jesus knew that. His challenge was “hear my words and do them.” Solomon was reputed to be the wisest man who ever lived. He did not live wisely. And his child and heir destroyed the united kingdom in just a few short years. All those wise words Solomon had about raising a child–they never made it from his head to his heart.

How many people who have learned a hundred or more Bible verses and can recite from memory do we know whose life would never attract someone to God? How many religious leaders do we know who fail at basic morality? How many people have we dealt with in business who talk Christian talk but fail in fundamental ethics?

So, this year:

  • Get off your butt and actually exercise
  • Actually eat those foods that you know you should
  • Do something for someone somehow
  • Act with intention

Here’s a question you can carry with you along with your wallet and keys–Are You Being Served? Actually, that was a cute British sitcom from the 70s and 80s that I used to watch at times. That visualization reinforces the question we should be asking all the time–Are you being served? Oh, and then, serve.

On Being Content

January 5, 2021

Part of my career was devoted to the magazine business. Now I write blogs and other words call CON-tent. Appropriate filtering of all the CONtent that is shoved our way is one way to assist our being conTENT.

Thinking of the latter meaning of content, I began to wonder if we are living in an age of discontent. Everywhere I read, I see signs of this malaise. Then I turn in my chair and scan my bookshelves. Literature, history, philosophy–all point to times of discontent.

No wonder. We are inundated with content intentionally designed to feed discontent. If our emotions get aroused, we are more prone to longer engagement with the platform whether TV or social media. It’s a business proposition for them. More engagement leads to higher prices for advertising and thus to more profits and higher salaries.

We have the power to change that equation if we but chose to limit the flow.

Another practice includes pausing. I thought of the image from the Psalms (23) about lying by a cool, clear pond on a warm day. Wildlife, and flowers, maybe my favorite pet. The sun from the blue sky warms my body. My needs are cared for.

Many of us could only do that for so long before going crazy. Getting up and doing something which provides a service for others is another path to contentment.

I discussed generosity and kindness last week. I would add contentment to those as words to describe what I’d like to be this year.

Vocation

November 4, 2020

No, not vacation, something we all need right now. Rather, vocation refers to the work you do, your career, how you devote your skills and talents. My introduction to the word was in high school. There was a course of study called Vocational Agriculture. It was for the farm kids who were going to go into the family farming business.

I went to college and studied lots of things. Then I was introduced again to the word when I taught 7th grade at a Catholic school. Not being Catholic, I had to pick up on the specific meaning of the word as they used it back then–namely (I think) showing the kids the opportunities for “vocation” meaning becoming a priest, brother, or sister.

Most of us get a job of some kind and perhaps it becomes a career of some kind. Do we think beyond that? Like those Catholic kids I taught, are we encouraged to consider what God might want us to do with our time, skill, talent?

I saw this thought in today’s readings:

Vocation is not evoked by your bundle of need and desire. Vocation is what God wants from you whereby your life is transformed into a consequence of God’s redemption of the world. Look no further than Jesus’s disciples – remarkably mediocre, untalented, lackluster yokels – to see that innate talent or inner yearning has less to do with vocation than God’s thing for redeeming lives by assigning us something to do for God.

Especially American Baby Boomers, but also many people in the world, think about how much money we can make, or how much power we can exert over others, or retiring to a lifestyle of wealthy leisure such as portrayed in countless movies and TV shows.

But no, someday God will call us to account for our use of his gifts. It’s not to late to discover and go.

To Help Is A Choice

October 26, 2020

Martin Buber said, “To help one another is not considered a task, but the self-evident reality on which companionship is based. To help is not a virtue, but a pulse of existence.… Help, not out of pity – that is, from a sharp, quick pain which one wishes to expel – but out of love, which means to live with others. He who only pities receives from the mere outward manifestation of the sorrow of others a sharp, quick pain, totally unlike the real sorrow of the sufferer.”

Martin Buber is one of my favorite Jewish contemplatives. He must not be popular anymore, but his I and Thou is a classic. His thinking has been a deep influence.

This thought takes me to the story Jesus told explaining who our neighbor is that we should be loving. It’s the story of the Samaritan business man on a trip stopping to help a man beaten by robbers and left by the road. And the business man stopped, bandaged the man, and then took him to a place where he could be cared for. And he paid for it all.

Buber assumes we have made the first choice—to help. But then there is a second choice. Do we just toss a coin in the cup? Or, do we stop and help out of love rather than pity?

We have only two commands—to love God and to love our neighbor. Neither is a quick remedy for a sharp pain. Rather, they are a long term response to the deep longing for love and union with God.

Spiritual Practice of Giving

February 11, 2019

Why do we practice acts of charity? Giving money to people or organizations?

This is definitely a spiritual practice.

Jesus told the rich young man who followed all the commandments (one wonders if he was as perfect as he let on) and who still felt far from perfect, “Go, sell all your possessions, give the money to the poor, and follow me.”

The young man didn’t want to be that perfect!

I discovered the Jesuit priest and therapist Anthony de Mello more than 30 years ago. Recently one of his books was recommended to me, so I am reading Awareness: The Perils and Opportunities of Reality again.

De Mello can be brutal. He says to face it. We give out of two motivations. One is selfishness of feeling good about ourselves as helping people less fortunate. Or, we help others by giving to charity, but then we feel good about ourselves doing good.

Awareness of our motivations can help us to notice this trait. Then we can give with the intention of following Jesus. I say that awareness brings us to realization that we are far from perfect but that we are practicing the right things.

When Jesus later explained his story, he pointed out that only God brings the grace that leads to perfection.

What Are You Doing With Your Life

December 3, 2018

A young man lives his teenage fantasy for ten years. Sex, drugs, rock’n’roll. Beautiful models in his bedroom. A contact list of thousands of the “beautiful people.” New York City night club life. Six-figure income.

Then one day (actually a period of time) he changes. Following a couple of years of searching, he finds focus.

Next ten years? He brought clean water to tens of millions of people who had none before. The biggest cause of hospitalization in many parts of the world? Water-borne disease. These people saved from terrible illness.

The next book you should read. And the next charity you should support–charity: water.

Serve Someone

August 20, 2018

Sound business advice: Serve others.

Sound personal advice: Serve others.

Sound spiritual advice: Serve others.

The last one came directly from The Teacher (as many called him) who washed his disciples’ feet before dinner as a courtesy. He told (not suggested) us to do likewise.

We don’t wash feet in our culture. We can listen. We can buy someone a cup of coffee with a smile–thanks for the idea Jon Swanson. We can help lift a burden. We can do a random act of kindness.

Yes, serving is a spiritual act. Just like praying, or meditation, or worship, or belief.

Your Beliefs Don‘t Make You A Better Person

July 11, 2018

…Your behavior does.

You can tell me what you believe. But I’m watching how you behave.

You can tell me you are a Christian; but if your actions are not those of a disciple of Jesus, I will think you are not a Christian.

On the other hand, you may wake up in the morning not feeling very Christ-like. But you help someone with a bag at the store, or open a door, or let someone pass in front of you on the road to work, or some other small blessing to someone else.

You can “fake it ’till you make it” or better you can intentionally choose your behavior and discover a Jesus-like attitude toward life.

Jesus said to follow him and love…God and our neighbor. Love is an action verb, not a noun describing an emotion.

You go out and do love by how you treat other people. In so doing, you are following Jesus. After all, he often said to go and do.

Beliefs don’t make you a better person, your behavior does.