Archive for the ‘Study’ Category

Searching The Scriptures For God

July 26, 2022

The first generation of Jesus-followers passionately scoured the Hebrew scriptures, not looking for rules to regulate their lives and the lives of everyone around them, but for all the signs of Jesus they could find.

They were trying to find Jesus in the scriptures.

When we go to the scriptures, what are we looking for?

Rules to impose on others–and maybe ourselves if it’s convenient?

God?

I suggest the best use of our time and energy searching through the Bible lies in discovering God and Jesus and the Spirit. Open the words and hear God speak to you.

Who Is Smarter Than God?

July 25, 2022

Certainly, not I.

Like many young liberal and feminist students of long ago, I had a general dislike of the Apostle Paul. He was seen as the standard bearer of male domination/female subservience, apologist for American slavery (and therefore against civil rights), and homophobe.

Then I became a scholar of Paul. With that a deep appreciation of what he was trying to do.

I even started to reply to someone I know on Facebook who said Paul supported male domination of women. He asked me to prove from scripture that he was wrong. I thought of a dozen things immediately. It’s never a good thing to reply on Facebook. I came to my senses just in time. No one was convinced of error on Facebook. Ever.

This thought came to me recently that we spend too much time and energy thinking and memorizing from the Bible and not enough time living out Jesus’ commands–that we love one another.

I thought about that guy who was proclaiming how he should be the master of his wife’s body and soul (good luck doing that!) when I came across this teaching of Paul from Romans:

Is there anyone around who can explain God?

Anyone smart enough to tell him what to do?

Anyone who has done him such a huge favor that God has to ask his advice?

Romans 11

I have met such people. I have read the works of such people. I have read of their failures in the news.

The next paragraph from Paul:

Everything comes from him;

Everything happens through him;

Everything ends up in him;

Always Glory, Always Praise

Romans 11

Every morning I sit quietly with God listening for advice and wisdom. I don’t tell God what to do. I don’t assume I know the mind of God. I wait upon God with attentive ears.

The Mind Needs Many Precepts To See

December 28, 2021

I sat here this morning to type a thought remembering something I read in number 94 (XCIV) On the Value of Advice from Seneca’s Letters from a Stoic. I prepared the quote and then noticed quotation marks. The quote I remembered was not from Seneca but from a rival called Aristo whom Seneca was refuting.

There was a writer popular in the early 70s. I read his brief, popular book. It was a good story, but it was also a little light on understanding some things that I had studied deeply. But enough was there to cause me to buy his next book. This was an explication of the Christian Bible book of Hebrews. I had gone maybe two of his chapters into his book when I had a feeling nagging at the back of my brain.

I pulled out a Bible (actually a couple) and read those translations along with the book. There was only a slight resemblance between two generally accepted translations of the book (actually it’s more like a sermon) and the author’s own translation.

I discarded that book and never read anything from that author or his colleagues.

I feel that that author made a translation to fit his theology. I felt a dishonesty at work. But, had I quoted and explained the thought as if it were Seneca rather than his rival Aristo, would I not also have been guilty of a dishonesty? Even if it were just sloppy research.

There is a lesson or more.

Read more carefully.

Check your memory.

If you have read incorrectly, be prepared to change your mind.

Muddled Thinking

November 22, 2021

The child sat in the elementary classroom staring out the window. At some point the teacher noticed and stopped talking. All the other kids noticed and watched. Soon the child realized the room was too quiet and looked. “What were you doing?” asked the teacher. “Thinking.” “Don’t you know that you’re not supposed to think in school?” Well, at that point everyone burst out laughing, and the teacher had to recover from the reactive statement.

Story told by Earl Nightingale

This story popped into my thoughts yesterday as I sat on a couch staring out the window. For, I was thinking. I had researched a topic (trends shaping the Industrial Internet of Things for 2022, if you wish to know), and I was pondering business, technology, and scenarios. But, had my wife (former teacher, by the way) noticed, she would have accused me of sleeping.

“It is a fault to wish to be understood before we have made ourselves clear to ourselves.”

Simone Weil

Sometimes we think we have explained something, but the others don’t seem to understand. Maybe we reflect. We have not properly thought out the subject so that we are clear in our own minds what we are thinking.

I just read the description of a character in a novel where “he reads a sentence or two and then pauses to think about it.”

Thinking is work. Literally. Your brain will burn fuel from your body’s storehouse while you actively think. I’m not sure that we’re ever taught it. I know we don’t practice it enough.

  • Did we pause to consider the origin of our assumptions
  • Did our logic flow efficiently step-by-step
  • Where are other ideas
  • What are the implications
  • What if I’m wrong

I settled on an idea of a trend totally off the wall from my original thoughts about which technology might catch on next year. Quiet moments spent thinking through that which we’ve just read is an investment well spent. Especially if we are pondering wisdom teaching and stories of spiritual growth.

Solving The Puzzle

March 17, 2021

My day has had a bit of a delayed start. I left the house about 6:45 this morning to go obtain my second Covid vaccination. There was perhaps a slight amount of fear and trepidation. I’ve heard a variety of stories ranging from no reaction to being very tired and achy. Sitting in the observation room (unlike YoYo Ma, I didn’t bring my cello (well, guitar) to the room to entertain during the wait), I did begin to feel a little soreness in the area of the shot. But that feeling left. We’ll see how tomorrow goes.

I like historical fiction, but I don’t read much of it. Steven Pressfield wrote a popular work of nonfiction, The War of Art: Break Through The Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles, cited by many creatives I follow. I recommend it. Mostly, he writes historical fiction. I decided to buy his latest book, A Man at Arms. I could not put it down. Totally destroyed yesterday’s productivity. The setting is the eastern Mediterranean in 55 AD. A “Man at Arms”, a warrior and mercenary, accepts a job from the Jerusalem-based Roman Authority to track down and capture a man and girl child who have a letter from the Apostle Paul to the Christians in Corinth. Early on, he attracts to him a male youth who follows him. The story is gripping. You can’t guess the end until the next-to-last page.

Note: it is a warrior story, so there are pretty graphic battle scenes as well as scenes of Roman brutality. Pressfield gives you a look at the cultural backdrop of Roman occupation that is only alluded to in the Bible. I think it’s great. It may be one of those few books I’ll read again.

I have been studying again Pope Benedict XVI’s series of talks on the Church Fathers. That volume nestles alongside two books on the Desert Fathers on my shelf.

The Church Fathers portray the struggles of the church from the late 200s to the early 400s (so, mostly the 4th Century) to define itself–both around the many theories attempting to understand who and what Jesus was and around the problems of dealing with politics once the church gained official status from around 325. We continue to struggle to understand Jesus. Many of us say we follow him as disciples, but much about him is difficult to completely understand. And many of us struggle with politics. Some readers of this blog are struggling to survive from politics and some are trying to win at politics and get the government to force “Christian values” upon the population. It was complex 1,700 years ago–and it remains complex today.

But the Desert Fathers are my favorite. They worked at the intersection of the interior human and the Spirit of God. What did it mean to pray without ceasing? How can we identify and overcome the myriad of emotional and psychological forces within us in order to truly live with God? If fact, just how do we live with God? What practices make sense? How do we teach? There’s not a lot of theory with them. It’s how to order one’s life congruent with God. These (mostly) guys were strange. They are my heroes.

Love Is the Foundation

February 25, 2021

When I read the early Apostles and Church Fathers, I often think of the joy balanced by responsibility of these people trying to find the proper way to organize a church that Jesus started but left almost no instructions or rules for.

Reading Origen of Alexandria on Bible study, he emphasized reading within love for God.

I realized that Jesus instituted only two rules for us–love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and your neighbor as yourself. Then later he added a mission statement (for you management consultant geeks out there)–Go into all the world teaching what I have told you and baptizing.

First, we must bring our awareness to ourselves and come to love ourselves. Perhaps this is the most important–and most missed–step. We must deal with our passions, fears, anxieties, prejudices, recognizing the evil within us just waiting to erupt. Sometimes we can heal over time with prayer and study. Sometimes we need help–a mentor, friend, professional, whatever it takes.

Then we can truly love others and love God with purity and a whole heart.

Then we can go and help others, continuing in our own spiritual formation as we love more deeply setting aside ambition. We can truly live that attitude of loving others–surely the most difficult command in the entire Bible. Sometimes we have to love even though we have the feeling expressed by a business acquaintance at dinner in his one and only tweet on Twitter including me in his bunch, “I’m having dinner with a bunch of idiots.”

Still, we must love. Only then can we truly begin our Bible study.

Orient Your Mind For Learning

January 28, 2021

I still remember Professor Lubin. He looked ancient. I was 17 and a freshman engineering student. He probably wasn’t ancient. The class was engineering mechanics. I wanted to study electronics. I was there because I was told to be there. I knew the subject matter for the first third of the class already. When we got to the new stuff, my mind was unprepared for learning.

I could imagine students of zoology perhaps who take the class because of emotional or sentimental attachments to animals or other living things. Even worse would be some sort of emotional attachment to the teacher. That orientation could interfere with learning the subject matter.

Some students enter a class and say, “Just give me a list of things that will be on the test.” They have a rigid mindset. Give me a list. I’ll memorize it. I’ll pass the test. I’ll probably forget much of the subject matter, but I’ll have an A or B on my transcript.

Or

We could enter a class or a study by cultivating a “beginner’s mind.” We are open to learning from the teacher and the text. We’ve brought our emotional attachments under control. We’ve discarded our preconceived ideas. We’re not yet concerned (if ever) about the test.

When we enter the study of spiritual texts like the Bible, how do we approach it? Have we paused for a moment each time? Have we oriented our mind to be open to what God is trying to tell us in this passage? Are we open to the teacher’s guidance?

Are we seeking learning or reinforcement?

People Who Live In Glass Houses

February 25, 2019

While deep into our spiritual practice of study, isn’t it curious how some verses of the Bible just seem to be as if in bold, 24-point type while others seem to be in fine print italic to our eyes?

We will see a verse that applies not to us but to other people and say to ourselves (and often anyone who will listen), “Ah, ha! See how the Bible says those people are sinful and engaged in sinful practices!”

Then there is the verse that applies to ourselves. Yet, we cannot see. It’s as if the print were so small that we just scan right past it.

There are Christian leaders who have divorced a woman and married again–often to someone much younger. Jesus expressly told us not to do that. Yet, is there a church that preaches against that? (I am not saying that is a bad thing, mind you.)

Yet, these same people who have been forgiven by the church point to other people about whom Jesus was silent and deny them the humanity of leadership and sacrament.

We humans are so representative of the person described by Jesus who is so concerned about the speck in another’s eye that they ignore the log in their own.

It is time to pray ourselves out of such hypocrisy. Pray for self-awareness. The first step to repentance. Perhaps our study needs to be more focused on those verses that apply to us and less on those that apply to others.

How To Read A Book

February 19, 2018

Only an open and empty jar is useful. Just so, our mind. In order to learn, we must empty it of preconceived ideas and open ourselves to new learning, new wisdom, new understanding.

I talked recently about praying with open hands. We must read with open minds.

It is important that we know the overall context of what we are reading, and the outline of chapters, then how the paragraphs fit within the argument (or story) of the chapter and finally how the sentence fits within the paragraph. Sometimes we must study the structure of the sentence in order to decipher the meaning.

When I was in high school, I was introduced to How to Read a Book by Mortimer J. Adler. Amazingly, that book is still available on Amazon.

In Lent, perhaps we devote the 40 days to opening ourselves to God in preparation for understanding the death and resurrection of Jesus in the context of the Bible and world history.

Rather than grabbing at sentences as the “final answer,” let us devote ourselves to understanding and discernment. The Bible was perhaps only written and compiled over a period of 500 years, but it covers the context of people trying to figure out how to live with-God over a period of some 2,000 years.

It takes time to read in context. Great understanding comes from reading from the outline to the specific and then back to the outline. But only if we empty ourselves in preparation for God to speak to us.

Approaching God–with open hands and open minds.

A Month of Proverbs

January 31, 2018

31 days in January; 31 chapters worth of Proverbs.

What did I learn?

Intentionally re-reading something provides ever deeper insights.

Wise people don’t think of themselves as all that wise. They are always open to correction, instruction, and learning.

There is a chance for foolish people to turn their lives around if only they would begin to listen to wise teaching.

There is little hope for the scoffer. Those cynics who ascribe everything to self-serving motives. Those who refuse to acknowledge God. Those who try to bring everyone down to their level.

Young men (probably old ones, too) should beware women who are out to seduce them. Adultery, profligate sexual activity, affairs are to be avoided as they will lead to ruin.

While a contentious wife is like the dripping of rain, Proverbs ends with a picture of a conscientious wife who should be praised in “the assembly”.

If Solomon had followed his own advice, would the kingdom have split because of his son?

How much better would our own lives be if we brought this wisdom into our daily lives?

[Oh, and I do a lot of writing on my iPad. I’ve learned yet again that all that artificial intelligence employed to figure out what I’m trying to say and then complete words for me before I type them needs a watchful human to check them. Artificial intelligence is, well, artificial.]