Archive for the ‘Study’ Category

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.]

Wisdom Is Right Out There In The Open Beckoning All

January 2, 2018

They were small ads in out-of-the-way publications and even major publications. The secret societies promising to share the secret wisdom they have unlocked. Just send money and join.

Some of you may know of secret societies–or those who maybe are trying to live down that esoteric past.

Or maybe you have dabbled in New Age mysticism–rocks, gems, pyramids, vortices–similarly promising wisdom knowledge unattainable by common people. Anyone up for a trip to Sedona, AZ? I felt more vibrations standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona than I felt in Sedona. But that’s another song.

As a matter of fact (not fake-fact), wisdom is not a secret. It’s right out there available to all.

Yes, it’s January and time for my annual trip through the Proverbs. 31 chapters, 31 days.

I recommend it at least once a year in order to stay grounded.

Ever name your computer? Your car? Your RV?

Well, humans like to name things. In the Proverbs, we find wisdom–that which has existed from the beginning–personified as a woman named Sophia.

In the opening chapter of Proverbs, we find Sophia standing at the busiest intersections of the city. She is shouting out to people. Not secretive. Not mystical. But out in the open inviting people to listen. Especially she calls to young men who seem to be quite susceptible to the calls of evil friends and licentious women.

Yep, even today that is a problem for young men. Although in that day they were probably 17-18. Today more likely 17-35.

Immediately we meet the three types of people who don’t listen–the simple, scoffers, fools.

Hint: don’t be one of them.

And we meet the theme: Fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom.

If you have not read Proverbs, I highly recommend it. If you have, read it again.

Why Do You Study?

October 16, 2017

Someone once observed about those engaged in advanced study in a graduate school that “they know more and more about less and less until they know everything about nothing.”

Do you know anyone like that?

They like to impress you with knowledge, but in reality they really don’t know anything—especially about life.

Jesus said, “Don’t be like the scribes…”

Scribes were the Ph.D.s of his era. They knew a lot. They were meticulous when it came to knowing and quoting scripture.

They thought that that knowledge should bestow upon them honor and prestige. They dressed to impress. They demanded the best seats at a banquet or in church. They expected people to bow before them.

Jesus pointed to a group of them one time and said, probably to the delight of the audience, “Don’t be like them…”

Scholarship is good. I devoured the 1,700 pages or so of N.T. Wright’s study of Paul. Great stuff.

But in the end, why do we study. Why is it listed among the spiritual disciplines?

Isn’t it because study is one piece of the spiritual formation foundation?

Study, alongside prayer, meditation, worship, service, and the rest, exists to help us grow spiritually. Not to make us special in the eyes of people.

Who Was Your Teacher

July 20, 2017

I remembered reading somewhere that there was a question put to Jesus that was designed to bring out which of the two great Rabbis of the time he followed.

So I researched, of course. It’s what I do. Like the commercial on TV–like taking 15 minutes to save 15% on car insurance.

I found a Jewish rabbi who had become Christian. Interesting perspective. And I love getting my worldview expanded through these new people. Sort of like chatting with a stranger in the sauna this week only to discover he was from Uzbekistan. I don’t think I had ever met an Uzbek. He talked of taking the train as a child from Tashkent through Novosibirsk (in Siberia) up to northern Siberia. And sort of like going to Canada’s woods, “I got off the train and was attacked by hordes of mosquitoes.”

But I digress. 

There were two famous rabbis in Jesus’ time. Hillel and Shammai. Galileans typically followed Hillel and Judeans Shammai. Every time save one Jesus answered questions as Hillel would have–although at times going further. Hillel, by the way, had a famous grandson also a famous rabbi. You may have heard Paul talk about him–Gamaliel.

I was corresponding with a journalist with a national news organization this week. Noticing his background, I told him that I had studied international politics under the first director of training and recruitment for the CIA as well as a colonel in Army Intelligence. Who you studied under is a validation of sorts.

I’ve had few live teachers of spiritual things and the Bible. The guy at university I spent as much time sparring with as learning from. 

But I studied the early Church Fathers, the Desert Fathers, and particularly Augustine. 

Some pastors have been good guides. But in my life, pastors come and pastors go.

Who was your influencer? Do you still follow their teachings? Or have you grown past your teacher? That happens, you know.

Don’t have one? Better find one. Soon.

Training Is Oh So Valuable

June 14, 2017

Have you seen the movie Sully? It’s the story of the US Air flight that landed in the Hudson River after hitting a flock of birds that knocked out its engines?

Jeff Skiles, the first officer on that flight, spoke at the conference I am attending. I’ve heard both him and Capt. Sullenberger speak a couple of times each. They take about 40 minutes to tell the story of an event that took less than a couple of minutes.

The thing that stands out for me? Training.

Everything they did. Every communication. Every action. From the captain to the first officer to the cabin crew. Everything had been prepared for. They had been trained and drilled many times.

When the emergency happened, one or two words communicated next actions. Everyone knew what to do. They had seconds to act. (Of course, idiots spent years second-guessing them, but that is human nature, I guess.)

What about us?

Do we “become a Christian” and immediately think we can tell people how to live their lives? Do we suddenly know everything?

Paul talked many times about training in his letters. I was thinking about that, then I thought about Paul himself. He had years of training in the Scriptures and in the interpretations of the leading rabbis of the time.

Then he met Jesus.

Did he go out and start preaching? No, he was blind. They guided him to a believer who had been instructed by God to teach this famous anti-Christian scholar. And Paul studied. And he went to the desert and he studied, prayed, meditated.

He himself was training. For years. Then he went out.

I’m not suggesting we all go to seminary–after all, I didn’t. And I won’t. But that doesn’t mean that I haven’t spent a lifetime training. Then I discovered I could write. Well, a little anyway.

But like Paul’s favorite analogy, we need to train like athletes. Every day. To be prepared to run the race set before us.