Mother’s Day Is Coming

May 11, 2017

Interesting that Jon Swanson wrote about Mother’s Day this morning.

I got into a conversation with an Israeli journalist yesterday in Las Vegas at the computer conference I attended. The subject of Mother’s Day came up. He was staying in the States for a second conference, so he would be here for the holiday. But he was confused about it. His English was not fluent. We could not translate “Hallmark Holiday” into terms he could comprehend.

According to a Wikipedia article, a certain Anna Jarvis began campaigning in 1905 for a day to be set aside as a national holiday in commemoration of her mother–a Civil War peace activist. Some states began recognizing it by 1908. President Woodrow Wilson signed a proclamation in 1911 setting Mother’s Day as the second Sunday in May.

But it didn’t take long….

Although Jarvis was successful in founding Mother’s Day, she became resentful of the commercialization of the holiday. By the early 1920s, Hallmark Cards and other companies had started selling Mother’s Day cards. Jarvis believed that the companies had misinterpreted and exploited the idea of Mother’s Day, and that the emphasis of the holiday was on sentiment, not profit. As a result, she organized boycotts of Mother’s Day, and threatened to issue lawsuits against the companies involved.

Gee, sounds like Christmas all over again. And Easter. And Father’s Day (well, maybe not so commercial, you can’t buy for men, you know). Did you know Sibling’s Day? Grandparent’s Day? Groundhog Day? Ooops, I think that one is different.

It is certainly hard to maintain your focus on meaning in the midst of hype.

My mother passed away quite a few years ago. I still remember the last time I saw her alive. But my wife reminds me that she is the mother of my children, so I should remember and honor her. And I will. For the 17th time in the past 22 years, I’ll be overseeing the referees at a soccer tournament. So, I’m out of her hair and she can do as she pleases.

But, maybe dinner later.

And to my many international readers–perhaps you don’t have a national holiday, but you could still take a day and do something special for your mother.

She Walks in Beauty

May 10, 2017
She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes;
Thus mellowed to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.
Lord Byron

“Discover what makes you beautiful!” shouts a sign outside a store amongst the clamor of the Las Vegas strip.

The picture shows three overly made up young women with lips so bright red and painted to be so large that they appear to take over the entire face.

Obviously, I’m no judge of beauty by any current fads going around. But trust me, that wasn’t. But I know from reading ancient literature that women have been adorning themselves in order to attract attention or feel more beautiful for thousands of years.

Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. –Proverbs

Maybe that was what Paul was thinking when he wrote that he preferred that women cover their hair in worship out of respect for God.

Regardless, pictures lie, but we all know a beautiful person when we meet one. The woman Byron described was wearing black in mourning, but her beauty transcended clothes and adornment. Beauty truly does come from within.

What If There Were No Bible?

May 9, 2017

We can learn much about God and who Jesus is by reading the Bible.

But what about the Christians who live before 325? There was no Bible. Yet, the church grew rapidly.

In fact for almost 300 years, not only was there no Bible, Christians were persecuted. Not persecuted like some Americans who get upset if someone disagrees with their theology. No, persecution as in torture, prison, death. And the church grew.

The growth in the first 50 years or so came from the stories of people not about what they believed but what they saw and experienced.

These experiences were written. They became the source for teaching as the written documents circulated throughout the Mediterranean region.

Sometime we forget that Christianity is an experience-based religion. (Although the first Christians did not consider it a religion.) It wasn’t an argument based on “we read something, agree with it, you agree with us and you’ll be OK”.

It was not a complex set of arguments. A bunch of people experienced Jesus, shared their experiences–especially that he lived after being killed. Other people believed and experienced the risen Jesus.

Then they lived differently. That basic faith changed the way they lived. And others were attracted.

The question for us–is how we live different enough to attract people to Jesus?

I am thinking this while I’m in my room (early for here) in Las Vegas. Need I say more?

Watch Out For Pointing Fingers

May 8, 2017

First published April 20, 2017

Our pastor somehow worked the evils of sex into every message. Then one day, he ran off with the wife of the chairman of the Board of Deacons. — Told to me by a friend years ago.

A “Mr. Morality” on TV is now looking for a job after years of sexual impropriety become public.

Madam, how like you this play?

The lady doth protest too much, methinks.

Gertrude says that Player Queen affirms so much as to lose credibility. Her vows are too elaborate, too artful, too insistent.


Yes, sometimes we seem to affirm morality so much that others begin to doubt just how moral we are.

Have you ever looked deeply within? Just as Paul describes early in Romans, I have looked and discovered that within me, I am capable of many sins and immorality.

I’d rather spend my energy focusing on me, and my path. It is not for me to point out everyone’s wrongdoing. That is too easy.

As Jesus pointed out, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” [Matthew 7, but also Luke 6]

Or Paul in Romans [2] who is more prosaic and less poetic, “You therefore have no excuse, you who pass judgment on another. For on whatever grounds you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.”

Like yesterday’s thoughts on an angry mom who tweets, it’s too easy to take shots at others. Better is to take care of our own spiritual house.

Don’t Be “The Good Student”

May 5, 2017

We all knew the good student. Sat in the front of the class. Raised his hand all the time. She always asked the obvious question so that the teacher would know they paid attention.

They were great at memorizing. Remembering all the stuff they were supposed to remember got them through school with high grades.

I was not that student.

I preferred the back of the class thinking about just about anything other than the class. I have memories of this as far back as 3rd grade. Even at the university where I learned the “game”, I read the required reading in the first couple of weeks of the quarter so that I could read what I wanted the rest of the time.

So, why do I love to study and teach the Bible and other spiritual writing? Those are my teachers. Outside of a couple of people in business who helped me along, it was books who taught me.

But that isn’t enough. They teach you how to live, but then you have to go do it. It’s not enough to be a scholar.

I just read this powerful illustration in John Fischer’s The Catch. I love his concept of “Grace Turned Outward”, by the way. But on to the picture:

My wife, Marti, has created an image of a dead Christianity that she often refers to as prevalent among all of us. In this image, everyone is on the front side of the cross. Maybe Jesus is up there on it, or maybe He is not, but we are all seated in folding chairs, looking up. On our laps are notebooks. We are there to take notes — someone is teaching — fill in the blanks. Its a study guide that leads us up to the cross, but never through it. In Marti’s illustration, no one ever leaves. It’s all well and good, this focus on the cross, but at some point, we are to get up and walk through the cross to the other side. The key is to get to the other side of the cross because that’s where the power is — resurrection power.

We may have different personalities–outgoing, reserved, friendly, cool–but we can live with power and freedom because we live what we learn.

At some point we must put down the books and hymnals and go outside and live with people. How we act, not what we know, is the key.

How To Develop Who You Are

May 4, 2017

Paul wrote at least twice in Romans thoughts that today could be translated “You become what you think about.”

Where you choose to place your attention determines what sort of person you become.

This is part of the law of sowing and reaping.

Marketing master Seth Godin puts it this way:

We get what we invest in. The time we spend comes back, with interest.

If you practice five minutes of new, difficult banjo music every day, you’ll become a better banjo player. If you spend a little bit more time each day whining or feeling ashamed, that behavior will become part of you. The words you type, the people you hang with, the media you consume…

The difference between who you are now and who you were five years ago is largely due to how you’ve spent your time along the way.

This is why I recommend every year that, instead of goals or resolutions for the new year, we imagine what sort of person we’d like to be. Then we cultivate habits to become that sort of person.

Godin says that those habits determine us. We practice a musical instrument, or a foreign language, or praising people, or choosing positive thoughts.

Where are you, and where do you wish to be?

Treat Each Other With Love

May 3, 2017

I heard words I never heard in the Bible. –Paul Simon

“Hi, Honey. How was the game?”

“(mumble, mumble)”

“What? And you seem to be home early.”

“I can’t believe it. They threw us out of the park. Me and my friends just had a few beers and started yelling names at the other team’s center fielder. Then one of us threw something at him. And then we were out of there.”

I often imagine conversations. How do you go home and tell your family that you’ve acted like an irresponsible jerk? And then suffered the consequences.

There is a story in this morning’s local newspaper about a guy who had too much to drink, chose to drive his car, caused an accident that killed someone. Now he has very public consequences–three years in jail.

We all do something stupid at times.

For some people, it’s a lifestyle.

It is possible to change.


Take A Journey In Your Mind

May 2, 2017
Leave your cares behind
Come with us and find
The pleasures of a journey to the center of the mind
Come along if you care
Come along if you dare
Take a ride to the land inside of your mind
Beyond the seas of thought
Beyond the realm of what
Across the streams of hopes and dreams where things are really not — Amboy Dukes; Ted Nugent and Steve Farmer

OK, so Ted Nugent went from writing psychedelic rock to being a conservative political activist.  There may be some kind of meaning there.

The 1960s witnessed a spiritual revival. Not religious. Spiritual. Some of the spiritual quest was, well, illegal. This song was no doubt an attempt to write about “psychedelic” experience.

But as often happens in poetry, there are meanings beyond what you write.

In meditation, you suspend thought and facts. You focus on God. Perhaps a story like maybe an interaction that Jesus had with someone. Or a parable. And you don’t analyze. You experience.

And sometimes God breaks through. And you experience.

And you believe in God, not because you read somewhere that you should or someone told you that you should. You know.

And now spiritual truths make more sense.

Psychologists will sometimes instruct patients to go somewhere where they can be alone with their thoughts. Then settle in and just tune in to the inside.

A patient once told Carl Jung, the famed Swiss psychologist, that he couldn’t imagine anyone worse to be with than himself. I think Dr. Jung probably thought, “You’re right. And I’m trying to help you get over that.”

Find 15 minutes today. Slow down, concentrate on God, a story, a bird, a leaf, a bug, whatever is around. Relax. Become aware of where you are and what you’re doing.

Your blood pressure will thank you. Your brain will thank you. People around you will thank you.

Avoid Those Who Cause Dissensions

May 1, 2017

Some people just seem to love causing trouble. We knew them in elementary school. We knew them in high school. They are in our churches, our organizations, our businesses.

There are people who show up at your church with one agenda–raise dissensions and split the church.

Paul finished his teaching in his letter to the Romans. He was greeting people by name.

Then, while thinking about all the people, he must have had a thought about those he didn’t wish to greet. He gave a final instruction inserted in  his greeting people and his good bye.

“I urge you, brothers and sisters, to keep an eye on those who cause dissensions and offenses, in opposition to the teaching that you have learned; avoid them.”

What was the teaching? First, believe that God raised Jesus from death to life. Second, love everyone always.

Does sowing dissension and splitting fellowships show love? Does that attract outsiders to a loving fellowship? Or, like Paul wrote, does it just serve to feed the ego of the sower?

Consider wisely.

Are You Teaching Quality

April 28, 2017

Some of you may have seen my Facebook post about the death of Robert Pirsig, author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values as seen in The New York Times.

The book is not really about Zen (a form of Buddhism popularized by Alan Watts and the Beatnik generation) or about repairing your motorcycle. “The real motorcycle you’re working on is yourself.”

Along with the Bible and St. Augustine, this book was most influential in my life.

While teaching rhetoric at Montana State University in Bozeman, another professor asked while passing him in the corridor, “Are you teaching quality?”

That led him into a deep dive into the meaning of quality.

Part is philosophical as he detailed his battles with the famous leader of philosophy at the University of Chicago. (I’ve read Mortimer Adler. I prefer Pirsig.) I think he was right about the decline in western thinking with the over emphasis on rationality thanks to Plato and Aristotle (especially the latter).

Part was details on working on his motorcycle preparing for a cross-country trip with his son and two friends. He must have been worse than me, by the way, as a travel companion. I often get lost in thinking. He must have gone a bit overboard on that.

He talked about learning skills in metalworking to do his own repairs because he was upset with the lack of care so many mechanics took in repairing thing.

Quality in part comes from caring about what you do.

He also taught logical troubleshooting. Something more of us need when we approach a problem.