How Are We Known?

January 13, 2021

Jesus said that not everyone who calls him Lord will be saved.

Jesus also said that we will be known as his followers by how we love one another. He also said the greatest commandment was love—for God and for our neighbor. He illustrated the definition of neighbor with a story where the hero was someone of a hated race.

As we sit in our evening reflection upon that which we have done with our day—the Ignatian daily Examen—-how do we honestly and humbly evaluate ourselves? We have perhaps said or implied that we are Christian. Have we actually acted—in speech or deed—like a person whom Jesus would welcome as a follower?

Once upon a time, our words and deeds were exposed only to those few around us who thought and acted like us. Now, we post on social media and as these words and photos get “liked” and “shared” we are exposed to perhaps a very large audience. And there we are—no longer hidden to where only a few people close to us know our darkest thoughts. Or deeds.

Not everyone who calls Jesus Lord…

Makes me reflect on my daily shortcomings. And no excuses for moving to a new community where I am almost completely unknown and where there is a pandemic keeping us isolated (or should). Where did I fall short in word or deed?

Rights and Responsibilities

January 12, 2021

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

First Amendment to the US Constitution

People seem to get confused about what the First Amendment actually says. It is a restriction upon the government.

It doesn’t address how we use this “freedom of speech”.

I keep having flashbacks to my university years when talk of responsibilities over rights sounded like the mutterings of old, crabby, conservative people trying to shut up young people with ideas. Well, those young Baby Boomers grew up to screw up a lot of stuff. But I learned the value of responsibility. Although I am now “old”, I am decidedly not conservative and hopefully not crabby. Well, in most regards. Maybe I just grew up.

Try these bits of Wisdom literature mostly 3,000 years old and just as relevant today.

Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

Psalm 19

When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but the prudent are restrained in speech.

Proverbs 10

Fine speech is not becoming to a fool; still less is false speech to a ruler.

Proverbs 17

Better the poor walking in integrity than one perverse of speech who is a fool.

Proverbs 19

Do you see someone hasty in speech? There is more hope for a fool than someone like that.

Proverbs 29

I can take a hint. I have no more to say today. Peace.

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.

Seeking Wise Counsel

January 8, 2021

“Where there is no guidance, a nationa falls,
but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.” — Proverbs 11

“Without counsel, plans go wrong,
but with many advisers they succeed.” — Proverbs 15

Sometimes I think of the Hebrew story of Solomon’s son Rehoboam, who became King of the united Israel upon his father’s death. And then he had to make a decision. He consulted with his father’s advisors who were schooled in wisdom. And then he consulted with his buddies, other younger men.

He chose poorly. Instead of being king of a united country, he was reduced to king only of one tribe and one small territory.

We can look at world events. We can look into our own hearts.

Are we seeking and heeding wise counsel?

What will be the story told about each of us in future years?

Leadership in Hard Times

January 7, 2021

A man approached me while I was in queue at the post office. “Gary,” he said, “I’m going to work and defeat that tax levy you have on the ballot.”

I had been elected to the school board. The system had gotten into dire straights forcing cuts in employment and courses.

“The easiest thing to do,” I replied, “is to lead for a negative result. Why don’t you help us lead toward the future and a stronger school system poised for the future for these kids and the community.”

There was a company-wide management retreat. The president stated in his keynote, “Our business plan for the year is to stretch out our payables and collect receivables more quickly.”

Nowhere was the hard work of developing products to serve customers better. Or the hard work of encouraging all of us to look for innovation in systems and products or what could add more customers.

Once I was at a business roundtable seated beside one of the most powerful (or infamous) CEOs in America at the time. He was famous for how hard he questioned his managers publicly. There was only talk of cutting, not of finding new ways to serve. He became a former CEO of a former company.

Yes, the easy work of leadership is to emphasize negativity and stir negative emotions.

The hard work of leadership is to bring people together working toward something better for all.

Is this a political statement? Yes.

Is this an organizational observation? Yes.

Is this a personal challenge to each of us? Yes.

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.

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.

Prepping for 2021

January 4, 2021

Welcome to 2021.

What we call things does not affect the thing. It surely affects us, though. Just having a new name for the year benefits our state of mind.

Some thoughts of preparing ourselves for the new year. This will certainly be a year of change from 2020. I don’t predict or prognosticate, but I do think that we’ll see a change in the pandemic for the better. Probably the change will happen before we realize it. Hopefully the vaccine helps.

Maybe we need to change the type of person we are. Or, maybe just reinforce the person we are becoming.

Eating

Did you pick up the dreaded “Covid 15”? That is 15 excess pounds–or more?

Start being the kind of person who naturally and normally eats a little less for each meal. Energy-boosting snacks become almonds, peanuts, apple slices, and the like. I buy little packets of green olives from Thrive Market and keep some around for a snack. Save sweets, salty processed snacks, and colas for “cheat day” if at all. Drop sodas, both sweetened and “diet”, from your shopping list and clean out the refrigerator.

Follow Michael Pollan’s advice from Food Rules: An Eater’s Guide:

  • Eat food;
  • Not too much;
  • Mostly plants.

Exercise

If you haven’t already, start moving. Be the sort of person who walks more or takes up jogging or running. Of course, exercise within the bounds set by your physician. But most of us can walk briskly. Make 30-60 minutes a day part of the daily routine. If your body is up to it, throw in a few sprints a few times per week for a High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) workout. That helped me lose a few pounds.

Buy some dumbbells and check out some YouTube instructors. I use 10 pound weights for a couple of shoulder exercises and curls and extensions for the biceps/triceps. I’m using 20 pound for standing rows and squats. Throw in some bench pushups and 30 minutes of Yoga stretches and ab work. 45-minutes to an hour three times a week in your bedroom (assuming the gym is still on limited availability) will work wonders.

Mental

Pick up a good book and read it. Be the type of person who expands and strengthens their mind. Take notes so that you think about it.

Spiritual

Feed your spirit with appropriate reading. I usually suggest January as a time to read the Proverbs from the Hebrew Bible. (Old Testament to most Christians) There are 31 chapters. Do a chapter a day for a month. Or perhaps the Christian book of James (another Wisdom writer). This year, I am reading an ancient Wisdom teacher from a different tradition. It’s good to see how alike we all are in our pursuit of spiritual growth and peace. I mean all cultures and all epochs. From 5,000 years ago to current Wisdom literature, there is a steady current.

Stop, pause your busyness. Meditate and pray at least once per day. Maybe twice–morning and evening. Do this and after several months people will probably comment about how calm you have become. Trust me. That has been true for me.

Blessings to you all for 2021.

Will I Be A Sitter Or A Follower This Year

January 1, 2021

Already yesterday I saw threads on Twitter about posting your New Year’s Resolutions.

Don’t.

They don’t work. Before January is over, you’ll have forgotten them.

This year, maybe we just decide to stop sitting and complaining. We choose to get up and follow Jesus. The first groups around Jesus? They weren’t scholars so much as they were followers.

Try this thought from Søren Kierkegaard.

Although the scribes could explain where the Messiah should be born, they remained quite unperturbed in Jerusalem. They did not accompany the Wise Men to seek him. Similarly we may be able to explain every article of our faith, yet remain spiritually motionless. The power that moved heaven and earth leaves us completely unmoved.

What a contrast! The three kings had only a rumor to go by. But it spurred them to set out on a long, hard journey. The scribes, meanwhile, were much better informed, much better versed. They had sat and studied the scriptures for years, like so many dons. But it didn’t make any difference. Who had the more truth? Those who followed a rumor, or those who remained sitting, satisfied with all their knowledge?

Søren Kierkegaard

Maybe you were taught to be only a leader, never a follower be. But you follow something or someone. You follow those who promise riches. You follow those who promise power. You follow those who appeal to your insecurities and fears.

None of those satisfy in the end.

Make 2021 a year of choosing to follow Jesus who leads us (if we but do his teaching) to living a better life because we chose to live in God’s kingdom.

Maybe you will or won’t lose that 30 pounds. Or you will or won’t write that book. Or you will or won’t double your income.

But you can be a different kind of human.

Be Generous

December 31, 2020

A couple of years ago the US Government changed the tax laws to reduce the amount of money you could deduct from reported income for tax purposes for charitable donations. This year due to the pandemic they changed it back to be, well, more generous. Today is the last day of the year to be generous and reduce income taxes a bit.

That is a good thing. Take advantage if you are able.

I am thinking of generosity more in terms that define who we are. There was recently a thought passing around Facebook revealing the typical “it’s all about me” attitude of us Baby Boomers. But it’s not all about me. It’s all about us. Me and my neighbors Jesus put it once. And who are my neighbors, religious people asked him. And he told a story about generosity. Helping someone who happened to be born into the “wrong” community, tribe, race. That was generosity.

Thinking back on this year, when have I been generous even though hurting physically or emotionally? When have I been generous with time, kindness, gifts, caring?

Perhaps we can improve on that for the next year. We can choose to be generous, kind, peaceful, just. We can choose to be the person Jesus intended his followers to be–filled with the spirit and acting in love.

Good-bye to 2020. Here’s to a 2021 filled with peace, justice, generosity, kindness. May our social media posts be filled with these thoughts when we, next year at this time, look back at 2021.