Detachment the Second Step of the Ladder

June 6, 2018

John Climacus puts spiritual discipline in the picture of a ladder reaching toward God. “The ladder of divine ascent.”

Once you begin the journey toward spiritual formation, the first step involved being alert–not sleepy. The second step is detachment.

Jesus said, “You cannot serve both God and mammon.” Preachers usually shorten the term mammon to money. But the original word connotes the idea of wealth–stuff. Money plus all the things that you grow attached to. House, car, bank account, vacation home.

John says that once starting on the spiritual journey, detach your heart from all of these things that hold you back. He uses the picture of Lot and his wife leaving Sodom. God let them escape, but told them not to look back as if in longing for the life of sin there. Lot’s wife looked. Turned into a pillar of salt. Poof!

Jesus once used a story of a man plowing in the field and leaving the plow to follow him, and warns not to look back.

Jesus knows the state of our heart. He knows if our heart is still with our stuff or if it has truly turned toward following him.

Once you have taken the step of spiritual formation, do not look back.

June 5, 2018

Elton Trueblood

The church is never true to itself when it is living for itself, for if it is chiefly concerned with saving its own life, it will lose it. The nature of the church is such that it must always be engaged in finding new ways by which to transcend itself. Its main responsibility is always outside its own walls in the redemption of common life. That is why we call it a redemptive society. There are many kinds of religion, but redemptive religion, from the Christian point of view, is always that in which we are spent on those areas of existence that are located beyond ourselves and our own borders.

Elton Trueblood is one of my theologian/mentors who helped me figure out the Apostle Paul. Since Paul wrote to early Christian fellowships, he included a variety of instructions that he said weren’t from God but were things that he instructed out of common sense for the good of the fellowship of these new Christians.

I presume well-meaning Christians have been tempted to lift a sentence, one instruction, from something Paul wrote and build their life around it, or build a theology around it, or build a church around it. They had been doing it for about 1,800 years, actually. And I didn’t like anything that I heard. I thought that in the light of Jesus’ teachings, this couldn’t be true.

Trueblood helped me broaden my view of Paul. N.T. Wright completed my journey.

I like this thought from Trueblood (which I received in the Daily Dig from Plough Publishing) in this day of people bringing their own agendas loosely based on a statement from Paul or otherwise into churches and denominations.

As a friend said yesterday, so many people go to church general meetings with an agenda.

And I replied, “Yes, an it’s not the one Jesus gave us.”

Our challenge…are we inward looking or outward?

Change Your Focus To Stay In Focus

June 4, 2018

When you are slicing through a big loaf of bread, you need first to focus on the relationship of the blade across the loaf to make sure you are straight. Then you shift focus down the side to be cut so that the slice is straight and parallel to the end. (Okay, I have my OCD moments, but stay with the analogy.)

I just finished my second weekend of the season as referee director for a youth soccer tournament. After recruiting and assigning the best referees I have to the appropriate games and making sure that we have certified referees on every game, then I spend my time observing and troubleshooting.

Someone approaches me distraught or angry. I focus on them and their problem/complaint. Then I go to the referee later. I focus on her/him and listen to that side of the story. You have to focus on both sides of a story in order to come to a conclusion about what really happened. Then you deal with corrections or just calming down as the case requires.

Sometimes you are reading difficult material. Maybe from the Bible or from someone’s argument about the meaning of something. You are presented a word or phrase that doesn’t make sense immediately. You should:

A) skip the phrase (and risk missing the meaning of the passage)

B) come to a quick conclusion about the phrase (maybe making up your own interpretation)

C) mark the phrase as difficult and resolve to return to it when you’ve read more

D) change your focus and research that word or phrase (Dr. Google can help, as can a dictionary)

Jesus left us with only a couple of commands. (Not suggestions, directives.) Shortened version–Love God, Love you neighbor. The love your neighbor part is repeated often, say at the end of John.

When we get into disagreements or feel our prejudices rising (requiring self-awareness), we need to change our focus from ourselves to what Jesus said. Maybe the problem concerns people of different races, or different gender, or different lifestyle, or gender identification. When we realize we’re dividing people into groups and developing a theology that says one group is inferior, we need to change our focus and go back to the basics. Love God, love our neighbor.

Our question for ourselves when we are deciding upon such matters is “to what degree is what I am doing reflective of what Jesus commanded me to do?”

The Tongue Is A World of Evil

June 1, 2018

The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

The words of the reckless pierce like swords…

We have known for millennia that it is wise to be responsible and aware of what we say–whether with our mouth or on Twitter. The first quote is from James from about 2,000 years ago. The second maybe from 1,000 years before that. Maybe more.

Once again, many lives are disrupted and many lines of division are drawn by reckless spouting off of unthinking opinion or a crude attempt at humor.

We know better, and yet we let emotion take over our lives, shun responsibility, say things that we cannot retract and later regret.

How often do we hear “I’ve got my rights” versus how often do we hear “I am responsible for how I use my rights”?

There are alternatives.

…but the tongue of the wise brings healing.

We get to choose.

Starting Strong In Your Spiritual Journey

May 31, 2018

“You have to show them you are in charge from the first day, or else you will lose control of them for the year.”

My undergraduate degree was in Liberal Arts with classes in math and science, literature and philosophy, and international politics. No classes in teaching.

My first job out of college was…teaching. Seventh grade history and writing. At a Catholic school. I’m a Protestant.

The only advice I received was the sentence quoted above.

I survived. Somehow. Never taught in a school again. Although I have been a teacher my entire adult life in one thing or another.

John Climacus has similar advice for those beginning a spiritual journey.

It is detestable and dangerous for a wrestler to be slack at the start of a contest, thereby giving proof of his impending defeat to everyone. Let us have a firm beginning to our religious life, for this will help us if a certain slackness comes later. A bold and eager soul will be spurred on by the memory of its first zeal and new wings can thus be obtained.

And he concludes his comments on this first rung of the ladder of divine ascent:

Who, then, is the faithful and wise monk? It is the man who has kept unquenched the warmth of his vocation, who adds fire each day to fire, fervor to fervor, zeal to zeal, love to love, and this to the end of his life.

Why have a morning routine that includes study, prayer, meditation, and exercise? It helps us add these things daily.

Two Men Walk Into A Coffee House

May 30, 2018

And they get thrown out.

Not the beginning of a joke. Today Starbucks is closing stores to provide training to associates on how to interact with people of all races and genders.

The corporation has a policy. Not an unusual policy. I’ve experienced it in many countries and many establishments. Shouldn’t be a big deal.

It became one.

Morgan Freeman makes jokes and comments about the physical features of women. There was a time that was pretty common. Men never stopped to think about the effect of the comments on the women. It’s just “joking” around. But, who knows, maybe they’d “get lucky.”

It now became a big deal.

Roseanne cracks a crude joke on Twitter. There are lots of crude comedians–in comedy clubs. Not that I like those. Putting it out in the public for everyone to see? Within 12 hours she was dissed by a co-star, had her series cancelled, had the actions dealing with her confirmed by the CEO of the corporation, and she lost her agent.

It became a big deal.

We have ancient teachings that can guide us, if we but choose.

Jesus spoke 2,000 years ago and quoted something from 2,000 years before him. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your mind. And you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Or we can look for guidance from the Apostle Paul who advised his friends in the churches in Galatia, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

Time after time people in organizations are making decisions that they think upholds company policy but act in a wrong manner.

Following these guidelines (commands) you cannot be wrong.

Unfortunately those acts to not make the news. We only hear about loud-mouthed, bigoted “Christians” and acts of great insensitivity. As for me, I’d just as soon not be in the news.

Sleep and Waking

May 29, 2018

Those who find themselves living the modern life, something that is pretty much global now, most likely are not getting enough sleep.

Sleep is a time when the body and brain repairs and rejuvenates. Depriving yourself of sufficient sleep deprives your body and mind of the nourishment it needs to function well and with health.

When I turn to the ancient spiritual mentors the problem they ascribe to sleep is not getting enough–it is oversleeping. And then upon waking not being in a proper frame of mind and spirit for the day’s first tasks.

John Climacus says that sleep is a natural state, but that sleeping too late or during prayers (he was writing to a monastic audience–readers seeking spiritual enlightenment) is a habit. A bad habit. One to be overcome.

Ancient peoples ascribed things we call emotions or urges to demons–spiritual beings whose task it is to drive us away from the spiritual path.

John talks of the demon that tempts us to stay in bed when the alarm has sounded to get us up. Other demons (in his language) prevent us from focusing on our morning prayers and meditation.

You would find it difficult to find someone who leads a successful life who goes to bed early and rises late. You may be a “morning” person or a “night owl”, but in reality rising early is merely a habit that can be cultivated. What did Benjamin Franklin tell us, “Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.”

Your work rhythm may be best earlier or later, but the daily habit of rising early to read, pray, and meditate lays the foundation for success.


May 28, 2018

It’s a national holiday here in America. A bit of a complicated one.

My great-grandmother always called it Decoration Day–a day to remember family members who had passed away. You went to the cemetery and “decorated” the grave with flowers. That part is still here.

Then the government made it “Memorial” Day–a day to remember those who served in the military and especially those who died in combat.

The church (or some churches) piggy-back on those to add a religious observation.

Actually, I think for most people it is the official beginning of “summer”–a weekend off to relax, grill meat on the barbecue, get the old boat out.

Jesus said he came not to be served but to serve others and give his life for many. There is theology buried there, but also a lifestyle.

If we are disciples, we also are to serve others and give our lives for many.

A day to pause and reflect on our service–and how we might be of more service to others.

Sometimes a Duck is Just a Duck

May 25, 2018

Sometimes we read too much into a situation.

Maybe there was no ulterior or hidden motive.

Sometimes people just say things without thinking that should just be taken at face value and move on.

Sometimes it is what it is.

Here are my three little buddies I have drawn parables from the past two days.

They are all walking fine, well as fine as a duck can walk.

Have no idea what happened to the females. I’ve seen none at the park this spring.

In America we celebrate a holiday this weekend. Enjoy it for what it is.

Maybe What I Thought I Saw Was In My Mind

May 24, 2018

There were three male Mallard ducks. Just hanging out by the pond. Strange. Unusual. Three male ducks never just hang out in that neighborhood. Maybe they are up to no good.

Then I notice one duck is limping. I’ve never seen a duck limp. Obviously something is wrong. He must have tangled with something. Maybe a fish hook in the water left behind by an errant caster. Maybe a cat had big ideas.

Most likely the duck’s two friends were looking out for him.

It reminded me of the story Jesus told about the man who was an outcast from the local society stopped to help a wounded man from the majority culture.

Yesterday (link above), I wrote the same scene from one perspective–my initial reaction to three guys hanging out. Today, the same scene, except I was more observant.

I know nothing about duck culture. I am projecting human behavior on animals.

However the two views of the same scene offers another teaching moment.

At least three times in the past couple of weeks I have read news items where a white person has called the police to investigate black people who a) were in that place legally b) doing nothing wrong or even suspicious.

It was all in the mind of the caller. Their brains composed a story based upon some prejudice or past encounter or just fear of others not like themselves. They (not surprisingly) believed their brains’ stories. Panicked. Called the police for protection–from nothing.

Be honest. If you saw three strangers, what story would your brain create? Would you be emotionally intelligent enough to pause and question the thought? Make a further observation? Even offer help if needed?

We know that we believe whatever we tell ourselves to believe. Motivational speakers use that trick all the time telling you to just tell yourself that you are great–and eventually you will believe it.

Politicians use the trick all the time, as well. Repeat the same story over and over and pretty soon people will believe the biggest lie is really the truth.

Be careful what you choose to believe. It may be all in your head. And wrong.