They Think Too Much

November 1, 2019

I told my wife the other day when she came home with questions about 2,000 years or more of theology, “You are going to think this is strange or ironic coming from me, but sometimes people think too much.”

The ancient Greeks noticed that sometimes we humans have a tendency to think we know more than we do. We act pompous or arrogant because we are smarter, wiser, more knowledgeable than others. They called this hubris. Then they wrote stories about men who had too much of themselves–and how they fell.

The ancient Hebrew people also noticed this. They wrote a proverb, “Pride goeth before a fall.”

We today are prone to take an assumption, maybe based on fact and maybe just myth or tradition or just made up, and then construct a philosophy or theology. Or we take the bait when someone else does that and “know” that we “know the truth.” Not all of us, of course, but far too many.

In the 13th Century, Thomas Aquinas, thought by many to be the Catholic Church’s greatest theologian, wrote a huge work of many volumes called the Summa Theologica. But for the last several years of his life he wrote or even spoke little.

After all that work and thinking, Aquinas said that the to know God in the highest form is to know God as the Unknown.

We can have the hubris of thinking we’ve uncovered the truth of what God is. Or, we can accept the mystery in humility that God is.

Exercising Power With Knowledge

October 31, 2019

Two farmers were discussing life one day, and one started bragging about his kid going to college. She’s getting a BS, MS, and Ph.D., he said. “What’s that,” replied the other farmer.

“Well, you know what BS is?” he asked. “Yes,” came the reply.

“MS is more of the same, and PhD is piled higher and deeper,” explained the proud father.

I first heard that little joke when I was 10. I experienced it first hand when I was 20.

It’s similar to the comment about specialization of academia, that the more you study, you know more and more about less and less until you know everything about nothing.

Seneca, the ancient Stoic philosopher, noticed this sort of thing 2,000 years ago. He complained about people who could speculate for hours about whether the Iliad or the Odyssey was written first or who the author was. “Far too many good brains have been afflicted by the pointless enthusiasm for useless knowledge.”

Do you find too many church people like this? They speculate endlessly about an obscure verse in the Bible and miss the point of Jesus’s mission.

Problems ensue when they settle on an interpretation and use that to tell people what to believe. They attempt to control the thoughts of those around them.

It’s that power problem in a different guise.

It’s also the opposite of the “Acts 2 church” where people were attracted by the life the people were living not by being forced to agree with some arcane interpretation of a writing. It’s not a state of knowledge; it is a state of being.

The Wrong Kind of Power

October 30, 2019

Back in the year 30, the ethos or worldview of society centered on power. As in, I have power and you don’t–sorry about your luck.

Every relationship was about who got to make and enforce the rules. From family to community to Rome and the Temple.

We need the constant reminder of how revolutionary Jesus was. He shunned political power. He could have had it. But it was the wrong way to go.

I think the worst moment in Christian history was when Constantine made Christianity the official religion of Rome. Bishops went from being underground teaching in secretive house churches to having wealth and power.

The church went from attracting people by the joyous way they lived to forcing people to belong because it was the official religion of the Empire.

But Jesus, (remember him? The story was about him.), both taught and lived a worldview of each individual having a changed life. It’s not about forcing others to live like we tell them. That’s what the Pharisees and the Temple rulers did.

Jesus changed individual lives.

Before worrying about someone else and what they do, better to focus on changing yourself.

What Stands Between God and You

October 25, 2019

Jesus said to Martha, “You are distracted by many things.”

We sit to pray, and our “monkey brain” chatters, and chatters, and chatters.

We have the Bible on an app on our phone. We pick up the phone to read it in the morning. By the time we’ve finished poking all the other pretty apps on the phone, we’re late for work.

We worry about things that happened yesterday. We worry about things that won’t happen tomorrow…but they might.

We see advertisements pushed at us constantly, and wish, wish–“O Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz; my friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends.”

Then we see.

It is not by addition that we become closer to God.

It is by subtraction.

One by one, we subtract those interferences until it’s just God and us. Then we can live the with-God life we were meant to live.

What Sort of Person Are You

October 24, 2019

What would Jesus do? A phrase popular for a time known as WWJD.

Supposedly a follower of Jesus would pause and ask herself/himself that question and then act appropriately.

The pause part of that formula would be very helpful. Would have saved me from much embarrassment over the course of my life.

But is it really about doing?

Would you (we) be described by the description of the Pharisees by Jesus–clean on the outside and filthy inside?

Meister Eckhart wrote in the 13th Century, “It is not by your actions you will be saved, but by your being. It is not by what you do, but by what you are that you will be saved.”

As a follower (disciple) of Jesus, it is not so much trying to imitate what he did. Rather, how can we actually be like Jesus. What sort of person was he? What sort of person shall I become?

I was in graduate school with a bunch of philosophers (you’re not surprised?). We spread this little joke.

To do is to be.–Aristotle

To be is to do.–Dante

DoBeDoBeDooo.–Sinatra

The mystics and spiritual seekers tell us there is more truth in “Sinatra.”

Don’t think so much to justify yourself. Just be like Jesus.

Faith and Culture

October 23, 2019

A nationally reputable speaking coach recently called Andy Stanley the best speaker in America today. I listen to his “religious” teaching and to his leadership podcast.

He has begun sending a newsletter as part of the leadership series. He said in the last issue, “As you already know, I’m passionate about leadership and helping you get leadership right. However, you may not know that I’m equally passionate about the impact of faith on culture. It’s no secret that the religious landscape in America has shifted. Fewer and fewer Americans are self-identifying as Christians, while more and more are identifying as religiously unaffiliated.”

I interrupt—his teaching on faith and culture and politics is the best I’ve heard especially from an evangelical who is typically pretty knee-jerk conservative and borderline racist. Some may think that’s a harsh statement, but I tend to poke beneath the surface of attitude to underlying causes (we call it root-cause analysis where I come from).

Continuing, “You may have heard me ask the question, ‘What breaks your heart?’ Something that breaks my heart is seeing millions of people walk away from Christianity because they find the version of Christianity they’ve grown up with unconvincing, uninspiring, and irrelevant.”

He points to a library of resources focused on the impact of faith on culture.

I think much of the problem he points to involves where the loudest voices of organized Christianity have gone over the past 50 years or so. A lot of telling you what to do from the point of view of superior to inferior. Not so much being fellow travelers on the journey toward spiritual reality and a whole life.

The organizations themselves seem to be working hard to make themselves irrelevant.

It’s too bad. But it’s what happens when human ego takes the place of spiritual seeking.

I hate telling people what to do. But I’m always willing to be a guide. We need more guides.

I encourage you to check out Stanley’s teaching. There is so much common sense.

Attachment

October 22, 2019

Do you realize that when you oppose something you become attached to it. Your being is tied up with that which you oppose.

What will you be when that thing changes or fades away?

Maybe you are tied to an idea or political movement. You become it. As it goes, so go you.

Be careful of your attachments. You think you are free. But you are not. You are defined by that which is attached.

Many psychologists and spiritual teachers will help you toward self-observation. Obtain a point of view slightly above and beside you. Observe without judgement what you do.

Was it something embarrassing? Do not feel embarrassment. Observe what happened. When the situation once again occurs, be reminded of the inappropriate actions and words. Observe yourself acting with wisdom and compassion.

Self-observation can lead to awareness.

Humans Are, Well, Human

October 21, 2019

Awareness, The Perils and Opportunities of Reality contains a (more or less) transcription of an Anthony de Mello workshop. de Mello was a Jesuit priest. I imagine he got away with saying some of the things he did because of being a Jesuit.

I’ve read this before many years ago. Probably more than once. Someone recently advised reading this little book frequently as a spiritual “pick-me-up”.

He hit me with a section on awareness that reminded me of a moment of awareness I experienced. It was about people. Fellow human beings. It was about how we label others (and others label us), in many cases to make us seem less than human because we are not like them, or they like us.

But we are all alike. Jesus, I was reminded, didn’t really associate with “his own kind”. He associated with “sinners and tax collectors”, and people of another tribe (Samaritans), and “Gentiles” (Romans, Greeks, most likely others).

He attacked the hypocrisy of those who considered themselves superior.

de Mello contends we are all asleep. Unaware. And we don’t really want to awaken. That seems uncomfortable.

Maybe when we stop trying to force other people to be like us we will briefly awaken, in de Mello’s terms. We will realize that we are all in this thing called life together.

We are all strange and a little screwed-up. I guess that’s being human. Get over it.

She Can’t Take You Anywhere

October 18, 2019

I found out a long time ago
What a woman can do to your soul
Oh, she can’t take you anywhere
That you don’t already know how to go — The Eagles, Peaceful Easy Feelin’

Occasionally my wife comes home from one of her Bible studies with really odd questions. Someone brought up something, then the pursuit of squirrels ensued. It’s what makes a group interesting.

She hit me with another last night after dinner. I pondered the problem for a bit. I won’t get into details, because I’ll trample on the theological toes one way or another of just about all of you.

I’m not a subscriber to any of the theologies. I’m simply trying to follow Jesus. All the theological disputes of fundamentalist (evangelical) vs. Catholic vs. reformed vs. whatever are pretty much intellectual amusements to me.

So, I thought about my wife’s questions.

And I took a step back and looked from another perspective.

They started with a proposition, I told her.

From that proposition they devoted a great amount of logic to weave a path to explain the correctness of their proposition.

The trouble is, while you do that, you wind up ignoring a whole bunch of teaching in the New Testament.

That is where she had a problem–but Scripture says this in this passage. Yes, dear, it does. It is conveniently ignored by the logic of proving the proposition.

Oh, and I can’t really explain that either. Some things just seem destined to remain a mystery. I take solace from a thought of CS Lewis on that topic.

But Logic? She can’t take you anywhere that you didn’t already know how to go.

Me? I have a peaceful, easy feelin’. And I wish that to you.

Hi I’m Gary and I’m an Addict

October 17, 2019

She was about to go to bed when she checked her fitness tracker. Only 200 more steps and you’ll earn a badge, it told her. That was easy. A couple of laps around the inside of the house, and then bed.

But, then the “monster on her wrist” told her that only a few flights of stairs and she would earn another badge and another level. OK, that’s easy. Just a couple of times down and up the stairs to the lower level of the house.

The next thing she knew it was 3 am and she had climbed the equivalent of the Empire State Building.

That was when the realization hit–she was addicted. All those levels and badges and encouragement kept her on the app. She was getting steps in to the neglect of her husband and her sleep.

It took a period of time to become more realistic about the “monster on my wrist” and make it serve her fitness needs not its needs to keep her on the app.

Facebook uses the same psychology. And YouTube. And many other apps. They encourage addiction. You become their servants.

A lesser known pioneer in psychology, Roberto Assagioli, who founded a school called Psychosynthesis, talked about developing the ability to step away from ourselves. We view ourselves as if from slightly above and away. We see how we are acting and relating to others. I read his works in the 70s, and they had a powerful impact.

When we grab for the phone to check our our steps for the hour or day, or social media streams, or just one more YouTube video, we need to develop the discipline to see ourselves grabbing that phone and realize the time and emotional hole we are entering. And choose to use it rather than it using us.

Robert Burns, the Scottish poet, recognized our need to step back and observe ourselves:

O wad some Power the giftie gie us 
To see oursels as ithers see us! 

*I’ve never been to a 12-Step meeting, but I’ve heard that so many times it is imprinted into my brain. And I am probably addicted to something–just need to recognize what. Maybe coffee…