Faith From First Principles

November 23, 2021

In physics or philosophy we strive to begin with something called first principles and then logically derive our thoughts and conclusions and actions from there.

I’ve been think often lately about first principles of the Christian Faith or first principles of being a follower (disciple) of Jesus. The photo is an example of one way I think through things. This is sort of a mind map. I began with a thought comparing Jesus’ two main instructions to us–first love God and our neighbor and second go and make disciples. Then I wondered how John (the Baptizer) fit in. His message was to “repent”, that is, to turn our hearts toward God and prepare to accept the message from Jesus.

Where I started to go with this by putting it all together from the first principles would go something like this:

  • Rise in the morning and begin to orient my heart toward God for the day
  • Live in the kingdom today by loving God (love as some action not some emotion)
  • Do something for someone to live out that love for my neighbor
  • Have someone I can “disciple”, or today we may also use the words mentor or coach

That would be a good day having done all this. As I reflect at the end of the day (Examen), I could say that I had lived as I should.

Muddled Thinking

November 22, 2021

The child sat in the elementary classroom staring out the window. At some point the teacher noticed and stopped talking. All the other kids noticed and watched. Soon the child realized the room was too quiet and looked. “What were you doing?” asked the teacher. “Thinking.” “Don’t you know that you’re not supposed to think in school?” Well, at that point everyone burst out laughing, and the teacher had to recover from the reactive statement.

Story told by Earl Nightingale

This story popped into my thoughts yesterday as I sat on a couch staring out the window. For, I was thinking. I had researched a topic (trends shaping the Industrial Internet of Things for 2022, if you wish to know), and I was pondering business, technology, and scenarios. But, had my wife (former teacher, by the way) noticed, she would have accused me of sleeping.

“It is a fault to wish to be understood before we have made ourselves clear to ourselves.”

Simone Weil

Sometimes we think we have explained something, but the others don’t seem to understand. Maybe we reflect. We have not properly thought out the subject so that we are clear in our own minds what we are thinking.

I just read the description of a character in a novel where “he reads a sentence or two and then pauses to think about it.”

Thinking is work. Literally. Your brain will burn fuel from your body’s storehouse while you actively think. I’m not sure that we’re ever taught it. I know we don’t practice it enough.

  • Did we pause to consider the origin of our assumptions
  • Did our logic flow efficiently step-by-step
  • Where are other ideas
  • What are the implications
  • What if I’m wrong

I settled on an idea of a trend totally off the wall from my original thoughts about which technology might catch on next year. Quiet moments spent thinking through that which we’ve just read is an investment well spent. Especially if we are pondering wisdom teaching and stories of spiritual growth.

With Whom Do You Associate Often?

November 19, 2021

We become like the sum of the people around us.

Who is the group with you that meets for coffee in the morning?

Who is in the group that meets after church or in the tavern or at a sporting event?

The fear of almost every parent when their children reach socializing age concerns the peer group the kids associate with. Parents know that this group will have more influence over them than the parents will for the next few years.

Perhaps there are people we should ease away from. Cultivate those who are supportive.

Pause and look around. Do we wish to be like those who surround us? If not, then perhaps we need to seek out new groups.

We learn to choose wisely.

Much Ado About Nothing

November 18, 2021

A cold snap, the first of the fall, was beginning last week. The geese in the pond and the cornfield behind my house were in an uproar. They filled the sky with loud honking of directions as they organized into their traveling Vs.

This morning I went that way for my daily exercise of walking and sprints. No geese. None in the pond. None in the cornfield (they love it when the farmer picks corn and leaves some grain on the ground).

I found them a bit later. They covered the larger pond across the road.

Squawking, flying, forming travel patterns—all to go one mile.

Are we like that? We get upset with something. Post vile and untruthful things on Facebook to soothe our own anxieties. Then just go back to our day. Nothing accomplished. No growth achieved. No embracing God who hovers close to us.

We complain, squawk, stir up emotions—and accomplish nothing.

Following Jesus, one would suppose that we use words to heal and encourage people, use our time for growing more mature spiritually, use our presence to bring peace to those around.

Let us not look back and say with MacBeth, “Life is…a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Rather, let us follow Jesus’s invitation to join him in living a full life.

Meeting Others Not Like Us

November 17, 2021

Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch…

Acts 8:26-27

This story presented itself to me this morning in contemplation. My contemplation centered on the difficulty we have accepting, or at least dealing civilly with, people of races and/or sexuality from ourselves or our culture.

In America, that group may be black people or homosexual people. In much of Africa, people of another tribe and homosexual people. We have been watching English TV, a crime series set in the 1960s. A particular neighborhood had signs on apartment buildings, “No blacks or Irish.” And so it goes, region by region, around the world.

Yet, Philip, a Jew but also now a leading Christ-follower, is guided by God to an opportunity. This opportunity to meet a seeker who is of another race and sexuality. (It’s tricky to translate first century culture to twenty-first, but there is some similarity.)

Philip spends time with the man explaining how the Hebrew Scriptures pointed to Jesus and then the good news of Jesus. The Ethiopian accepted that story through faith and was baptized.

Our challenge is this—how open are we to talking with someone we meet who is different from us? Could we be Philip in the twenty-first century?

How You Treat The Poor

November 16, 2021

Prayer or Words? The guarantee of one’s prayer is not in saying a lot of words. The guarantee of one’s petition is very easy to know: How do I treat the poor? The degree to which you approach them, and the love with which you approach them, or the scorn with which you approach them – that is how you approach your God. What you do to them, you do to God. The way you look at them is the way you look at God.

Oscar Romero

Jesus told a couple of stories.

Once two men went to the central religious meeting point, the place where you could get closest to God, the Temple in Jerusalem. They went because they wanted to be close to God. But there were other, hidden reasons.

One man was a visible member of the very religious club. He actually went to be seen praying. And he prayed on a visible corner with many (probably long) words. The other man went to a place not on the Main Street. He assumed a posture of humility asking God for forgiveness and support. This is the man Jesus said went away justified.

Jesus was tested by another member of the Religion Club. The question centered on the “second commandment” to love our neighbor. He needed an explanation about what love your neighbor meant.

Jesus responded with a story. We call the story The Good Samaritan. All good stories have many points. The man who followed the commandment was an outcast from Jewish society. The man also did not just pause on his journey to say a prayer. No, he stopped. Bandaged the wounds of the injured traveler. He took him to an inn and paid for a room and medical care.

Loving your neighbor is not words—it’s deeds.

Oscar Romero, venerated as a saint in the Roman Catholic Church, became one of my spiritual heroes by the early 80s. His teaching to us is actually more than doing. He also addresses attitude. How do you approach others who are different from you? Then what do you do for them?

These are challenging questions. I am challenged. As, I hope, are you wherever you are.

Oh How The Mind Churns

November 15, 2021

We get caught in a trap. It’s like the little exercise wheel we put in the gerbil cage. Much energy is expended going faster and faster but going nowhere.

What we did or said really wasn’t that bad. Besides, it’s all their fault. Or, how could I be so stupid. Or, everyone hates me.

It’s possible that we could be that patient whom the psychologist told, “You’re not paranoid. Everyone does hate you.”

But, probably not. Most of the time most people really regard you positively.

And, so, it becomes our task to realize that people really will give us the benefit of the doubt. We just need to get off that exercise wheel to nowhere. We must step away from ourselves a bit with some self-awareness. Then deal with it.

A quick apology from the heart when we’ve said the wrong thing or screwed up something keeps us out of the gerbil wheel of blame.

Smile at people you meet. Most return the smile. And both of you have a little bit of sunshine in your day.

The calm mind wins the day. Warriors understand that the calm mind helps them survive and win. Athletes learn that the calm mind leads to superior performance.

It starts with self-awareness. And continues with controlling our breath.

Planting Words Just Like Seeds

November 12, 2021

Jesus talked about words like seeds. Words in his story were about the Kingdom of God. His point was about the hearer. Some hearers ignore the words for a variety of reasons. Some get enthused briefly but forget about them after a brief period of time. Kind of like listening to a moving sermon or a motivational speaker at a conference.

But some hearers allow the words to be planted, grow, and flourish in their thinking and in their life.

At about the same time in another land and in another language, Lucius Antaeus Seneca wrote to his good friend Lucilius a similar message.

You are right when you urge that we increase our mutual traffic in letters. But the greatest benefit is to be derived from conversation, because it creeps by degrees into the soul. Words should be like seed; no matter how small the seed may be, if it has once found a favorable ground, it unfolds its strength and from an insignificant thing spreads to its greatest growth.

Let a favorable mind receive and assimilate them. Then of itself the mind also will produce bounteously in its turn, giving back more than it has received.

I think that it would have been a great thing for Jesus and Seneca to have met. Tradition holds that Jesus traveled to the East. There are reports of his traveling to India, for instance. Seneca seemed to have little knowledge of the Middle East having stopped no farther east than Greece. Oh, well. We can take a lesson from these two thoughts.

We should be wise in our conversation. Be aware and responsible of the power of our words.

We should be wise hearers of the words. Choose wisely to whom we listen. Let the words settle in, nurture them, let the ideas blossom and bear fruit.

Who Imposed Servitude On You?

November 10, 2021

The Prisoner was a 13-week series that ran on PBS in the late 60s. The hero of the story was trapped in a village with no way out. Life in the village was not necessarily cruel, but he knew that he was trapped.

He knew “Number 2” who seemed almost in charge. He kept trying to get to “Number 1”, the person ultimately responsible for trapping him in this village. During the last episode, he finally met “Number 1.” It was the hero himself. He imposed servitude upon himself.

The series asked a question that has impacted me in all that time since—where have I caused my own servitude?

Am I locked in fear? Happens to all of us, I presume.

What was the response when God met people in the Hebrew Scriptures? What seemed to be one of Jesus’ most-used phrases? Fear not. Get out of it through faith.

What else holds us in captivity due to our own decisions? Substances? Lifestyle? Pursuit of wealth? Pursuit of pleasure?

The worst kind of servitude is that which is self-imposed. It need not happen. Wake up to where you limit yourself or hurt yourself. Self-awareness is the start. Then get beyond it.

Breath

November 9, 2021

I’m currently cruising at 38,000 feet above Illinois en route to Houston for my first business trip (other than driving to a couple of local trade shows) since February 2020.

Put on a mask for the livery ride to the airport. Continuing through the airport to sitting on the plane.

As I sat quietly to observe my breath while sitting, I noticed that the mask boosted my awareness of breath. I can feel the exhale as a movement of warm, moist air. I feel the inhale drawing cool air through the filter of the mask material.

Awareness of breath is calming. Not that I am anxious. But after the wait for the driver, then the rather hurried flow through security followed by the long walk to the gate, then queuing for boarding, it’s time to sit quietly. Breathe. Feeling breath. Aware of life force. Aware of the spirit.

When I arrive in Houston, the awareness will remain. I’ll be open to all the new people and ideas at the conference. Relaxed and ready for work.

The pulse of life—go…pause…go.