Outsiders or Insiders

August 26, 2021

As a child, youth, and even sometimes as an adult I have felt like an outsider.

How about you? Are you an insider? Or, an outsider?

You could identify as a Christian. You could enter a building and find yourself at a worship gathering. Depending upon the music, activities, dress of participants, you could be an insider or an outsider.

Circumstances can change causing you to change status from insider to outsider. Think about Jesus walking about telling stories with a teaching point. He was talking with insiders–Jewish people. However within the group “Jewish people” there were insiders (Pharisees, priests) and outsiders (everyone else). Forty years after Jesus was executed and then resurrected, the Jewish people in Palestine flipped from insider to outsider after the Romans grew weary of the constant rebellion and attacked.

Jesus told a story about insiders and outsiders. A man (assumed Jewish, but undefined) was beaten by robbers on a lonely road. Twice an insider passed by, avoided the man, and kept going. Then an outsider traveled the road. He saw the injured man and stopped. He cared for the man, took him to a place where he could heal, and paid for his recovery.

Jesus complimented the outsider.

When you are sitting comfortably with your other insiders, what do you feel toward outsiders? To what degree would you help them? That is the question Jesus asks us to ask ourselves. And he offers a suggestion as to how we should act. Hint: transcend that insider/outsider barrier.

The Discipline of Focus

August 25, 2021

“Keep your eye on the ball,” yells the baseball coach to his player.

You cannot hit the ball if you are not focused on it.

Same with golf. Practice the swing enough such that you can just swing naturally. Then put all focus on the ball.

A race car driver once told me that you always focus on the cars in front. Never look at the wall, he said, because you’ll steer right at it.

Take the Hebrew story of Joseph. Yes, the guy with the “multi-colored dream coat”. He landed in Egypt. The king put him in charge of a most important project. Joseph had interpreted a dream that there would be seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine. Joseph’s job was to focus in the good years on storing lots of grain. I’m sure that given many pressures keeping his eye on the ball was difficult. Then during the seven years of famine, he reaped the benefits of the seven years of discipline.

Pay attention to the words of Jesus, Peter, Paul, James, John and the rest. Stated sometimes and always understood beneath the story lies the foundational teaching of keeping your eye (focus) on God.

Dystopian Prophetic Voice

August 24, 2021

In the year 2525

If man is still alive

If woman can survive

They may find

Zager and Evans

My wife tunes her car radio to Sirius XM 60s on 6. (Except I’ve been driving it lately and switched to Margaritaville. A little Parrot Head music will be good for her.) They played In the Year 2525 the other day. I remembered that era. About the same time Barry McGuire sang PF Sloan’s Eve of Destruction. People thought things in the world looked pretty bleak. It’s been 52 years, what goes around, comes around. We’ve been through bust and boom and now people thing things look bleak.

Yesterday’s post was my number 2525. Coincidences are interesting. I started thinking about the song.

In the year 9595

I’m kinda wondering if man is gonna be alive

He’s taken everything this old earth can give

And he ain’t put back nothing, woah, woah

Zager and Evans

We read prophecy–maybe the Hebrew prophets or Nostradamus or some contemporary wannabe prophet. Rather, we often misread them. Usually they are using if-then-else logic. “If you keep doing this, then this bad thing will happen, else changing your ways will bring better things.”

That last verse I quoted has many meanings. It hits (the old church word is “convicts”) each of us. How much do we take every day? How much do we give back?

Do we take love without giving back? Do we accept gifts without ever giving?

This idea is worth pausing for reflection. And maybe changing our ways, woah, woah.

Food For the Soul

August 23, 2021

The ancient Desert Father Evagrius called contemplative knowledge food for the soul.

There was a time when contemplation was thought to be reserved for those who had a vocation for it–monks, nuns, recluses, strange people.

Perhaps “ordinary people” just had to work too hard to have time for contemplation. Although I’m not sure that’s the case.

We believe today anyone can be a contemplative. Unfortunately, this general attitude did not evolve from a Christian perspective, although Thomas Merton had an impact. Much of it is “New Age” which is Westernized Hindu and Buddhist meditation. Something where we can sell gurus, incense, candles, pillows, icons. It’s all a business.

As a youth, I actually never heard of Christian contemplation until I “accidentally” discovered St. John of the Cross at the library. What I had heard about was the Beatnik adoption of Zen Buddhist meditation (and espresso with cinnamon sprinkled on it). It fit my personality, this contemplation thing.

It can fit yours. 10-20 minutes daily physically changes your brain. It changes your personality. I was helped for many years in formation by repeating the Jesus Prayer–Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me. After a time you can shorten, then shorten more, until you just sit in the presence of God.

And if you listen, there will be times when God whispers in your consciousness. This should not be ignored. It is a direction for you to go or instructions on whom to meet or a nudge for awareness of what is to come.

It is truly food for the soul.

Holding On Too Tightly

August 20, 2021

The best interview podcast going right now is Guy Kawasaki’s Remarkable People. This week he talked with Mark Schulman. Schulman is a drummer. Currently he tours with Pink. Well, when tours start up again. He’s also an author and speaker.

Guy asked him about the art of being a drummer. My music education began as a drummer eventually playing in the University of Cincinnati marching band with many students from the College Conservatory of Music there. I was interested.

“Don’t grip the drumsticks too tightly,” Schulman said. Holding on too tightly tenses your fingers, wrists, arms, and shoulders such that you can’t provide a smooth, driving beat. It’s a metaphor for life, he added.

My wife had never heard about the famous Malaysian Monkey Trap (probably under a lot of names). You place a fruit larger than the hole that the monkey reaches into the container to grab it. The monkey will not let go of the fruit in order to escape. It traps itself. She was reading Where the Red Fern Grows. They trapped raccoons the same way.

Our question for the day–to what or whom are we holding on too tightly that we are tensed, stiff, trapped? Where do we need to let go? Breathe freely? Relax and refocus?

Try that this weekend.

Lost In The Loop

August 19, 2021

Ancient philosophers going back more than 6,000 years thought about a lot of stuff but mostly about nature and about how to live a better life.

Today’s professional philosophers are mostly professors and mostly write to each other arguing ever finer distinctions about things that don’t really matter. Except maybe when ideas from Descartes or Derrida filter into the common consciousness denying the provenance of the spirit.

These people, and all of us really, often get caught in a loop. We get lost in an idea about truth or good or how people are treating us or how we feel. We get stuck in a loop of thoughts and emotions. If we loop too much, we’ll wind up in the office of a mental health professional.

In programming, we often program a for-next loop. For i=1-10 do this, i=1, do, next i. Then we forget to say what happens when we hit 10, so it just goes back to 1 and starts again. And your computer hangs up. (Or you dump a lot of granular product on the floor like a client of mine did once.) Lost in the loop can have dire consequences.

Observers and thinkers across many cultures and millennia have told us–break the loop, intentionally divert your thinking, take a deep breath and slowly exhale.

Try the 4-7-8 breath. Inhale through the nose and count 4. Hold the breath and count 7 at the same pace. Exhale slowly and completely counting to 8 at the same pace. Three of those should bring calm and break the loop.

This is then the time when we can bring our attention to the spirit and remind us of our first principles–love God and love our neighbor. Both Jesus and the Apostle James tell us that means action–finding a way to serve. Small ways or bigger ways. Just serve. Then you are out of the loop and onto the way.

What’s It All For?

August 18, 2021

Seth Godin’s podcast enters my podcast app Overcast every Wednesday morning. He always talks for 10 to 15 minutes on a topic and then answers questions from listeners. A question came in (you go to the podcast site, click a link, and audio record your question, it’s not live) “What’s it all for?”

This question proved timely for me. For the 33rd year I am doing a project. I started as a volunteer to provide a service for a relative small group. And it grew. As it grew, people paid me. It’s vacation money. But it has become increasingly difficult and time-consuming. I have worked about three hours per day since the first of July and feel no progress.

What’s it all for?

It was time for that question. It’s a motivational question. Or one that suggests it’s time to quit. In my case, I help more than 2,000 high school students participate in a sport. Such activities should be an excellent path to health and personal growth for those young people.

What’s it for? It is a means of serving others.

If this is so and since my mind never ceases in wandering and wondering, what is being a follower of Jesus for?

Is it just so that I can tell others? Note: in the US, we can say that with impunity or at worst suffer a sarcastic comment. In many other locations in the world such a statement can lead to physical harm or even death.

Maybe it is less telling others what I am and more about being the kind of person who does what Jesus taught us to do to truly live–love our enemies, share our clothes with those in need, feed the prisoner, provide healing for the sick when we can, encourage the discouraged. In that case, what’s it for? Service. Showing Jesus, not telling. Showing lasts. Telling can be like the wind–here and then gone.

For you, what’s it all for?

A Successful Day

August 17, 2021

Even as a youth, I thought that the Christian church should teach a more practical life. This from a guy who was reading philosophy and theology by age 14 (no wonder I never had friends!).

We would be told what we should do but not so much how. Pray, they said. I felt like the disciples. Teach me how. Jesus had answered with what we call The Lord’s Prayer. Sermons have been preached on the meaning of each phrase. Nothing on the practice.

I offered to teach prayer. Six or eight people signed on. I wanted to teach how to pray. They wanted a discussion class on theories of prayer.

Perhaps that’s why I am drawn to the Stoics. Not a religion, they were philosophers of the practice of life. When you arise in the morning, how do you actually live that day.

Ryan Holliday, writing in his Daily Stoic, said,

A successful day for a Stoic is simple. It’s not about having made more money. Or having gotten more famous, or dazzled more people with your accomplishments. It’s whether or not you got better. Specifically, it’s whether you got better at life—more prepared for the troubles, for the temptations, for the opportunities that lay ahead. As Seneca wrote to Lucilius, the prescription for this philosophy is simple: “Each day acquire something that will fortify you against poverty, against death, indeed against other misfortunes, as well and after you have run over many thoughts, select one to be thoroughly digested that day.”

Ryan Holliday

Prayer today can be breathing with awareness to calm and focus the mind and body. Service results from awareness of other people we meet and we see a way to help–even if it’s opening a door or picking up a dropped object. Worship can be a conversation. Those indeed would lead to a successful day as we reflect on the evening examen.

Peaceful State of the Soul

August 16, 2021

Evagrius Ponticus became esteemed for his thinking and teaching because he could see so deeply into the soul.

He taught that there were two peaceful states of the soul. We might use a different word that soul today. Some may not even know of its existence within them. Some modern philosophers of the past 100 years or so have even denied its existence. You can deny it, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. You just haven’t faced it, yet.

One peaceful state comes when we put on humility, not thinking of ourselves as the greatest, and realize our guilt.

Another when we put aside pride recognizing the drives and passions that control us–the ancients called these demons, but we moderns have tried to sanitize and even glorify them. Whatever we might call them, they exist. And they drive us as restless and unhappy beings seeking pleasure and relief in all the wrong places. At least until we lose the pride and drive the passions and desires out.

The Hebrew Bible and the Christian Bible and the religious writing of many cultures agree on this most basic yearning of humans–to find that state of peace in the soul from whence we can truly begin to live.

Anger Is A Hot Coal

August 13, 2021

Anger is like a hot coal you are holding in your hand waiting to throw at someone.

It ruins your day. You are burned. Your personality eventually corrupts into mean, vengeful, unwelcoming.

It feeds chemicals throughout your body that destroys sensitive organs.

There exists a righteous anger that motivates action to oppose oppression. But that must be channeled or it will also burn you more than the opponent.

Anger pervades much of our world today. Let us avoid picking up that coal.