Reputation or Work

December 18, 2020

Have you ever met someone who has a reputation for great work only to come away disillusioned? When you can actually get a sense of the person in the flesh, they come across as full of themselves?

Abba Silvanus, a 4th Century Desert Father, said, “Unhappy is the man who’s reputation is greater than his work.”

Isn’t it refreshing to meet someone whose work you have seen whose humility is such that you walk away thinking you yourself are the valued person?

The Tao teh Ching (number two) says:

When his task is accomplished,

he lets go of it and seeks no reward or recognition.

Because he does not claim credit for himself,

his virtuous influence endures.

Do the work. Therein lies the reward.

Jesus, So What?

December 17, 2020

I devoted some hours yesterday to thinking about market disruption in the industrial automation and control market. Is there a new technology that will upend the incumbent market leaders much like digital photography (incidentally, invented by Kodak) rendered Kodak almost instantly obsolete?

And I thought, it was really all about what serves the customer and solves its problems.

I intended to write something from the Desert Fathers this morning when my mediation took this idea of serving the customer into the realm of churches, and eventually Jesus himself.

Christians are in the season of Advent, the time of preparing to celebrate Jesus’s birth as a human being. Some people focus on the celebration. In parallel, there is a secular side of Christmas–family dinners (not this year), getting (and maybe giving) presents, wishing people peace and joy, and wishing for snow (depending upon where you live).

I’ve observed churches for almost my entire life. Most of them say they want to attract new people “to Jesus”. And I’ve sat back and watched and asked, “So what?” Why? What happens afterward?

Andy Stanley, founding pastor of Northpoint Ministries in the Atlanta area, invites people to “make better decisions and live a better life”. I like that mission. It sounds much like Jesus who also invited people to make better decisions and live a better life. That is the “so what” that people ask when they commit to joining an organization (or buying automation and control equipment).

I’ve seen too many people say that they’ve “accepted Jesus into my heart” and then noticed that nothing changes about their lives.

If we have not made the changes that comes from really living in the kingdom of God, then we have missed the message. It is not so much what we say about Jesus; it is very much about how we live our new life. That is the “so what” that is too often missed. Maybe our reading for this celebration of Jesus’s coming, we shouldn’t just read the “Christmas story”, but maybe we should go to Matthew 5-7 and read Jesus’s words to us.

Make better decisions; live a better life. Beginning now.

Between Prejudice and Passion

December 16, 2020

Why lies He in such mean estate,

Where ox and ass are feeding?

Good Christians, fear, for sinners here

The silent Word is pleading.

What Child is This

When we read things, our mind conjures images. Christians have settled upon a long tradition of the humble manger (“mean estate”) scene. When you visit Israel as a Christian tourist, guides will dutifully show you examples of first-century mangers (feeding troughs).

I imagine that we all ascribe personal meanings when we view the scene in our mind’s eye. Evelyn Underhill saw this:

Human nature is like a stable inhabited by the ox of passion and the ass of prejudice; animals which take up a lot of room and which I suppose most of us are feeding on the quiet. And it is there between them, pushing them out, that Christ must be born and in their very manger he must be laid – and they will be the first to fall on their knees before him. Sometimes Christians seem far nearer to those animals than to Christ in his simple poverty, self-abandoned to God.

Evelyn Underhill

This image both appeals to me and repulses me. We are, each one of us, inhabited by the ox of passion and the ass of prejudice. They do take up a lot of room in our consciousness and our unconsciousness. Unrecognized, they turn us into rigid, nasty, temperamental people.

But Jesus said that we don’t have to be that way. If we have the discipline to truly follow him, we can harness passion to the benefit of humanity like an ox harnessed to a plow helps provide food for many. We can likewise train the ass–recognizing our prejudices and dealing with them–such that we begin to see others as God sees them, as his children.

Underhill correctly observes that sometimes Christians seem to be more like those animals than like the person they are supposed to be following. But we have a choice. We can choose to truly follow Jesus living in God’s kingdom by harnessing the ox of passion and training the ass to recognize and overcome our prejudices.

Somedays I think this is a never-ending journey. This trip requires discipline.

Good News of God’s Story

December 15, 2020

Gospel.

From the Anglo-Saxon meaning “God’s Story.” A translation before that from the Greek meaning “Good News.”

The first generation of Jesus-followers, eventually called Christian by others, spread the Good News

  • By the way they lived–individually and in community
  • Through their teaching, usually after attracting people
  • Through showing love to others–even those who were not part of their community

The stories handed down were about people who exhibited deep peace, joy, and love despite at times being treated harshly by the governments and others.

A question I hear often in various guises is, “If Christians have a message of Good News, why do they not show it?”

Even one Christian community to another Christian community. Especially to those whose beliefs differ, even if only a slight amount.

Except during December leading up to Christmas celebrations. There may be talk of peace, joy, good news, love.

But…psychologists who study things such as this talk about the stresses and family squabbles and depressions (sometimes even clinical).

It’s tough this year for everyone in the world. I hear stories daily of people I know struggling with Covid on the one hand and acting as if it doesn’t exist on the other (until they, too, get it).

We need a personal visit from the angels who told the shepherds as reported by Luke, “We bring you good news of great joy.” May we be listening when the message comes. And then maybe show it.

All Things Come and Go

December 14, 2020

Seven Things Mindful People Do:

  1. Practice being curious
  2. Forgive themselves
  3. Hold their emotions lightly
  4. Practice compassion
  5. Make peace with imperfection
  6. Embrace vulnerability
  7. Understand all things come and go

Abraham Lincoln, in a speech before he was elected president, said, “It is said an Eastern monarch once charged his wise men to invent him a sentence, to be ever in view, and which should be true and appropriate in all times and situations. They presented him the words: “And this, too, shall pass away.” How much it expresses! How chastening in the hour of pride! How consoling in the depths of affliction!”

Perhaps we should meditate on two phrases–“chastening in the hour of pride” and “consoling in the depths of affliction”.

I have not written much about the pandemic, mostly because, what can I say that isn’t already said? Except that most things I read fall into one of two camps–scare us about how many deaths, or ignore it and it will go away.

This is not the first pandemic humans have weathered. It will not be the last. Nor is it the deadliest. But it is real. Some people withdraw as much as possible to avoid contracting the virus; some people act as if it’s nothing to worry about. I used to think those attitudes fell along political lines. But it is more personal than that.

I read about a General who was a prisoner of war during the VietNam war for many years. He said that those who made it through were optimistic in the long term. Those who didn’t were the ones who set a date–we’ll be home for Christmas, oops, we’ll be home for Easter, oops, we’ll be home for 4th of July, and so forth.

This pandemic will pass. One way or another. I am optimistic–for the long term. And we’ll forget about it–mostly. Then someday another will spread. Humans will still populate the planet.

And God, the creative source of life, will remain the point of stability in a changing world.

TS Eliot described that in his poem Burnt Norton from the Four Quartets:

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;

Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is, 

But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,

Where the past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,

Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,

TS Eliot, Burnt Norton

Embrace Vulnerability

December 11, 2020

Seven Things Mindful People Do:

  1. Practice being curious
  2. Forgive themselves
  3. Hold their emotions lightly
  4. Practice compassion
  5. Make peace with imperfection
  6. Embrace vulnerability
  7. Understand all things come and go

About 2,000 years ago, a man walked on a hot, dusty Middle Eastern road. He had a destination, a goal, and a mission. He was serious, and, he thought, powerful.

He saw an extremely bright light, heard voices, followed by the realization that he could not see.

He was now totally vulnerable. Without his friends to guide him to the destination city, he could have died on the road. In the city, people came to him to help him. People he did not know. They could have killed him. He was still vulnerable.

The man we know as the Apostle Paul embraced that vulnerability until the end of his life. Yet, he became one of the major influencers of Western culture until this day.

I guess vulnerability is when we don’t have all the power to determine our destiny even for the rest of the day. It’s when we don’t know everything.

We can live in a world of delusion. We can live in a world of paranoia. We’ve all met citizens of those realms. Perhaps we’ve been there.

Or, like Paul, we could embrace our vulnerability. Learn to live with it. And practice disciplines that guide us through it.

Victor Frankl discovered in the camps a way to maintain a core of strength even while being almost entirely vulnerable.

I’m not sure that we can grow mentally and spiritually by ignoring our vulnerability. We have a choice. We can embrace our vulnerability and then chose to use it to learn humility throwing off pride and walk with God in the direction he guides.

Sorry, We’re Not Perfect

December 10, 2020

Seven Things Mindful People Do

  1. Practice being curious
  2. Forgive themselves
  3. Hold their emotions lightly
  4. Practice compassion
  5. Make peace with imperfection
  6. Embrace vulnerability
  7. Understand all things come and go

A man (not me) describing his wife as a “perfectionist” quipped, “Her love language is criticism.”

There exists a personality type that feels deeply that things should be perfect. This personality type loves lists of rules. Not content with merely striving for perfection, these people need rules so that they know how they stand at all times.

Held within limits, that’s just the way they are. When it gets out of balance, these lists of rules become scorecards to compare themselves to see who’s winning. They become rigid and not particularly likable. Taken further along the spectrum, this rigidity leads to mental and physical health problems.

Many people I know say, “There is a name for those people–Christians.”

For example, a pastor I had told me that he was on a team where they all took the Myers Briggs Types Indicator with the idea of knowing personality types would help them work together. He said that the entire team, every one, had a “J” at the end of their type. The description of a “J” is one of these rule followers–although the Myers Briggs falls short on having a continuum of healthy to unhealthy types.

But when I told him I was a “P”, he blurted out being astonished, “How can you call yourself a Christian?”

Well, sorry, but I made peace with not being perfect a long time ago.

The Christian Bible has a word for people of this type–Pharisee. And the Pharisees of Jesus’ time were almost all (as reported by John anyway) the unhealthy type. And Jesus was always poking at their belief.

Referring to body and soul, “You are like a cup that is washed on the outside, but inside you are dirty.”

All of us who harbor these perfectionist qualities can stay on the healthy side by recognizing it and then releasing it. Perhaps with a deep breath.

Paul, the guy who famously converted from Pharisee to Jesus-follower, wrote eloquently in both his letter to the Galatians and the letter to the Christians in Rome about growing out of that life bound up by rules and living free in the spirit.

Recognize God’s grace that leads us to stop the treadmill of trying to be perfect and judging others about their perfection, and just live in the spirit. If you are a “J”, learn to be healthy by releasing the drive to perfection.

Practice Compassion

December 9, 2020

Seven Things Mindful People Do

  1. Practice being curious
  2. Forgive themselves
  3. Hold their emotions lightly
  4. Practice compassion
  5. Make peace with imperfection
  6. Embrace vulnerability
  7. Understand all things come and go

Practice?

That implies that I might not get it right the first time. Which means there will be subsequent times. Which means that I show compassion towards someone in this hour, maybe there is someone the next hour to whom I should show compassion. And perhaps I’ll do it better the next time. Practice means doing it over and over until it’s part of our being. And even then, continuing to practice.

But as I heard from a retired Naval pilot discussing his training, “It’s not ‘practice makes perfect’, it’s ‘perfect practice makes perfect.’ “

A famous concert pianist was heard sitting at the piano and running through scales. What I should be doing with my guitar daily. What I should be doing with compassion always.

We cannot just practice mindlessly. Just a quick “I’m sorry” and move on. There must be a mindful quality to the practice, an intentional calling upon compassion.

Quick, what’s the shortest verse in the Christian Bible? “Jesus wept.”

Jesus mourned with the mourners.

Can we do less?

I was sitting in meditation and the thought visited me–what if, what if we all practiced compassion. What a different world it would be.

Don’t Be A Slave To Emotions

December 8, 2020

Seven Things Mindful People Do:

  1. Practicebeingcurious
  2. Forgive themselves
  3. Hold their emotions lightly
  4. Practice compassion
  5. Make peace with imperfection
  6. Embrace vulnerability
  7. Understand all things come and go

That moment is seared in my memory. That last time I succumbed entirely to an emotion that I allowed to completely rule over me. No amount of analysis assuages the memory of the anger and words that just came out without thought or consideration. I was instantly humiliated by the action.

Developmental psychologists have long been able to trace how we humans can progress to completely inside ourselves to the level of maturity of considering ourselves and others together. However, our news sources would dry up to a trickle of good news without the number of people acting out emotions on public stages.

As a Jesus-follower, I constantly learn how he modeled handling emotions, yet honoring them. He knew sorrow and anger, and yet channeled them in a beneficial way.

Twice yesterday I was presented with a method for mindfully handling strong emotions that could have the power (if I let them) to take over lives with sometimes devastating results. It’s called RAIN.

R=recognize (the first step of every growth pattern is awareness)

A=allow (don’t try to bury it, let it sit, recognized, realize it is a part of me)

I=investigate (what triggered it, why am I reacting)

N=non-identification (“I have this emotion, but I am not this emotion”)

[I should have mentioned yesterday, as well, that sometimes we can’t handle these things ourselves. When that happens, we need to recognize the situation and seek help from a professional.]

Forgive Yourself

December 7, 2020

Seven Things Mindful People Do

  1. Practice being curious
  2. Forgive themselves
  3. Hold their emotions lightly
  4. Practice compassion
  5. Make peace with imperfection
  6. Embrace vulnerability
  7. Understand all things come and go

My mom gave me only glimpses of her life as a child. Fifth of six children, her two older brothers and two older sisters were all confident, strong, outgoing, intelligent people. Mom was talented and intelligent, but she had no confidence. She blamed herself for everything.

Just from observation, I believe that of myself and my three brothers, two of us overcame that upbringing and two didn’t. I know that it took me years.

Failure to forgive yourself, especially for imagined wrongs and shortcomings, but also for sins of omission and commission, can easily destroy a life. And the lives of those around you.

As we sit in meditation and prayer daily, we learn to look at ourselves from a different perspective. We can see those things for which we need to make amends–call that person we injured or pay back that debt; we can also see those things for which we need to just let go. Let go of the attachment to the guilt and set ourselves free. We recognize it and then realize that it is all past and all we can to is release and come back to live in just the present.