Listening

August 28, 2020

To listen is to continually give up all expectation and to give our attention, completely and freshly, to what is before us, not really knowing what we will hear or what that will mean. In the practice of our days, to listen is to lean in, softly, with a willingness to be changed by what we hear. Mark Nepo (quoted by Toru Sato in Two, One, None: Conversations on Meditations)

It could be said that failure to listen is the sign of our times. But it could be said of the 50s and 60s–1850s and 1860s in America, that is. And also the 1840s when there was a considerable anti-immigration movement in America–against the Irish.

And again, I have searched the most ancient of human writing and find that the failure to listen is a human trait.

I don’t think that Richard J. Foster and Dallas Willard ever talked of listening as a spiritual discipline. At least not a core one.

I argue that listening is indeed the precursor to spiritual disciplines. It must come before study, meditation, prayer, fasting, for that is what we are doing in those disciplines. And also in worship and service. How can one spiritually serve others and not listen as Nepo describes?

Want to begin to heal the divisions found today in many, many countries around the globe?

Try listening to others. Softly. Freshly. With a willingness to be changed by what we hear. Not necessarily to change our politics. Definitely to change our hearts.

It’s A Connected World

August 27, 2020

I missed a post yesterday. There was an event for media and analyst people, and they included me. Normally we’d be in a hotel conference or meeting room. Breakfast would be served from a buffet table in the hallway outside the doors. Coffee is sometimes plentiful. Breakfast was at 7 EDT, which meant 6 am for me.

I made my own breakfast of oatmeal with blueberries and a slice of toast with direct trade coffee. Sat on my patio. And tuned in via the Internet on the newly popular Zoom.

The speakers were speaking from their living rooms or home offices from England, California, Boston, and several other geographically dispersed locations. Questions during the Q&A session were from Wisconsin, India, and other places.

With nationalism rampant in politics these days in many places (UK, US, Turkey, China, and more) business and technology continue to cross borders just like we read about in the Hebrew Bible in stories dating back 4,000 years.

Christians get caught up in the same fever of nationalism. Jesus died only for us in the [United States or fill in your own blank].

Remember that Paul said in Jesus there is no Jew or Greek. We are all the same. Men and women are all people. Americans and Chinese and Iranians and Nigerians (also fill in the blank) are all people, created by God, loved by God, and invited to live in God’s Kingdom.

I write this blog and a business/technology blog. After the US in terms of readership, the next largest group of readers on both blogs hail from Germany and China.

There’s politics, and then there’s Jesus. It’s OK to look out for the common good of your nation or city or tribe. But, we need to maintain our real focus on the greater kingdom–God’s.

When You Proclaim A Virtue While Hiding A Vice

August 25, 2020

I have been thinking about the early Christians. The ones from the time of the Pentecost at around 30 AD (or CE depending upon your tradition). As I read from the writings of the early apostles (Peter, Paul, James, John and so forth) and the writings that were used for teaching but not included in the “Bible”, I marvel at the searching for how to organize their lives in this new reality of the Kingdom of God.

For 300 years or so they struggled with spirituality and daily living and how to be true to this new faith.

There was the time I was shown how I am capable of all of the vices. It was a scary vision. But truthful. It’s enough not to put myself forward as the leader of some “moral crusade”.

Immediately afterward, I was shown the grace of God toward all people–every race, gender, skin color, age. That was the solution to realizing I was a sinner, but that grace is there for the asking.

We have in America another example of a fall. It should be a lesson to us of the sin of pride. And also to take care when we offer ourselves as an example of moral rectitude. When we think we are that good, we should ask what we are hiding.

I observe that it is difficult for a prideful person to ask for forgiveness, and doubly so for a prideful well known person to admit wrongdoing publicly and seek forgiveness from those who put faith in their leadership. How many examples will it take before we realize this?

10 Things You Can Do Now

August 24, 2020

Here are 10 things you can do now that require zero talent.

  1. Being on time
  2. Work ethic
  3. Effort
  4. Energy
  5. Body language
  6. Passion
  7. Doing extra
  8. Being prepared
  9. Being coachable
  10. Attitude

Go out and change your world today. You can do it.

Deep Work

August 21, 2020

Cal Newport wrote in Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, “The ability to perform deep work is becoming increasingly rare at exactly the same time it is becoming increasingly valuable in our economy. As a consequence, the few who cultivate this skill, and then make it core to their working life, will thrive.”

Life has a rhythm. Each day is a rhythm of sleep, rising, eating, working, relaxing, sleep. Each week is a rhythm. Even the months and the years.

There are times for focus and concentration during the day. There are times to relax. Even we should allow ourselves time to be bored. Great ideas spring from times of boredom.

I think of the time Jesus told Martha, “You are distracted by many things.” I’m not going to try to explain the entire story. Just focus on the word distraction.

Say you are serving some people. Serve with focus on the task. Don’t become distracted about the little things—oh, my, the salt and pepper shakers don’t match, or such. The focus is on the guest and the service.

Marketer and thinker Seth Godin talks of his friend the great science fiction writer Issac Asimov. “He just knew it was 6:30 and he needed to sit down and write.” He would sit and focus until the day’s work was done, then he could relax, eat, enjoy the time, and go on to the next task.

Just so, our spiritual practices. When it is time to meditate and pray, sit and meditate and pray. If you are worried about things to do today, pause, pull out your notebook and write them down. Now that they are safely out of mind, return to your focus. Don’t just sit and let you mind worry over things. Learn to focus and concentrate. The time will be up before you know it.

And with study. And with service. Ever notice when you’re serving someone and deeply, mindfully into the service, that the time just seems to fly by. The task is completed before you realize it’s time.

Today, not tomorrow, try practicing deep work. Put away distractions and focus on the task, no matter how mundane.

Preparation

August 20, 2020

The story goes that a young woman (novice) approached the teacher of the community (abbot) and stated that she wanted to experience God’s presence.

He gave her a set of spiritual practices. She followed them faithfully, studying, praying, meditating, fasting.

On another day sometime later she saw the teacher and said, “I have not yet experienced God, yet I have followed all the practices faithfully.”

“Does the sun rise every morning?” he asked. “What causes it to rise?”

“Nothing,” she said.

“It’s the same with the experience of God.”

So, why pursue the spiritual practices?

It is the preparation for the experience. To change metaphors, it is like preparing the soil and planting the seeds. Then one day the crop grows and yields fruit.

Lest We Think Too Highly of Ourselves

August 19, 2020

This thought even though 600 years old seem just right for our times.

Thomas à Kempis—But if Christ is amongst us, then it is necessary that we sometimes yield up our own opinion for the sake of peace. Who is so wise as to have perfect knowledge of all things? Therefore trust not too much to thine own opinion, but be ready also to hear the opinions of others. Though thine own opinion be good, yet if for the love of God thou foregoest it, and followest that of another, thou shalt the more profit thereby.

We like to say, “I have a right to my opinion.” I say that we have the right to think. Not the right to shout my unfounded opinion louder than the next person.

Are we “so wise as to have perfect knowledge of all things”?

Perhaps listening to others with love is the perfect response.

Letting Go

August 18, 2020

I have thoughts, but I am not my thoughts.

Anger visits me, but I am not my anger.

I heard a story once about an elderly woman who was found by neighbors lying on her floor non responsive. They called the rescue squad to help her. As they loaded her into the ambulance, they noticed she was clutching tightly to something. Eventually they were able to pry open her hand and found a small coin. It was as if she needed something to cling to and could not let go.

We are that way. A thought, an emotion enter us. We cling to it. It is so easy to identify with our anger, fear, insecurity, hate, tension. Sometimes they are much like toxic friends that we feel we just can’t live without.

But that is what prayer and meditation are for. They are tools developed over thousands of years that help bring us back to ourselves. To the realization we are not our thoughts. We are not our emotions. We have them. They come and they can go.

If they don’t go, then they have us in prison. We may think we are free, but we are not. But we ourselves are the jail master. And we can decide to let go. When we let go, then we are free.

Relax

August 17, 2020

Do you find yourself venting some emotion such as anger, hate, fear by reposting something you’ve seen on social media?

Do you have a nagging tightness in the gut, especially thinking of the way some group or other acts?

Do you snap back at people who disagree with you?

Do you load yourself with work?

Do you rush to meet deadlines?

Are you late for every appointment?

I have a word for you. A Monday morning gift.

Relax.

A slow, deep inhale. Pause. A slow, complete exhale.

Repeat 3-4 times.

Feel the relaxation.

Now, see with perspective. Slow your movements a little. Let those stupid posts on social media just slide on through while you look for updates from friends and family about what the kids are up to, or their latest trip, or their new car, or who is sick and needs prayer.

Then go on to the next task. No rush. Just relaxed.

What better way to start a day or a week?

Do We Merely Copy From Someone Else

August 14, 2020

We may use the terms “mimic” or “ape” or even merely “copy” to describe why and how we do something.

I watch my grandson’s 13-year-old baseball team. It’s cute in a way to see how some of the kids have watched a few major league games and copy this or that mannerism. If only they would copy catching the ball or being in the right place during a play!

Those of us who are self aware may ask why we do things or believe things.

The writer of The Cloud of Unknowing in his other writings collected as The Pursuit of Wisdom warns against aping another.

As good spiritual directors will, he probes our motivations.

Are we merely copying someone’s spiritual practices? Or, are our souls stirred by the spirit to pursue study or meditation or small group in order to go deeper into the spirit?

What about our religious or political or even business beliefs? Are we letting others put words in our mouths? Or, have we thought through the foundations and ramifications of those beliefs?

Maybe something sounded cute on social media, but upon reflection we discover that Jesus would have never condoned that thinking.

Maybe we should periodically meet with ourselves or our spiritual director and rethink our motivations and make course corrections as necessary.