Practicing Gratidude

February 28, 2020

“Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.” A.A. Milne

Gratitude is far beyond saying “Thank You” to someone.

It’s actually a spiritual discipline. A practice that leads to attitude change that leads to a way of life.

Perhaps you adopt a way of living honoring those who have helped you along the way.

I could spend time sitting in morning contemplation and run the list of those who have cheated me and wronged me on a continuous loop through my mind.

Better is that I recognize those who have given me opportunity and encouragement and choose each day to live up to their expectations.

What begins with a simple Thank You can become a fulfilled life as we live out the practice of gratitude. Perhaps our “Very Small Hearts” can fill with gratitude with practice.

Blocking The Flow of Energy from God

February 27, 2020

Father Richard Rohr writes, “Sins are fixations that prevent the energy of life, God’s love, from flowing freely.”

Ever since I was young and exploring science I gravitated toward physics rather than biology. From an early age I learned about energy as a building block of the universe and of life.

When I teach young people to become soccer referees, I like to teach energy. As in, show energy, expend energy, appear energetic. I do not like to see sports officials appear lethargic and disinterested.

When we look at our lives, we need to develop habits that increase our energy. We need to eat the right foods (good proportion of healthy fats, carbohydrates, and protein), train our physical bodies, get good sleep.

Then there is the spiritual source of energy. We can train the physical self, but there is another source of psychic energy that flows from God that helps us wake up and be alive to the day’s experiences.

We cultivate that through daily morning meditation, contemplation, and prayers. Getting in touch with the Creator of us all. Letting the energy of the Holy Spirit flow into and through us—just like Jesus’ example of being the grape vine and we the branches allowing the life force to flow through us into the fruit we bear.

Ian Morgan Cron writes in The Road Back to You about getting out of our own way. We can let worries, emotions, negative people, bad habits all block that flow of energy. With some self-awareness, we can get out of our own way and stop blocking God’s energy from flowing.

For the Bible Tells Me So—Whatever I Want To Believe

February 26, 2020

The famous Swiss theologian Karl Barth was asked toward the end of his life if he could sum up his thinking. He quoted from the little song, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”

What I’ve learned from 50 years of study is that we who are students need to be careful about discussions of “the Bible tells me so.”

Reading 18th and 19th century American southern preachers, I discovered that the Bible tells us that people from Africa are not really human fully. Therefore, there is no moral wrong about slavery.

A little later, I read where the Bible tells us that women are not equal to men, and therefore, they should not be accepted into leadership, ordination, preaching, and so forth.

Later still, I read the preachers who taught that if someone divorces (not through abuse—another subject) simply to marry someone more “acceptable”, then they are unacceptable sinners and not worthy for any type of church leadership.

Most Christians have moved past all of these myths, as well they should have.

Today the Bible tells us that people who are homosexual are unacceptable sinners and not worthy for any type of church leadership.

I’m betting that in fewer than 20 years a generation will die and a new generation of Bible readers will consign this idea to that same dustbin of failed ideas as ideas about black people, women, divorced people (well, prejudice remains, but it’s no longer mainstream).

The arguments in every case were the same. But I think that we will eventually come around to the teaching of Augustine of Hippo (St. Augustine)—the New Testament must be interpreted in light of Jesus’ two commands, that we love God and that we love our neighbor.

Jesus after all brought the Kingdom of God—an entirely new realm among us where love rules over power and legalism. The resurrection proved it. And that is what we anticipate as we refocus during Lent.

Fat Tuesday

February 25, 2020

Lent always sneaks up on me. It’s not like Christmas that comes blasting into consciousness with it’s carols, “spirit”, gifts, trees.

No, Lent lurks beneath the surface until suddenly—Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras in French, Carnival in others. The final celebration before 40 days of fasting and denying oneself pleasure.

Neither my wife or I grew up practicing Lent. We Methodists made fun of the things the Lutherans gave up to sacrifice for Lent. Like watermelon. It was a sacrifice to go without watermelon. But you were not going to find it in any store even if you had a craving.

I presumed for my wife it was because she was a Baptist, although I know of Lent observing Baptists. Sort of like the time I discovered Baptists who drank alcohol, smoked, and swore.

Unlike January 1, maybe Lent is a better time to focus mindfully on a new habit. A new or different meditation. A new or better way to treat other humans I meet during the day. Maybe think more deeply—especially before speaking.

The problem with not being a Lent-observing sort of person is that I never celebrated Mardi Gras either—except for the year I was in Louisiana. But it’s not to late in life to raise a glass and celebrate the beginning of Lent and the road to Easter.

Remembering

February 24, 2020

I had a memory. Very vivid. My attic. It was completely cleaned out. (This is an American problem that may not be duplicated among my global readers…but it’ll relate.)

I had not been up there for several years. But there was that vivid memory. I even told the house inspector it was clear.

We are moving to a smaller house, so it was time to clean out, throw out, move out. I got the ladder out and climbed up. The plywood “door” would barely slide back. I had no room to get off the ladder onto the attic floor. I spent five hours carrying and pitching stuff down to the garage. Our children are in their 40s. These toys were from when they were around 10. And other stuff.

I guess when I cleaned stuff out and the kids moved away my wife thought it would be a good idea to pack stuff up there in case they wanted it when they had their own houses.

They are smarter. They don’t have storage!

There are lessons:

Sometimes our memories skip generations. Sometimes our memories are not good at all. Police and trial attorneys all know that that the least reliable testimonies are eyewitness ones. We don’t remember.

Sometimes we remember reading something. But maybe the source was different from our memory. Sometimes we leave out important words.

Take notes. Better is to write things. Then refer to the writing from time to time to refresh our poor memory. The palest ink is better than the best memory.

Your Body—The Temple of God

February 21, 2020

Teaching from Mark recently, we came to the part where Jesus “cleansed” the Temple greatly upset with what Temple worship had become by his day. Upon leaving, some of his followers remarked about how big and sturdy and solid the buildings looked.

The Temple of pretty much every religion at the time was the place to go where God met the people. God was supposed to dwell in the building. But many Jews in Jesus’ day did not believe that the Temple they had was the real Temple—that of Solomon—where God did actually dwell. The light was on, but nobody was home.

Jesus told them that soon all those buildings would be completely destroyed and that pagan rites would be held on the site of the Holy of Holies.

And 40 years later, it came to pass just as he said. Jews fled for their lives before the onslaught of Roman armies as leaders grew impatient with the continual restlessness and rebellion of the Jews. And the Temple was completely destroyed and Romans worshipped their Gods on the site.

But Jesus had already moved the Temple out of the building. Much of what he did, for example forgiving sins, was supposed to be accomplished by Temple rites. But he did it in the open in Galilee.

Later, Paul told his people “don’t you know that your body is the Temple of God. Take care of it. Don’t pollute it.”

Therefore, Paul hated sexual passion. One passage fundamentalists like to drag out to justify prejudice against homosexuals actually refers to passion. Paul didn’t like heterosexual or homosexual passion. He only grudgingly personally permitted people to marry if they couldn’t contain their passions. Even there I suspect that he trusted the wives to control the passion of the men.

But your body…that is where heaven and earth meet. Take care of it. And slow down, sit or lie quietly, and meet God. Let the Spirit infuse you.

We Are All God’s Children

February 20, 2020

It must be a lesson God wants to infuse into my deepest places.

Once again lying in contemplation on God I was presented with the diversity of humans. Yet along with observing the distinct individuality of each, there was the overwhelming feeling of how we are all brothers and sisters—in the family with God the Father.

Yet we persist in divisiveness. Others are sinners; we are not. Some have sin worse than ours, so that we may justify ourselves in our own eyes.

But what about God’s eyes? From a different perspective one sees easily that all are at the same time people who miss the mark (sinners) and people who are loved by God.

Can you live within the paradox that at the very same time you are both someone falling short of God yet someone God loves? And the same with every neighbor?

Do Your Own Thinking

February 19, 2020

There was a popular writer on Biblical topics in the early 70s. I read his brief polemic on the future. While there were parts that didn’t ring true, especially his predictions of future political events given my background studying international politics, he wove a great story.

So I picked up a more serious study of a New Testament letter. Now the alarm bells in my mind rang more loudly. I pulled out a New Testament and read along with him. It seems that he made his own translation from the Greek in order to fit his theology. I thought for a while pondering where he was going. Then I sat the book aside and never read another thing by him…or his friends.

On the Internet, it began with passing email “chain letters” around. This habit quickly morphed onto Facebook, Twitter, and other social media. People would see a headline that “jerked their chains” and in a state of heightened emotion for the moment, they would pass it along.

People wishing to manipulate others, quickly found fertile soil—the type of soil Jesus talked about where seeds grow and multiply. Except it was not Jesus’ message propagating. Instead messages of fear, anxiety, yes, even hate, spread quickly among those open to manipulation.

Don’t be one of those. I’m sure we all get caught sometimes. Pausing to think through things for ourselves can save much grief—preventing family arguments, saving our own mental health, instead promoting peace, justice, forgiveness.

Don’t be that guy. Do your own thinking.

Prejudice Seeps Into Your Being

February 18, 2020

My wife and I just finished watching the entire series run of Agatha Christie’s Poirot stories. I’m not a Christie scholar, but I’ve found how she handles many sensitive topics fascinating.

For example, The Murder on the Orient Express explores the conflict of Poirot’s deep Catholic sense of morality versus the broader sense of justice.

More interesting is how she so naturally weaves English national prejudices against “foreigners” (Poirot is Belgian) and people of other races. I don’t know if she is reflecting English prejudice or if given which characters say what that she is subtly poking at those prejudices.

But I see how subtly and pervasive attitudes toward others different from oneself creep into language.

My gut tightens whenever I hear an adjective used as a noun. I hear “the blacks” or “the gays” or “the Jews” or “the Muslims” or “the Christians” and on and on.

These are actually people—a thought perhaps surprising to some. Black or gay or Jew or whatever may be one adjective describing someone. However, there are many more words that could also describe that individual person—nice, angry, deceitful, honest, peaceful, fearful…

The spiritual discipline I work on constantly is to filter my thoughts and words such that I talk of people, not attributes. This learned behavior that seeps deep into the being can be countered—but we must be honest with ourselves. There is that self-awareness discipline appearing yet once again.

A quick glance through social media shows me that there are many others who also have work to do in this area.

Silence Breeds Action

February 17, 2020

Christian Wiman—Silence is the language of faith. Action – be it church or charity, politics or poetry – is the translation.

This thought well expresses the iterative nature of the New Testament and what it means to follow Jesus.

Faith, as the Apostle James advises, without doing something with it, is dead.

Actions without the grounding of silence often go awry.

Imagine, if you will, a spiral reaching toward God. Within the spiral is the iterative dance of grounding in silence and acting from faith.

That reminds me of a thought from TS Eliot, maybe not exactly what he meant, but “Except for the point, the still point, there would be no dance, and there is only the dance.”

Or the tune from the Shakers, “Dance, then, wherever you may be; I am the Lord of the dance, said he. And I’ll lead you all, wherever you may be, I’ll lead you all in the dance said he.”