Thursday, November 06, 2008

Religious Ubiquity

A few evenings back someone asked me about my feelings towards religion. Being very well-studied on the religions of the world, and a spiritual person to boot, I naturally have some opinions. I took the opportunity then to organize my thoughts and wrote down some notes on the subject.

Religions generally follow the same structure. My belief is that these commonalities exist because religion serves a common need within the human psyche and our minds have only limited ability to put context around certain concepts. These are sweeping generalizations that will be offensive to many because of their distillatory effect. If you care to continue, an open mind is best. I am in no way meaning to disparage or be offensive in any of the examples I will use. I merely picked religions that emphasized the specific points I wished to make. Quite frankly, I think all the religions have something to offer and strive not to be judgmental but rather analytical. Comments are of course, always welcome.

The core of any religion is the External Reality. This can be an entity or a force, it can be classified as spiritual, or physical, or natural, or combinatory. The only consistency is that it encompasses all of that which we perceive as outside our personal reality. It is something bigger than ourselves, and may include ourselves. It may be passive, or active, anthropomorphic or completely unknowable. In every case, the central element is that reality which is external to us as individuals.

There must then be a Personal Context relative to that External Reality. This again might be an orientation (I'm part of the universe!) or a positional (I serve my God!) or simply subjective (You are all living in my dream!). Explain it anyway you like, each religion has a way of making sense of the difference between you and me and other. The simplest might be that we're all the same, it is only time that allows our matter or energy to be different. More complicated might be that we are ants under the foot of cosmic deity. You get the idea.

When you know the players, then you need the Relationship. These are the rules or guidelines for how the players are connected or interact. Some structures are highly organized with commandments, edicts, punishments, etc. (Perform these rituals! Follow these commandments!) Others are simple and focus on personal attainment or just the essence of being (You need to be open to the universe!). This is usually what most people think about as the difference between religion and spirituality.

When we examine where your world-view becomes your religion, we start with the Responsibility to Share. The simplest of these are just a desire to educate those around us with the amazing enlightenment that we've achieved through blah, blah. The more complicated are the crusaders with mandates to convert the masses. When you stop constraining your beliefs to your own behaviors or morality it ceases to be a world-view and becomes religion. Again, this is my over-simplification and probably misappropriation of labels for the purposes of this discussion.

Lastly, a religious structure always has some form of Exclusivity. Obviously, if it were just a world view we wouldn't need to share it with others, it would just be the principles of how we exist in the world. When it becomes something we believe should influence others, it becomes a religion. This brings with it the notion that it isn't for everybody, or that somehow an adherence to the Relationship is a prerequisite to alignment within the structure. There are simple forms of this (You just aren't enlightened!) and complicated forms of this (Don't eat with the infidels! Unbelievers go to hell!).

When you distill the concepts of the world religions down to these subject areas, it becomes easy to view the overlaps and commonalities. Once you have a dictionary (or lexicon for the technically minded) we have a means to compare and contrast. More importantly we can make the case that the specifics of the religion become irrelevant for the formation and appreciation of spirituality. Much like cultures that share common roots but hold to their vehement differences we can say the same thing using different words and argue ad nauseum about why we disagree.

When it comes to education, these commonalities work to our advantage. Essentially, an immature mind while unable to appreciate many of the nuances that the observant use to separate religions can certain grasp the basics of almost any religion. As they develop within a particular religion they are learning the nature of spirituality, and how to identify and exercise their faith and morality. As they mature, they can hopefully learn to minimize the exclusionist principles of their specific religion and embrace a more universal aspect of their own spirituality and moral context. Naturally, the more exclusionist the religion, the harder this is for the individual. For example, look how hard it can be to leave a cult, or the penalties for ceasing to be Muslim.

The limiting factors for personal spiritual development are typically the strength of their own sense of self and the extent their self-image is supported by the religion or exclusionist principles. Consider a woman raised in a traditionally male-centric religion such as Mormonism. It can be hard to establish their own spiritual identity in a more universal way because of the mindset in which their self-image is more reliant on a male influence.

No discussion would be complete without addressing the concept of atheism. Essentially, this world-view is a lack of awareness or acceptance of the first principle (that being there exists a reality external to oneself). Intellectually this shows a fundamental immaturity in personal development and a basic self-centeredness that leads to unpredictable and therefore flawed reasoning. The ability to acknowledge a reality outside of oneself is foundational to any discussion of morality or relationships.

In the end, you wind up in a religion because of how you were raised, or what reinforces your personal world-view. Once you learn to embrace the commonalities with other religions it opens to the door to much better understanding of their world-views. Often this is the key to getting in touch with your own sense of self.

Good luck with that.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Life By The Book

The last few weeks have been a whirlwind of chaos and mayhem in my life. As it begins slowly to subside back into the dull roar that is my everyday existence I find myself called to remember my fundamentals.
Now you followed my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, perseverance, persecutions, and sufferings, such as happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium and at Lystra; what persecutions I endured, and out of them all the Lord rescued me! Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. But evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.
-- 2 Timothy 3:10-17
When it comes right down to it, being a good Servant requires daily exercise in the fundamentals, just like being a good athlete or stock broker. If you forget the fundamentals, if you don't master the fundamentals, if you don't exercise them consistently, you won't be able to perform when it matters. You'll fail under pressure, you'll choke when complexity increases.

The truth is aspiring to Servanthood is asking for persecution. Just like being the best on the basketball court means you have to expect the strongest defense and the most aggressive players to take you head on. When you are striving for excellence, always be prepared for the attack. It may be a subtle wedge in your life, or a full-on havoc-wreaking hailstorm but it will come. We aren't just promised it will happen, persecution is almost a mark of the true believer. Just like with the Great Temptation, if you want the hunger to stop, if you want freedom from the thirst, you only have to turn away.

A study of this passage in the original language brought about an interesting perspective for me. Paul tells Timothy to "continue in the things you have learned". Which in English would imply a movement or direction. To proceed in the direction you have started. But in reality it means to "stay", to "remain". This really spun my head because of how frequently we talk about the Walk. About how we are growing in Christ or living out our beliefs. But here we are called to "abide", to "rest", to simply "stay".

The world is revolving and in constant movement and change. Only in Him is there permanence, stability, an unchanging absolute. If you are clinging to the Rock, holding fast to the One immovable and everlasting, then you really will stay. Cling tight, and don't be moved. Once you have your grip, continue to hold on. This is very different from the world which always says go forward, keep moving, you need to advance.

How do we continue? What are we called to continue in? In the things we have learned. Our knowledge of Him, our faith. That which we have known from His Word. Which brings us once again, to living by the Word. To being steeped in it daily. To guiding our thoughts by it and leading our hearts from it. These are things that won't happen if it isn't in our minds. If we haven't made it a part of our day, embedded in our life.

Along with the promise of persecution, and the call to continue in what we have learned, is another promise. A realistic, and impactful promise. It is that knowledge of the Word will be profitable. That it will equip the man of God for every good work.

For me that is a promise most practical. If there is one thing I strive for it is to be equipped for doing the good works. I'm a servant; good works is what I do. If I'm going to be successful, I certainly need to keep myself ready and able. I need to ensure I have the resources (mental, emotional, intellectual and otherwise) to serve when the opportunity arises. Being saturated with His Word I am given a promise that I will be given what I need when I need it. And not just enough to meet the need, but to be profitable. To benefit and profit from its use.

Sure, it isn't always easy to find time for the deep dives in the Word that so refresh me, but the rewards are clearly outlined for when I do. And when I am continuing in Him and the storms pick up, it drives me ever closer in spite of my shortcomings.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Come On Up To The Rising

In the last couple weeks I've had a conversation keep coming up in different venues with different people. Based on it's frequency I felt I should perhaps write about it to get my thoughts put down.

One of the first such conversations happened in pub. Yes, it is an established designed exclusively for the consumption of alcohol and simple food. However the music is great and I enjoy chatting with my friends on Trivia night.

This particular trivia night (some weeks past) I had been chatting up a friend I've never spent any significant time with. Out of the blue, the conversation turned to the topic of religious preferences. So right off you know it was an innocuous affair because bringing up religion with someone you fancy would otherwise be just foolish. Indeed we plunged headlong into church attendance (or lack thereof) and then to belief systems, and with no fanfare crashed headlong into. . . faith. Such a comfortably ambiguous place to be.
Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.
-- Hebrews 10:23,24

It seems that every time someone wants to avoid the questions of religious preferences, myself included, we hide behind this notion of being Faithful Not Religious. Has organized religion so let me down that it is now unacceptable to be associated with any particular variety? For myself, the answer is yes. Which will probably be a disappointment to many of you, and no surprise to others, but my writing demands unabashed honesty and full disclosure.

Days later, I was meeting with a friend with whom I routinely share accountability. As we discussed church attendance and I mumbled my way through excuses he simply asked what my father thought. Ouch. Bringing my dad into discussions about my religious discipline is like choosing the nuclear option. From him you can truly learn the meaning of commitment, devotion, apologetics, and servanthood. His questioning of my heart is always intense, direct, and non-judgmental while still leaving me exposed and transparently self-aware.

My friend easily let me off the hook, but for my own heart I couldn't stop thinking of how easily in more than one conversation I'd so neatly dispatched any question of my place in organized religion. Not only have a distanced myself from any formal commitments I've fabricated a ration and reason for the disconnect. In the span of weeks I'd polished my avoidance to where I could deliver my excuses without any remorse. Except I did have remorse. In my heart I knew what my excuses would sound like under the scrutiny of my father. And once I know that I'm deluding myself, I can't do it anymore. Just a curse of the search for transparency and self-awareness, I guess.
Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
-- Hebrews 10:25

So I know I need to reconcile with organized religion. I'm just not sure how. Maybe I've not felt all the pain completely yet. Maybe I've not embraced the forgiveness yet. Maybe I still have trust issues? Maybe. For sure.
If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.
-- Hebrews 10:26,27
Now having written all this I want to encourage those who think I don't attend church. I do. I visit several churches regularly. I just don't belong to any of them. I don't may commitments with any of them. In many ways I deliberately remain an outsider, a visitor, a guest. I need to worship, and covet the companionship of believers, but am still cautious. So don't get the wrong idea. Worship is important as well as being disciplined about your faith. For me, this is about reconciling with organized religions, denominations if you will.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Around and In Between

This was a hard post for me write. It will be a difficult post for many to read.

This past week I had the immense pleasure of heading with some friends on a vacation to Las Vegas for my birthday. It was, quite simply, one of the most fun times I've ever had in my life.

The coming home however, shredded my heart in a multitude of tiny lacerations. It was in the tone of voice and the raised eye-brows. It was even in the subtle teasing and prodding of my beloved father "They call it Sin City, do you know that?" The words he spoke in humor and jest, but unspoken chastisement was a familiar lash.
I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.
-- John 17:14-16
Don't misunderstand; I am of a singular mind and resolved in my convictions. The peace I found for my own walk is still blown about by the judgments of others. When presented with their own questioning, it makes me second-guess myself as well. As it should. It is not my wish to cause another to stumble. I want only to bring Him glory. As a lamb amongst the wolves, it requires constant vigilance and sacrifice.

I want to be in the world. It is where I live. Where those I would serve reside. How else to lead a rich, full life, amongst those I care about most deeply if not alongside them. If I'm not willing to walk their shoes and share their lives, what makes me qualified to serve?

It is in these amazing times of bonding and recreation that you see clearly what motivates and moves people. When faced with so many compromises, the knife-edged morality we wield stands out in sharp relief.

I am not so naïve as to think this isn't a slippery slope. The dangers of spending too much time amidst the temptations of the world are very real to me. The apostle was clear that we can rationalize almost any worldly behavior given sufficient motivation. Just because it's tempting, just because it's hard, doesn't mean we can just close ourselves off and reject relationships and lifestyles that we are not our own. Just spending a weekend of self-indulgent relaxation does not mean I'm going to end up with a needle in my arm or catch herpes. You can get rowdy and wild without losing your inner compass.
The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.
-- 1 John 2:17
So I partied in Vegas. But I still served my friends. My faith is intact and most of my dignity. I am surely in this world. It's my hope I stand apart from it.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

A Lesson in Dancing

Every now and then, we all get knocked back on our heels. It might be finally writing the 400th page of your new novel and realizing you aren't even close to being done. Or maybe you woke up and decided that after a decade slaving away you just don't like your job anymore. Maybe you got too much sun and now realize that warm toes beat cold weather every time. Regardless of why you are taking the hits, and we all take 'em, there are a couple of things we've all tried when hit with a wake-up call.

Deciding to start a new relationship and chain someone to the bow of your personal misery ship is one of the Very Bad Ideas.

Let's face it, drama is inevitable in each of our little worlds. As we stumble along our own roads we collect varying degrees of baggage at some points and discard it at others. When it comes to jumping headlong into a new relationship you probably want to make sure you can tread water by yourself a little first.

It isn't that you won't grow and change and evolve in a relationship. But a certain core of stability must be present so that you have something upon which to build. If you are both emotionally-stunted and only quasi-available, the best you can hope for is some severely dysfunctional chaos. Which might take the form of some really passionate interplay or some wildly distracting conversations. But ultimately, without a foundation, anything you build together will probably end in rubble with first few tremors.

Sadly, the best advice is the oldest advice. You'll know you are ready to be with someone else, when you are capable of being by yourself. Only you can really say when it's time to leap from the sidelines into the Great Dance. From time to time you might even end up on the floor because you let go of the rail a little too early. Those are the times we might need to lean on other partners and friends who help us limp back to the comfort of the couch with cuddling or some casual flings. If leaning on them in your crisis helps you cease being crippled, then lean heavy. But only for a season. If you want your limbs to limber and strong you must learn to lean on them alone.

Partners in the Great Dance are only evenly matched when they can both stand on their own, come together on their own terms, and bring their independent strengths and leverage. If you are properly equipped then by all means, hit the floor. If you aren't properly equipped you should definitely be prepared to hit the floor, but we prefer you don't drag us down with you.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Shema

It's no secret that I'm a creature of volatility who generally avoids habits. However there are certain habits to which I do steadfastly adhere and encourage others. The first is prayer. The second is reading. The third is (wait for it. . .) writing.
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.
-- Deuteronomy 6:4-5
It's fairly common find the habits of the daily devotional, which usually encompasses the reading and the prayer. For me that's not enough. We are called to "pray without ceasing" which to my mind is really about an attitude or mindset. Unfortunately, we are human and such a broadly ambiguous goal usually ends up serving as license for casualness and a general slacking-off.

My desire to treat such a call with practicality of purpose and honor the intent with sincerity gives me pause to consider the more formal religions and their merits. The above passage from Deuteronomy is called The Shema and is the main prayer for Jews. Shema can be translated "hear" in Hebrew a name derived from the contents of the passage. It is customarily said at least twice a day, firstly when you arise for the day and again when you retire.

The Shema is the centerpiece of Jewish thought and practice. It is a cornerstone habit, if you will.
Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."
-- Matthew 22:37-40
As we are reminded in this passage, habits by themselves aren't all the Lord requires of us. Surely love for our God and our neighbors is mandate here. But in practicality we are also given the mechanism by which to make this real in our lives. Jesus makes it clear that we are to interpret all of scripture through the filter of these two imperatives.

For myself, I stand amazed at how simply impactful and relevant that simple adjustment makes on such a weighty issue. With one small clarification the precepts are moved from concept to application. They are made relevant and real only by shifting them from simple habits to a lens through which we can view all the rest of our world.

In case you were wondering, yes, I often speak The Shema. (wow, how self-centered am I?)

Monday, February 25, 2008

Servant Leadership

In my former life, I spent most of my days with executives and leaders. The more time I spent in their company the more accustomed I became to the expectations of their lifestyle and work environment. In general, at the executive level your time becomes the most valuable commodity. It simply becomes more efficient to pay someone else to do the lower level or menial tasks than for an executive to do it themselves.

Over the years, I witnessed countless examples of how the pampering of executives can get wildly out of whack. In my life, I've known leaders who couldn't read their own email and had to have it screened for them. I've known many executives who refused to drive themselves anywhere, would never answer their own phones, and didn't track their own calendars.

Now this might be one end of the spectrum, but when I look at how those people behaved day to day as well, the same tendencies applied. They would throw out decisions and directives, fire missives, craft ultimatums, and arbitrarily fix schedules. It was just expected that the people who worked for them would just figure out the details as needed. If plans had to change, the workers would adapt. The servants react to the leader and his wishes as fluidly as those wishes might change.

In my present life, I've been striving for servanthood. It took me abandoning my old life to even begin to make strides towards becoming a new man.
Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms. -- 1 Peter 4:10

In my journey towards becoming a servant, I have endeavored to put my full mind and attention towards embracing the menial and mundane. A significant change in my world view has been a willingness to give up my time to the schedules of others. Being willing to perform the simplest tasks, to move at the speed of the slowest person, to support the difficult and dysfunctional people with an uplifting demeanor and countenance. For someone who worked his entire life towards efficiency, expertise, and excellence, you can imagine this is a challenge.

Even as I craft my own true heart of servitude I find a challenge in my roles as a leader. How can I continue as a servant when called to leadership? Can you be a servant leader? My reflection and meditation has led me to think that a servant leader is the only true leader. All others are only shadows. Without a servant heart, a leader too quickly becomes only a traffic cop, a figure-head, or a dictator. This is a trap I've found myself in from time-to-time and one I wish sincerely to avoid in the future.
You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. -- Mark 10:42-45

The only way I know to be a servant leader is to focus on the first word first: servant. Being willing to roll-up the sleeves and do the menial and mundane. Assuming firstly that no work is beneath me. Being personal and transparent and allowing for the style and speed of others. Walk softly and lean lightly on the shoulders of others, speak the positive more often than the critical. These are principles I seek to follow.

If you've got insight and guidance, my mind is open.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Men and Marriage. Argh.

I read quite a few blogs and thanks to my incredible father keep up with quite a swath of the writing in theological arena of the day. I am a voracious reader, but he puts me to shame. I'm sure the fact that he has more time on his hands (he's earned it!) counts for something but still, I wish I could keep up with him.

Recently, seemingly by coincidence, I've read quite a bit on the topic of marriage and family and relationships. Almost without exception, there is a tendency to bash the role of men in the breakdown of the family. If you go back to the widely cited National Marriage Project, a study from Rutgers, you see that in general people think that it is men that don't want to be married. They attribute this inability to commit to several reasons including:
  • It is easier to get sex outside of marriage.
  • Living together already gives them the benefits of marriage.
  • The likelihood of divorce is high and carries significant financial risk.
This is hardly the exhaustive list, but it's pretty representative. Most of my reading has been offline, but you can easily find lots more examples of writers here and here and here and here and here and here and here who are basically saying the same things.

Now the issue I have with this is simply that it takes two to tango.

This one-sided view of state of family today is completely horrendous. It's is like we are simply ignoring that women want easy access to sex and will manipulate to get what they want. That women aren't also wanting to hold off the responsibility of children until later in life. That men haven't been taken to the cleaners for years by women in our grossly prejudiced legal system. Check out the 2004 National Scruples and Lies Survey for more fun facts.

If women want sex as much as men, they are delaying children as much as men, and they are scared of divorce as much as men, don't they have an equal incentive to avoid a marriage commitment? After all, for those who do want children, we've removed any single mother stigma and it's now elevated to a status position. We've removed the divorcee stigma and have certainly weighted the divorce courts significantly in favor of the woman, especially if children are involved.

So let's do the math. They have equal disincentive to get married, more incentives to not get married, less risk and more reward in the unfortunate event of divorce. Yet this whole deterioration of family values and the decline in marriage rate is solely due to men being selfish. Puh-leez.

Don't get me wrong, I think men are generally selfish (I know I am!) and many may find themselves guilty of some of the reasons cited for why they avoid marriage. I just think that's only half (less than, actually!) the story.

Now for the matters you wrote about: It is good for a man not to marry. But since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband.
-- 1 Corinthians 7:1,2

I guess my decision to rant about this, even in light of the possibility for it to be misinterpreted, stemmed from recent reading where my experiences and experiences of people I know were poorly represented. In the past few years, I've personally had to break off more relationships because of sexual or cohabitational pressure from the woman, then for any other reason. In this day and age, I know it can be shocking to find someone who just isn't that interested in sex. My personal experience is that I've known way more women who were using men, than men who were using women. Of course, that's just my life. Your mileage will vary.

I didn't intend this to sound specifically disparaging towards women, if that's how you take it, I don't really care to hear about it. From my point of view, there isn't just one answer or one story. There are lots of perspectives and angles. It just really bothers me to be painted (along with my friends) with the brush of villainy while we are busy dodging victimization by women whose selfishness goes unchallenged. Maybe later I'll bash all the men I see doing stupidly selfish things and taking advantage of women, just to keep the posts balanced.

Wow. That was pretty raw for me. Let the flames begin.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Brass Tracks

Have you ever heard the expression "Let's get down to brass tacks."? It's generally used in a business or negotiation setting in reference to the details of a deal. Presumably from the days when things like luggage, horse shoes, leatherworks, cobbling and furniture, used tacks in their construction. To refer to the brass tacks meant the little items that would hold the whole thing together. They signified the quality, care, and luxuriousness that went into its creation. All in all, a well worn sentiment in full use today at a more conceptual level.

This post isn't about wheeling and dealing, negotiation or the art of influence. Read that sort of stuff here.

This post is about how my God and my faith in him so often lets me address even the biggest issues and short-comings in my life with a simple review of the "brass tacks". Let me explain:

Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.
-- 1 Corinthians 1: 26-29

Throughout His Word we find stunning examples of how He changes the rules of this harsh world that bind our minds. They usually always share the same mark, "But God". That is all it takes to see the world anew, to be refreshed and freed and made whole. Those two words are the light showing us how He breaks through the stalemates and posturing and questioning and doubt and impossibility. Because He is God. He can. He does. He has. He will.

He said to them: "You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him. But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without raising any objection. May I ask why you sent for me?"
-- Acts 10:28-29

It doesn't matter what we are faced with. He doesn't care what zany predicament or embarrassing situation we have gotten ourselves into. It doesn't matter if we are shiny, happy, people just stuck in a rut that isn't glorifying God. At any time, in all circumstances, if we call on Him in faith He will move. If our desire is truly for His will, then our reaching hands are grasped every time.
Like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be recovered, so we must die. But God does not take away life; instead, he devises ways so that a banished person may not remain estranged from him.
-- 2 Samuel 2:14

In the last few weeks I've been struggling, but more important I've been watching people close to me struggle. My friend who is stuck in mediocrity hidden amongst flash and distraction. He cries out and screams "What am I supposed to do?" into the silent void. I only weep behind my eyes and pray with him. He won't be hearing brass tacks from me, we aren't close enough anymore I guess.

The downside is how powerful those words can be if you can just work them into the conversation. Like the twist at the end of great movie, those seven keystrokes change everything that has happened and opens the way for anything to happen.
The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. 15He said to them, "You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God's sight.
-- 2 Samuel 2:14

Even in my family my frustration with failing to influence increases exponentially each incident. They say they reach, and want to, but they won't do beyond the theory.

In all this winding footpath that is your life, each step must be deliberate. Without those conscious choices to celebrate and deviate and recuperate and recreate and sometimes just buckle down and do, we meander and wander letting aimlessly and despair creep in. Our companions of Worry and Frustration comfort and console us onto the softer path as we casually, care-freely careen over the cliffs and into the caverns of chaos. And then we ask "Why?" It is then we have the presence of mind to question our state and fate. Only then we realize that at every step our indecision and indeliberation made our choices plainly for us. And we accepted. We kept plodding, broken and bowed.

Take this time now to grab hold to faith. Inject a little "But God" into your speech. When you think you are out of options remember all those times the story changed with only two little words. You don't have to stay on the softer path. You can halt the free-fall. You can be broken, but God will heal you. You can be flounder, but God will bring vision and light to your world.

It works for me.

When I let it.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Missing Resolve?

The holidays are fast wrapping up and it is at this time of year, while reveling in the litter of prior annum's carcass, that many attempt to clarify new directions and choices for the coming one. We politely call them resolutions and listen to them almost tongue-in-cheek.

It seems that as a Body we are struggling to be resolute about anything these days.
Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.
-- 1 Peter 5:6-10

I'm sure you've heard someone talk about their resolutions this year, and then almost immediately speak about which ones they'll break first. Which of these serious intentions they'll let fall to the wayside . You might even be one of those people who writes a list and files it away in a drawer. Not that there is anything wrong with writing down your intentions and declaring your choices.

Like most things, the basic idea sounds attractive and helpful. What could be wrong with trying to make improvements? Surely nothing. But like all good deviations it isn't the core that leads you astray it’s the pretty paper it's wrapped with.

Discipline, servanthood ,and faithfulness are not choices to be listed out and checked once a year. Change doesn't happen in that gloriously reflective mood so easily induced by turkey dinners, catching up with family over football, or after a midnight champagne toast. Real change is incremental. It is practical and hurts. It usually makes you feel worse before it makes you feel better. Think of it like exercise, or a savings account, or a 14-hour flight to Australia.
For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. -- 1 Corinthians 2:2

Don't get me wrong, I applaud taking time to reflect. Self-assessment and personal growth planning is very important and necessary. But the convenient timelines are too often a slippery slope. They allow us to start our mindset off on the wrong foot. The clock isn't reset every YEAR, it resets every WEEK, every DAY, every HOUR…you get the picture. When we focus only on the big decisions, we ignore the little ones that truly define our character and being. We give ourselves a built-in escape route. After all, no one ever keeps all their New Years resolutions, do they?