Entertaining something more …

Spirituality. Active belief in God. Faith containing both experience and resultant action. These immediately bring up suspicions, fears and even instant dismissal. I understand that and I know why. People have communicated and advanced visions, pictures, ideas, sayings, instructions and life-leading direction, advice for others, words from the dead and all manner of extra-corporeal (that is, outside of “normal” experience and life) phenomena. How can all that be parsed and made sense of?  And if it cannot, is there anything spiritual that can be reliably projected?  Also, the political leanings, decisions and life-styles of those who claim themselves “spiritual” may well dissuade anyone from even considering experimentation let alone discipline in these matters.

So a Bible verse like this:

1 Corinthians 2:14 The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to that person, and cannot be understood, because they are spiritually discerned.

might well be taken as exclusionary. But I want to make sure you know you are not excluded as I tell some of my story and bring up common objections to faith and its practices:

Spiritual anencephalus

I recently heard Bill Maher interviewing Ross Douthat who was reporting on poll data concerning the church and Christian spirituality. Multiple times, Bill used the phrase “otherwise intelligent people” with no hidden meaning that he considers spiritual matters unintelligent and thus, wasteful of time and effort. I have read others who have said that belief in God was like believing in a childhood imaginary friend. Ignoring the derogatory nature of these slams and the pride they exude (to be sure, believers can be just as proud or worse), they articulate a problem we all have in understanding spiritual life: Do we need to become anencephalic (having no brain – a condition of newborns, almost always fatal) when we do spirituality?

No. The brain engages. And communicates, listening and speaking and experiencing all that is happening. One thing that does happen is that attitude about cognition changes. A know-it-all becomes a know-some-of-it or a know-nothing-in-order-to-hear. And a different part of the brain becomes engaged in an exchange of words and thoughts. It’s not like “My Favorite Martian” with the antenna coming up from the cranium:

Image result for my favorite martian antenna going up gif

… because it can happen at any time, but it involves thought and intelligence that often exceeds that of mere logic and witty intellect.

Belief – instant or progressive

Bible verses and faith statements and sayings can come across as an assault on one’s spiritual state or lack thereof. I really want to be sensitive about that because I come down heavily on the side of progressive faith. That is I strongly believe that people grow in belief. For sure there is a seed of faith I believe all humans possess and that seed must be watered via some action taken. But my story is one of a long chain of events, experiments and perceptions that together form a combined basis for faith.

Space doesn’t allow for an accounting of all of these, but I will relate one I had this past weekend – yesterday as I write this.

People may think that people of faith never doubt – the opposite is true – we constantly doubt. We have the writings of Mother Teresa and have her doubts with us. So I have been in a state of doubting God’s care for me as an individual. The doubt goes beyond an engineer’s calculation of my being one of 2 billion people “vying” for God’s attention. It’s an assault on the character of God – that God does not care about me as an individual. Well, I awoke on the lake where I was staying and was the only human witness to this dazzling display on the otherwise fog-blanketed water and shore:

GodWink - 10-15-17

Now as soon as images like that get linked to a spiritual tenet, people start mocking. There are those, after all, who see angels and entire apocalyptic scenes in cloud formations and get all excited. I have similar reactions to their revelations though I try to be very kind.  So why is this case different?  Well, the context (some fairly intense prayer and seeking), timing (it lasted 5 minutes) and even the attendance (that is, me alone) of the event all combined to make the point that it was something special for me.

And that may serve to display the idea of progression, for there is a long list of “coincidences” in my life that establish both the existence and personal nature of God. As I said, I cannot list them here, but suffice it to say that after a while, were I to make the argument of happenstance and accuse those in faith of being childish, the coincidence stance itself becomes the childish one.

Righteousness, sin and judgment

I know, here is where a lot of people will just get off the train. That’s because there is such a thing as spiritual malpractice. Most religions teach that there exists a higher plane of morality and ethics than is practiced on planet earth. And many actually condemn people for not attaining that level, all the while their most ardent proponents and practitioners have lives that are anything but exemplary of the tenets they espouse. Not to pick on Catholicism – I have dear and vital Catholic friends – but Woody Allen described his experiment with the Catholic church as “die now, pay later”. I hope at least some can smile and nod.

But it is a fact of my life and all human lives that we fall short of purity, ethically clean and morally good thought, speech and behavior. And we know it. At least some of it. The other half is that we know when we have been hurt by others. So even if we wouldn’t call it “sin” we would certainly agree offense has been done both to and by us causing damage that may last a long time.

And if there is a spiritual law that transcends all religion and belief systems, it is that of retribution.  What goes around comes around.  You reap what you sow, etc.  It works on the positive side as well, for there is “pay it forward” as well.

It is is the offer of faith to rectify this aspect of life – the guilt and debt. We need a remedy for our own culpability, and for the damage of what has been done to us as well. Jesus attacked this problem head-on, not mincing word about our state and not just stopping at talking about it. He died to fix it.

Image result for jesus on the cross

Now, there are many, many who insert their own judgment for that of God. They assume the guilt of others but their own innocence. These people don’t want people to be free and forgiven; it would upset their personal reign. There are also those who wallow in shame, never rising above the acknowledgment of their dark deeds and supposing those actions define them. Both extremes, as well as a host of other misreads and misapplications can pollute and hide the biggest reason to be a Christ-follower.

Because there is freedom. And forgiveness. And reconciliation, peace, love, joy and all the rest.

This is not the accomplishment of an imaginary friend. Real blood was shed. Real miracles happened, including the miracle of my life.

Invitation

I would therefore like to invite anyone reading this to entertain something more in life rather than only wake-eat-work-party-sleep. Because there is more and there are riches found in a life of faith. Even a faltering, wobbling sometimes-trudge that experiments and experiences God.

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Banjos and glass-blowing

“What do you do?”

It’s a question asked to find out one’s occupation. But if it was answered accurately it would walk the one asking through the litany of details of activity making up a day and a life. Of course that’s NOT what is being asked for. But really, it’s the question that’s inaccurate and the answerer is called upon to interpret and answer what is meant, not what is said. There is an even more inaccurate form of the question:

“What are you?”

.. which goes deeper than just making you name one thing you do, but name the one thing you ARE. And what you ARE is what you do in that context.

Now I would strongly posit that these questions are loaded with cultural and professional context. Implicit in their wording and answering is a categorization of human beings into a small set of roles, positions and specialties. Even the correctly worded “What do you do for work?” implies that livelihood is the central determinant for meaningful “work” which is inaccurate in itself.

As the pun goes “Farmers are outstanding in their fields.” I have long been in awe of those whose utter focus makes them masters in their endeavors. But outstanding (or is it “out standing”) farmers can also play banjo, paint and blow glass, say, at a world class level. And even if they don’t do those secondary things at such a high level, they can do them proficiently enough to bless or elevate or ennoble other people. I’ll even say that those other people are poorer for the farmers’ lack of pursuing those secondary things.

 

At this point my personal life, I am looking for something to do that will leave behind my story and the story of Christ as it eclipses mine and thus will make and inspire disciples. Yes I have agenda, as do most, but it’s actually very wide in scope.

I do find the discouragement and impediments to that pursuit to be so strong as to threaten to rot my soul lately. Yes I know all the platitudes blaming me for that, replete with regimens and hands-off, formulaic advice. This morning I delight in calling them all hollow, cited by people who “do” and “are” something other than what I “do” and “am”.

I also know the advice to go higher, to define vision and mission. That also sells books and I intend to do that, but this blog post is about life on the street where vision can be worked out even as a long slog and still be active.

Here are the parameters of the struggle I’m working through:

  • Livelihood is required if one wants to eat, own clothing and be housed, but in itself does not define a person. I have worked so hard at something that was never my life pursuit that it has become my life pursuit. I need to unwind that, slowly (or quickly) firing my bosses and disengaging with my colleagues, many of whom look up to me as an elite software engineer. Yes, I said it, I am elite at something I did not set out to even do. The hardest part of the people part is that I love these people; indeed it’s love that gets me to and keeps me at work every day.
  • There is a new phase coming for me. It’s called “retirement” but I will not likely define it as a time to simply cease working. I will sleep later in the morning but then work at something else. My income will decrease. But time and energy, my most valuable resources, will increase. It’s important that I plan how to invest them, because just as they are invested by others in my current occupation, retired life will have incumbent pressures as well.
  • Having little experience in a new field can not bar pursuing work in that field. Or even play in that field. Knowing well the faults of the masters in engineering from their personal glitches to thick tribal arrogance that embraces wrong things as often as right ones (proven by history), the masters of any new field must not be seen as intimidating but merely having experience.
  • Finding a team is hard but vital. People want to be alone and have their vision and pursuit be theirs alone. But one of the principles I bring to the table is that teams are much more than the sum of their parts. Said on the negative side – loneliness has absolutely been the worst part of this process. Still, finding – or forming – my team is something I cannot give up on.
  • I cannot listen to ageism. People in all professions disqualify others by any means available so as to advance their own standing – even though it accomplishes quite the opposite. Disqualifying based upon someone being “over the hill” has always been silly, and particularly if an older person is nimble and can be quick to learn. Personally, I am qualified for anything I pursue by virtue of accumulated wisdom and principles alone. I have gifting I don’t even know about that practice will reveal.
  • At the same time, there are things I will never do. Surrendering to this truth – where it applies – is hard and requires bona fide grieving processes. I need to discern where and when this is true because once again there are advice-givers who would deny dreams by citing destiny they have no power to even know.

Maybe this post applies only to me; I hope not. And I don’t mean to be selfish in any of this, only a tad introspective and brutally honest.

Writing is one definitely of those “other” pursuits I will go after in larger measures going forward.

And also, I do “get” that I need do nothing for God’s grace to be active in my life, or else it wouldn’t be grace. Ann Voskamp’s brilliant exposition of “cruciform” speaks and echoes deeply. Maybe rest is all I need truly, but love has my heart beating to do as well.

Healing points

Acts 3:6 Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”

Image result for peter john healing cripple

The story of the crippled beggar in Acts 3 is as historical as any we have from the era. There are those who deny the miraculous – usually until they need a miracle. And there are those assign such accounts to some hopefuls stuck in the first stage of grief – denial.  In other words, to them, the need for belief in miracle is a sign that one hasn’t accepted the reality of one’s suffering.

But that’s hardly the context of the story. There was no doubt that the man involved was crippled. He wasn’t expecting a miracle or asking for one, but only for money.  In a day when there was no social welfare, his disability relegated him to being a professional beggar for his subsistence. It was a low calling, and beggars were among the lowest caste in society. The same is largely true today.

So, when Peter and John told the man to walk and as he stood to his feet he was healed, it was more than a physical transformation to healthy legs. (As H. David Edwards once mused “he was asking for alms but received legs”). It was a raising of social standing, a redemption of soul and restoration of dignity to a human being long denigrated to shame.

When we encounter the crippled – and I widen the scope to include emotionally and mentally crippled – knowledge of the nature of transformation to health is vital if we are to use what we have been given to help. I hold as a given that miraculous healing powers are given in a similarly wide array of talents and gifts. That is to say, you who read this likely have gifts that perhaps you have never used. But that’s getting off subject.

I am by no means an expert healer. I don’t even know what that means. But I have learned that to really help people in all the ways this man was helped, there are some guidelines. Forewarning – some of this may sound unloving and uncaring. That’s because the ultimate health of someone is a strategic goal and tactics may in fact be confrontational and challenging:

  • Don’t decide to cripple yourself. Identifying with someone who is suffering establishes a connection to a degree. But adopting the attitudes and pathos of unhealth drags you down and leaves the person you want to help in the same straits where you found him/her. This is not a statement of considering yourself superior. Indeed, you will likely need help yourself if you haven’t already. But you must be true the goal of healing, not merely empathy.
  • Listen before you speak. It is an impersonal insult to classify someone by his/her maladies, even if they are easily categorized and treatment standardized to an extent. You are working with a human being who needs to be heard and understood. It’s required to establish trust.
  • RSVP “no thank you” to pity parties. A crippled person can become so attached to his/her role as victim that it is demanded that you buy into the lies they have told themselves about how they got to their current state. This tempers the “listen before you speak” directive just above. When someone tells their story, it is vital at some point to confront and correct their negativity. This may even cause them to shut down but that is better than letting the recitation of the reasons they got into and must remain in the broken state to define their very identity. Truly, self-pity is uniformly a trap to keep people down.
  • Silver and gold won’t often do anything but enable. To only throw material wealth into a life that is so broken only enables brokenness. Am I saying to not provide for someone’s needs? No. Only that someone who has never learned to balance a checkbook or understand priorities of where money should go is not going to learn by simply having money.
  • The healed should become healers. If there is restoration in a life, it is best to use that to invest in the lives of others. There is no better testimony to the cripple than “I have been there, done that, and here’s how I found my health”.

So yeah, all that. Peter and John saw instantaneous result from their action. That’s great when it happens. But you shouldn’t give up even though it takes time, prayer and sacrifice. You will see healing if you persist, even in your own life

ISIS and the president’s Prayer Breakfast speech

Read this first.
The backdrop of ISIS and radical Islamic groups is key to understanding this.  This week the video of Jordanian pilot Muadh al-Kasasbeh being burned alive in a cage, only the latest of a set of barbaric executions meant to shock and scare people.
But concerning the speech at the National Prayer Breakfast, I find it helpful to read the original because context is vital and no tribe- liberal or conservative – will provide it. Obama’s was a three-point sermon of love, suspicion of faith-hostile government and the law of love. Not bad. And I do think he has Christian faith though it caters to a political platform more than staying true to the foundation of the faith.  That there are those who would even hate me for such a statement shows the spiritual confusion that dogs the church.
 
Now, the uproar is about the president citing the crimes of the Crusades in a way to humble those on their “high horse”.  While there are those who would find the present situation an opportunity to target all Muslims, those of the Christian faith I know really just want to know how to consider this brutality and its perpetrators.  They are murderers that need to be stopped – that is known – but solving the problem of the vacuum from whence they sprung – as well as other groups like Boko Haram – is the only wise course of action.  
From Obama’s speech, the problem with citing 1000-year-old crimes is that it takes the focus on the slaughter that’s happening right in front of us. The people doing the slaughter ALSO cite the 1000-year-old crimes as if they’re happening today. They don’t need Obama’s voice reciting it to them.  And using something that happened 1000 years ago as motivation for present-day violence is to have a very long memory to say the least.  It is only an excuse.
 
What we need to do – as Muslims are doing right now – is to name the problem as an aberrant form of Islam – with an informed approach to how to really work towards a solution within the society of tribes that have warred for longer than the Crusaders launched their heretical rampage. Honestly, THAT – the Shia and Sunni split – is the historical faith problem going on here.
 
And for his part, Obama, so far, has failed to even call the terrorists “Muslim”, probably being afraid of mass anti-Muslim sentiment and violence. And lest you think I believe the GOP got it right, they did and do NOT. The willful ignorance of the indigenous tribal culture of Iraq was arrogant, straight up.  Politics only confuse this discussion because it’s one of faith and tribe.
Singling out Islam as a faith with a modern-day, big problem is the first step towards really helping to fix a broken part of the world.  No hatred, no condescension, just loving some people who are locked in a system of hatred.