Tag Archives: Christianity

James 1: Quick to Listen, Slow to Speak, Slow to Wrath

My favorite book of the Bible is James, so it is fitting that when I am trying for the first time in nearly ten years to begin a daily habit of reading Scripture, contemplating it, and spending some time thinking and praying, that I would begin back with James. James, the doer of the word, not just the contemplator. I like doing and being active and employing what I am learning. I certainly wouldn’t classify myself as a navel gazer, only, though I do a fair bit of that as I try to figure out how to act or use what I am learning. From an article by Saint Andrew’s Abbey, about the relationship between practice and contemplation: “Practice and contemplation were understood as the two poles of our underlying, ongoing spiritual rhythm: a gentle oscillation back and forth between spiritual ‘activity’ with regard to God and ‘receptivity.'”

Today I read the first chapter of James in the Lectio Divina style of reading. In short, in Lectio Divina, the reader quiets her mind, then asks God to guide her through her reading, then reads slowly and meditatively in order to parse out what God wants to show her that day. Then the reader has a prayer dialogue with God about that verse, then finally she rests or meditates in the meaning of the Scripture.

The verses that called out to me as I read this first chapter this morning were verses 19 and 20: “So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” I spend a lot of time listening to other people, particularly my students, so the beginning of verse 19 that says, be swift to hear and slow to speak reminds me how I should receive people, being real and present with the person who is directly across from you at any given moment.

The goal is to be intent about your interaction with the other person, focusing on the moment and hearing what that person is saying. It’s been one of my goals for the past two years to speak less and listen more deeply and intently. Sometimes I do it, sometimes I don’t, and when I don’t, I find that I later regret that I wasn’t more intent on hearing the ideas, dreams, and concerns of the person with whom I was talking.

The second part, really the third point of verse 19 is to be slow to wrath. Generally speaking, for me, I find that I am more able to be slow to wrath if I have listened well and if I converse with a person to understand who they are, why they think like they do, and how I fit into their world if I do. I think being slow to wrath comes from really taking time to interact with people and to have difficult conversation and in depth sharing from ideas and thoughts, no matter diverse or distinct those ideas may be.

Further, I believe the reason that verse 20 says, “for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God,” is that when we don’t listen to others and when we don’t engage others in discussion, we tend to act rashly and with an anger that is superficial and dangerous. However, if we do take that time to listen to both our fellow humans and to God, and when we engage in that heavy conversation and that deep interaction, we don’t get angry quickly.

Instead, we save our anger for things that anger God, like systemic problems that result in disenfranchised groups being further pushed aside, or like domestic problems where people are put into dangerous situations simply because our laws are archaic, or monetary difficulties because churches and government programs are overwhelmed with people who need help.

In short, I think verse 20 is telling us not to avoid anger in every situation, like I was taught when I was younger, but it’s telling us to not waste our anger on human concerns that can be resolved by listening and talking through those concerns. The last few words of verse 20 say that our anger “does not produce the righteousness of God.” This end phrase leaves room for Christians to be angry, but not about human trivialities. We are to reserve anger for those things, which God perceives as unrighteous, unholy, then our anger can produce the righteousness of God.

It’s especially important to notice that these verses are sandwiched between a verse about being birthed in the word of truth, and two other verses about getting rid of wickedness and becoming meek in order to be doers of the word and not just hearers. Part of the appeal of the book of James for me, as I said at the beginning, is that James wants us to act. We are to use our quick listening and slow speaking in order to avoid wrath, but not in order to avoid acting; we’re just not supposed to act rashly and in human wrath.

This morning was a beautiful time of considering Scripture, which I haven’t done seriously in quite some time. Now to employ what I’ve learned and to continue this practice each day.

Spirituality

I’d be lying if I said spirituality is easy for me, but I’d also be lying if I said it didn’t matter or was difficult. My spirituality is by far the most important and integral part of my life, but it’s also one of the most complicated facets.

On my way back to coffee shop I visited yesterday, on my way back to actually complete my lesson plans for next week, I went past Taylor University, a small very conservative Christian college in Upland, Indiana. I am not a fan of their theology or their ridiculous set of strict rules, but I do feel like many of my favorite people in this world have gone there and gotten out relatively unscathed. Some of them seem to have even learned a thing or along the way. Taylor is also a somewhat rivalry of my theological alma mater, Anderson University, an equally conservative and rule-ridiculous college about 45 minutes away.

Anyway, I bring up Taylor University because my spirituality these days is heavily influenced by Jesus and Buddha, but not by any official church or religion. I pray, I meditate, I try to be kind and compassionate. Some days are more successful than others, but I haven’t been to an actual church service, except for watching my grandchildren be baptized, for about two years, I’d say. This is not because I don’t find it valuable—the Episcopal Church has my organized religion heart—but I just find that I can practice my spiritual pretty much anywhere. If I am not careful, I am moved to spiritual tears by pretty much anything.

Back to this morning—all these asides make my head spin, but that’s just how my brain works—when I drove past Taylor Lake on my way to some of the most beautiful scenery in East Central Indiana, a road that, when I was in high school, people called Devil’s Backbone, ironic because of TU being right there, I had a feeling in my gut that was so familiar.

If you know my story, you know I was baptized at a very young age, maybe 6, after accepting Jesus into my heart in an old, brown recliner chair where I prayed the Sinner’s Prayer with my mom one night before bed time. If you know my story even better, you know that I by no means believe that is how a conversion experience works, or that we maybe don’t even need conversion, because we are all good and pure and beautiful on the inside anyway, but that is how it happened for me at 4, 5, or 6.

As I drove past TU this morning with a beautiful pink sunrise and the fall leaves reflecting on the smooth water of the lake, I was transported back to 40 years ago when I wore a little white sundress and waded into a cold, slightly mucky, and very weedy, Taylor Lake to make a public profession of the faith that was shaping me. I waded in to the water, said I confessed my sins, promised to live a good life, and then I was under the water, looking up through a blur into the sunlight above the water.

As I drove past that lake this morning, my heart moved, my spirit stirred, I began to cry, and I wondered when everything in this world got so unbeautiful and so difficult and so mean. I wished I could go back and see the world through the water into the sun, weeds wrapped around my little ankles, safe in a feeling that everything would be alright.

September (FALL/AUTUMN) is Here, and I Couldn’t Be More Excited

Pushups for Veterans

I was challenged by friend Shon Byrum, the Mayor of Winchester, Indiana, to a Facebook challenge. I don’t typically partake in Facebook challenges, because I fail to see how they do any good, since they focus on some effort that neither raises money for, nor provides a solution to, whatever problem the challenge is supposedly addressing. This challenge, though, raises awareness about a problem that I think is particularly important.

Why is it that so many of our honorable veterans come home, only to end their lives shortly thereafter?

For the particular challenge Shon invited me to do, the acceptor of the challenge is required to do 22 pushups for 22 days in honor, or memory, of the approximately 22 veterans per day who commit suicide because of PTSD or another mental illness. I’ve done two days worth of pushups, and I’ve challenged two other people to the same challenge, which is a part of it. They are then requires to pass the challenge on, so awareness is spread via the viral nature of social media.

Starting tomorrow, I’m raising the bar on this challenge for myself. I’m putting 50¢ in a fund toward a veteran’s charity that helps with mental health care services for members of the military who are returning from war. By the end of the challenge, if my math is right, which it may not be, I’ll be donating a total of $220 to help our veterans who’ve been damaged by the effects of war. I haven’t yet decided which charity I will chose, but I’m doing research. I’m leaning toward The Soldier’s Project; my only hesitation is that their help is only available in limited parts of the country.

Starting tomorrow, I’m also going to include a different link to a different charity each day in my post. I’d love it my friends and family would also make small donations to those charities in honor of this challenge. Then, I think, I’d feel like I’m doing more than just raising awareness of a problem, but I’d also be helping to provide a solution to the problem as well.

Goals

Running: I’m doing it, and I’m enjoying it more, so I guess that’s progress. I’ve also started swimming again. Merideth and I started with a four day a week pact, but four days is a bit daunting along with running, too, so I am shooting for three days a week from here until the end of October.

Compassion: I’m struggling right now to articulate my spiritual beliefs. On the one hand, I do so love the Jesus, but on the other hand, the things I love about Jesus feel more Buddhist to me than anything, so I am reading a lot about people who have a similar struggle that I do. And there are many of us.

I’ve slipped bit on the vegan front, and I even ate a bit of meat when I was in Texas for training for work. I regretted it immediately. I wanted to breathe the life back into the cow, but I couldn’t, so I just cried instead. Into my hotel pillow. How sad.

Looking back, I’ve lumped a bunch of things into this category of compassion and the one that doesn’t seem to fit is meditation. But it does. I mentioned the other day that meditation has helped me more in my adult life than prayer has, that isn’t really true, I suppose, except that meditation is helping me become friends with myself in a new way. By focusing on my very existence—my breath—  I’m able to recognize my absolute physical impermanence, and through prayer while running, I’m able to contemplate how to use my newfound settledness, inner-peace, or contentment to love in a new way. (I’m sorry if this seems a bit scattered or not really well articulated, but I’m trying to find a way to describe some feelings that are utterly foreign to me.)

To focus my meditation, I’ve been using a mala that I made from a bunch of beads I’ve had since college, but today I ordered a new mala made of jade. Because I use beads when I pray, I find to be especially helpful—but in very different ways—to use beads when I meditate. Meditating each day for nearly a month now has helped me to empathize with people more easily, to pause and give space in conversation, to not have to talk as much, to be able to listen more, and to be able to have unbridled compassion and love.

It’s really beautiful.

Social Media and Creativity: I came back onto Facebook, because I missed some of my friends. I’m learning to balance it and my other activities, so that I am not consumed with comparison (Facebook envy), anger, and an irrational need for feedback and approval. I haven’t done any art, and I’ve done little writing. I have done quite a bit of listening to Podcasts, which are feeding my imagination and making me think differently about the world in which we live. And I’m still reading quite a bit, so I’ll call this successful for now.

Finances: I’m paying things down. Slowly but surely. Not as fast as I wanted, but it’s happening.

Pay It Forward: I’ll be in Canada during the classes for the sexual assault advocacy, and now that I really think about it, there are probably other volunteer opportunities that will suit me better, ones that won’t cause me personal distress. I’m open to suggestions of things people might see me doing, so if you think of anything, I’d be happy to hear about it.

Fall and Autumny Things

Most people know that fall is my favorite season of the four. The air is crisp, the trees are filled with color, and everything looks and feels like it might just curl up and take a nap. Fall is filled with apple cider, hot chocolate, bonfires, and pumpkins; all of which make me extremely happy. I get to have impromptu coffee and writing time with fine people like Ico, and the drive to work doesn’t feel so bad with bright red and yellow trees guiding the way. Essentially, everything is more amazing in the fall.

The two most exciting things for me this fall are that my friends Julie and Alan are coming to visit this weekend and we’re going to an apple orchard/pumpkin farm, and then a couple of weeks later, I get to vacation in Canada with my beautiful wife and my amazing little brother. What’s most awesome about our vacation is that we’ll also get to spend time with Merideth, Josh, and T-Bean in New York.

The end. 

Basically, my life feels like it is on an upswing. I’m working hard to help this be a new way of life for me,

  • one in which I have a balance between setting goals and achieving them, or not.
  • one in which I have personal health, and a healthy way of interacting with other.
  • one in which I am serious, and also feel free.
  • one in which I respect those around me, but I also respect myself.

Peace. Grace.

Our Father?

I was inspired, by an article I read this week, to think about the divine feminine and to really consider my relationship with patriarchy and tradition in the Church. My relationship with the Church is tenuous at best, but my relationship with God is enriching and fulfilling. While I have a great reverence for historical Christianity, I also have a very suspicious eye aimed toward those systemic prejudices that are embedded within it.

I was then prompted to share this with you. I’m not really one to share my prayer life, since I feel that it could be much more deep and much more intentional, but I do think I’ve learned how to redirect traditional prayers in a way that feels more personal to me, while also maintaining the traditional aspects that I love so much.

cross

Traditional “Our Father”:

Our Father, which art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy Name.
Thy Kingdom come.
Thy will be done in earth,
As it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive them that trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
The power, and the glory,
For ever and ever.
Amen.

The way I pray it:

“Mother-Father God in heaven, you are holy. Help me to practice your kingdom and your will here on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us what we need, our daily bread. Forgive us, as we forgive. Help us not to be tempted, but keep us from evil. Yours is the kingdom. Yours is the power. Your is the glory. Forever and ever, even unto the ages of ages. Amen and amen.”

There isn’t a huge shift in the language, but addressing my petition to a God that is called both Mother and Father was a huge leap in my faith and a difficult step when I first made it. The more I pray, and the more direct and intentional my inner spiritual life becomes, the more I feel secure in my choice and practice of viewing God as both feminine and masculine, both or neither.

If I am honest, I believe God exists outside of gender. Generally, I refer to God as [They] or [Them] in order to honor the three persons without prescribing a gender on an entity that exists outside of our finite understandings.

The Real New Year; Epiphany

Generally, I mark my time through the Christian calendar, starting my year at Advent and progressing through the days in celebration, mourning, centemplation, or whatever mood the the liturgical calendar calls for, or at least I am cognizant of the expected mood of the season.

This year, the first Sunday of Advent came with me doing exactly what I’d been doing all year long, so it didn’t feel much like a New Year celebration to me.  Thanks, Retail.

Then New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day came along, and I still didn’t feel that rejuventaing new-year feeling that I love, because it signals a new beginning where I get to shed my old, dry skin and grow a new, pliable, vulnerable skin for the clean new-year slate ahead of me.

This year, I guess, I was holding out for Epiphany, the holiday we celebrate in most Western churches as the day when the Wisemen appear bearing gifts for the baby Jesus (though most Biblical historians agree that the baby Jesus was already two-ish by the time they found him).

But more specifically, I was holding out for Epiphany, because I celebrate a more Eastern Christian understanding of this day, as the day when Jesus began his adult ministry by being baptized at the hands of John the Baptist. I need this yearly reminder that I am, in fact, the Church no matter where I go; I am a priest at all times with my words, and more importantly with my actions.

Maybe this year I was holding out for the sky to rupture and for me to feel like I was God’s beloved child in whom [They] are well pleased.

As I was running today, with my lungs burning with ashthmatic wheezes and my eyes watering against the cold, dry air, I was reminded, yet again, that I am doing exactly what I am supposed to be doing. I was reminded that I asked for this, for time away from teaching, for time to rediscover the things I love, for time to get back to well.

And I am getting there. I have fewer bouts with depression, and they are shorter and further apart, so I can recover from them in a healthy way, instead of just sweeping them under the carpet, like I did for too long.

In this regard, my New Year this year, 2016, starts today, January 6, on Epiphany, while I celebrate the beginning of new year of ministry, a new year of peace, grace, love, and joy, and a new year of being well. It’s only fitting that I spend a bit of time considering those goals I set for myself before the new year rolled around. It’s been a month, so here’s a fair judgment of how I”ve been doing with this.

Veganism- passable, still needs some work, but things are going fairly well
Volunteerism- this one will have to be put on a back burner for a bit, at least until we sell our house, because I’m picking up some extra hours at Caribou to help make ends meet
Prayer and meditation- passable, still needs some work, and I’ve been able to work in some meditation while running, but I still need more focus on quiet time
Exercise- passable, but I need to be more consistent, so I can make my two big goals for this year
Alcohol and caffiene- passable, the caffiene is really easy to give up, but the alcohol is a bit harder, because I find it really nice to have a beer with dinner, so I guess I should get used to having kool-aid with dinner instead

Do good.

Do no harm.

Stay in love with God.

Practice peace, grace, love, and joy.