From Facebook to Soulbook

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(Thinking, in Sioux Falls)

Thomas Merton wrote that the inmost secret of our being need not become manifest or public to all. (Seasons of Celebration) Indeed, most people are far from being in touch with the deep waters of their own hearts (Proverbs 20:5). Which means, I think, that multitudes open their mouths and out comes thoughts from the surfaces of their hearts. Hence, the barrage of Internet trivialities and rumors and sophomorisms that now prevail.

 

The human heart is a deep thing. It is a slow cooker, not a microwave. Getting in touch with mysteries that lie within requires time, and this time must be spent in a certain way. Merton writes: “We are most truly Christian persons when our inmost secret remains a mystery shared by ourselves and God, and communicated to others in a way that is at the same time secret and public.” We are not “to root out the inner secret of the individual in order to put it on display in a spiritual beauty contest.”

 

Merton calls this way of thinking “Christian personalism.” (Merton’s personalism has similarities to the philosophy of Personalism.) For Merton Christian personalism “is the sacramental sharing of the inner secret of personality in the mystery of love… [It is] the discovery of one’s inmost self, and of the inmost self of one’s neighbor, in the mystery of Christ.” This is “a discovery that respects the hiddenness and incommunicability of each one’s personal secret.” (Ibid.)

 

In America today too much is on display. And that which is on display is not essential, but superficial and mostly trivial. What is needed is not more “information” but wisdom, and wisdom is slow-cultivated in the deep waters of the human heart and authentic community where such things can be discovered. Instead of “Facebook” we need “Soulbook.”

Logic & Religion

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(Sioux Falls, South Dakota)
Yesterday I began my 10th year of teaching philosophy at MCCC. I’m teaching two courses: Intro to Logic, and Philosophy of Religion. I love teaching these courses!

It’s helpful for students to have some background in philosophical logic prior to taking philosophy of religion, since the latter involves some very technical, high-powered logical arguments. So along the way I explain some basic logical concepts to my phil or religion students.

In my logic class I supplement my brute teaching of logic with various logical arguments that illustrate logic. For example, last evening I presented this argument:

1) The more trainable an animal is the smarter it is.

2) Dogs are more trainable than cats.

3) Therefore, dogs are smarter than cats.

Note first that this argument is “logical.” What that means is: if P1 and P2 are true (premise 1 & premise 2), then the conclusion follows inexorably. Thus the statement Dogs are smarter than cats would be true. Further, it would be true for everybody.

I find it interesting that in both classes yesterday some students brought up the idea that something could be “true for you but not true for me.” Philosophers,k especially logicians, are not interested in this. In logic “truth” is a function of statements, and a “statement” is a sentence that is either true or false. If it is true that Dogs are smarter than cats than this is true for you and for me and for everyone on the planet even if they have been educated otherwise.

So I’ll be introducing a lot of students this fall to truth-issues. Such as: God exists. That sentence is statement. Therefore it’s either true or false. Both theistic and atheistic philosophers agree on that. Both theists and atheists then try to either logically prove it to be true or prove it to be false. I think the statement God exists is true. This means, in the philosophy of religion and logic sense, that one can formulate an argument (supporting premises made of statements) that leads to a conclusion (a statement). I always invite challenges and disagreement, and we always present the relative counterarguments and let students know how they can pursue further studies.

Satanic Inspiration of Annoyance

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(Monroe Jazz Festival)

For several months my spiritual focus has been on the love of God. To know the love of God, and to love others with the same love.

I am stunned by the love of Jesus who, hanging on the cross, still exhibited a heart of love towards his crucifiers. Here is one reason why the “WWJD?” bracelets don’t work. They minimize, and even trivialize, the Real Jesus. Jesus loved his enemies! He didn’t wear a bracelet saying “WWID?” (“What Would I Do?”) The heart of Jesus was love. My heart is not. I see this clearly since I get irritated and annoyed with people who are not my enemies. One wonders what I might do when I actually encounter someone who is out to bring me down.

C.S. Lewis, in The Screwtape Letters, addresses this issue in terms of the marital relationship. Here the demon Screwtape gives advice to a subordinate demon on how to push the evil-button on a Jesus-follower:

“When two humans have lived together for many years it usually happens that each has tones of voice and expressions of face which are almost unendurably irritating to the other. Work on that. Bring fully into the consciousness of your patient that particular lift of his mother’s eyebrown which he learned to dislike in the nursery, and let him think how much he dislikes it. Let him assume that she knows how annoying it is and does it to annoy – if you know your job he will not notice the immense improbability of the assumption. And, of course, never let him suspect that he has tones and looks which similarly annoy her. As he cannot see or hear himself, this is easily managed.”

Multitasking Screws Up the God-Relationship

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For some time I’ve been teaching that: 1) one should not multitask the God-relationship; and 2) in the Christian Scriptures no one multitasks the God-relationship. And, in general: human relationships should not be multitasked if the goal is deep, loving relationship with a significant other.

In our culture multitasking is often worn as a badge of honor, as some kind of great ability that makes some better than others. The multitasker claims multiple levels of excellence. For example, my father had the ability, especially on Sunday afternoons, to simultaneously sit in the recliner, read the paper, watch TV, and sleep. One had better not change channels because he would say “Hey, I was watching that.”

Imagine myself being attracted to Linda. I ask her out for a date. The date includes me getting some other things done. So we go to the nice restaurant and I pull out my laptop. I’ve got a work project going, I’m checking my e-mails, I’m carrying on multiple relationships on Facebook and Twitter, playing Gears of War, while “being with” Linda. Could I do this? Try me! Would Linda go out with me again? No. Not her, at least. Nor should she, I am certain.

What about God? Can’t we pray while we shop? Of course. But it’s instructive to note that no one, in the Bible or in the history of Christian spirituality, prayed that way. (Note: yes, Brother Lawrence prayed while washing dishes, but one must remember that he lived in a monastery which called him to solitary prayer hours each day after day after day. No wonder he was still in prayer while he worked!)

Now there is evidence that mulitasking may be harmful. Today’s CNN report states that multitaskers…

  1. “…do worse on tests in which they need to switch attention from one task to another than people who rarely multitask in this way.”
  2. “…are more easily distracted by irrelevant information.”
  3. …are less productive.
  4. …retain “useless information in their short-term memory.”
  5. …have a lowered “threshold of distractibility.”
  6. …may be “less able to focus over sustained periods of time.”

We live in a world that is bloated with irrelevant information that produces shallow people who are increasingly unable, not only to know what is really important, but when they discover it will find it hard to attend to.

I’m sitting on my back porch, no phone round, watching the marvel of my hummingbird who feeds here. This bird that can fly backwards and hover makes me think of God. Needed to really see this are: patience, waiting, and childlike wondering, none of which fit with multitasking. Compared to this experience “McWondering” falls way short.

Discovering the Real Jesus In Sioux Falls

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Linda and I arrived home last evening from our visit to Sioux Falls. We were with the people of First B – Sioux Falls, and had a wonderful time. God was speaking to me over the weekend, and I’ll be processing some of these things today. Thoughts include:

We made some new friends!

Sioux Falls is a beautiful community. Yesterday morning I walked from our hotel to the falls – I wish they were here in Monroe; they would become my new favorite place to sit down, slow down, read the Bible, listen to God, pray…

The First B people were so gracious to us. If you’re from First B – thank you for your great hospitality. You accepted us and made us feel at home.

I spoke Sunday morning on Living In the Presence of God. For Jesus followers the distinguishing characteristic is to be that we host the preence of God. Christ, the hope of glory, resides in us by God’s Spirit. I am really thinking about this right now.

Every teacher has moments where, while speaking to others, are themselves being spoken-to. So God was addressing me this weekend, and is doing so even now as I write. I want, more than anything, to live and breathe out of the presence of God.

This is very practical for me. For example, I’m far from loving as Jesus loves, and cry out to God for him to produce greater love within me.

And, I have so many people I care for that are now struggling and hurting, and whatever natural abilities I have are not able to pull them out of their darkness. So, for these people, I want to access God’s powerful, loving, personal presence, and then be used by God to bring freedom to them. God will get all the credit, and I’ll be personally blown away that God would work through me to bring any good to anyone.

Look at this. We read, in Exodus 33:15-19 – “Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?”

See that? The God-follower’s distinctive, the mark of the real Jesus-follower, is not personal intellect or ability or skill. What is to make us different is not that we are nicer than other people (because we’re not, at least not always, and I’ve met non-Jesus-followers who are nicer than myself).

It is true that the “mark of the Christian” is that “we love one another.” Jesus said, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:33-35) True. But this love is from God and “by His Spirit.” I John 3:23-24 – “And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.”

That’s true. We are to love as Christ loves. But this kind of love, which is supernatural, is “by the Spirit.”

To sum it up: 1) Jesus-followers have Christ in them. We have the indwelling Holy Spirit. We host the presence of God. 2) Hosting God’s presence is key to loving like Jesus loved and still loves. It’s key to doing the “greater things” Jesus predicted we would be doing. 3) Today, host God’s presence. Desire it. Welcome it. Be led by God. Experience God. Know God. God, give me some of that this morning, and I’ll be good to go. I bless my new friends in Sioux Falls with a day of God with you all!

And… show us all Your glory…

(“And the LORD said to Moses, “I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.”
Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.”
And the LORD said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.””)

How to Hear God’s Voice

Here is the outline I shared Friday  night in Sioux Falls on How to Hear God’s Voice.

1. Saturate yourself in Scripture.

2. Read the Bible realistically – assume that the experiences recorded there are basically of the same kind as ours would have been if we have been there.

3. Don’t fast-food the God-relationship.

4. Don’t multi-task the God-relationship.

5. Have a humble heart. Humility is needed for all authentic listening.

6. Hang around people who actually do #s 1-5 above, and talk together about what you feel God has been saying to you.

BOOKS on the theme of listening to God. Here are some of my favorites.

Blackaby, Henry T., and King, Claude V. Experiencing God. An excellent, clearly written text that is especially good for church study.
Deere, Jack. Surprised By the Voice of God: How God Speaks Today Through Prophecies, Dreams, and Visions (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996). A very good, clearly written biblical and historical presentation of how one hears God speaking to them.
Brennan Manning, Abba’s Child. This book spoke deeply to me about my need for experiential knowledge of the love of God.
Brennan Manning, The Importance of Being Foolish: How to Think Like Jesus. Very good as it gets at the real Jesus.
Payne, Leanne. Listening Prayer: Learning to Hear God’s Voice and Keep a Prayer Journal (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1991). A very good, well-written text on what it means to hear God’s voice.
D.L. Moody had many years of successful ministry, when one day he had a powerful experience with God. Moody writes: “I cannot describe it, I seldom refer to it, it is almost too sacred an experience to name… I can only say God revealed Himself to me, and I had such an experience of His love that I had to ask Him to stay His hand. I went to preaching again. The sermons were not different; I did not present any new truths; and yet hundreds were converted. I would not now be placed back where I was before that blessed experience if you should give me all the world; it would be as small dust in the balance.” (Dallas Willard, Hearing God, 49)

Worry

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After 8 straight days of speaking/leading/teaching/playing worship guitar at two conferences Linda and I are finally taking 4 days of vacation. We’re “vacating.” So far my body has complied but my mind has not fully done so. My body cries “relax”; my mind says “worry.”

I come from a line of worriers. My mother, wonderful person that she was, suffered from excessive worrying. I think my father worried, but it was hard to tell since he was, generally, non-expressive. We were not invited into his inner life. I don’t blame him for this. He had no training or mentoring in such mental landscape.

Worry is not helpful. Brooding on darkness brings on a mood of helplessness. Worry says, “Something bad is happening. You cannot stop it. So worry, be unhappy.” To worry is to be inactive, like sitting in the dark waiting for the tornado that never comes. Worry adds nothing of value. Jesus said, “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” (Matthew 6:27) Worry is not additive. But neither is worry neutral. Worry is subtractive, knocking seconds off of your life.

Worry is absurd because worry’s concerns are things that cannot be controlled. Like people. We can’t control other people. We can love them and serve them, but my experience is that love and service will not inexorably come back to us. Of course at times it does. And it doesn’t. We control none of this. Most of what happens to us in life is not in our control. To ruminate on the negative possibilities is absurd precisely because such rumination effects nothing. Except to subtract from us. Worry is a thief. Worry robs joy and peace and hope from the human heart.

MAD magazine’s “Alfred E. Neuman” asked, “What, me worry?” But the cartoon figure had a “face that didn’t have a care in the world, except mischief.” I don’t think; therefore I don’t care. Sometimes I think too much. This doesn’t mean I think well. Worry thinks poorly. Contrary to A. E. Neuman, anyone who has responsibilities exhibits care. Ignorance is not the kind of bliss we’re looking for. Caring is good – better Socrates dissatisfied than a pig satisfied. But worry is caring gone berserk, which is bad for the soul.

Today, for me, legitimate care mutated into some worry. This sometimes happens to me. My routine-ish busy-ness can cover up the deep waters of my heart. When this is taken away, what remains is just one’s heart.

For all who care the antidote to worry is trust. The more trust, the less worry. This, I believe, is universal. The question then becomes, in whom or what shall I place my trust? Such trust must be rightly placed. Trusting in just anything will not do the job. Proverbs 3:5-6 says, famously: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Do not rely on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” I’m still learning how to do this. I believe it’s the answer to the demon named “worry.”

My 36th Wedding Anniversary – Some Thoughts on Marriage

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(Linda and I in Israel)

August 11, 1973 – Linda and I got married in DeKalb, Illinois. Today we’ll celebrate 36 years of covenant togetherness by going swimming (at a beautiful outdoor pool located on the shores of Lake Erie), eating together, strolling and shopping, and maybe catching a movie. I have some random thoughts…

1) On marriage – it’s a covenant relationship, not a contractual relationship. “Covenant” is like two pieces of paper super-glued together, only parted by death. Life-allegiance is pledged before God, to one another, and to one’s tribe. What then matters is – are the man and the wife truthful people, people of their word? Marriage-as-covenant takes such things seriously. When one covenant partner tears away from the other great psycho-spiritual damage is done. For evidence of this see the recent Time magazine article on marriage, as well as U-Columbia’s Judith Wallenstein in her book The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce: A 25 Year Landmark Study. In covenant-marital partnership much is at stake, and much is to be gained.

Contractual relationships, on the other hand, are like two post-it notes stuck together. Not so much is at stake, eternal promises before one’s tribe have n ot been publicy declared, when one partner pulls away from the other the other remains largely intact, perhaps to affix itself to another post-it-note-person.

2) In covenant marriage much can be learned that cannot be learned in cohabiting (shacking up for a season). In marriage the norm is that opposites have attracted. This explains “infatuation” as the feeling that the other has qualities I do not have and I am made “complete” by the other. While opposite-attraction remains in healthy marriages, opposite-tensions emerge. One wakes up one day to find that the other isn’t normal like me. We don’t see eye-to-eye on everything! For relationships this is normal and this is good, because without such tension character growth will be stunted and we’ll remain “forever young” (eternal adolescents) in a bad way. Linda and I have grown immensely in marriage, and a lot of it has come through facing interpersonal conflict and working through it, learning deeper meanings of the word “love” along the way.

3) Humility is necessary. Linda and I have confessed to one another and forgiven one another innumerable times in our 36 years together. This is more important than communicating clearly. We still struggle with this. But we work at understanding each other. Which leads me to think…

4) Important in marriage: to understand, and to be understood. Deeper love understands and feels understood by the other. Again, real understanding requires humility. I am from Mars, Linda is from Venus, and as such we don’t think alike all the time.

5) The importance of sharing a high ideal. When Linda and I got married we were both musicians. One day a friend told me “I see that your music has brought you together.” False. Music, as wonderful as it is, won’t hold a marriage together in covenant when the earthquakes of life hit. The higher the shared ideal, the stronger the marriage will be. Two people passionate about life’s purpose and their own raison d’etre stand a far better chance of making it than the couple that merely shares a passion for sex. For Linda and I the ideal is God and following Jesus. Of course we both think there is a God and that God has come to us in the form of his Son. But note this: even if that were not true it would remain that our life together is focused not on our own personal happiness (which I think never works) but on something outside of our own selves, even to, at times, the detriment of our own happiness. We sacrifice for the sake of the greater cause, which all marital couples do when they genuinely and passionately believe in one. Note: this makes all the difference in marriage! Lack this, and the many tiny irreconcilable differences begin to eat away at the marital soul.

I’m always thankful to God for bringing Linda into my life and she, to my occasional amazement, is thankful for me!

FYI: if you are interested Linda and I will lead and teach a marriage conference we’re calling “Drawing Closer,” October 23-24, 2009. Call 734-242-5277 for information.