Sunday, March 31, 2019

Growth and Gratitude

This post is a response to blog-neighbor Martin LaBar: Christians are expected to grow.

I'm looking back at the past few years and I have been grateful for a friend's suggestion that helped my spiritual growth. She taught me a simple exercise in gratitude that brought about growth and a changed perspective. It was an easy exercise:
Each day for 30 days, write down 3 things for which I'm grateful. Avoid repeating the same thing when I can. (Another variation of the exercise: exchange texts with a friend who is also doing the exercise.)
I had just come through some very dark times. I'd even been on medical leave at work and had taken a blog hiatus for health reasons. And I was not yet enjoying life again. I didn't know that I had much to be grateful for. But my friend was kind and open rather than bossy; she said she had done the exercise herself and found it helpful. She shared her experience and hope rather than giving advice, and she encouraged me to do it as a personal exercise, to try and see.

The first few days were a struggle against my own anger at my situation. But by the time a week or two had gone by, I was beginning to realize just how much was still good in my life and that my anger was blinding me to it.

I still maintain the exercise, not with the same rigid "3 entries per day" rule as when gratitude was new to me. Still, gratitude often appears as part of my end-of-the-day routine.

I'd be glad to hear of other spiritual growth exercises based anyone else's experiences.

Monday, March 25, 2019

The life well-lived: By what measure does a Christian measure success?

I'm a day late posting. I'm traveling and certain of my on-line accounts "helpfully" recognized that I wasn't using my usual device or my usual location, and set up a few extra hoops before I could access my accounts even with the correct credentials. 

I'm currently visiting a relative as he celebrates a very round birthday. If I should reach the age he is currently celebrating, I'd find my own celebration mixed with the thought that it might well be the last of the very round birthdays. At that point, when the inevitable comes, no one will say the passing is premature; it's a milestone at which the comments turn to the "long, full life" that has been lived.

What makes for a full life, for a Christian? I am here thinking specifically about the shape it has taken for the person I'm here to celebrate.
  • A loving, faithful marriage spanning decades until death parted them some few years ago
  • A solid career that enabled him to both provide well for his family and to help others generously
  • A lifestyle of hospitality, with his door and his heart always open to a new friend
  • A consistency of warmth and kindness that has built many friendships and earned much trust
  • A genuine concern for others
He is deeply Christian, and so it is fitting to see his character in terms of the Christian virtues of faith, hope, and love -- the greatest of which is love. I don't know that he would see it that way; he might say he is a "people person", or "tries his best". The focus of his life is -- and has always been -- the human connections. To watch what motivates him, his most frequent motive is love.

There is value in recognizing someone's virtue. Of course that act of recognizing helps cultivate virtue in the mind, too, but I think mainly it helps in building our own love.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

In memory of Jesus

"Do this in remembrance of me." -- Jesus, basically the last thing he did before going to be arrested on capital charges
Sooner or later we all give some thought to our legacy. What will we leave behind? What will they remember about us? When will people think of us?

With Jesus, he asked us to continue remembering that his life wasn't all about himself: it was about his love for us. And that his love is the guarantee of our forgiveness.

Without forgiveness, a relationship becomes about perfection and expectations, and fear of being less-than, and dishonesty about who we really are. Without forgiveness, it's a matter of time before things become about excuse-making and finger-pointing and image-management. The quest for human connection and love, without forgiveness, becomes impossible for us. Multiply that by the billions of people in the world.

May I remember forgiveness every time I need it; may I remember forgiveness every time someone else needs it too.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Where there is hatred, let me sow love

Where there is hatred, let me sow love. -- St Francis' Prayer
How, exactly, is love planted? 

In a culture as overrun with hatred as an abandoned lot with weeds, how do we make a difference? 

Love is planted by loving. Fig trees grow more fig trees; grape vines grow more grapes which grow more grape vines. "The chicken or the egg?" is meant to be an endless puzzle because each generation must come from the one before it. Love is planted by loving. 

Sunday, March 03, 2019

"Right in all points of doctrine" -- Do we teach love?

The scope of knowledge and the scope of error

There are many Christians who hold that the Bible is inerrant in matters of faith and doctrine. The qualifier "matters of faith and doctrine" is generally understood as a disclaimer when it comes to matters of science (and possibly matters of history of the ancient Near East). 

Others hold that the Bible is inerrant in its original monographs. The qualifier "in its original monographs" serves a similar purpose: it hedges against the fact that there are problems that we cannot resolve with the known texts. It's a hypothetical inerrancy that applies to documents we never expect to see. "Inerrancy" is described in a way that acknowledges that we don't have it.

The Roman Catholic doctrine of infallibility is, in a similar way, carefully scoped and qualified til it leaves a lot of room for fallibility.

While looking into which church I'd like to make my new home, I have to say: I don't know that my current church is wrong on any particular point of doctrine as they'd define doctrine. And in my current pastor's mind I'm fairly sure he'd say: therefore there's no legitimate reason for me to be making preparations to leave. But I find myself thinking that by "doctrine" he means "things in the catechism books"; if the church were nothing but a catechism book (give or take some fallible humans making typical mistakes) he'd have a point. But what if we widen our scope of "doctrine" to everything the church teaches, inside or outside of catechism books?

Do we teach love?

Have we taught the importance of God's love? In the church I attend, at least on paper, our basic faith consists in trusting God's love and goodness. Has that been said and kept front and center, or has it been lost in the forest of smaller doctrines? Are we more interested in our doctrinal purity than God's honor? (Have we lost sight of the fact that one can be pursued at the expense of the other?)

There's a tricky line between doctrine (what we teach) and practice (how we live). There's usually a convenient dividing line between the two. In my experience any problems in practice are blamed on human weakness and sin so insistently as to deny that it's possible for a problem in practice to come from a problem in teaching, or a problem in emphasis, or (honestly at times) from dismissing any real importance of what we do. What we do -- and any problems -- are bracketed as solely matters for forgiveness. While mistakes, errors, and sins are definitely matters for forgiveness, this misses the point: hospitality, relationships, and fellowship are vital matters at the intersection of faith and living. Love is the joyful center of the Christian faith, which fulfills the law and in righteousness surpasses the law. Run to the good news of forgiveness to cover our shortcomings, but not to excuse the fact that we haven't taught it.

Jesus taught that, on the Last Day, the greatest sins to be laid at our feet will be sins of omission: things we've never done, and his examples were acts of compassion, mercy, and love. I suspect in the same way the greatest doctrinal errors will be things we never taught.