Thursday, February 26, 2009


I like Lent. I don’t think I’m especially masochistic. In fact, I love personal comfort and pleasure. They are two of my biggest temptations.

Maybe that is why Lent is so good — in my battle for holiness I am reminded throughout Lent, in a special way, that I do not fight this battle alone.

First and most of all, Jesus experienced the depths of human temptation. As in every part of being human (except for sin), Jesus has gone ahead of me to make a way. The forty days of Lent invite me into the life of Jesus Himself.

Second (but it’s the only way I know who Jesus truly is and what He has done), Lent is an incredible time to experience the reality of the Church. I do not struggle against sin alone. I am part of a People of God who bear witness to the truth of Jesus, who support me in the fight against sin even as they suffer with me, and who (with those saints who have gone ahead) assure me that victory over sin is indeed a reality for those who persevere in faith.

So, I go into Lent with an intense awareness that I am not alone. I enter my disciplines with a joy of anticipation, both of sharing this time with other fellow pilgrims now and of the hope of growing in holiness for my own good and the glory of God. Following Jesus — in His fight against sin, in His death, and in His resurrection — means becoming like Jesus.

It’s not easy, but it’s exhilarating. I like Lent.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Questions of Meaning

Some of my readings this week have been from Ecclesiastes. I find this to be a personally significant book of the Bible. In the context of my previous post on “decisions,” what ultimate difference does it make whether I read, watch TV or surf the internet.... whether I work hard or barely do enough to get by.... whether I feast or fast? There are people in each generation who model a wide scope of choices, life-styles and world views so that options are generally available to those who look for them. The power of direct influence is not a given (some children follow a parent’s pattern — for good or ill — and others do not).

Ecclesiastes raises more issues than I can list in a post such as this; they are there for the reading. In all the many details that mark our respective lives, what do they really matter in the long run, remembering that we live, we die and regardless of the details, there is nothing new. The hopes, dreams, frustrations, joys and pains that we experience are essentially what has marked life for humankind over the centuries. I may have my personal preferences — actually, most of us prefer to be secure and comfortable (with the varying details to be determined), but getting my preferences or being deprived of them will neither bring in the Kingdom nor stop it.

God uses all of the complexity in our individual lives (multiplied by the complexities of the world) to accomplish His purposes. I do not try to (cannot) figure out all of that. The real question of meaning is both personally existential and eschatological: how am I living, regardless of circumstances, in response to God? This world is rehearsal for the next, and if we do not find meaning there then there truly is no real meaning.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Making Decisions

On what basis does one make decisions? This is, of course, a huge question. We make countless decisions without conscious thought. Major decisions may cause one to give serious consideration to the various presuppositions that affect the process, but many decisions that require some deliberation do not stir the pot of assumed values we all imbibe.

I am still reflecting on the closing question of my previous post: What causes a recent book to be so important that one reads it instead of a proven, and still unread, classic? There are many variations to the issue: Why watch a (likely banal) movie on DVD when you can be reading a classic? Similar contrasts could be produced ad nauseam.

Is it a given that no one should read another novel unless first having read The Brothers Karamazov? Is Augustine a prerequisite for any later theologian? Are contemporary songs in church nothing but distortion from the purity of Gregorian chant (or Bach or whatever one might offer as the ultimate)?

Surely on one level (and a rather basic one, I would contend) is the issue of what I understand as “personhood” — who we each are (genetically and culturally, or “nature” and “nurture”). Using two movie identities as examples, Forrest Gump is not going to make the same self-betterment decisions as Will Hunting (okay, I’m dating my movie awareness). I have also been thinking about a real-life contrast. I had said I was reading The Seven Storey Mountain, and I’m struck with the huge difference between Merton’s life as a child and young adult and my father, who was born only four years after him. Merton had traveled over western Europe and the United States and was educated in a context that was grounded in Latin and the classics as well multi-lingual fluency. My father was raised in a Southern sharecropper’s family and had to quit his little country school when half through his twelfth grade to join the CCCs in order to subsidize his family’s income. Dad is a very intelligent man and has left much of his poor past behind, but who would expect him to read and think like Merton? We each are products of our time, place and family genetics, and that affects the way we make decisions — even what books we read (or if we read at all).

For Christians, this becomes part of the picture of belonging to the Body of Christ. Not everyone has the same opportunities or responsibilities, nor the same calling in the Body. This means, on some level, that we trust the work of the Holy Spirit to motivate some to read Augustine or Aquinas and Dostoevsky while other Christians may focus more on economics or being a great car mechanic. This doesn’t necessarily mean the latter will not read Aquinas and Dostoevsky, but neither does it negate that some people will instead read Louis L’Amour or watch ESPN while others will choose Jane Austen. The options are myriad.

The hope is that Christians make their decisions as unto the Lord (...whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God, 1Cor 10:31). The things we read and watch and buy are not ends to themselves. What we take in and what we give out is part of our witness. What I read and watch and buy should be nurturing the life of Jesus that is in me; what I say and do should be an expression of the life of Jesus within me. How often is that a conscious part of our decisions?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


I am behind. I am behind on my blogging. I am behind on some administrative projects connected with my ministry, Heart for God. I am behind on my reading....

It was the latter reality that put the issue in the forefront of my thoughts. There are two periodicals I try to read mostly cover to cover: Touchstone and First Things. I’m just now half through the December issue of First Things with its opening articles on.... books — more to remind me of all that is “out there” to read.

One of the books I am presently reading is Thomas Merton’s The Seven Storey Mountain (it seems I should have read it years ago, and that’s not the only book for which I could give such an admission). I have a list of books — they probably would be six feet high or more if they were stacked one on top of another — that I “need” to read (should have already read).

Part of it comes from my spiritual journey. I do want to have a passionate and knowledgeable faith. I would not say I was totally “well-read” even in my previous tradition, and to have moved into the broadness of catholic (in the true meaning of the word) only means I have a seemingly endless number of books covering various facets of the Faith which are considered essential for a basic foundation.

So, I am behind.... and the more I read the more I’m aware of all that is “out there” needing to be read. Every year the list grows, as more and more is published. What causes a recent book to be so important that one reads it instead of a proven, and still unread, classic? Who makes such a decision? Even that seems to come..... by reading.

Botheration! I’m behind.

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