Sunday, February 28, 2010

If you had to bet everything on...

During Lent this year, I'm throwing out a question each week that I found from Frederick Buechner. I'm passing this on to our church community, The Bridge, with the encouragement to ponder, pray and even write about each week.

So, here's the question from this past week:

If you had to bet everything you have on whether there is a God or whether there isn’t, which side would get your money and why?

No fair using any "Sunday School" cliches if you grew up in that environment...

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

What's the "self" you present to others- to the world?

I might as well say it up-front: what follows is not about self-absorption or the pursuit of self-knowledge as the end.

Now, with that being said, I want to think about this concept of the "false self" and the "true self." That can mean various things to different ones of us, and I'll say shortly how I am using it. I am going back to some "saints" and spiritual writers that I was introduced to many years ago, and two of these, in particular, have had massive impact on the spiritual landscape in the last century: Thomas Merton and Henri Nouwen.

In a short book by a Jesuit, James Martin, the focus was on these two men who have had such major impact, and I was prompted by this idea of false and true selves. The false self, as I'm using it here is the self we want to present to the world. It may come from what we others think we are, or should be. It might come from expectations of others. Or, it can come from something we may want to be or someone else we may want to be. But, it ain't me!

I've been a preacher for almost all of my adult years. (Actually, how I normally identify my role is as a pastor and part of that role is preacher, but that's another story.) I'll bet there isn't a preacher around who hasn't thought-whether they said it or kept it to themselves: "I wish I could preach like ____________. Maybe, if I work at it and mimic some of his/her preaching style, I could preach nearly like __________."

False-self confession: I heard Walter Wangerin (you may not know him but he's a wordsmith and gifted communicator) speak at a conference, and that's just what I tried to do for a time: preach like Walter. That was short-lived and that was a joke! I'm not Wangerin; I can't preach like Wangerin. Further, I shouldn't try to preach like him, as it just isn't me, besides the fact that I don't have those innate gifts he has.

This false self gets played out in things like this, but also in all kinds of other ways related to what we want to convey to others- to the world.

On the other hand, and the search we ought to be on, is living out our true self. It's more than a cheesy quip: to be who we are. To be the person God crafted us to be. To let go of trying to be anybody else, or to pursue a false trek just because society/culture/family has defined what "success" looks like, or what one should be.

And, the point of this is not to end up navel-gazing. As Martin commented on both Merton and Nouwen, with respect to this process of self-examination, he said " was not simply a narcissistic quest for self-knowledge. Rather, it was a discipline undertaken to allow them to become more loving and more centered on God." That's part of the point: to love- love God and love others, and not end up absorbed in the self with little ability to love others.

I'm drawn to listen to the Merton's and Nouwen's of the world, both modern and ancient. I'm inspired, not by some flawless folks (far from it!), but by those seeking to live authentic lives (true self) in our families, friendships, on the job, among the poor, seeking justice, pursuing peace.

This life-long journey for authenticity is anything but a quest for self-knowledge and then stopping there. It is to live and love more fully!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The enemies of "oughts" and "ifs"

It's been awhile- a long while-since I stepped inside a "Christian" bookstore. I don't tend to find the books that I'm interested reading in that spot. And, there are plaques and posters with pithy sayings, like: "Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, and today is a gift- that's why they call it the present." I think I'll pass on the mug.

You can find this stuff at Hallmark stores, thrift stores, and, somewhere in Boulder, there has to be a store with these trinkets. Not just Christian bookstores. One of the quips, whether it is a ditty on a Hallmark card or in some self-help book or in a conversation, is that living in the present moment is what we aim for. Not in the past or in the future, but now. Here and now.

"Here and now." Ahh, that's the title of a book I just finished. By the late Henri Nouwen. This idea of living fully in the present is not a new concept, and it sounds rather simple; it's not a complex idea. It's not like some of my college philosophy textbooks where, after reading the same page five times, I was still scratching my head! But, just because it is a simple notion doesn't mean it is easy to live this out in my life. Far from it.

Here's the way Nouwen put it, "The real enemies of our life are the 'oughts' and the 'ifs.' They pull us backward into the unalterable past and forward into the unpredictable future." (p.18) I messed up and ought to have done it differently. Or, I had an opportunity to take positive action and I didn't; I should have. The other end is the enemy of the "what if." What if I never get married? What if the economy doesn't clear up and I can never get a job with security? What if something happens to my health?

Now, there is a positive dimension to looking into our past and learning from either mistakes (or, I'll use the "sin" word) or hurtful experiences, and taking time to consider goals, dreams or visions for one's future. That is quite different from the "oughts" and "ifs."

I'm inclined to think we gravitate, for any number of reasons, more toward the "ought" or "if" side. The catch, if it toward the "oughts," is the drain of guilt. If you are prone to the "what ifs," you will get snagged with anxiety or worry. I land on the side of the "ifs" when I am not operating out of living in the present.

What is it for you? "Oughts"- and then, guilt? Or, "ifs"- and then, anxiety?

What I hear in Jesus' words, and see in his life, and the good news of the Kingdom he came announcing, is clearly about the present. "The Kingdom is here among you!" Enter this abundant life- now! Love God. Love others. Share your life, especially, with the poor, outsider, broken, and people who are marginalized.

It is far too simplistic to suggest that we can always live in the present, and avoid the "oughts" and "ifs," and the corresponding and crippling guilt or worry. But, it is realistic to propose that we can live more and more in the present, rather than focused on the past or future.

I need reminders; that's why I read such books. Why I read scripture daily. That's why community is important for me.

Here and Now. Good reminder. Let's keep reminding each- both in words and action.

Anyone have a pithy slogan for this to put on a plaque, mug and t-shirt?... No; forget it.