by Rev. Dr. Daniel C. Wilburn
A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, “You are mad, you are not like us. – Abba Anthony, B. Ward, Sayings… 1984, 6.
Last month I entered sabbatical in a good place – not burned out, not frustrated, or angry. I decided it was time to clean out my hoarder-office at home after 23 years of just piling more junk upon crapola. Doctoral studies added about 150 more books, which laid in jumbled rows on the carpet because the bookshelves were full. So I moved everything out, tore out the original builder’s carpet, and tiled the floor; drywalled, electrical, repainted and embarked on making additional bookcases – yep, real live cabinetry-craftsmanship-cussing-Jesus-was-a-carpenter-there-goes-my-finger endeavor.
Then the madness set in. The few news feeds I pay attention to rolled through my head as I spread thin-set mortar, while the drops of sweat dripped and my flesh was eaten off my knees and hands. I thought about Anthony’s words above, that each political faction calls their fellow human “fool” (“raca” according to Jesus, and liable to the fires of hell, Mt 5;22). I thought about how many recent times I’ve heard a sentence begin with “I can’t believe you’d…” and I pondered exactly what that literally means. I still cannot figure out how those words make for an effective argument. (At least it’s an “I-statement!”) But it sounds shrill, and “shrill” is what the Liberal voices sound like to me – like a flock of starlings. The Conservative voices just sound bombastic and arrogant – like croaking frogs around a swamp. I pondered what my long-gone WWII mother and father would have to say today about the country. I finally guessed they’d say we are a bunch of whiner-babies. My old Baptist-salesman-sailor-filterless-Camels Dad would probably say, “Shut the hell up, and get off your butt and get to work!” Makes sense to me… set the tiles. Grout.
While tiling, drywalling, painting, and sawing I found myself arguing with people who are not there. As Henri Nouwen stated, “I give long, hostile speeches to my enemies…” and I always win in which I finally say to them ‘I can’t believe you don’t see the obvious! Raca!’ (Nouwen, The Way…1991, 18). I indulged my anger and took my arguments to bed and lost sleep. Meanwhile, my hands and arms have become numb and on fire, especially at night. I have something wrong with me. It’s called ‘getting old.’
Jesus was a carpenter’s son, and scholars assume Jesus was a carpenter. If so, then he sure had a lot of time to ponder his soul and the condition of the world around him. Carpentry forms the soul as long as you do it in pure silence without Lynyrd Skynrd’s Freebird playing ad nauseam in the background. Also, cabinetmaking is full of mistakes. It requires grace for one’s self. And it requires one to say to one’s self, “That’ll have to do” and “That doesn’t show, no one will see it.” If we don’t have grace for ourselves then we fall into self-loathing, and that comes out as judgmentalism. I took my son to get him started on contacts. He has had a difficult time getting the contacts on his eyeballs. I said something like, “Huh, I never thought it was hard to do. I did it the first time.” To which he snarked back, “Yeah right Dad, you’re perfect.” My son and cabinet-making tell me I am not perfect. Just judgmental. Cabinetmaking is full of self-evaluation, self-judgment, and a fair amount of nice satisfaction. But mostly cabinetmaking is a time of recognizing and challenging the voices of the false-self.
Our world offers hardly any time and space for self-reflection. There is no place for sabbath, sabbatical, or silence. The results are all around us. Now we all stare at small glowing glass screens of blue, and it causes our brains to ache and be irritated and frustrated. Current technology habit is poison for the soul. (See Feb 17, 2017 blog post for research refs).
Sabbatical is a time of self-reflection. My paradigm for sabbatical is the same for all my teaching on contemplative spirituality: first you REST, then you RE-CREATE, then you “RASSLE.” First, check out and get away from church and work – I failed. I should have got out of town and and done something fun and distracting so I could wash my brain clean of ministry. Instead I did exactly what I tell others NOT to do: paint the house. This “wax-on, wax-off” rhythm of home repairs and improvements provides too much soul-rummaging too soon. Doing home repairs during sabbatical is an “ought-to” and a “should,” and those are voices from outside of ourselves – those are others’ voices. Expectations usually make us feel trapped. Trapped makes us feel anger.
Next, RE-CREATE does not mean recreation. like ‘go have fun.’ RE-CREATE means something more intentional, like learn how to make pottery, or go for a mountain hike. I haven’t gotten there yet. But Laurie and I are going to Italy and I think I may drive out to Phoenix. And I have signed up for a doctoral course at my old alma mater, Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, which I love so much.
Lastly, RASSLE means wrestle with God or rather “g-d,” the unknown, un-namable GOD. Jacob wrestles with the LORD all night. Jacob asks the LORD for his name and gets no answer. Instead, Jacob gets a new name: Israel, which means ‘one who wrestles with g-d’ (Gen 32 and 35). The third movement of the spiritual life is wrestling with God and receiving a new identity, a new name like Jesus renaming Simon as Peter the Rock, who was once just plain ol’ Simon the fisherman. Oh, and don’t forget that in addition to receiving a new name, you also get your hip permanently put out of socket. (Begin your Yiddish accent here) “So thank you so much! While you’re at it why don’t you squirt some lemon juice in my paper cut!) (End Yiddish). New name AND you limp for the rest of your life. That’s the sabbatical journey, that’s what it looks like to encounter g-d throughout our lives. Anybody who tells you different is selling something.
The goal of the Christian life is not prophesy, people, productivity, or profit, it is God. But first we have to go through years of anger, arguing, chaos, competition, compulsions until there is no longer any fight left in us. My doctoral thesis states that the what happened to the desert fathers in the 4th century is that they fled from the sinful world out into the Egyptian desert, only to find their own demons within themselves. In other words, they thought “sin” was out there in the world. They thought they would just “put on Christ” like Paul says we should do (Col 3:9-11; and also Gal 3:27; Eph 4:24). Okay, then stop being angry – got it? Okay, now stop being judgmental – got it? Okay, now start being generous, loving, kind, compassionate, and perfect. We cannot only think our way into Christian living. We have to take the inward journey, and rassle with the unknown g-d. Few are willing to take this journey. And we all pay for it. Starlings and frogs, Simon’s and Jacob’s.
Tile’s done. Drywall, electricity, painting – done. The bookcases turned out good enough. My new office shelves are 80% full and I still have 16 boxes of junk sitting around the house that came out of my office. I’m angry because I don’t feel like sorting through junk. All this junk is “my precious,” or my identity, my Self. Throwing it away is an act of downward decent. I resist and that’s why I am cranky (in part).
Maybe I will make another sabbatical journey entry – maybe not. It may be a sign of health instead of madness if I keep my mouth shut! It will mean I am at rest and feel no need to justify or validate my false self. We will see.
by Rev. Dr. Daniel C. Wilburn
It’s Ordinary Time according to the greater church calendar. After Easter, after Pentecost comes Ordinary Time, just plain o’ ordinary… time. Here’s the scripture where we find the basis for Ordinary Time…
Acts 1:6 So when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority;8 but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”
9 And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. 10 And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was going, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them. 11 They also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.” (NASB)
Jesus is gone. The Holy Spirit is here. The disciples are now on mission as “witnesses.” But an angel has to snap them out of standing and staring at the sky. “What do we do now?” Peter and the others do what any group of people do when their charismatic leader is gone: they hold a meeting and choose board members. They think they need to replace Judas Iscariot the betrayer. But the Holy Spirit will have none of this ordinary human blah blah blah – the Spirit comes and lights them all on fire and they go out preaching the gospel and storming the gates of hell. The church is born.
Ordinary Time is the church’s time. Ordinary Time is when the church acts. It is the Spirit’s time. It’s motivation time. It is time for mission. It is time for being the Body of Christ – sharing, caring, coming out of hiding, reconciliation among races and rich and poor. Ordinary Time is “already-but-not-yet time” where the kingdom of heaven has begun on earth but it is not fully consummated or expressed yet. That full kingdom comes with Jesus’ return. What is “ordinary” about Ordinary Time is the mission of the church. Ordinary Christians are a people of purpose and intensity. We have work to do, and we must get on with it. Get busy.
Still, I was a little sad to take apart the family’s Lenten/Easter “Jesus Chia Pet Garden” this morning – Easter is done. I just saved the the little resurrection rocks on an ordinary paper plate. Then, I weeded the garden this morning. I watered the flowers. I did some laundry, collected the recycle materials, emptied the dishwasher. Ordinary living.
Where’s Jesus in ordinary life? Where’s that all-consuming mission and tongues of fire on the brow there in Acts? I propose the Spirit is found in all ordinary life activities if we have spiritual eyes. Perhaps the Spirit’s fire is not so much “out there” as it is first found “in here,” inside the heart of the believer and her church. We keep staring at the sky waiting for something spectacular, when instead we should go ahead and gather together and have our boring predictable business meeting – and then the Spirit crashes in – if we expect it. Stop staring and start seeking the kingdom – and start seeking the kingdom in your heart first. Look for Jesus. Who has spiritual eyes? Who can see Jesus in the present moment? Who “bears the marks of Jesus on his body?” (Galatians 6:17)
Pulling weeds is prayer time. Doing laundry and dishes is seeking time. Watering flowers is heart-preparation time. During Ordinary Time prepare and move. Get your spiritual disciplines organized and enacted. Seek the Lord earnestly, and expect the Holy Ghost to send fire upon you. This is not a time for sloughing off until Christmas. Let’s fire up. Pray first and then mission follows. Seek the gospel before you share the gospel. Be the gospel before you attempt to share the gospel. Pull some weeds as prayer. Use ordinary living as preparation time. The Kingdom is here and in our presence. Who can see it? Who expects it? Let’s allow Jesus to be revealed in our ordinary time.
by Rev. Dr. Daniel C. Wilburn
French Benedictine Hermit, Adalbert de Vogue begins his little (rare) book “To Love Fasting” with his personal experience of “the regular fast…”
“Having risen at three o’clock, I first celebrated the night office for an hour and half, then attended to various occupations, the heaviest of which was four hours of study.” He continues to describe the day… communion, practical jobs, a walk, meditation, “and the little hours of the divine office. But no breakfast: I have not eaten breakfast for almost ten years” (de Vogue, To Love Fasting, 5). He travels in to the monastery to pick up a wooden tote with his food, some books, mail, and packages. This is his only contact with people. He returns to his hermitage. He does not eat lunch. Dinner is his only meal, and it occurs at 6:30pm after Vespers. de Vogue states that the further he gets from the one meal of the day the better he feels. “My mind is at its most lucid, my body vigorous and well disposed, my heart light and full of joy,” he writes. He walks almost ten miles a day. He is in bed at nine.
I decided to try this “regular fast” this Lent. My summary – it’s been more comical than anything else. Five days a week I eat two boiled eggs in the morning and drink coffee (I’m not crazy!) Then I eat only dinner. No snacks. Barely any water. Saturday and Sunday I can eat what I want. The comedy comes from watching myself throughout the day. At about 9:47a.m. I am hungry already. I want a snack. I NEED a snack.Where’s my snack? Snack Snack SNACK! I realize I am in a deep habit/ritual/liturgy of snacking all day long. Since I stopped snacking I realize everyone I am around snacks all day long. Food is everywhere. I feel we eat out of some scarcity mentality. Snacking is comfort. We snack because “you deserve it” as the Freddy’s fast food sign states with it’s picture of a delicious ice cream sundae.
As the day wears on de Vogue says he becomes more lucid. Okay. Maybe I become more lucid. Or maybe I just become more desperate – I am hungry! If dinner is after 6:30pm I get weird. But I don’t become sluggish like I thought I would. I think about God, I pray. For Lent’s sake, it works.
After the weekend Monday is difficult. My stomach growls. I had a lunch with someone last week and I got to eat a salad because Benedictine hospitality says you can break a fast if hospitality requires it. I thought about just scheduling a lunch every day
I feel better. I ate pizza for dinner one evening and I felt gross. (It didn’t stick around long.) If I eat anything greasy or overly carby then I feel bad (and it doesn’t stick around long). After I eat dinner I feel good. I don’t want to snack. Actually I have stopped wanting snacks.
I am much more grateful for food. My mealtime thanks if truly thankful. I think we Americans eat too much. Therefore we lack gratitude. We don’t earn our food. We think we deserve our food. My body now appreciates food. I appreciate food. We wait together. We have become thoughtful.
Scot McKnight called de Vogue’s regular fast “charming” (in his excellent book called Fasting.) Scot, I don’t think you’d think it is so charming if you tried it. It is severe. It’s itchy. And it is correct. Charming is not a part of this fast.
The brothers at Conception Abbey knew de Vogue (died 2011). One brother said he was very skinny. Another said that de Vogue sat down for dinner with four other monks and they had a bowl of salad and de Vogue ate almost the whole thing by himself!
I doubt I keep up the fast after Lent. de Vogue said that monks “live a life of Lent.” There are no special fast days. Everyday is a fast day, a regular fast. Sunday is special though (and Saturday). The regular fast focuses the mind. It strengthens resolve. It makes me feel better. And I don’t like it.
by Rev. Dr. Daniel C. Wilburn
On Ash Wednesday I mentioned an ancient Christian fighting off a demon. Here’s the actual story from Abba Elias:
An old man was living in a temple and the demons came to say to him, “Leave this place which belongs to us,” and the old man said, “No place belongs to you.” Then they began to scatter his palm leaves about, one by one, and the old man went on gathering them together with perseverance. A little later the devil took his hand and pulled him to the door. When the old man reached the door, he seized the lintel with the other hand crying out, “Jesus save me.” Immediately the devil fled away. Then the old man began to weep. Then the Lord said to him, “Why are you weeping?” and the old man said, “Because the devils have dared to seize a man and treat him like this.” The Lord said to him, “You had been careless. As soon as you turned to me again, you see I was beside you” (Benedicta Ward, Sayings of the Desert Fathers, 1975, 71-72).
The story from the fourth century Egyptian desert tradition has a lesson: don’t try to defeat evil with your own willpower. Call out to Jesus. We believe perseverance is a virtue, and it is. But the old man trusted in his own perseverance, and failed to call to Jesus. This is one of those stories I carry with me all the time because I thought Jesus should have said to the old man ‘Oh you poor thing! You’ve been attacked by demons. It’s okay now, I am with you!” But no, instead Jesus says “Hey, you were careless. You knew better than to try and fight demons on your own. You should have turned to me sooner.”
The story assumes demons are real. Are demons real? Yes. Scripture has around 80 references to demons, beginning in the Old Testament and then in the ministry of Jesus in the New Testament, and several references in the epistles (letters), and finally in the Revelation of John. What are demons? In short, they are powers or entities perhaps manifested by Satan, who was Lucifer (Isaiah 14:12, KJV), who was once a beautiful and most powerful angel of God. Demons are not ghosts or former humans. They are not gods or demigods, although demons will gladly allow you to worship and sacrifice to them. Demons are deceivers, because their Father Satan is the Father of Lies. That’s what Jesus called him… “Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 45 But because I speak the truth, you do not believe Me” (John 8:44-45 NASB).
It appears that demons do not have much will of their own. They reflect back to a person what is inside a person. If you are greedy or feel lonely the demons simply exploits your own weakness, your own self-lie. They help you indulge your temptation simply by repeating it back to you – no new thought of their own. Remember Eve was deceived by her own doubt, not actually Satan (the serpent):
4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die [use little quote fingers here!]; 5 for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Genesis 3
Well, Satan was absolutely correct – and evil. Adam and Eve ate the fruit and yes, they now knew the difference between good and evil. They didn’t die physically, but they experienced spiritual death. They became like God, they became little gods, little self-idols – they discovered self-worship, They took charge of their own lives and stopped trusting God. This is the birth of sin.
No wonder we get confused these days: “are demons real or are they actually emotional or psychological illness?” What is the difference?!! Modern science (post-Enlightenment Rationalism) attempts to split the “enchanted world” from the “disenchanted world” (Charles Taylor, A Secular Age). The Bible never thought of reality as “scientific or mythical.” The Bible just deals with one world, God’s world. This may not be helpful since we do live in a “split world.”
Jesus called Satan the father of lies. Counselors work very hard to get folk to see the lies they tell themselves, and then rewrite those lies into healing thoughts into grace, forgiveness, reconciliation, and acceptance. But Satan leverages a person’s lies into chaos, competition, and confusion. If you are worried about a surgery then the demons jump around like crazed apes and attempt to get you to fret and freakout about the surgery. Demons take a real normal emotion and turn it into confusing worry. When you were a child and you felt abandoned for some reason, the demons tell you, “Yes, you are abandoned — forever!” Notice it is up to the person to say “Jesus loves me. I have nothing to fear. I am perfectly safe.” In other words, ‘cry out to Jesus,’ which is exactly what the old man failed to do. That’s the spiritual work of not “indulging our demons.”
So what are demons? We don’t really know what they are made of. Scripture doesn’t say. Demons just are. But allow me a bit of speculation. I am a big J.R.R. Tolkien fan. Everyone has at least seen his books made into film, The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Ring. But I read his other stuff as well, The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales, and The Tolkien Reader. This is the background stuff for Tolkien’s books. In Tolkien’s mythical world he starts with God and God (Ea) creates these gods (Valar) that sing together and create the world out of nothingness. But one named Melkor begins to want to please God so much that he begins to sing his own song. When he is chastised he feels ashamed and repents. But a seed of bitterness takes shape. Melkor feels separated, alone, and guilty. He refuses the grace of God. So Melkor begins to sing his own song. And when the other gods sing the song that God placed in their hearts and it produces the world of Middle Earth, all Melkor can do is corrupt whatever the gods create. They create blue skies, plants, trees, beautiful animals – Melkor then corrupts them and produces smoke, gases, lava, poison water, darkness, and “fell beasts.” Melkor is now so focused on his own hatred and malice that he soon enough cannot think of anything else than hatred. This hatred calcifies. The other gods can change shape and reflect beauty. But not Melkor. No longer can he change shape. He just gets stuck as a Dark Lord, an evil master. His hatred is so complete that he doesn’t have the energy or capacity to be free enough to shape-shift. Self-deception traps Melkor – and us. Out of Melkor’s deep caverns hidden away in the depths of the earth, far from any of the other gods’ sight, he takes captured elves and tortures them into orcs, monsters. Melkor also finds the servants of God and the gods’ helpers (Maia) and deceives them into thinking “God is holding out on you.” Sound familiar? It does to Adam and Eve! These lessor gods become Melkor’s demons, his thralls, his servants.
Okay, so it’s not scripture, and it’s not real. But I find it instructive. It seems like Tolkien (a good Catholic) does a good job of describing what happens when someone believes a little lie: “I feel guilty or ashamed or like an outsider. I don’t like it. So I will be bitter, sad, and angry.” And next they begin to create “their own little world.” We call it the ego. Deep within our own caverns of our soul we indulge our pain and get trapped and we calcify into bitter people, fearful people, doubtful people. Then, just like Jesus put it, our nature becomes a constant lie, a self-deception: “I’m worthless… I’m a loser… I’m pitiful.”
If demons do anything, they certainly want to keep us stuck in our self-deceptions. When the Old Testament speaks of demons most of the references are to worshipping demons, or sacrificing to demons, or offering one’s children to demons. We call it “nursing a grudge.”
The cross of Jesus says to all this sin, “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing!” (Luke 23:34). Uh, the Roman soldiers knew exactly what they were doing: executing a man and gambling to see who wins his fine clothing. But Jesus saw the big picture. And he sees the big picture for you: you are a child of God. You were made perfect. You are not junk. You are a saint.
So demons are real. They deceive us by our own volition. We willingly participate in the lies we believe. And that’s exactly what they want. The solution: Cry out to Jesus sooner! Forgive others. Wake up and see that you are lying to yourself about your bitterness and blaming of others. Release it, like Jesus did on the cross. Die to your own lie that says “I have to be right, approved, liked, and at the center of everyone’s lives.” If you don’t you are just entertaining demons. And they like it.
by Rev. Dr. Daniel C. Wilburn
I am working on an article about gluttony. Yes, that’s right… that old archaic sin of gluttony. I believe our American culture has evolved into an insatiable instantaneous cult of appetite. Maybe what gave me energy for this was the Super Bowl Doritos ad that promised fresh Doritos in ten minutes by drone. Or maybe it was the Simon Sinek “millennial question” YouTube where he suggests many of us are addicted to social media – and he thinks it is not healthy. Sinek states that checking your email on your smartphone before a meeting at work is a dysfunctional interpersonal habit or addiction – “That’s not how people build relationships,” he says (my paraphrase).
But I made this connection between social media and gluttony a long time ago when I was reading fourth century desert father, Evagrius Ponticus, The Praktikos. Evagrius is the one who said the hermit or monk is challenged by “eight bad thoughts:” gluttony, impurity, avarice, sadness, anger, acedia, vainglory, and pride. He believes gluttony is the source of all other evils.
Evagrius said the monk will give into gluttony because he begins to think short-term, fear and scarcity set in, maybe the fear of illness, fearful memories of other monks who became sick and suffered… the monk begins to question, “Is my strict, simple, ascetic, and basic lifestyle worth it?” Elsewhere Evagrius says gluttony is a demon that tempts the monk. The monk begins to remember both bad things that happened to other monks, and the good life lived by those outside the desert. (That would be people like us today.) Gluttony comes from = a) fear + b) comparison.
I want to broaden our current concept of gluttony to include everything our accelerated “gotta-have-it-now” culture expects – not just Doritos, but also social media. I propose gluttony encompasses our purchases, our news feeds, sexuality, pictures of our vacation and snacks. (Aren’t most of the internet’s mega-storage servers filled with pictures of food?) I’m right there. I just bought toothpaste with Amazon Prime’s “Buy-now-with-1-Click” feature – and I expect my toothpaste to be here in two days.
My studies have introduced me to the Bergen Facebook Addiction Scale. Click here and you can take the test and see if you’re addicted to Facebook – instantly. (Actually, no one is reading this far down – they got derailed back up with Simon Sinek’s videos – that’s how the internet distracts.) Psychology researchers have validated Facebook as capable of addiction, along with pathological gambling addiction, video-gaming addiction, exercise addiction, mobile-phone addiction, online sex addiction, shopping addiction, workaholics and Internet addiction (Andreassen, “Development of a Facebook Addiction Scale,” Psychological Reports, 110, no. 2, (April 2012), 501-517). I still love Betty White’s quip: “When I was young we didn’t have Facebook, we had Phonebook. But I wouldn’t spend all afternoon on it.” If you check your cell phone before going to bed and before getting out of bed, you may be addicted. If you charge your phone by your bedside you may be addicted (Sinek says you should buy an $8 alarm clock). If you set your phone on the table at a restaurant when you’re out with friends (on a date??), then you may be addicted. According to the research, the downside of Facebook addiction is a loss of time, sleep, conscientiousness, procrastination, neuroticism, creativity, social support, and social interaction. In general, all addictions will dominate thinking, modify moods, demand more (called ‘tolerance’), creates unpleasant feelings, causes conflict, and depression from relapsing. In short, addiction makes one angry because of shame, guilt, and the sense that one is pitiable and deprived.
In today’s political climate I hear of a lot of anger on Facebook (I don’t check Facebook. My drug is still Minecraft). Anger seems to be the result of a lot of time spent on social media, particularly if it is political. Anger is a legitimate feeling – we feel anger when something is wrong – anger can be caused by feeling one doesn’t get one’s way. We can get angry because we feel the poor are under-resourced and underemployed, or because children are sexually exploited. But we can also become angry because the drive-through line takes too long. My studies have taken me into the area of neuroscience. Anger is a base (reptilian) limbic function. One cannot be compassionate or rational and angry at the same time. It’s brain-impossible (Andrew Newberg and Mark Robert Waldman, How God Changes Your Brain, 2010). So it isn’t surprising that good Christians can lose it on Facebook about righteous biblical issues like slavery and caring for the oppressed.
Even more, how interlaced screens affect the brain isn’t healthy. Staring at computer and smartphone screens diminishes ones capacity for compassion. Interesting. Now we have an entry planet filled with screen-induced irritability. This could explain some of our current political climate. People watch television in bed, read iPads in bed, scan news and social media in bed, and then try to go to sleep when all those devices stimulate the brain. I find Paul’s words ironic at this point, “Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil” (Ephesians 4:26-17). Reading social media in bed may make it difficult to get to sleep much less go to sleep and not be angry! Remember, Evagrius called anger and gluttony two of the eight “demons.” Teasing demons before bed is not wise.
What can be done about this? My interest is always spiritual transformation. We have been trained and habituated to believe we can have it all, and have it now. Spiritual wisdom says this is not the way we shape souls who love God and others. Gluttony destroys our capacity for love. But restraint shapes the soul.
Here are several spiritual disciplines for developing love-focused lives. The immediate spiritual practice for gluttony is fasting. Scot McKnight’s book, Fasting (2009) is an excellent comprehensive look at fasting. Almost any type of restraint-fasting is healthy for the soul (McKnight draws the distinction between abstinence and fasting). I say this because I just do not hear about anyone fasting in our culture. I hear a lot about health, diet, and foodies. But not restraint. The quick suggested biblical fast is to not eat after dinner on Tuesday until dinner on Wednesday. Just drink water. See McKnight for all the rationale and cautions. What if we did the same for social media? Sinek says when he goes out with friends they only take one cell phone in case of emergency. Fast from Facebook. Take a Sabbath’s rest from social media. Do not place your cell phone on the dinner table or restaurant table.
Another spiritual discipline for combating gluttony is writing in a notebook (called hupomnemata in Greek). We may call this journaling. This idea goes way back to the Greek philosopher Seneca, and the original desert father, Anthony the Great (For more on Seneca’s thoughts reference Michel Foucault, “Self-Writing”). Foucault called this type of writing “soul-shaping.” Anthony called it “self-examination.” Anthony suggested to younger monks that they write down their temptations and thoughts about God as though another monk was going to read what they wrote (Athanasius, Life of Anthony, section 55). Anthony believes if one knows that another will exam their life, then they will behave better. I propose we journal in just such a fashion. I think I always write in my journal as though it would be published someday (delusional I know, but it’s working for me). Maybe I should write as though someone would read it the next morning.
On an interesting side note, Seneca points out that reading too many books leads to “stultitia” (Greek). Stultitia is defined as “mental agitation, distraction, change of opinions and wishes.” Foucault states Seneca believed stultitia points too much toward the future, makes life a novelty, and prevents one from living “at a fixed point” in relationship to truth. I don’t know about you, but this stultitia sounds like ancient Greeks on Facebook and social media. Try fasting from social media and instead journal. Truly famous people journaled. The rest of us blog.
I do not condemn social media. It is a communication and knowledge tool. But it has some pitfalls. Addiction and “brain-anger” being two serious consequences. Social media is a terrible political communication platform. It is just ineffective. It is about as effective as vanity plates on cars. I wonder if we cannot begin to take fasting more serious as a church. Restraint makes for healthy and powerful souls. Self-examination makes for thoughtful Christians and hopefully good responsible Christian citizens.
in the future I will continue to glean insights from the desert tradition. This is my area of expertise. The first Christians must be our mentors – even regarding social media.
by Rev. Dr. Daniel C. Wilburn
Eventually every earnest young Christian asks, “So if a gangster steals and gives the money to the church, is that okay?” The desert fathers reply ‘yes.’ Why? First, let it be said there were no more morally perfect Christians than the desert fathers – ever. Those original 4th century Egyptian desert hermits had the entire Bible memorized, never looked at women, ate little, worked hard and gave everything they had away to the poor, following Jesus’ command, “If you wish to be perfect then sell all you have and give it to the poor and come follow me” Mt 19:21). That they did literally. Unlike the Pharisees in Jesus’ time, there was no hypocrisy or compromise in their moral lives.
So why were the desert fathers tolerant of sinners? Because they knew the fruit of charity would eventually lead to salvation, faith, and serious commitment to following Jesus. The fathers were not legalists even though they were extremely hard on immorality. The fathers were excellent at discerning souls. Here’s a story that demonstrates their talent of discernment and wisdom.
Abba Timothy knew of a woman who prostituted and gave what she earned in alms. Abba Timothy asked his elder, Abba Poemen about it and the old father said, “She will not go on committing fornication, for the fruit of faith is appearing in her.” Timothy’s mother told him that the woman has increased her lovers and also the number of her alms. Timothy asks Abba Poemen about her and he says, “She will not go on committing fornication.” Finally the prostitute told Timothy’s mother that she wanted to see Timothy and have him pray over her.
When the woman saw him and heard the word of God she was filled with conviction, and she said, “From this day forward I shall cling to God.”
She stopped fornicating. The word (scripture) is nearly the same as prayer for the desert fathers. The two are spoken of in the same context. The fathers breathed scripture as prayer, and prayer as scripture. Abba Poemen knew the woman would commit to Christ because the fruit (virtues) where already present in her – she was close. Charity led her to salvation. This is different than Christians of today, who think if we just study enough scripture then we will become charitable. We think salvation (or the accumulation of information about God) leads to charity. And it does – perhaps eventually. This story says charity leads salvation. The story may make us think that the woman was saved by hearing the word – we think a) scripture is like magic – say the words and magic happens; b) our minds are pure receptacles for information – the Bible can be downloaded. But that is not the facts. This is not to say that nice loving people who are not Christians will all become Christians eventually. Do not ignore the fact that her charity was true charity, it involved money, her livelihood. Being nice and being radically generous are qualitatively different. This is not throwing extra change in the red bucket at Christmas time. Charity that is love means giving money of the whole self, a radical change in lifestyle. And let us not forget that she was selling sex, selling her identity, her soul. She needed out. She was in a life and death situation. We don’t know but perhaps she gave away what she earned because she thought she was saving herself, and not just being comfortably generous. Do your hypothetical gangsters give out of guilt or because they are generous? Abba Poemen would suggest it doesn’t matter – they are on a journey toward Christ.
I would recommend we listen to the wisdom of Abba Poemen. Let us not be too eager to clip off the sins of others. Look for what others are doing that places them on a journey toward Christ. Also, let us not just heap up scriptures on others too soon and too much. The soil may not be tilled yet. Parents, you know this: You have learned that you cannot unload your incredible wisdom on your children too soon. Your seeds of wisdom will only fall upon hard-packed ground and never take root. So let us be wise about implanting the word of God. Look for tilled soil. And hope. Hope the best for others. Find where they are charitable and be patient.
by Rev. Dr. Daniel C. Wilburn
We decommissioned the family boat this past weekend in Kirksville, Missouri, at our annual family ski weekend at Thousand Hills State Park. Laurie’s father purchased the little blue used 15 foot ski boat back in 1983, probably because he got the “boat bug” from his sister who owned a cabin on the Mississippi in Iowa – and they all skied. I came into the family in 1988. The little blue Starcraft Capri 15 footer was the only boat I ever knew. Now it’s gone, and there are waves of emotion crashing.
Laurie’s folks lived in Kirksville and when we would visit it was all-out furious action the entire time: running, biking, skiing – repeat. Ski at sunrise, ski at sunset. During the down time we did home projects. It was small-town living at its finest. Laurie’s folks were frugal. They were nothing close to rich. They lived simple and helped everyone. It wasn’t their Kirksville home that brought us together, important and functional as it was. It was always the little boat on the little quiet calm lake at the state park that centralized the family. Over the years we continued to go to the lake as Laurie’s parents retired and sold the house and move to Arizona for retirement. We rented barely acceptable state park cabins. One cabin, two cabins, three cabins, now four cabins.
All the Edwards kids have children. The grandkids learned to ski and tube and play in the lake, stay in the cabins, eat Pagliai’s Ronzas (yes they are Ronzas I don’t care what the restaurant trademark lawsuit said), have s’more contests, sit around the fire… but mostly tell stories of near-death adventures in the little blue boat: “we ran out of gas in the boat in the lightning storm with the six-month old baby” was the common story, because we never learned, and pretty much every grandchild was initiated in this same near-disaster story.
Laurie’s mother has since died of cancer. Her father still drives the 20 hours from AZ to get back for the ski weekend. Others come in from St. Louis, NYC, Chicago, and of course Lee’s Summit. Nobody wants to miss this family tradition. So when we had to say goodbye to the boat because the motor blew up to the tune of $4k, there were lots of tears. The boat is our icon, our symbol, totem, controlling metaphor – whatever it is, it was the unadorned uncelebrated gathering thingy.
Now we are without a boat, that one thing that pulls the family together. I know what you’re thinking ‘hey, just get together – you don’t need a stupid boat to be family – what about LOVE?’ But I have come to realize that family traditions are created and happen around boats, cabins, county fairs, “the home.” Traditions (love) need space and time, not just a calendar appointment. I don’t think the family reunion that meets at ever-changing locations works as well.
Extended family needs a focus point. And even better, the more the family story struggles, the better… “we scraped together $500 for a boat…” “we each put in $250 and bought the piece of land in the middle of nowhere, and built a cabin with our own hands…” You get the idea. The best traditions are scrappy and location oriented. Ours is the boat and the lake, the cruddy cabins, the simple quaint marina, and Pagliai’s Pizza on the town square. It helps that it is in Laurie’s hometown. You see if we had a $300k lake home and yacht it wouldn’t be the same. We’d constantly be wondering if it was all worth it. We’d be slaves to the stuff. It would cost everyone. Perhaps this is a test for a strong family tradition: if you don’t question whether or not its too expensive to keep up then it is a good tradition. If it is too comfortable then it is not a good tradition. This is why family camping is so powerful. Camping struggles. Camping bonds. Disney World, not so much.
Now we don’t have a boat, and we are seriously thinking of buying a new one. But buying a brand new boat feels wrong. Is it materialism? Where’s the struggle? So I’m looking for a used boat. Actually, the simplicity is forced upon us: the lake requires all motors be outboards, no more than 90 horsepower. “Only small boats please.” Nothing fancy.
Christianity and particularly Lakeland is down on conspicuous consumption and materialism. Our church has so many projects in the works that serve the poor, the persecuted, the marginalized, and the forgotten. Any dollar spent on “stuff” like boats is sort of frowned upon. It’s like the end of the film Schindler’s List – “this gold ring could have saved several lives!” Over the years Laurie found that anytime we got to go on a cool vacation we unknowingly felt we needed to say something like “yeah, we used frequent flier points,” or “the house was free” or “we went in the off-season.” Nobody at Lakeland would dare say ‘Yeah man, I live large and expensive! To heck with the poor; they made their bed, let ’em lie in it.’ Not cool.
So here I am being forced to decide between what appears to be conspicuous consumption and family tradition. Yeah, we can rent a pontoon. We did this summer after the ski boat broke. It is not the same. With our own dumpy boat we always went out at sunrise and sunset to ski the glass. Now we lack flexibility with a rented boat. The marina closes at 8pm or 6pm. Yep, that’s a first world suburban consumerist attitude (see the conflict within the protagonist?)
And where is the scrappiness? Laurie and I save. We still give away about a quarter of our income. I will never say we live simple. I’ve been amongst too many poor around the world to ever say we aren’t rich by a world standard. Billy Graham once said that if you have shoes on your feet you are rich on a world scale. I have several pairs of shoes. I’m rich. I’m rich so I have a Jesus responsibility to others – think Good Samaritan. Or here’s Paul’s teaching on how rich people (middle class Americans) are to behave and think:
As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 18 They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, 19 thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life. – 1 Timothy 6:17-19
Paul, how much can we enjoy our money, and how much should we give away? Know the difference. That’s the art of charity. The point of this post is to recognize that family traditions might require a location or a thing. $omething or $omeone or $omeplace – or all three need to be in place to create strong tradition. Laurie’s mom and dad started the family tradition. Now perhaps it is our turn.
I am sure many of you have good family traditions that are strong and don’t cost anything. Ours didn’t either – at least not me. Laurie’s dad underwrote the whole thing and mostly still does. You can share your stories below in the comments. But for us, I think we need another boat to keep our family tradition intact.
by Rev. Dr. Daniel C. Wilburn
“PokemonGo! Ach, what a stupid fad,” so said my recent meeting with an intelligent 50+ year-old man. Not so fast folks. There’s more here than you give credit, sir.
My thirteen-year-old son and his friends wanted to go up to the church a week ago Monday. In the car, “Why do you guys want to go to Lakeland?” “To find Pokemon,” came the answer. (I’m thinking ‘wow, Pokemon – what an old-school throwback’). The new PokemonGo app is huge right now. Problem is, Hudson didn’t have a smartphone, he had an old iPad and really needed the church’s wifi. I handed him my iPhone and told him to download the PokemonGo app and he could run around the church with my iPhone and his smartphone friends. He downloaded the app but didn’t want my phone – he wanted the old iPad. So I played along with all of them.
Before my son could read he could Nintendo GameBoy Pokemon. Together we watched dozens of television episodes of Ash catch ’em, James, Jessie, Meowth, Giovanni, Professor Oak, Misty, Nurse Joy, and Pikachu. So I kind of know the game idea where a kid named Ash Ketchum travels vast distances, living in the wild, and goes around catching pocket monsters and battling older Pokemon trainers and gym leaders.
As a parent I am always aware of these tv shows like Pokemon, and most Disney kid shows where the parents are absent or self-absorbed, or buffoons, nothing more than wooden joke-props. I get it: kids want to be smarter than their parents. Shows indulge them. Ash never had a parent accompany him in his travels. Just a few friends and a bunch of Pokemon. Even a small dose of reality thrown on the old Pokemon tv show would have all parents thinking “stranger danger!” Ash meets some shady characters out there in the wild. And I am quite sure he never brushed his teeth.
Long story short, my son, his friends, and I have been traveling around our own Pallet Town catching Pokemon and battling gyms with them. They need me: I can drive. We do this mostly at night when it’s cooler outside. The game is an “augmented reality game” where Nintendo and Google (Niantic) use Google maps and your phone’s camera to make it look like the Pokemon appear in your own kitchen or yard. Except our house is not very Pokemon-friendly. We don’t have a PokeStop or Gym in our neighborhood, so we must travel.
Here’s the parenting part. If you ever wanted to spend time with your grade-schooler or younger teen this is the short-term answer. Travel together, catch ’em all. Your kid will be smarter than you usually, so that fulfills the Disney “parent-buffoon” kid-ego-builder thing. Your kid can “train” you. You will have fun. It’s an easy game. But mostly you will have tons to talk about and do together. It’s like a 24-7 family scavenger hunt. Stop watching Netflix and go run around with your kid.
Time together is better than quality vacations. I am not positive, but even now I bet my son will some day remember these days of hunting Pokemon together. We won’t have much to say to each other when his life zooms ahead of me, and I am old and messed up. He will be driving me to a doctor’s appointment and ask, “Dad, you remember when we used to go Pokemon hunting together?”
by Rev. Dr. Daniel C. Wilburn
Does anyone blog about Fyodor Dostoevsky? Nobody actually reads Dostoevsky. Too thick – literally, the books are too bullet-stopping thick. Too thick – FD’s books are classified as “philosophical and psychological.” *Yawn. But still, something calls me to read him (Brothers Karamazov, The Idiot, and now Crime and Punishment). Maybe it’s because many of the authors I read quote FD. But the real reason is that Dostoevsky is the master at describing the human soul.
Sin, redemption, guilt, shame, violence, filth, filthy rich, desperadoes, and A-holes. His wonderfully nice characters you wish would punch somebody. And his despicable characters, which is most of his characters, you want to slap or run through with a hot iron. Harsh? I tell you, FD has the worst of the worst in his books. And he models them after real people, people he knows much if time.
Personally, Dostoevsky is a complicated Christian. He’s messy. His life is jacked. He writes in the 1860s to 1880s. This comes after he spends several years in Siberian work prison for sedition against Tzar Nicholas I, just because he helped publish a flyer for some do-nothing anarchists. FD has a terrible gambling addiction and at one points flees Russia because he owed everyone so much money. He chained smoked, and dies four months after he completes Bros. Karamazov. His father was a medical doctor who was a dirt poor alcoholic, but finally got a government appointment at a hospital in nowheresville, and bought a 300 acre “estate” with no water, no trees, no crops, and a hoard of serfs, which in that day you basically owned like slaves; FD’s father begins raping all the little serf girls (this is real life – not a novel) so the locals ambush him and crush his private parts with their hands and shove vodka down his throat until he suffocates. You see what I mean: right now you’re thinking “OMG!” and “Yes! that’s justice!” And that’s how FD gets you hooked in his novels. Reading FD is like psycho-analyzing a train wreck of human carnage – usually all brought on by their own doing.
In The Idiot, the “hero” Prince Mishkin is the Christ character. But he’s a pushover. Mishkin holds no opinion of anyone. He doesn’t care about titles or money. Everyone takes advantage of him, takes his money, calls him idiot to his face. Yet, somehow everyone ends up liking him, and insulting him in the same instance. He pities everyone – and there are plenty of characters who deserve no pity. He is insulted and punched and does nothing. Only when Prince Mishkin falls in love does he become unravelled. He never recovers mentally. FD presents a fascinating picture of Jesus: love drives him to mental illness. Not just romantic love – the reader is never sure if Mishkin falls in love, or just pities these used up flirtatious girls. Does Jesus love us, or just pity us? Jesus becomes one of us. Why? Pity? Love? The Apostle Paul desires to be “a fool for Christ.” But FD shows a Christ who becomes a fool for us. And it ruins him.
In the 1860s the European world of Dostoevsky is in the throes of modernism: the industrial age has arrived with smoke and stench, slums and prostitutes; working people have become “labor” or “resource” – depersonalized and abused. Morality is no longer God-sourced, but rather is arbitrary, and situational. Morality is no longer spiritual but rational and logical. Modernist thinking leads to World War 1, and WW2, Hitler, Auschwitz, genocide… because it is logical: Jews are no longer needed – the human race is now at its 3rd race (Third Reich); the time of imperfect human is over (this is kinda based on evolution – except “evolution” is always “positive” and benefits the Nazis).
FD sees it all coming. The Communist Revolution included. FD sees the European aristocracy crashing just like the demise and end of Downton Abbey, except all of FD’s aristocrats are brainless jerks. FD foresees a depersonalized rational dehumanized world. Weirdly, FD personally is convinced Jesus is going to come back to Russia, and the Orthodox Church is going to reign over the world – and all will be better again. FD’s a “slavophile” – an apocalyptic Russia lover. (I think he’d like Putin.)
I guess nerdy and thinking Christians read Dostoevsky. Yeh, that’s me. FD leaves you rubbing your chin. Mostly I chuckle and wag my head in disbelief as I read FD. I get angry the good people lose. Justice never seems to come. Somewhere in here I feel sorry for Fyodor Dostoevsky. His life was a tragedy. His life was “a Russian novel.” He is brilliant, a brilliant madness.
Mostly what I think these days is no American or Christian takes the time and effort to read or think. And we are paying the price (just to go there) as evidenced by our current political mess. We can’t tell the genuine difference between a mass shooting and looking at cute kittens on our cell phones. We do both in the same moment – we are exactly like FD’s rich aristocratic buffoons. We have become base, confused, exaggerated, and fogged in. It’s like we are all Cinderella at the ball, and we know the clock is going to strike midnight, but there is no clock on the wall, so we just dance and whirl around ever so much harder pretending the chimes will never sound. It’s the end of the world as we know it, but I feel fine. Superpower affluence ain’t what it’s cracked up to be.
We are morally adrift, and spiritually adrift. To quote modern-day philosopher, Charles Taylor, “I don’t believe in God, but I miss him.” We are flat, secular, simple-minded, and have no idea what is truly precious – all is so precious to us these days – kittens and LGBT Orlando shootings.
I wish FD were alive. He’d accurately describe us. He’d show us the Jesus we really need today. I don’t think FD would wake us up, but he could accurately tell us how we are sleeping.
Who will read Dostoevsky? Hardly a person anymore. This is me being nostalgic. I long for thinking Christians. Read or listen to FD if you want to be more mindful. FD tells us how to make sense of things.
I believe each of us look at the world through a series of lenses: money, love life, security, Bible, white or black or (_), education, suffering, trauma – on and on. Most of us are unaware of our lenses or our “unthoughts” to quote Michel Foucault. Healthy spirituality explores our unthought lenses. My ministry work these days is helping people explore their personal lenses through which they view the world. All of our distortions and troubles, and our answers and hope come through our lenses.
Over the past few years I have been studying Attachment. Attachment is a personality psychology theory of how humans relate (or don’t relate) to each others. The theory says everyone attaches in one of four ways: secure attachment, dismissive-avoidant, fearful-avoidant, or preoccupied (R. Chris Fraley et al, Experience… 2011). Most people have secure attachments, but some of us “don’t need others;” or are fearful (anxious) of others; or even worse, are deeply drawn toward others – and then want them to punish us. If that sounds conflicted, it is.
Psychology believes God is an attachable figure. According to research psychologist Lee Kirkpatrick, Christianity is the only world religion with an attachable God/deity/supreme being (Kirkpatrick, Attachment… 2004). Some of us believe God loves us, and God is viewed as a haven of safety. Others can’t really conceive of needing God, though they may believe in God. Others seek God, but can’t find God, and obsess about God’s opinion of them. Others develop the opinion that God is is obsessed with them – and wants to punish them.
In my ministry experience I have seen all of these opinions of God. Each lens determines what someone thinks of God. Additionally, each attachment style finds a church or denomination or faith-culture that fits their attachment style. For instance, preoccupied folk are attracted to and find a judgmental, fire and brimstone church, who at the same time talk incessantly about miracles and healings. Usually, these Christians are constantly worried whether or not God honestly loves them. Usually their spirituality is always exceptional miracles, all-night prayer sessions, visions, apocalyptic expectations, and their culture is full of exuberance and wonders. For dismissive Christians they never hear from God, and don’t really want to hear from God (but they don’t know it). They often do not join a group or community. Maybe they feel lonely but they cannot figure out how or why they should need people.
The attachment lens is useful one for me these days. I am still learning how to affect various attachment styles (Internal Working Model, IWM). I am not a counselor or therapist but I deal with people who have deep emotional and spiritual issues. These issues (IWMs) predict how a person will relate to God. So that’s why I am interested in Attachment. Our church probably has “an attachment style” or culture. Some people are attracted to it, and others are not. We are not fundamentalist, but we are not very Presbyterian either. We are not very ritualistic (much to my chagrin) but we are not pentecostal either. When most people form a quick opinion of our church they do so through their own set of lenses. Attachment is telling.
Recently I talked to an engaged couple about attachment. I am going to start using it with engagement counseling. Last night a woman told me about her recent divorce. I couldn’t help but think of her with my new attachment lens.
Attachment theory has had exceptional durability in the field of psychology – more than 40 years. That’s eternity in most scientific disciplines. The theory hasn’t changed much. I think it is very useful for helping people understand how and why they relate to God and others.
If you have a chance to take some short online free tests, you should go to www.yourpersonality.net. Or you can discuss your thoughts with me personally. (Are you avoiding me?)