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Author: Dan McDonald

Are You Living Your Religion?

Are You Living Your Religion?

Live-your-days-MEMEAre you living your religion?  The answer is not as obvious as you would think.  If you were to ask your children, your friends and neighbors, or even yourself, to write on a piece paper the five things you must do to live your religion, what would those five things be?  Are we confusing the means with the ends?  Where is our focus?

There once was a man who thought he was a golfer.  He studied and read from the USGA rules of golf every day.  He knew every rule of golf, inside and out.  He religiously went to the golf course on a regular basis.  He bought the best equipment.  He dressed like a PGA professional.  When he played, he meticulously followed all of the rules.  He never cheated.  Yet, he was a terrible golfer.  He couldn’t drive.  He couldn’t putt.  He kept all of the USGA rules.  He went to all of the country club and men’s association meetings.  He looked the part.  He dressed the part.  He played the part.  But, in the end, he was a horrible golfer.  There was another man with an incomplete set of clubs, no golf shoes, no golf glove, used golf balls and no fancy golf clothes.  Yet he could golf; and he always scored better than the man with all the equipment and all the rules.

There once was a woman who thought she was a cook.  She acquired all of the best recipes—the “true” recipes.  She bought all of the very best equipment.  When she cooked, she used all of the freshest and best ingredients—the “true” ingredients.  She followed each recipe meticulously.  She looked like a chef.  She sounded like a chef.  But her soufflés wouldn’t puff.  Her bread wouldn’t rise.  Her cakes sagged in the middle.  Her eggs were tough and chewy.  In the end, although, she followed the formula, she was a horrible cook.  Even though she had the “true” recipes, the “true” ingredients and the “true” equipment, she failed to produce anything appetizing or appealing.  There was another woman with a small kitchen, dollar-store equipment, missing measuring cups and spoons and only moderate quality ingredients.  Yet her kitchen produced wonderful cakes, rolls and soufflés that fed and delighted her entire neighborhood.

What does it mean to “live” your religion?  Is it possible that, like the golfer or the cook, you are focusing on the rules, rather than the art, of living?  Is it possible that you could attend your meetings, be active in your religious associations, dress the part of a religious person, read and study the scriptures, “do” all of your observances, go to the right meetings, go to the right places, believe the right things, say the rights things and, all the while, entirely miss the point?

Learning and scrupulously observing all of the USGA rules of golf does not make you Arnold Palmer.  Having all of the right recipes, all of the right equipment and ingredients, and meticulously following the recipes does not make you Wolfgang Puck.  There is more to it.  There is an art to being.

There is an art to living and loving well.  And, unfortunately, for many that I talk to, religion seems to be only giving people the rule books and the recipes.

Religion has done a fine job of giving us the ingredients and teaching us what’s in bounds and out of bounds.  But has it done a good job of showing us how to become better, how to thrive at the game, and how to be excellent in the kitchen of life, so to speak?  How far do creeds and dogmas, rote traditions get us?  To excel and thrive; to truly enjoy the art and mystery of living do we need more?  If so, where do you get it?  How do you find it?

Getting back to one of my earlier questions, if you were to ask your children, your friends and neighbors, or even yourself, to write on a piece paper the five things you must do to live your religion, what five things would show up on the list?

I would hope these things would be among the first on the list:

“Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction ….”  (James 1:27.)  “Jesus of Nazareth … went about doing good ….”  (Acts 10:38.)  He ate with publicans and sinners.  (Matthew 9:10.)  For Jesus, healing and helping trumped observance; relationships mattered more than rules.  (See Mark 3:1-6.)

I fear, however, that our lists might reflect a different set of priorities.  What do you think?


We’ll Miss Making Him Smile

We’ll Miss Making Him Smile

We'll Miss Making Him Smile
We’ll Miss Making Him Smile

My little friend and fellow tube feeder passed away a few days ago.  His name was Gabe (short for Gabriel).  Gabe had a very difficult life.  Born several months premature, his brain didn’t develop normally.  Burdened with cerebral palsy, quadriplegia, epilepsy and a host of other major health problems, Gabe also suffered from the inability to eat or swallow food.  Hence, he was a tube feeder like me.  He was only with us for shortly beyond half a decade.  Yet, in those 2003 days, he taught us all so much.  His angel mother, noble father and loving brothers and sisters taught us even more.

At Gabe’s funeral on Friday, Nanette, his mother, told the story of how Gabe’s older brother, Samuel, said he would miss Gabe’s smile.  Nanette, trying to offer Sam comfort said, “You’ll still see his smile in our pictures, in our videos and in your heart.”  Sam replied, “No, mom, what I mean is that I will miss making Gabe smile.”

What did this beautiful family learn in the 5.48 years of sleepless nights; through all of the vomiting, retching, and convulsing; after five solid years of changing diapers; with all of the carrying, lifting, and transferring … in and out of bed … in and out of the chair … in and out of the bath … on and off the exam tables … in and out of their arms; after more trips to the emergency room, the doctors’ offices, and the hospitals … more than you or I could ever comprehend; with no rest, no reprieve, no grand vacations?  They learned the wisdom of the ages.  It’s in giving that we receive.  It’s in building others that we’re built.  It’s in lifting that we’re lifted.  It’s in giving away our love that it’s received … and retained.  This wonderful family didn’t just teach this from the pulpit at the funeral on Friday.  They have been teaching those of us who know them for years now.

Despite all of their challenges, you would struggle to find a happier family.  Rarely did I ever see one of Gabe’s brothers or sisters without a smile.  They are living examples of the thesis that our happiness depends not upon what circumstance does to us but upon what we do with our circumstances.

Gabe’s family, which includes grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc., has corroborated the thesis of the Dalai Lama, who said, “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion.  If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”  And of Confucius, who taught, “He who wishes to secure the good of others has already secured his own.”  And of Kahlil Gibran: “I slept and I dreamed that life is all joy.  I woke and I saw that life is all service.  I served and I saw that service is joy.”  And, of course, the central message of Jesus from Nazareth is confirmed, as well:  He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.”  (Matthew 10:38-39.)

Gabe and family, thank you for reminding us that a life of suffering is not about what you can learn but what you can teach.  And thank you for teaching us all that all happiness is a choice—the choice to personify Love regardless of circumstance.

Endure and You Will Inspire

Endure and You Will Inspire


Endure and You Will Inspire

Even a life that seems to be in ruins will one day inspire awe and wonder.  Endure and you will inspire.  Endure and you will find God.

There is a second half of the spiritual life.  It comes only through the death of the first.   It’s a painful transition between the two halves of the spiritual life.  But the awakening and greater enlightenment in the second half is worth all of the pain and heartache it takes to leave the first half.  It takes a dying of sorts to truly live.  Just as the children of Israel had to wander through the desert, we, too, must wander through the “no man’s lands” of life.  We too must wander through the desert to reach the promised land of communion with God.  There is no other way.  And few there be that find it.  Few there be with the strength and resolve to endure.  Few there be with the courage to enter the darkness and become blind so they can see the glorious light that awaits them in the second half of the spiritual life.

My life is an extended lent.  It’s a living fast.  But, I have found, deprivation brings abundance.  It brings communion with God because it requires his abiding presence to endure.  Through deprivation I have experienced peace and joy like never before.

Be The Reflection of God’s Goodness

Be The Reflection of God’s Goodness

Be the Reflection of God's Goodness

Be the Reflection of God’s Goodness

Whether or not you believe the doctrine of the incarnation, one thing it clearly teaches us is that when God wants to perform his greatest miracles he does so through the instrumentality of human flesh.  This should ever remind us that we are God’s hands.  Ordinary men and women matter.  They can make a difference.  They can be instruments of kindness and generosity.  They can be the modern-day incarnation of God as they reveal his loving and abiding presence to others through their empathic kindness and thoughtful acts of service.  They can remind the world that God still exists, that there is still goodness in this world and that miracles continue to happen.

Your goodness to others reminds others that there is a God.  Be the reflection of God’s goodness.

Look someone in the eye today and tell them how much they mean to you.  Tell them why and how they have made a difference in your life.  And then say, “Thank you.”